The Reformation is not relevant
I go to Solemn High Mass (almost) every Sunday at Christ Church St Laurence, Railway Square in Sydney. It is an Anglican parish of the Anglo-catholic tradition. On the Sunday that just past, after Mass, I picked up a copy of the February-March 2023 edition of Southern Cross, the news magazine for Sydney Anglicans. For reading on the way home.
Page 10 had an interesting story on “Clinical trials for old people and 4 year olds”. Page 14 had an even more interesting story on “Sharing the love of Jesus at Mardi Gras”, with “A Better Story To Tell” (on GAFCON Response to CofE Bishops Statement) on the same page. Page 17 has a St James’ Institute event ad titled “Two Gay Anglican Leaders on Sexuality & Faith”. Very interesting.
But my heart attack took place after I turned to page 22, where I was asked, “Is the Reformation still relevant?” It was a piece written by Dr Leonardo De Chirico, pastor of the Breccia di Roma church, Bible college lecturer and vice chairman of the Italian Evangelical Alliance. Below is my response, non-italicised:
“It is the [Catholic] Church that is the mother of the Bible — the Church that made the Bible — so it is the Church that presides over what the Bible teaches and decides what is the truth… as far as the official doctrine, dogma, teaching of the Church is concerned, the institution rejected the Bible 500 years ago and is still rejecting it in our time.”
That’s really simplifying the Catholic position. Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 96–100 states: “What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.
“The Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes” (DV 8 § 1). Thanks to its supernatural sense of faith, the People of God as a whole never ceases to welcome, to penetrate more deeply and to live more fully from the gift of divine Revelation. The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.”
“In 1870, it promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility — that when the Pope speaks from the chair, he speaks infallibly, without error.”
More simplification. Infallibility is not the absence of sin. Nor is it a charism that belongs only to the Pope. Indeed, infallibility also belongs to the body of bishops as a whole, when, in doctrinal unity with the Pope, they solemnly teach a doctrine as true. We have this from Jesus himself, who promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the Magisterium of the Church: “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).
“The truth that the Bible is the word of God, and that it stands over every other authority… salvation is by faith alone.”
If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:15–17). Also, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 calls us to stand firm and hold fast to the teachings and traditions passed down by word of mouth and writing. After all, the Word of God were generally not contemporaneous writings.
Finally, on page 24, Dr De Chirico gives “Four Tips for Communicating the Gospel to Roman Catholics”. Again, below is my response, non-italicised:
“There may be “fears” of the Bible (remember that the Bible was a forbidden book for Catholics up to 60 years ago)…”
Catholic churches did chain the Bible to a podium in the church but not to keep it away from parishioners, quite the opposite, in fact.
Today if you want a copy of the Bible you can go to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy. If you have a smartphone, there are a variety of free apps that will let you read a variety of translations. That was not always the case, however. Prior to the invention of the printing press, Bibles had to be copied by hand.
Why did the monks spend their lives making these copies if the church wanted to keep them out of people’s hands? Hand-copied Bibles were hard to come by and very expensive. This would make them targets for thieves. The churches chained them to podiums to prevent theft and to make sure they were available for reading, not to prevent them from being read.
“When confronted with something the Bible says that contradicts what their church teaches, they will rather question the authority of Scripture than the authority of the Roman Church.”
Fake news, see Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 96–100.
“Additionally, Roman Catholics often show a kind of love for Christ, but they also rely on other sub-mediators (e.g. Mary, the saints) who detract attention from Him.”
Another simplification. In 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul says that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Further, since Jesus is our “high priest” who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:24–25), he alone can mediate. Therefore, we should not ask Mary and the saints to intercede for us?
Okay, so this passage shows that Jesus is a unique mediator between God and men. He is a mediator in a way that no one else is. But it does not exclude the intercession of Mary and the saints.
On a fundamental level, Christ is the only mediator between God and man because he is the only God-man, the only person with both a divine and a human nature. Christ is the also the mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 8:6, 9:15, 12:24), just as Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant (Gal. 3:19–20).
However, the fact that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man does not prevent others from praying for us. In the verses preceding 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul says:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1–4).
In these verses, Paul urges us to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for “all men,” and he says that “this is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” Rather than restricting the scope of who can intercede for us, this passage emphasises the universality of intercession among Christians.
“Nominal Roman Catholics tend to separate “normal life” from religion… Believing and belonging go together. Roman Catholics tend to emphasize the latter at the expense of the former.”
That doesn’t really tell me anything about non-nominal Catholics. No one’s perfect, and in any group, some group members are less perfect than others. We already know this.
“Roman Catholics tend to see religion as a set of practices to be repeated.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15, anyone? There is a method to the madness, so to speak.
“Many Catholics tend to consider religion as a responsibility of the clergy that lay people don’t have.”
Actually, the mission of the Catholic laity is to sanctify the world.
“The cross is understood more as the eucharist celebrated by the priest than the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary… Catholics are not used to “listening” as their primary way of receiving a message; their religious mindset is shaped to see and experience through the other senses (e.g. sight, touch, taste) and in the context of community.”
Someone hasn’t been to Mass before. If this is the best the evangelical Sydney Anglicans have to offer, then perhaps the Reformation is not relevant after all.