Consider this bit of wisdom from the new pope:

The obligation of the Christian is to recover the capacity for nonconformism.

This is provided in a rather snarky piece by E.J. Dionne, a reliably liberal voice on Catholic matters. Snarky how? Dionne continues to refer to Pope Benedict XVI as Ratzinger. But if I understand what happened yesterday in Rome, Joseph Ratzinger no longer exists. He is now Pope Benedict XVI. However much liberals might dislike that fact.

The point, however, is not to carp on the ankle-biters, but rather to focus on Benedict and his approach to his faith. We Protestants might disagree mightily with some of the central tenets of Roman Catholic dogma (especially salvation through the sacraments and through works). We also, however, must agree with other core teachings of the Church, and also freely acknowledge our debt to the Church for keeping Christ’s flame alive for two millenia. On the business of nonconformism, we should be in solid agreement.

To truly be Christian, I was taught, and know from Scripture, and now know through personal experience, is to be a stranger in man’s world. To not be conformed to this world is a necessary condition for entering Jesus’ kingdom. He has told us in direct terms, “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).” It should come as no surprise that nonconformity is an essential ingredient for salvation.

Now, the hard part. In what ways should a Christian, Catholic or otherwise, nonconform? Benedict XVI has one set of answers, and those answers are rooted in RC dogma and traditions. We Protestants have a different take on what it takes, and I apologize for using the term “Protestant” as though there was only a single branch of the Reformed faith.

My answer to this question is that once we have received God’s grace (a big “if”, actually), then it will come naturally. If you need the Cliff’s Notes version, just read the Gospels. If you don’t have time to read the Gospels, just read John, chapter 3. If you don’t have time for the whole chapter, just read John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

It’s simple, isn’t it? And insanely hard to live by in this world.

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