Ut unum sint

“That They May Be One,” Pope John Paul’s 1995 encyclical, reminds Reformed Protestants of how far apart we and the Catholic Church have drifted from unity. Intended in a spirit of charity, the work contains much that any professing Christian must agree with. For example, who, confessing Christ as Lord, would dispute this about the Cross:

An anti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning, and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It claims that the Cross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man, it says, is nothing but an earthly being, who must live as if God did not exist.

In this, as with many other things, I know that Reformed Protestants stand shoulder to shoulder with the Roman Church. We have, however, re-discovered the essential truths about how the Holy Spirit works His will through us. No, this is not another tiresome argument of faith as against works. It is also not just about much of the gaudy piety and idolatry (e.g. the worship of saints’ relics), that has accumulated, like an encrustation of barnacles, on the Church of Rome. All of these things are subject for honest disagreement, of course, but are not the main obstacles to Christian unity.

What is not subject to any kind of discourse, honest or otherwise, is when the Roman Church declares itself the owner of Christ. Others can not claim Christ as Lord, unless they acknowledge the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, that is, the Roman Catholic Pontiff. From the encyclical:

The [Second Vatican] Council states that the Church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”, and at the same time acknowledges that “many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure. These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism towards Catholic unity”.

It follows that these separated Churches and Communities, though we believe that they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and value in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

The “very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” Nevermind that we Reformed think that our our foundation, sola gratia and the other four “solas” (Christus, scriptura, fide, Deo gloria) is given by God, not by falliable men.

Not that the Reformed churches are without sin on the Christian unity front. Just that you don’t hear many churches claim to have the patent on Christ and our salvation through Him. The Roman Church does make such a claim. In this, they remain in error.

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