16 March 2013

Pope Francis, Carl Trueman & Protestant Reflection

Carl Trueman wrote recently, in the midst of a brief look at George Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism (see his distilled version in this month's First Things), on "what the point of reflecting on Rome is for a Protestant" at such a time as this. He offered three reasons, which you can read at the link provided above.

They're decent reasons, but they're also largely skin-deep. There's a more fundamental reason that Protestants ought to reflect on Rome when a pope is chosen, and it's teleological and twofold in nature. (Note my assumption: Catholic, Orthodox, and creedal Protestant communions are Christian communions. Each have their tares, their wolves, their covenanters who don't persevere.)

The first teleological fold is one major goal in which our hope as Christians is placed, a fixed post that our triune Lord promises throughout the various texts of sacred Scripture:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.
(1 Thess. 4:16–17)
In short, we Christians are in this together, forever—whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, the resurrection to life on a new earth is our great hope. The election of a new overseer of the largest Christian communion in the world ought to promote Protestant reflection, precisely because we share the same destiny with the Christians in that communion.

The second teleological fold may be particularly distasteful to Protestant ears that don't share my ecclesiastical sentiments. It has to do with a more finite goal, one that is hardly fixed: the reconciliation and reunification of Protestants and Catholics in this time between the times. This is by no means a given, but it is a hope, and one I believe all Protestants should share. Caring about and reflecting upon Rome at such a time as this comes naturally if you think and hope that one day the pope himself will one day be a pastor under whom your pastor (and their pastors) ministers, at least in a collegiate sense (as primus inter pares).

Yet most Protestants don't even consider that their respective communions are not to be ends in themselves. They've forgotten that they're branches shooting off the one, mother trunk, and instead believe the lie that they are trees themselves, every bit as robust and as life-giving as the tree from which they sprang. It's not true. Much of Protestantism is wilted, particularly in those places where God's Word and Sacraments are neglected.

I hope this doesn't come across as a romanticized version of reality or flat-out naïve (or "young and cool," even though I am young-ish and definitely cool). It's just that I don't care about the things you do, or at least I don't think they're as important as you think they are. Put another way, I think it's far more important to reflect on Rome and her pope and our shared destiny than it is to continue, unfazed, in the work of building up your own little fiefdom.

Update: It has come to my attention that the "you" in the above paragraph may be misconstrued to refer to Carl Trueman. That is emphatically not the case. Carl is one of the last persons I'd suspect to be guilty of creating his own little fiefdom. Generally speaking, my antagonist around here is the autonomous, demagogic, second-degree separationist Christian leader. That's who I'm carrying on my make-believe conversation with in the concluding paragraph—whether or not he/she actually exists.


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