Monday, July 16, 2007

Who would Jesus call a Christian?

By Nancy Jane Moore

The Vatican said the other day that other Christian denominations were not "true churches" because they don't recognize the primacy of the Pope.

An AP story posted on reported:
"Christ 'established here on earth' only one church," the document said. The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession - the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles.

According to the AP story, even the Eastern Orthodox church is "wounded" because it doesn't recognize the Pope as church leader, even though it has apostolic succession. But
Protestant churches are only "ecclesial communities" and can't provide salvation.

This isn't surprising. Pope Benedict is trying to undo all the work done by Pope John XXIII, who did his best to open up to other branches of Christianity. Benedict, who was a very right-wing cardinal before he became pope, is desperate to take the church back to the Middle Ages.

I don't expect much of the Roman Catholic Church these days, so I might have ignored this report except for a similar statement I heard on an NPR report the other day. A woman -- a Protestant Christian of conservative views -- was being interviewed about whether she would vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon.

She wouldn't, she said, because neither Mormons nor Catholics were Christians.

Now apparently there is a debate within the Mormon Church about whether they are Christians -- they believe in Jesus Christ, but they also believe in the later teachings of the Book of Mormon -- so perhaps it is not inaccurate, or even insulting, to say that Mormons aren't Christians (though I'm sure the woman who said it meant it in a negative way).

But the woman threw in Roman Catholics without being asked. And her assertion is ridiculous -- of course Roman Catholics are Christians. Still, it seems that lots of Protestants would like to believe that they aren't, just as lots of Roman Catholics would like to believe that Protestants aren't either.

Given the chaos in the church of the first few centuries after Christ -- when even Jesus's disciples preached different interpretations of his teaching -- it is ridiculous for the Roman Catholics to assert that they are the only true church. It's equally ridiculous for Protestants -- who were formed because they "protested" the Roman Catholic Church -- to deny the Christianity of Roman Catholics.

I don't see Jesus having much sympathy with either side in this squabble.


Julia said...

It's not true that the Vatican document claimed that Protestant communities "can't provide salvation."

The Vatican document clearly says that Orthodox churches and Protestant communities can be used by God as instruments of salvation. It also says that these churches and communities do have a certain extent of communion with the Catholic church -- albeit imperfectly.

Can you give us an example of when "Jesus' disciples preached different interpretations of his teaching" after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Or even after Christ's Resurrection, when He bestowed on them the power to bind/loose on earth as things are bound/loosed in Heaven?

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I was quoting from the AP story, which said the Vatican document said Protestant churches can't provide salvation. If you've read the original and have a better translation, please provide it. It's such an outrageous thing to say that I would love to find that it wasn't quite as bad as the AP story gives it.
The recent translations of the gospels of Mary Magdalene and Judas both include commentary suggesting that there was a great deal of different preaching in the first couple of centuries after Jesus's death and resurrection. Much of this controversy was covered up in the compromises that led to some ideas being condemned as heretical and others given official status, but it's pretty clear from any reading of early Christian history that the apostles and other followers of Jesus often came to contradictory interpretations of what he taught.
Me, I just think it's a shame that people who call themselves Christians won't even accept other Christians -- much less Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, or those who worship God in many other ways.

Jettboy said...

"Now apparently there is a debate within the Mormon Church about whether they are Christians -- they believe in Jesus Christ, but they also believe in the later teachings of the Book of Mormon -- so perhaps it is not inaccurate, or even insulting, to say that Mormons aren't Christians."

HOGWASH!! It is absolutely insulting to a Mormon to not be called a Christian! Sure, Mormons will accept they are not Creedal, Orthodox, or Traditional Christians. However, there is NO debate within the LDS Church as to its "Christianity," as that is only coming from OUTSIDE sources. The only inside argument about not accepting the label "Christian" is to put a distance between Mormons and an increasingly rude, insensitive, and otherwise unfriendly group of people who call themselves Christians.

Steve said...

Sure there were lots of different groups preaching different things in the first few centuries. That's why the Catholic Chuch used various 'quality control' methods to ensure that their teaching stayed pure.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Jettboy, I have always assumed Mormons were Christians. But I did hear a Mormon scholar on the radio the other day say that there is a debate within the LDS Church on that issue. Of course they believe in Jesus Christ -- which makes them Christian in my book -- but apparently some Mormons like to emphasize the difference. I personally look to the Mormon Church to tell me how they define their belief, and I think it is rude and wrong for others to claim they aren't Christians based on their own narrow ideas of Christianity.

Steve, "pure" is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly what became the Roman Catholic Church won the debate about which gospels to include, but that doesn't necessarily mean they kept the best teachings, or even the ones that were closest to what Jesus actually said.