Rome

June 5, 2008

I’ve come to appreciate Roman Catholicism as the potential via media for all branches of Christianity. While the Orthodox argue (quite persuasively) that Rome isn’t the “Prince of the Apostles” and that the Pope isn’t the only “Vicar of Christ”, and the Protestants argue (pretty well) that there are other ways of determining authority, we still owe some respect and reverence to Rome.

The Orthodox should not forget that Rome was the prima inter pares, the first among equals, of the first thousand years of the church. Rome was the capital of the West, even years after Constantinople became New Rome. Rome had to keep the crumbling empire together, often faced by near constant attacks or threats from the Germanic tribes, Huns, and others. The Roman church was the only de facto institutional vestige of the Empire in the West. No wonder the church developed the way it did in the Middle Ages. It’s easy for Orthodox to criticize Rome for theological deficiencies, but they should have more of a balanced view of how these things came about. The schism should not be a permanent state of affairs — “Western Christianity” isn’t a permanent whipping boy. Orthodox seem to care more about preserving their traditions than uniting followers of Christ from outside their tradition.

Protestants berate Rome for a whole host of other reasons, but these too are quite often overstated. Rome is not a false church, forcing legalism and false doctrine down the poor, unsuspecting throats of mindless, lifeless masses. Rome is a living church with a checkered, very human past, but it is also constantly reforming and renewing itself.  Protestants owe so much of their understanding of the faith to their Roman heritage. Our views of heaven, hell, sin, the Trinity, the Bible, justification, original sin, etc. have all come to us directly from Rome via such luminaries as Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm. The Reformation produced a Counter-Reformation in the Catholic church that has not yet ended. The Vatican councils and much ecumenical dialogue have been extremely helpful in uniting Rome with many other Christian traditions in more visible ways. I do not believe that Martin Luther would have been excommunicated from Rome had he lived in our time (Hans Kung?). That’s why many prominent and unknown Protestants — Lutherans, Mennonites, even Reformed Christians have gone back under the ecclesial authority of Rome. The Reformation was only temporary.

I believe that because of its special historical and common-cause relationships with the Orthodox and Protestant traditions, Rome will be the center of any future rapprochement between communions. If there is one person whom Christians around the world could point to who embodies that unity and challenge, I would look no further than the Pope. He seeks to fulfill Peter’s role as the spokesman for the apostles, and I think he fits it better than anyone else. It’s not about who has the perfect tradition, even though tradition is immensely important; it’s about who is willing to bridge the gap between all who claim to follow Christ, and work to proclaim, embody, extend, and participate in His kingdom on this earth here and now.

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3 Responses to “Rome”

  1. I believe that, in fact, the way of the very first “Evangelicals” is well worth the time and attention of those who find Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthdoxy to be a potential alternative to modern, pop-Evangelicalism.

    There is a great edition of the Lutheran Confessions available that offers the reader a guided tour of what Lutheranism is all about.

    http://www.cph.org/concordia

  2. Nate said

    I definitely agree that the first “Evangelicals”, i.e. Reformers, did not want to break away from the historic church. In fact, their goal was to restore Christianity to its biblical and historical roots, especially following the early ecumenical councils. I think too often present-day “Evangelicals” think that Protestantism started as a rejection of tradition, instead of a true attempt at reforming tradition.

    One of the reasons why I haven’t converted to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy is precisely that I believe the very nature of being Protestant means to hold one’s own tradition accountable to the Bible and church tradition. I think a lot of people reject “pop-Evangelicalism” and swim the Tiber or the Bosphorus because they think that present-day Evangelicalism is irreformable.

    People like Robert Webber really show me that one can be a Protestant Evangelical while at the same time being firmly rooted in tradition.

    That’s good ecumenism.

  3. theoldadam said

    I love the freedom (that all Christians ought have)but that Confessional Lutheranism teaches and confesses and I love the fact that we (as Lutherans) don’t have to hold onto our traditions, but we do, because they are roote and anchored in Christ.
    They keep us from floating hither and yon like these pop non denom churches, but allow us our freedom ans keep us off the religious rat-wheel.

    I’ll never go back to Rome, or anywhere else. Once you’ve tasted real freedom in Christ…you just can’t go back!

    Thanks!

    – Steve Martin San Clemente, CA

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