Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Does Rome "Add to Jesus"?

My blog-neighbor Japhy, a very gracious Roman Catholic fellow, has been discussing the view that Protestants typically have of his group, that they add to Jesus. He says
I disagree. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, it therefore follows that there are works, and sacraments, and a visible leadership (the Pope), and role models (like Paul and Mary).
I'm hoping to explain to him the point of the Protest, but we're definitely not there yet. Down in the comments, he asks whether having a liturgy is adding to Jesus, whether belief in consubstantiation is adding to Jesus, and so forth.

The phrase "adding to Jesus" was one Japhy chose to frame his post, but I'd have to say that it doesn't really sum up the Protest very accurately. Having a liturgy isn't "adding to Jesus" in the sense of the Protest any more than singing Amazing Grace is "adding to Jesus" or studying the Bible is "adding to Jesus". The "Christ Alone" of the Protest was not a call to forget the Trinity or stop having role models or have only the Jesus Prayer. It was a reminder that Christ alone is our savior, and that nothing else is needed for salvation except Christ alone.

In this much Rome and all branches of Protestants agree: that, with Christ in us, works necessarily follow. But Rome goes further and states that such works merit the attainment of eternal life (Council of Trent). That is cause for protest; something has been added where Christ alone belongs. Granted that, with Christ in me, I find myself drawn to works of compassion: feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, forgiving as we have been forgiven, and so forth. Any idea how often I fail at those? Plenty. If anyone thinks that on count of such feeble works God owes us eternal life, I beg to differ. Between us and eternal life are always our sins and shortcomings. It is through Christ that we have eternal life, not through our merits.

Or again, in the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam, the church of Rome states
Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
Now I know Roman Catholics are honor-bound to say that's right, but from the outside looking in, that statement looks like proof that Rome has lost the plot about what is really necessary for salvation. It looks like Rome has forgotten what Christ said about the greatest of the apostles: He shall be servant of all, and "The lords of the gentiles lord it over them, but not so with you." Even for someone who grants in principle that Rome had a place of honor among the ancient sees of the united church (pre-Chalcedon), this papal bull demonstrates "lording it over", the opposite of what Christ taught would be the hallmark of Christian leadership. "Absolutely necessary for salvation" to be subject to the Roman Pontiff? That is why the Protest looks at Rome and sees "Jesus plus something else" in a place where it should be Christ alone.

In a way, I sympathize with Rome for some of the insulting and uninformed attacks they receive -- for Jack Chick tracts and that kind of thing. A certain number of the objections to Rome are mean-spirited; others are just misinformed. I think the original point of the Protest would stand a better chance of being heard and considered if some of the throwaway objections against Rome could be discarded once and for all. As it is, the misguided protests only serve to reinforce the Roman idea that there are no valid protests, that there could never be a valid protest.

I once saw a post where a convert (revert?) to Rome had worked through his estimate of the probability that Rome was the true church. I couldn't find it tonight but will gladly trade this sentence for a link if anyone knows where it is. At any rate, if memory serves, the fellow had come up with an estimate that it was in the upper 80%'s probable that Rome was the true church factoring in pro's such as apostolic succession and con's such as the Inquisition. (I'm going to use 87% on the hopes that I'm remembering correctly or close to it. If the original article turns up I'll set the percentages straight.) But I remember reading that post and thinking, if I granted those numbers I would come to a much different conclusion: not that there's an 87% chance that Rome is the true church, but that Rome is 87% of what the true church should be. The point of the protest is that we can do better than a B. There's an 87% chance that Rome gets 100%? How about there's a 100% chance that Rome gets an 87%. And the only way to state your disagreement with Rome is to not be a member. The only way to help the church be what it should be is from without, because Protest on that level is not allowed from within.


Enigman said...

...and the probability that the convert had overlooked enough data to make his estimate worthless is also in the upper 80s. Incidentally I've tagged you here...

Kelly said...


I've never left a comment before, but something you said got me thinking--

"The only way to help the church be what it should be is from without, because Protest on that level is not allowed from within."

I'm curious about this comment in a few ways, and I'd like to discuss it more in depth with you.

First, I must say i don't like the idea of leaving a church in order to make it better. The reason I'm a member of the RC church is because I do believe it is closest to God's plan of all the others--if I didn't I'd have to leave. But in no certain terms do i think it's perfect--in fact, I like the way you talked about it being ~80% right. But how can I (or anyone) help the church gain that last 20% by joining a church that is <80%?

People belong to a certain church (I think/hope?) because they believe it is the church closest to the way God wants us to be. If you think your church is more correct, and you are trying to "fix" my church, what that means to me is you are trying to make my church more like your church--perhaps even to the point at which point it ceases to be my church. (Note: "my" and "your" in this case happen to be Catholic and Lutheran, but they don't have to be. I think this is something someone of any denomination would be afraid of.)

To me, the only way to "fix" the church is from inside--by people who know it for what it is and love it for what it should be. I'm aware this undermines the whole idea of the Protest, and I really don't mean at all to be rude or insulting, but I did want to weigh in with my two cents.

japhy said...

I was writing a very lengthy response, but I've decided to make it a blog post. It should be up before long.

This diablog could get interesting.

japhy said...

Ok, here is the first part of my response (dealing with the Council of Trent).

I'll get around to the necessity of subjection to the Roman Pontiff after dinner, perhaps.

japhy said...

I've treated Unam Sanctam here.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Sorry, Jeff, but between "feed My sheep" and the papacy as we know it is a HUGE gap. "Feed My sheep" does not imply being THE only shepherd, or even the chief shepherd, or bing the principle of unity in the church, or having two swords, or that subjection to Peter is necessary for salvation, or subjection to his alleged successors, or ANY of that stuff. It's way, way too big a stretch, requires too much imagination.


japhy said...

Anastasia, I'd prefer if comments to my responses were on my blog articles, simply because I don't expect to look for them here. I will be copying your comment and my response to my own blog (unless you object).

As for your comments... between "feed My sheep" and the papacy as we know it is a HUGE gap. "Feed My sheep" does not imply being THE only shepherd, or even the chief shepherd, or bring the principle of unity in the church...

Jesus gives Peter three different commands in John 21:15-17: "feed my lambs", "tend my sheep", and "feed my sheep". I refer to the Greek: "βοσκε τα αρνια μου", "ποιμαινε τα προβατα μου", and "βοσκε τα προβατα μου". There are two different verbs used by John ("bosko" and "poimaino"): the first means "to pasture; to feed; to keep" whereas the second one means "to tend as a shepherd; to rule". And there are two different nouns used, "arnion" and "probaton": the first means "lamb", the second means "sheep(fold)".

This part of the gospel according to John is just as inspired as the rest, and thus these words were used under the direction of the Holy Spirit, so they accurately reflect what Jesus told Peter.

The Catholic Church recognizes these three commands to its Bishops thus: to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. For the "lambs" who are young in their faith, to instruct them and build up their faith. For the "sheep" -- the entire flock under their care -- to govern them and ensure they adhere to the whole faith. And this flock must be built up and continually fed by the Word and the Word made flesh.

Now, if there are multiple Peters -- that is, multiple shepherds of the same "rank" as Peter -- then it stands to reason they cannot give conflicting instruction, or else Jesus is setting his Church up for failure. But Jesus gave these commands to Peter alone as Scripture reports it, and he himself said there would be ONE flock and ONE shepherd. Now, Jesus is the chief Shepherd, whereas Peter is the vicar shepherd who governs until Jesus returns in glory.

Just as Jesus delegated unto Peter it seems reasonable that Peter can delegate LOCAL responsibility to individual Bishops, but Peter would maintain his role of shepherd of the entire flock. That is the key here: Jesus did not give Peter a portion of the flock, he gave Peter the whole flock. That is what was imaged in the catch of fish that day.

Enigman said...

...incidentally, the way that the spacing goes squished after quotes can be cured, e.g. if you insert after the quote (doing so under "edit HTML" rather than "compose" of course) something like this:
[less-than bracket]span style="line-height:1.6"[more-than bracket]
...where ]less-than bracket] = <, and similarly for >...
...adding another /span (inside those pointy brackets of course) at the end of the post, then that works. A more long-term solution (apparently, although I prefer short-term stuff that I can see working) is given here. (If you didn't understand any of that, let me know and I'll describe it differently:)

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

I think the only thing I'm going to respond to in the comments section here so far (as opposed to in a separate post) is Kelly's comment.

I definitely belong to the Lutheran church because it is, as far as I can tell, the closest to the original teachings as received. In places where Lutherans differ from Roman Catholics (salvation by grace through faith without meriting eternal life, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist does not replace the bread and wine but joins with them, etc.) I'd be glad to support the Lutheran stand over the Roman Catholic stand based on Scripture and patristics. Not that that's the point of this post, but just saying as a matter of principle, y'know.

The reason I speak of righting Rome from without is because she has cut herself off from being righted from withint. She considers herself doctrinally infallible (it's one of several things she's wrong about), and she excommunicates anyone who disagrees openly with her on all kinds of things, not only the things she's right about but also the the things she's wrong about.

She's cut herself off from correction by developing a theology about how she could never need correction on that level.

I appreciate that you took the time to post, and I hate that our first exchange is over something that we're bound to disagree deeply about. You seem a decent person that I'd be glad to know.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF