Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Papacy and History

Yesterday's post was actually a sidetrack from what I wanted to write about. So I shall try again. The comment I wanted to focus on in terms of development of doctrine is something a protestant church history professor said. I don't remember his name or the exact quote but it was along the lines of the pope having an amazing ability to be on the right side of every heresy. One of the themes of church history is a string of heretical ideas. Protestants accept these as heresies. They don't think the Monophysites or the Nestorians had it right. So this guy was remarking how important it was that none of these heresies were embraced by the pope of the day. That would have been a disaster. He even went so far as to call that providential. That is that the grace of God was helping the pope get on the right side of one controversy after another.

What he is saying is that the catholic method of arriving at doctrinal truth worked. It worked when you would not expect human effort to work. That is a hard thing for many to grasp. Protestants agree with the answers the popes arrived at so that helps. Often they just see arriving at the right answer as being quite easy. Just open your bible and there it is. So they don't see it as remarkable that the papacy did not lead the whole church into any of these heresies. This is why you need to be deep in history.

Heresies don't last unless there is some reason why people believe them. Why would those reasons not apply to the pope as much as to anyone else? There were some human reasons. The pope often has an outsiders perspective. He often has better understanding of the tradition of the church. But that has been true of many protestant leaders and many of them have fallen for false teaching anyway. If there is anything 500 years of protestantism has taught us is how easily a church can go wrong. There is a lot of talk about 30,000 existing protestant denominations. The reality is there are many more that no longer exist. They all had leaders that tried to follow the bible. It isn't that easy.

Then there is the point where one must notice that the empirical evidence is not only remarkable but it is exactly the kind of remarkable evidence you would expect if what the Catholic church teaches about the papacy is true. Being grateful for God keeping His church from error in the past is good. But thinking about how God has done that is important because we know God is consistent. He is not going to be faithful to a principle for many centuries and then abandon it.

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