A Word from the Pope

Yes, you read that right. The Gospel Coalition posted about the Pope’s recent trip to Germany. While he was there, he visited Erfurt, where Martin Luther “lived as a monk, wrestled with God, and found the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be the solvent to his fears.”

The Pope said some very challenging words concerning Protestant Christianity today:

Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon . . . poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse?

“…institutional depth, rationality, dogmatic [read doctrinal] content, and stability…”

I think there are definitely some valid points here. While I’m not sure of the necessity for “institutional depth”, the need for rationality and deep doctrinal content is great. Because it is in both of these traits that we find a strong understanding of Christ, upon which we base our stability. Obviously, on Christ, not just our understanding of Him. But our understanding helps to inform us about the Rock on which we stand.

When I speak of rationality, I do not mean mere rationalism in the “enlightenment, every has to be scientifically proved, and reason is the only basis for belief” sense, but rather one of testing a particular belief or action against Scripture. For example, Chris Castaldo very graciously mentions some people he came across in a particular movement who “actually roar, growl, and manifest other forms of conspicuous behavior” in efforts to see the church “roaring in the Spirit like the Lion of Judah.” Now, I grew up in the Charismatic/Pentecostal type of church, and even I’m going “Ok, I don’t see where they’re getting this from Scripture…”

When it comes to deep, doctrinal content, much of the church has seemingly given up personally wrestling with the hard questions, and have simply accepted answers handed to them. Concerning this point, I think we should look at the example of Luther, as the Pope confesses:

What constantly exercised him [Luther] was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. “How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For Luther theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.

Did you see what just happened? We see the Catholic Pope giving props to Luther, a Reformed Christian. He says that the guy who nailed the 95 Theses to the church door, calling the Catholic Church to repent, was Christocentric:

Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture.

How many of us can say that to understand how we “receive the grace of God” is something we truly wrestle with? And not just the “by faith alone” answer, but all of its implications? How many of us, like Jonathan Edwards, really struggle to wrestle with God’s sovereignty and man’s will? Or the concept of two wills of God, His will for “all persons to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and His will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved.

The Pope is right, for the most part. So, the question is, how do we become a church who is intellectually passionate for God again? Just as importantly, how do we become a church who is intellectually passionate for God, but not at the expense of being emotionally passionate for Him as well?

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