March 20, 2013

Alleviating the Protestant Inferiority Complex

by Steve Meister

Yesterday, I argued that humble popes don’t exist. They’re mythical because it’s categorically impossible to receive the unbiblical role of supreme pontiff, make people kiss your hand and call you “holy father,” and then be able to travel under the descriptor “humble.” The papacy is an act of self-excommunication from the Church, albeit with no small amount of flair. And therein lay the rub and temptation for many Christians.

I heartily agree with Clint’s previous post, and am not suggesting you begin a conversation with Joe Catholics with the foregoing. Yet, I believe it’s pastorally important to remind Christians that the Pope has no clothes. As Rome’s pomp and circumstance gets paraded on CNN, Christians too often begin to view their own churches and traditions with more of a jaundiced eye. In an age of plastic, self-designed spirituality, who can deny the appeal of firm traditions made of stone and mortar? And the traditions of Roman Catholicism would indeed hold beauty, if they weren’t false.

The Ruinous Appeal of Roman Catholicism

CharlesHodgeIn one of his chapel sermons, Charles Hodge described the danger that lurks within the papacy:

It would to human view be a blessed thing to have a succession of apostles, i.e., of holy men, infallible in their judgments, to settle all points of doctrine, to remove all doubts, to solve all questions of conscience, and to rule with undeviating righteousness over the whole Church.

And when to this is added, on the assumed primacy of Peter, and of his successor, the Bishop of Rome, as the representative of Christ, we have the beau ideal of a theocracy for the Church and ultimately for the world.

But in proportion as this theory is good if true, it is destructive if false. If the prelates are not apostles, have not their gifts, their infallibility or authority, then for sinful, erring, wicked men to claim their prerogatives is ruinous. To be under the guidance of a good angel is a blessing; but to be under the guidance of Satan, in the guise of an angel of light, is destructive (Princeton Sermons, pp. 51-52).

It would be foolish to deny the manifest beauty of Rome’s clout and tradition, especially when compared to our own. Most of our congregations inhabit buildings with far less swank than St. Peter’s, they’re led by pastors who have a whole lot less geopolitical and even ecclesiastical clout, and, as if that weren’t enough, our pastors likely have hat collections quite inferior to those of the Roman Curia.

So, should Christians feel inferior or be drawn by Rome’s external “beauties”? No, because we’re apart of the Church… while the Pope and his consistent adherents, sadly, are not. Roman Catholicism is, in fact, an “-ism,” not a “Church.” And so Roman Catholicism systematically cuts people off from our Lord Jesus, His Gospel, the hope of salvation in Him, and therefore, from the Church itself.

The papacy represents a destructive ruin that certainly deserves our pity and prayers, but not our admiration. This is what the Protestant Reformation was all about.

Reminding Ourselves of the Reformation

It seems apparent that we still need to reiterate this point. According to a recent CT article, Pope Francis Excites (Most) Evangelical Leaders. Since the Pope misrepresents the evangel, the gospel, I Papal Excitementfail to grasp how he could ever excite evangelicals. In the article, Leith Anderson suggests “Pope Francis can bring us back to the biblical and Christian care for the poor and vulnerable.” And Russell Moore hopes that Francis “spurs evangelicals like me to remember our mandate to love the least of these.”

Now, for the record, I am very sympathetic to Christians lovingly serving the poor in Christ. Before I entered the pastorate, I used to help churches do just that for a Christian relief organization. But my sympathies on that issue only heighten my concern about this evangelical “excitement.” If Roman Catholicism gets the Gospel wrong and is destructively “under the guidance of Satan, in the guise of an angel of light” why would we ever want it inflicted upon “the poor and vulnerable”? And since the pope’s very position contradicts biblical Christianity, how could we ever look to him to bring us back to anything “biblical and Christian”?

I do agree with one of Anderson’s statements, that “there are millions of people who don’t grasp the differences between Protestants and Catholics,” and that is exactly why I’m concerned to publicly teach that that the pope is (probably) the anti-Christ, Roman Catholicism is a ruin… but the Gospel of the Bible remains rich in hope.

Rejoicing in Our High Priest

Francis entered an office this week that has existed for centuries and is laden with ancient tradition – all the smells, bells, striking hats, and foreboding buildings that you could ever ask for in a religion. But dear Christian brethren, we are missing nothing. These are not the artifacts of a great unifying tradition. They are extravagant superstitions and evidences of schism, which exceed God’s Word (1 Cor 4:6) and tear apart the truth of Christ and His true Church. The succession of yet another pope is another chapter in Rome’s sad folly of nullifying the Gospel with silly hats and empty titles.

Wonderfully, the office of Priest over God’s House is not an open position, it’s been filled once for all! We have a merciful and faithful high priest (Heb 2:17). One who has passed through the heavens, bringing us to the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:15-16). One without a successor, without beginning or end (Heb 7:3) and who

holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:24-25)

We have a tradition that’s even older than Roman Catholicism, the priesthood of Jesus Christ, our great and eternal High Priest. We do not need a Pope to lead us back to anything, for we are not helped by impressive leaders who boast in outward things (2 Cor 5:12). Nor should we be excited about man-made precepts like “do not handle,” “do not taste,” and “do not touch” – all of which merely appear wise, but are actually self-made religion without value in stopping sin (Col 2:20-23).

Christians, we have a Priest and what we need (and need our leaders to be excited about) is to believe His Gospel and to meet as local congregations to hear that Gospel preached, sung, and shown in the ordinances, on the basis of Scripture. And we need to encourage others, especially Roman Catholics, not to neglect this great salvation (Heb 2:3).

If you have these beautiful necessities, be grateful, exceedingly grateful. You’re a member of the Church.

Steve Meister

Posts Twitter Facebook

Steve is the associate pastor of River City Grace Church, in Sacramento, CA.
  • Simple Elder

    Hi Steve,

    Wonderful article, brother. We are saved by the great work of Christ alone, a
    truth which Catholicism rejects and anathematizes.

    But I think you are comparing unequal things -Protestantism, the RCC, and the elect (the universal Church). Allow me to offer a different take. Instead of comparing our church to RCC pomp we should compare our Christ to their Christ. Our Christ saves now and saves fully. Theirs is a cruel Christ who is still angry and has much pain and punishment awaiting those who faithfully go to Mass. And He’s even worse with those who don’t.

    That’s apples to apples – and is a better comparison, in my opinion, than

    “So, should Christians feel inferior or be drawn by Rome’s external
    “beauties”? No, because we’re a part of the Church” .”

    That won’t fly. What will fly is, “No, because we’re a part of Christ.” It never lifts off b/c because it conflates soteriology and ecclesiology.

    For how do we know if we are a part of the Church but that we belong to a church? But which church? RCC, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangellyfish church?

    If we travel this road of comparison we are forced to acknowledge that church
    affiliation doesn’t matter when it comes to ascertaining who is in the Church. Bummer.
    We have to end up saying all that does matter is having Christ as High Priest. But that’s a great problem since Christ the High Priest is also the Head of the Church which is only known as it is manifest in local gatherings the Bible calls “churches.” There is no such thing in the Bible as a Christian who is not a visible saint in a visible church. This road only takes us farther away from Scripture.

    If we are to argue that Rome is disobedient to the Christ of the Scriptures then we need an ecclesiology robust enough to take it on and not merely say, “If you are RCC you aren’t a part of the Church.” Some RCC people probably are, and certainly from the middle ages when there was no alternative they lived and died RC.

    But thisrobust ecclesiology we do not have granted to us from the Protestant Reformation, and Rome lives on. We got the right soteriology from Protestantism but not the right ecclesiology. If we are to really shepherd people and rightly divide the Word we need a great ecclesiology that smacks Catholicism between the eyes.

    You know Rome’s doctrine of the church. 7 sacraments, Salvation through the RC church. Yada yada yada. Protestantism’s version of who the church is also quite wrong:

    The Westminster Confession – as good a statement of Protestant belief as any, claims:

    “The visible Church… consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

    Compare that to, say, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling” (1Cor 1:2).”

    No equivocation in Scripture. No “and their children;” no “the church is the kingdom.” Instead all those in Corinth who were saved were a part of the “church of God which is (i.e., “exists”) at Corinth.” Protestantism has no room for such a statement because they were divided from the beginning and yet knew that true believers were in various
    Protestant churches (and even some in the RCC).

    So in light of Scripture, you could have written, “So, should Christians feel inferior or be drawn by Protestantism’s claims to election? No, because we’re a part of the Church”

    Unwittingly perhaps, but you’ve linked Protestantism to the universal Church. That used to be a weapon (weakly) against the RCC since they claimed to be the
    visible church. And on this score Protestantism has been unable to strike any blow against the Pope and his paper ecclesiastical system. Like your post, it has always had to leave ecclesiology and flee to soteriology. Good for the soul, but not for the Church/church.

    • Thanks for your comment, friend. Yes, I agree with your general clarifications and undoubtedly believe (and strive to personally practice as a pastor) a very strong and biblical ecclesiology – not the focus for which I was striving here, but helpful thoughts. Blessings.

      • Simple_Elder

        Steve – my point was that Prots should feel inferior to the RC church precisely as a church – not due to a deficient soteriology but a deficient ecclesiology. Your article pulled the old switcheroo – it upbraded RCC ecclesiology (rightly) but offered only a superior soteriology in its place. You switched the ecclesiological for the soteriological.

        But if you are going to take on the RC church you can’t just take on their soteriology distinct from their ecclesiology – for them they are essentially the same.

        At least the RCC can deal with a visible church in a meaningful way. Prots – yourself included? – not in any real way. That’s why you didn’t offer anything in place of their hierarchical system as the biblical form since not even Protestantism can figure that out. Yet its as simple as Titus 1:5.

  • Billy_Quan

    Steve, great post. I enjoyed reading it. I also enjoyed “Simple Elders” reply. While reading it, I couldn’t help think that in my circle I don’t see people (Christians) flocking to the RCC for answers. I do however see Christians making popes out of certain leaders in the church. We do need to remember that we have a high priest and his name is Jesus. Not John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John Mac Arthur, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen (I could go on) or whoever. I go to church at what would be called a “mega church” and its great. But I continue to see people treat these sinners just like the catholics treat the pope. They raise them above questionability. I was in a discussion with someone and they preceded a quote of scripture with “Dr. MacArthur said…” I kindly reminded them that it was the inspired word of the creator of the universe that said that, not Dr. MacArthur. This is not meant to be a slam of these leaders. They are just teaching the Word (most of them). But it is to remind us that we as Christians can fall into the same trap of idolatry as the catholics. We need to stay in the Word and be discerning with what we hear from man……any man.

    • Quite right, Billy! Lenski commented on 2 Cor 4:5, that that verse “should have made all the Roman popes and the little Protestant popelets impossible.” We are not immune to that dynamic, even if it is not apart of our dogma. Thanks for the comment. Blessings.

  • Jamie

    That article does not reflect any sort of “inferiority complex.” I read no lack of self-worth, self-esteem, or feelings of not measuring up. I read 5 or so “evangelical leaders” (lets put to one side what exactly NAE is standing for these days) who generally state that they admire Pope Francis’ stance on poverty and social issues.

    Besides being just basic good manners (if you can’t say anything nice . . .), those comments sound to me like well-grounded leaders engaging in Noblesse Oblige.

    Contrast that with this blog which I used to enjoy but is now all RCC all the time and I think readers can evaluate where the inferiority complex lies.

    • Thanks, Jamie. As I try to briefly state, when you say you’re looking to him to lead you into more biblical paths – there’s more implied than admiration for Francis’ stance on social ethics. And I think that confusion is evident amongst Christians more than one may think. No etiquette or manners ever excuses confusing Christians or the world about the Gospel.

      C-gate has taken the “cultural moment” to reflect on RCC for pastoral reasons and I’m sure will move-on very shortly.

    • Jamie: are you a Protestant protesting Protestants protesting?

  • Michael Coughlin

    Well done.

  • Pingback: Alleviating the Protestant Inferiority Complex | Affected By Truth()

  • Jonathan Anderson

    Steve, this was a dunk, old friend! My heart is thrilled to hear your love for the gospel provoke you to say what needs to be said. Making the distinction between these two gospels known is the most loving thing you can do for those on either side of the line. Btw, do you mind sharing the source for the Moore quote?

    • Thanks, Jonathan – it’s great to hear from you, I hope all is well. It’s from the CT article, linked above. The only guy who nailed it, as quoted, was Carl Trueman, at the very end. Always grateful for that Presbyterian brother. Blessings.

      • Jonathan Anderson

        Agreed! Carl Trueman just accepted my invitation to Ekklesia 2014. I’m grateful for his sincere devotion to the local church. Blessings to you and the fam.

  • Pingback: Alleviating the Protestant Inferiority Complex | Truth2Freedom's Blog()

  • Pingback: God the Just and the Justifier By Faith | Truth2Freedom's Blog()