Summer 2014: Is the Protest Over?
Author: Professor Walter J. Veith, PhD
Publish date:
Summary: Has the conflict really ended? Or has the Protestant world merely forgotten what the conflict was about?
 
 

History was recently made when a young South African Protestant Pentecostal Bishop, Tony Palmer, whose mentor and personal friend happens to be none other than Pope Francis I, announced to the world that the time for visible Christian unity had come. He solemnly proclaimed that Luther’s protest was over since both the Lutherans and the Methodists had already signed the Joint Lutheran–Catholic Declaration on Justification which was issued in 1999. After playing a personal video appeal for Christian unity from Pope Francis himself to a packed house of Evangelical leaders, Kenneth Copeland responded with a prayer of blessing to the pope which he offered in tongues and then affirmed the pope's sentiments to the thunderous affirmation of the assembled leaders.i

Subsequent events have been unfolding which give momentum to the “Miracle of Unity.” By early April, meetings had already been arranged for a delegation of evangelical leaders to meet with Pope Francis and the Pontifical Office for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Moreover, the appeal for unity has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in churches all over the world.ii

This is not the first time that such bold statements have been made regarding the end of the Protestant era. In 2008 in an Interview with journalist Emiel Hakkenes, the Jesuit Professor Eduard Kimman, then time General Secretary of the Netherlands Bishop’s Conference, proclaimed that “there remains hardly any reason to remain a Protestant”, and he saw Protestantism as “an action group that forgot to dissolve itself” and a group “that had not recognized the significance of a global, visible leadership personality such as that of the pope.” Moreover, he stated that he doubted that the Reformation would still exist after 2017 (the year when Protestantism commemorates its 500th year of existence). Protestantism, he said, “should return to the mother church.”iii

Although there has been some protest from the Protestant world to these sentiments, Religion News Services reports that the two sides have decided to “bury the hatchet” for the upcoming commemoration of the commencement of the Protestant movement. The Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation released a joint document, “From Conflict to Communion,” in Geneva on Monday (June 17, 2013) that said:

there’s little purpose in dredging up centuries-old conflicts… In the document, the two churches recognize that in the age of ecumenism and globalization, the celebration requires a new approach, focusing on a reciprocal admission of guilt and on highlighting the progress made by Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the past 50 years …The fact that the struggle for this truth in the 16th century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history,” and “In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church.”

The document also affirms that the two sides (Lutherans and Catholics) “have come to acknowledge that more unites than divides them.”iv

Has the conflict really ended, or has the Protestant world merely forgotten what the conflict was about? Luther’s initial conflict was not about the doctrine of Justification by faith alone as Bishop Palmer suggests, but rather about the usurpation of papal authority (as he saw it at the time) with regard to the question of indulgences. The conflict over the authority to issue such indulgences became so great that Luther finally came to the conclusion that the papal system was antichrist, as by issuing such indulgences they were trampling on the prerogatives of Christ. The central issue was thus one of authority and this conflict escalated to the point where papal authority was placed in juxtaposition to the authority of Christ. The Reformation came to seek its authority in the Scriptures alone which affirmed to them the centrality of Christ and led to the famous trio of proclamations “Sola Christos”, “Sola Scriptura” and “Sola Fides.” To counteract this ‘rebellion’ against the authority of the pope, the order of the Jesuits was created whose sole purpose was to destroy this movement of defection. At the council of Trent, which was directly under the control of the Jesuits, papal authority was elevated above that of Scripture and ultramontanism (which has come to mean ‘all power in one man’) was entrenched. Tradition was the stated context whereby Scripture, had to be evaluated and, as the Archbishop of Reggio so ‘eloquently’ argued at that council, the Catholic Church could prove its authority over that of Scripture because it had transferred the solemnity of the seventh day Sabbath to Sunday, a move based solely on the authority of the church.v It is on this point that Protestantism missed the golden opportunity to affirm its adherence to Scripture alone, but by accepting this argument without a “word of remonstrance” they effectively capitulated to papal authority and it became only a matter of time before they would give up their protest in its entirety. Sadly it seems that after holding out for nearly five hundred years of pain, war, the rack and the inquisition they have decided to choose the five hundredth year of Protestantism to finally relinquish their position.

Rome has been at war with the trio of Protestant acclamations regarding the sole authority of Christ, the sole authority of Scriptures and the issue of salvation by faith in Christ alone ever since their inception. It takes subtlety and cunning indeed to undermine these pillars of the Reformation without seeming to be at war with Christ Himself, and yet the papacy has seemingly succeeded in duping the world into believing that they are for Christ when in fact they are warring against Him. The Catholic doctrinal position on these issues is clearly stated in their literature. In Catholic Answers to explain and defend the Faith they unashamedly brand the doctrines of Sola Sriptura (the Bible is the sole rule of faith) and Sola Fides (justification is by faith alone) as shibboleths or outmoded ideas that some still cling to even though they are not based on ‘truth’.vi

The doctrine that salvation is to be found in Christ alone has also been severely undermined by the Jesuit architects of Vatican II since Karl Rahner (the chief theologian at that council) effectively opened the door for placing all religious movements on an equal footing in terms of Salvation. His student, Paul Knitter, wrote the book No other Name?vii in which he effectively argues that salvation is no longer ‘through Christ alone’ but can be obtained through any system of religion not even excluding atheism. He is also the author of the book Without Buddha I could not be a Christianviii which is in a sense compulsory reading for those who embrace religious globalism and see religious truth as a hologram which makes the Jesus of “I am the way the truth and the life” just one of many avenues reaching for the divine.

The core issue that drove the Reformation was that of authority. Either Christ is supreme or His supposed representative is supreme. There can be no middle road in this equation. Obviously, from the Protestant perspective the conclusions to be reached must be based on doctrine —Biblical doctrine. It is therefore imperative for Rome to introduce tradition as the context in which the Bible must be interpreted in order to authoritatively dispense salvation contrary to Biblical teachings. All papal doctrines stand or fall on this stumbling block, and this stumbling block is Christ.

• Papal infallibility,

• Papal primacy,

• the veneration of saints and Mary and relics,

• the beatification of saints,

• the priesthood as the bridge between laity and God,

• celibacy,

• priestly forgiveness of sins,

• the granting of indulgences,

• Catholic doctrines on transubstantiation,

• immortality and hell,

• Justification,

• the Atonement,

• and natural law rather than Divine law

as the basis for dictating morality are all based on tradition rather than the Word of God. None of these doctrinal issues have ever been rescinded and Vatican II did not change the Catholic position on a single doctrineix, including that on justification as defined by the Council of Trent which anathematized anyone teaching that Justification was by faith alone. In fact the reverse is true. All of the recent popes, including Pope Francis, have issued large scale indulgences and beatified saints to underscore their authority in issues of doctrine. Moreover, Catholic scholars, many of them Jesuits, have recently advocated very strongly for papal infallibility and a "obsequium religiosum" attitude toward the teachings of the magisterium. As Richard Gula puts it:

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful accept their teaching and adhere to it with religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.” n. 25 of Lumen Gentium:x

It is no wonder that Tony Palmer suggested that we lay aside doctrines as the basis for unity (“God will sort out the doctrines when we get upstairs” were his words) and that we let the charisma of the Spirit guide us to unity (“glue us together”).

However, God has already given us doctrines ‘downstairs’ on which to base our decisions:

2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (KJV)

1Ti 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

The Spirit will never bypass Scripture, therefore we are admonished:

1 Jn 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

The Spirit of Truth cannot negate Truth, and since Jesus, the Word and the commandments are Truth by definition, it cannot negate any of these three.xi

The words spoken by the Archbishop of Reggio at the council of Trent regarding the Sabbath issue and its bearing on Sola Scriptura have not been laid to rest over the last five centuries. More than ever this issue has become a test of authority, not only regarding the Sabbath day per say, but regarding the authority of the Scriptures in their entirety. Since Christ, the incarnate Word, is both the Creator and the Redeemer in Scripture, He is thus also the Lawgiver and as such His authority is intricately linked to this conundrum. Choosing the Sabbath thus means choosing the authority of the Scriptures, with all its doctrinal implications, over that of papal tradition and in a real sense this means choosing Protestantism over capitulation.

Regarding the Sabbath issue, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church is at the forefront of this battle and it faces not only Catholicism in its stand for Sola Scriptura but the modern Protestant world as well. Unlike its founders which clearly embraced the binding claims of the law, modern Protestantism has tended to abrogate the entire Decalogue in its efforts to defend its position on the Sabbath/Sunday issue in spite of the clear Biblical injunction of Christ that He did not come to abolish the law and that not one jot or tittle would disappear from the law till all things have been accomplished. Rome, it seems, has a clear vision with regard to this challenge as it has clearly stated its position. The Saint Catherine Catholic Church Sentinel reported:

People who think that the Scripture should be the sole authority, should logically become Seventh Day Adventists and keep Saturday holy.xii

The Catholic website Catholic Answers to explain and defend the Faith6 also seems to understand the nature of the conflict between the two ideologies which must inevitably clash:

Seventh-Day Adventism cannot change its views on the Catholic Church being the Whore of Babylon without admitting that it was wrong on Sunday worship. It cannot admit that Sunday worship is not the mark of the beast without changing its views on the Jewish Sabbath. Seventh-Day Adventism cannot cease to be anti-Catholic without ceasing to be Seventh-Day Adventism.vi

Perhaps, Protestantism and the world will be faced once again with an antitypical ‘Bishop of Reggio’ challenge and by God’s grace they will hopefully choose differently this time.


i. "Bishop Tony Palmer and Pope Francis - The Miracle of Unity has Begun: KCM Minister's Conference 2014"

ii. Posted on Tony Palmers Facebook page

iii. "Mariënburg over wrijving"

iv. "Lutherans and Catholics bury the hatchet for Reformation’s 500th"

v. Catholic Mirror, Sept. 9, 1893

vi. "Seventh-day Adventism"

vii. Paul F. Knitter. 1985. No Other Name?: A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions. SCM Press

viii. Paul F. Knitter. 2009. Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. Oneworld Publications

ix. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the church. Responses to the questions. (Vatican.va)

x. Richard M. Gula, Reason Informed by Faith, Paulist Press 1989, p. 153, 155

xi. John 14:6; John 17:17; Ps. 119:151; 1 John 2:4.

xii. Saint Catherine Catholic Church Sentinel, Volume 50 Number 22, May 21,1995

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