Friday, November 23, 2018

Worse than the Reformation. . .

The sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church is sometimes compared with the Reformation as a crisis of greatest magnitude.  Some even say this scandal will have worse consequences for Rome than the Reformation did.  Whom I am to know or predict such a thing!  But these are distinct differences.

The Reformation was a theological challenge and not a moral one.  Yes, Luther railed against Popes and their excesses, bishops and their lavish lives, monks whose vow of poverty did not prevent them from living better lives than the people outside the monastery, and priests who were ignorant and immoral.  But the Reformation was not primarily a call to moral reform but to theological reform, to the renewed voice of the Scriptures in defining what is believed and how it is practiced in the worship life of the people.  It was a theological debate over the core and center of why we are able to stand before God and what commends us to Him.  It was a question of authority that compelled Luther and the Reformers to turn away from erring popes, erring councils, and erring magisterium.  Luther did so not by turning away from the Church but by digging down to the foundations -- to the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone.

The Reformation took place within a culture that was, at least on the outside, distinctly Christian.  The secular rulers were not entirely secular and the community and culture of the people was thoroughly imbued with the Christian identity of the past.  Yes, new things were happening.  The birth of humanism and the printing press and the notion of state supported education were all shaping what was happening at the time but the landscape was a Christian one -- people believed in God, they had respect for the Church, they observed their lives through the Sacraments, their calendar was shaped as much by the Church Year as by season, and they saw themselves within the context of God's unfolding work and will.

The post-Reformation period did not see the decline of Christianity but its renewal, albeit within the fractured state of Protestantism and the competing claims of different churches.  Judged by the number of books published alone, it was a fruitful time of considering, study, confession, and theological endeavor.  Even Rome was renewed, becoming even more Roman following the Council of Trent.  This Counter-Reformation was not simply a me too movement but an attempt by Rome to confront some of the things that they believed the Reformation had exposed -- liturgical abuse, failure of catechesis, and corruption among them.

The modern day abuse scandals are far different and they have occurred at a far different time in history.  It is not so much about theology but about morality.  The scandal here is that priests not only abused children, youth, and young adults but that this was primarily homosexual abuse that betrayed a culture of secret acceptance of homosexuality.  The scandal here is that bishops not only knew but turned a blind eye to it all -- from the active homosexual behavior of the clergy to the abuse of children and youth.  The scandal here is that the message of the Gospel has been betrayed not by false theologies but by the immorality of clergy.  Yes, I know, it is not strictly morality at play here but those outside the Church see this as a grave moral failure and not a theological crisis.  The world has stopped listening to those who speak for the faith not because they found them to be speaking falsely but because they found them to be unworthy voices and untrustworthy ones at that.

All of this comes at a time when the culture is already unfriendly toward Christianity in general and the specific jurisdictions in particular.  Europe is a declining Christian landscape in which the people have largely privatized what faith they have and ignored the Church -- except for the cultural expressions that accompany seasonal feasts and festivals.  The diversity of Europe's ethnicity and its culture have competed against Christianity and the decline in the vitality of the Christian faith have  been hastened by the moral scandals.  In other words, those who reject the Church's theology have no found good reason to reject the Church's witness -- one with which the faithful who remain find hard to disagree.  This is not primarily a theological crisis but a moral one and yet it has profound theological implications.  The voice of the Church has been tainted, perhaps even silenced, and at least muted by the loss of moral authority and credibility.  While this abuse scandal is largely, at least in terms of the media, a Roman Catholic problem, it will affect the witness of Christianity as a whole.

The aftermath of this scandal will most certainly be met with some sort of reform and yet it will also be accompanied by definite decline in Rome.  The renewal may very well take the shape of a smaller Roman Church and the turnover of leaders responsible for the scandal or who have failed to be agents of its rightful repair.  The consequences for non-Roman churches may be similar.  In the end, the efforts of those to silence orthodox Christianity will be bolstered by this moral failure and will require other faithful Christian institutions to regroup -- as well as Rome.  Finally, the one positive fruit of the scandal may well be the renewal of ecclesiastical supervision within the churches -- renewed attention to the fact that we are all accountable and this accountability has consequences.

So, will it be worse than the Reformation for Rome?  Possibly, at least from the secular forces aligned against Rome.  The moral house must be set in order for Rome to survive but to one Lutheran looking from outside, the theological house still requires serious attention.  The heart and soul of orthodox Christianity is under attack and morality alone will not turn back these enemies of Christ.  What we should all hope and pray for is not the end to terrible news from the media but an honest and faithful movement of renewal in creed and confession, clergy and church, doctrine and life.


William Weedon said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you! Sasse-esque.

ErnestO said...

How would Luther or any of the Reformers have predicted the pendulum would swing from the poor purchasing an indulgence (Latin: indulgentia) 500 years ago, to the Roman Catholic Church purchasing them for their clergy today.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters, thank you for this very thought-provoking post. I've been thinking deeply about the horrendous world-wide scandal that the Papist Church if facing, and I use that phrase very intentionally for it is the Pope himself, Francis, who is making an abject mess of a situation that his predecessor resigned over, frankly.

At the time of the Lutheran Reformation, as evidenced in the Lutheran Confessions, the profound sexual corruption in the clergy was well known and widely condemned and in the Book of Concord there are plenty of references to is, some not as apparent as others, but clearly it is there.

The Roman Church's command/demand that its priest and religious take on a life of celibacy is a mark of the Antichrist itself.

So, I would content this is in fact, at its very root, a deeply theological problem, not "merely" or "simply" a moral problem, as if there is a distinction de facto.

Rome is paying the price for long centuries of utter corruption at the very highest levels of the church.

What absolutely infuriates me is the fact that it is children and young males who are victimized by the homosexuals in the ranks of the Roman clergy, along with God knows who else.

I think we would do well to focus on this fact.

And frankly in our own LCMS we need to redouble our efforts to do everything in our power to background check very single person who is on the staff of a LCMS congregation and to swiftly kick out any/all who are guilty of grievous sexual sins.

Let's also make sure we do not condone or support former LCMS pastors who are making a career of their sexual sins and failings, like Chad Bird and his supporters like Rod Rosenblatt and the three or four-time divorced Steven Hein and others associated with the "Christ Hold Fast" and "1517 Legacy" and "The Jagged Word" people.

Enough is enough!!

Cliff said...

You are correct in stating that Rome still needs some theological housecleaning, but I am afraid that will never happen anytime soon. Rome believes their theology is sound and unfortunately many catholic lay people are also convinced of theological superiority.

Anonymous said...

"The Roman Church's command/demand that its priest and religious take on a life of celibacy is a mark of the Antichrist itself."

I am not Roman Catholic nor do I believe that the mandatory celibacy of priests is in general good or healthy, however, this kind of bizarre comment on what is certainly a Scripturally preferable state - celibacy - is the kind of ridiculous comment that only serves to alienate reasonable people. Comments like that are best not published.

Anonymous said...

"The Roman Church's command/demand that its priest and religious take on a life of celibacy is a mark of the Antichrist itself."

Paul wrote that celibacy should be an individual choice and not a command/demand. How does Rome reverse itself on a policy that has been in force since the Second Lateran Council from 1139? 2018-1139 = 879 years of enforced celibacy by the Roman Catholic church.

I have a sister-in-law who stopped going to Mass due to the pedophile scandals and for the fact that her home parish has been aiding and hiding Mexican illegals. How are the majority of disenchanted Roman Catholics responding to the ongoing scandals and corruption? Are they dropping out of church like my relative, running to the non-denominational church, or something else?

I worry that non-Christians will see the corruption of Rome, the SJW wackiness of the ELCA and its partner churches, and the fraud of the Benny Hinn style Evangelicals and decide that Christianity is a sham.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Pastor Peters does not understand the current crisis in
the Roman Catholic Church is more than a scandal.

It is the coverup of crimes that have been committed by RC clergy.
The sexual abuse of children is a crime. It is not a scandal we
are hearing about, it is the fact that crimes have been committed.
There are RC clergy who should be in prison for their crimes.

Anonymous said...

Juxtapose this statement:

“The Roman Church's command/demand that its priest and religious take on a life of celibacy is a mark of the Antichrist itself.”

with this Scripture:

1 Timothy 4 English Standard Version (ESV)

4 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

Which is easier to say?

Joseph Bragg said...

Rome departed from the Christian Faith when it set the authority of the Pope, as Vicar of Christ on earth, over all of Christendom.