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Saturday, July 14, 2007

What Did the Pope Say?

There has been a lot of press recently about a statement from the Bishop of Rome about how people are saved. First of all, I think it's important to note that Benedict XVI has said nothing new here. I continue to be amazed, frankly, that there are so many people who are surprised when the pope teaches Roman Catholic doctrine. Oh, and I just learned that the Dalai Lama thinks like a Buddhist too!

Regardless of what you've heard, the pope did not say that all non-Catholics are going to hell. What he said, as I understand it, is that Lutherans and Protestants are not the church, properly understood.

I disagree, of course. Who is the Church? Where is it to be found? Lutherans believe that the Church is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. (Augsburg Confession Article VII).

I agree with the pope that there is only one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Our Lord did not establish multiple entities to represent Him, nor are there multiple paths to enlightenment. There is only one true church.

I will go further. Outside of the church, it is not possible to be saved. I don't accept the notion of "anonymous Christians" which some Roman theologians have posited. That is the idea that people of non-Christian belief systems might be saved by Christ even if they don't know his name or confess Him as Lord.

So to be saved, one must be in the Church of Jesus Christ. I simply do not equate the Church of Jesus Christ with any single existing institutional denomination.

A major part of the problem is the pope's misunderstanding of apostolic succession. The Apostle's Creed refers to the church as apostolic. That is to say that it is built upon the foundation of the apostles (and prophets) with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. But in what sense is the church apostolic? Is the important thing that one can demonstrate a physical laying on of hands from one to the next for eons? Rather, isn't it the man who teaches the doctrine of the apostles who is their rightful successor whether he is in the physical lineage or not?

Consider what Jesus says in John 8 about who are the true sons of Abraham. In opposition to the pharisees, Jesus said that the sons of Abraham are those who hold the faith of Abraham, not simply those biologically descended from his loins.

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3 comments:

Paul, in Bethel Park said...

Pastor,

Thank you for the clarification. I had heard similar stories in the past, but was interested in what you had to say.

I have noticed several news reports locally with story lead-ins like...'The Pope says only Catholics can go to Heaven. Tune in next for the story.'

If only we all spent more time in the Word, perhaps we could take comfort in God's grace more fully.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Check out my post on apostolicity here.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you posted this. I looked for the exact wording on the Catholic site, but found nothing on what was actually said. Maybe I wasn't wording it correctly in the search thingy.

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