POPE BENEDICT’S OUTRAGEOUS ANNOUNCEMENT
At a time when Roman Catholics ought to
join the 21st century, the pontiff has declared that he is the head of the only true church. Give me a break.
As one who has tried to build bridges between Protestants and Roman Catholics, I cringed last week when Pope Benedict
XVI released his shocking statement on “Catholic Identity.” In clear, non-negotiable and jaw-dropping terms, the
pontiff stated that (1) only Catholics are true Christians; (2) other Christian denominations are “not true churches”;
and (3) all non-Catholics lack the “means of salvation.”
Boom! Just like that, Benedict blew up every ecumenical
bridge that has been built since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
With all respect to the most revered religious leader in the world, I think someone needs to wake up the pope and remind
him—and the rest of the guys hibernating inside the Vatican—that we are living in the year 2007. His Excellency’s
announcement sounded more like a press release from the 11th century.
The communiqué, released on July 10, was written in Italian. Given its medieval tone, you might have expected it to
be handwritten on parchment in Latin. (Which, by the way, is the dead language Pope Benedict thinks all Catholics should still
use during worship.)
It has been almost 500 years since Martin Luther first nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenburg door and ignited the
Protestant Reformation. From that point the Holy Spirit’s river began to flow in so many new directions—gushing
over the restrictive walls of the Catholic system and spilling into the nations of the world.
Today hundreds of millions of people have found salvation through the preaching of the gospel through non-Catholic
churches: Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Methodist, Pentecostal—you name it. All churches that proclaim faith
in the resurrected Christ are part of the universal church that the Son of God purchased with His blood.
It is incredibly sad that Vatican leaders are so blind to what God has been doing outside their isolated little world for so many
years. It is even sadder that Pope Benedict thinks that by issuing an edict from his office in Italy he can transport us into the past.
I know most Protestants probably just rolled their eyes when they heard about the pope’s announcement. Catholics
who have been worshiping with Protestant Christians for years were probably also confused by it. Catholic charismatics, who
have enjoyed fellowship with Protestants in recent years and experienced renewed faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, have
now been told to break ties to those people since they are not true Christians.
I certainly don’t have an audience the size of the pope’s, but I can’t stay silent when he is promoting
such a serious heresy. There are three simple truths from the Word of God that we must proclaim in order to set the record
1. The church is composed of all born-again believers in
Jesus Christ. The church is not a human institution. Though we may organize ourselves into denominations, we enjoy a mystical
unity with all true Christians—regardless of our labels, ethnic backgrounds, pet doctrines or ecclesiastical traditions.
The bond of the Holy Spirit makes true worshipers of Jesus into one big family.
2. No denomination can claim exclusive control of God’s
truth. One definition of a cult is a sectarian group that claims it is the only way to heaven or salvation. But Catholics
are not the only denominational group that has fallen into the heresy of spiritual elitism.
The Church of Christ,
an American denomination formed in the 1800s, has often taught its members that they are the only true believers. And there
are many so-called Oneness Pentecostals who believe that only those who are baptized according to their “Jesus only”
formula are true Christians. These people are actually spreading error that is rooted in the worst form of Pharisaical pride.
3. Jesus is still praying for the unity of the universal
church. He asked in John 17 that the Father would make His followers one. He was not praying that we would all join the same
denomination, submit to the same pope or agree on every minor point of doctrine. His goal is that one day we will drop our
selfish pride, competition and religious agendas so that we can cooperate across denominational lines to build His kingdom.
Unfortunately Pope Benedict has made it clear that he does not share these biblical values. He has sinned against Christ
by dishonoring a majority of Christians. And by claiming to be the only true church he has placed Catholicism in the cult
Catholics who love Jesus more than they love the pope and their religious tradition should swiftly denounce his error.