Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dear Mormons and Roman Catholics: Please Proselytize Baptists

I wonder whether the greater threat to the Christian faith is not that people believe the wrong things, but that they believe nothing . . . or everything.

Of course, that thought is not original or profound. It's just on my mind after reading this story from today's Washington Post. Now, apparently, we need a code of ethics for "evangelism" that ensures we're not stealing sheep from one another.

I think what's most appalling about this notion to me is the thinly-veiled cynical partitioning of humanity into kingdoms for the world's religious elite. It strikes me as the kind of political pragmatism that would've happened in 1940s Berlin.

Oh well, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. I'm just not much for mixing politics with faith, which I suppose is why my reaction to the Pope's recent pronouncements that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church was a bit more like Al Mohler than Ian Paisley. Though I think I'd agree with both of them theologically, there's a sense in which I'd prefer the Pope's dogmatic error to the fuzzy ecumenical drift of both Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism over the past several decades.

[Edit: Listen to an NPR conversation with a WCC official here. The closing discussion of Christianity and Islam is horrendous.]


Todd Wood said...

I agree over here in the Mormon corridor.

Jay C said...

Do you have a link to the story? I'd like to read it.

John E (Louisville) said...

I am a convert to the Catholic faith, and I have been favorably impressed by Al Mohler's candor, honesty, and humility both in what he said here, and when I listened to his radio show when he interviewed Dr. Bruce Ware on the occasion of Francis Beckwith's return to the Catholic Church.

Of course I disagree that the Pope made a dogmatic error in the statement, but that aside, I'm a little confused about what you're saying regarding the Roman Catholic Church. It seems like you are saying that the Catholic Church has both stood firm on its pronouncement that it is the one true Church, and at the same time had a fuzzy ecumenical drift. If I understand right what you mean by fuzzy ecumenical drift, it seems like the two are diametrically opposed.

Or perhaps you didn't even mean to get on the subject of the Catholic Church, but were just trying to illustrate the importance of standing on something dogmatic, whatever that may be. Just not sure what you're saying here.

Ben said...

Jay C,

Thanks for the heads up. Every now and then a stray piece of code appears for no apparent reason in the middle of the html and kills the link. So it should be there now.

Ben said...

John E,

I'm sorry that my wording wasn't more clear. I'm contrasting Pope Benedict's recent dogmatism with the ecumenical drift over several decades that preceded it.

I'm sure you're more familiar with the development of Roman Catholic theology in the 20th century than I am, but I've rather frequently heard folks who know far more than I about it talk about John Paul II as being far more ecumenical in practice than his reputation suggested. It also seems to me that this trend did not begin with him.

Hope that helps clarify. Would you disagree?

John said...

That does clarify where you're coming from in regard to the Catholic Church. But I think it would be more accurate to say that there has been a strong confusion as to the meaning of ecumenism among many Catholics especially in these days, but not that there has been a fuzzy ecumenical drift by the Catholic Church herself.

I don't say this without reason. Many people tend to say that Pope John Paul II was more ecumenical than Pope Benedict is. But if you look at what Pope JPII wrote and said, you will find that always before him was a clear understanding that in the Catholic Church only did the fulness of Christ revealed to us reside, though he was quick to point out when truth showed itself in other traditions, even if they were non-Christian. It was clear, however, that he thought of the Catholic Church in the same way that Pope Benedict does by his approving of the document you referred to.

The same is true of the documents promulgated by Vatican II. To read through these is to see a lucid understanding of how the Catholic Church understands herself as the one true Church, though it seems many think of the Second Vatican Council as the beginning of the time when the Catholic Church stopped thinking of herself this way.

It is true that many Catholics have bought into a fuzzy ecumenism, if by fuzzy ecumenism you mean some sort of compromise church in the middle where everyone can meet and agree, who once disagreed. But those that have bought into this have done so because of a failure to understand what the Church believes about herself, not because the Church herself has drifted.

Ben said...


I think you'd have to agree that there are diverse interpretations of Pope JPII, which assess not only what he wrote, but also what he did and how he led. That's probably not an argument worth chasing here.

In any case, I think it's worth noting that the ecumenism includes ecclesiastical leadership of the RCC, not merely the parishoners in the pews.

And of course, the bottom line is that, though your theological convictions differ from mine, it is right that we actually believe one another are wrong, rather than minimizing our differences and pretending they don't matter.