With the Pope's passing, renewed interest has come up regarding the separate Christian denominations. one argument in particular involves the relationship Protestants (in general) to Roman Catholics. I might suggest that both sides are correct to some degree in their positions? Up to Arias, the Church was Catholic. Then it became Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox, and the RCC held sway in the conventional thought until Luther. The New Testament, the recited Creeds, the essential Doctrines, all were established by the RCC. In fact, I believe it would be fair to say that all of Christianity either follows the Roman Catholic position, or reacts to it.
With that said, however, the Church has always had dissent within its ranks, often in the capacity of what I may call ‘followers of Christ, but not of Men’. We see this in the many debates as the Church separated heresy from true obedience, and also in the arguments, even among the princes of the Church. We do not often consider it, but there are distinct differences between the Augustinian and Marionite orders, between the Jesuits and the Benedictines. Luther wanted, very much, to remain in the Catholic Church, but found it in conflict with the Gospel too much to accept the order. Say what you will about Luther’s anti-Semitism and other flaws, his motive certainly stands up well as he wrote, especially compared to, say, King Henry VIII’s purpose in setting up the Anglican Church. John is correct to say that there is little substantive comparison between the Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church, where doctrine and effect are considered. We follow the same Lord, but are clearly on different sides of the mountain. What the Protestants did not agree with, they discarded, and what RCC had that they found valid, they confirmed in their own method.
That is one of the great questions for Christians to resolve. All who call on the Lord shall be saved we are taught, but beyond that, there is much disagreement. It leads many who do not believe in Christ to doubt the presence of the Holy Spirit, and even among believers, it can be rancorous to discuss the intricacies of God’s will. Baptism, confession, penance, contrition, consequence, miracles, prophecy, mission, eschatology, judgment, all are myriad in interpretation, and there are more denominations and sects every year. Small wonder but sad, that so many people end up accepting Christ only as a concept.
This is one reason why the work of Karol Wojytla is so important. Like Mother Teresa before him, Karol is a true emissary of Christ, by everything I can see of his work. Did he kiss a Koran? Yes, but that does not mean he accepted Islam as the same as faith in Christ, nor even once mouth the words of the Islamic Shahada, ‘There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger’ Did he stand with Protestants, even Atheists, on political matters? Yes, but not once did he deny his faith to do so. Did he let the crimes of priests against children go ignored for too long? Unfortunately yes, but in that case, Karol trusted his Monsignors and Archbishops and Cardinals to clean their own house, and we do not know the specific actions and words done and said in private; it has been reported by some that where other popes sugar-coated the scandal, Karol demanded the Church cooperate with secular authorities where these crimes were discovered, and that corrections be made, privately but directly. There are many points where people can criticize the Pope, but this one did as well as we can reasonably demand from one man, and excelled many times beyond what we see from any other world leader. Reagan was a great leader, but he did not publicly forgive John Hinckley. Ayatollah Sistani is a great man, revered for his tolerance, but he did not implore Muslims to consider Jews and Christians their brothers before God. Billy Graham is a great man in God’s service, but even he took vacations and time for himself. By any human measure, Karol excelled, and we would do well to consider his example.
Jesus warned His disciples long ago, that the Kingdom of Heaven was designed for little children. Our knowledge can be useful as a guide to our daily walk, and can also help us discern what is and is not from the Lord, but in the end, we must be childlike in our hearts. Roman Catholic or Protestant, to be Christian is to accept God as ‘Abba’, and this is the Way. This speaks also, to the question of other faiths. I will not speak to their Way, except to acknowledge that if God accepts them, I shall not be an obstacle. It is my belief that God wants us to know and accept Christ, but that again is a matter of faith and hope, rather than restriction.