The Reformation Isn’t Over

The other day Pope Benedict XVI reiterated official church teaching that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, that the Orthodox Church is defective, and that Protestant churches are not true churches. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued two documents holding that that “ecclesial communities originating from the Reformation [i.e. Protestant congregations] are … not churches in the proper sense of the word.” Some Protestants have taken offense. Not me.

I would have been far more worked up if Benedict had said (to borrow a phrase from Khan in Star Trek II) that we are all just “one big, happy fleet.” You were expecting him to endorse Willow Creek? He is the pope, after all.

In this age of mushy moral equivalence, I think drawing some bright lines is helpful (even if I disagree with where the pope drew them). While Catholics and Protestants agree on many key areas of doctrine (such as the deity of Christ), we differ on other vital matters of faith (such as the canon, papal succession and authority, etc.). While some evangelicals convert to Catholicism and others can ask whether the Reformation is finally over, I find the pontiff’s forthrightness refreshing. Especially in light of such recent silliness as an Episcopal priest embracing Islam while declining to give up her leadership position in the church–as if Jesus and Allah are one and the same! No, real and crucial differences between the RCC and other branches of the Christian tree remain.

By all means, let’s keep talking, remembering that there can be no real dialogue without difference. And let’s keep working together to better society and build (as John Paul II said) a culture of life. We Protestants and Catholics may differ on religious doctrine, but in our best moments we are united in our desire to glorify God by serving our fellow human beings.

So to the pope who isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers, I respectfully say, “Thank you, sir. May we have another?”

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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