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?”