Pope Benedict XVI -- His Stand and the Remnant Church
A couple of weeks ago, Time Magazine ran an article about Pope Benedict XVI, focusing on his life and his thoughts. As most interested people already know, Pope Benedict XVI has been referred to as an ultra-conservative who takes stands on doctrinal clarity much to the dismay of some of the more liberal catholics, especially here in the United States.
One of the quotes in the article (which I will paraphrase since I do not have a copy of the magazine in front of me as I write) related to his writings that called on members of the Roman Catholic Church to either follow the church teachings or be denied communion. Some feared that this would cause a backlash by the more liberal members of the church would may cause these Roman-Catholic-in-name catholics who stray from the church teachings on such subjects as homosexuality, the ordination of women or abortion to leave the church. Time reports: "Benedict XVI's frequently stated positions appear to accept the inevitability of the decline of Church membership in the industrialized West, rather than to reach out to accommodate the concerns of those who might be drifting away from the Church." I read Pope Benedict's writings as suggesting that he was willing to allow that to happen. Basically, he said something to the effect of "we must stand for correct doctrine, and if that causes the church to shrink to a remnant and become almost invisible to the world, then that is the will of God." Another article in Time seems to agree:
But the more common analysis is that people in the West have left the Church because not only do they disagree with some of its teachings, they are not allowed to disagree out loud on questions such as the ordination of women. The closing down of dissent — which the new Pope had an active part in during his previous job — doesn't sit well with the norms of post-Enlightenment Western cultures.
By that analysis, the Church would continue to shrink in the West under Benedict XVI, unless he turns out to be extremely gifted pastorally. But that would not necessarily bother him that much. He has previously indicated that he would be comfortable with an extremely small Church, preferring a small church of true believers to a larger one whose numbers are swelled by people he would not see as good Catholics. Benedict XVI has previously argued that it is not unhealthy for church to be a counter culture rather than a dominant player in secular Western society. He's willing to see it play the role of an oppositional minority to a cultural drift he sees at odds with Church teachings.
How refreshing. I know that some of my fellow Christians don't see it the same way I do, but I think that is appropriate. A church is nothing if it does not stand by what it believes to be the correct and true Word of God. If God mandates something, it is not for us in the church to hold up our finger to the wind, take a public opinion poll, and follow what the secularized church membership wants us to do. If we really, really believe that the Bible proscriptions on homosexuality and the ordination of women are the Word of God, then we must stand by it regardless of the cost.
Of course, in the protestant church (and parts of the Roman Catholic church) the debate is largely about whether the proscriptions on homosexuality, abortion and the ordination of women are the Word of God or something else. Perhaps we simply misunderstand some of the teachings--after all, some Christians misunderstood the Bible to teach that the world was flat for many years. For example, perhaps when Paul writes that a Elder must be a man, it is not a requirement from God, but a societal way of thinking that invaded his thought, i.e., he may not have had any problem with women elders, but the thought of having a woman elder never crossed Paul's mind. Some would suggest (I would not) that Paul was simply wrong and we have the right to ignore the teachings that suggest that women not be elders. These are problems that plague the protestant church, but in the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, when speaking on issues is speaking for God and has the final word on the subject. If a particular church-goer doesn't like it, then either they reformulate their thoughts to accept the teaching (since it is the Word of God), they work to have the Pope reconsider his statements by arguing from the Holy Scriptures, or they leave. Those are the only options.
Some may not like this. Some may want to say "I'm a Roman Catholic, but I disagree with the Pope on X, Y and Z." Well, in the privacy of your own home and among friends, you are free to do that, but if you are a Roman Catholic then you also have to accept that the Pope speaks for God. If that is the case, then you are not arguing with another man, but with God. That is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church -- you are not free to adopt another and call yourself a Roman Catholic.
Will Pope Benedict XVI follow up on this approach? Today's news reports that he is going to take the narrow road -- whether he will deny communion to those who do not follow remains to be seen, but I expect that we will see that happen in the next five years.
Pope Benedict XVI indicated Saturday he will stick to Pope John Paul II's unwavering stands against abortion and euthanasia, saying pontiffs must resist attempts to "water down" Roman Catholic teaching.
Benedict outlined his vision of his papacy in a homily during a ceremony in which he took his place on a marble-and-mosaic throne in the ancient Roman basilica of St. John in Lateran. The ceremony is the last to formally mark Benedict's assumption of the papacy.
The pope "must not proclaim his own ideas, but ever link himself and the church to obedience to the word of God, when faced with all attempts of adaptation or of watering down, as with all opportunism," Benedict said.
That's what Pope John Paul II did when he "underlined in an unequivocal way, the inviolability of human beings, the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death," Benedict said to ringing applause from the congregation.
"Freedom to kill is not a true freedom but a tyranny that reduces the human being into slavery."
In Vatican teaching, the phrase in defense of life "from conception to natural death" refers to its bans on abortion and euthanasia.
"The pope isn't an absolute sovereign, whose thoughts and desires are law," Benedict said. "On the contrary, the ministry of the pope is the guarantor of the obedience toward Christ and his word."
I am not Roman Catholic, but let me say "Amen."