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On calling the Pope too conservative - by John H. Rodgers

On calling the Pope too conservative: Some reflections on coming to a common mind.

by John H. Rodgers

According to most of the things being written the following views held by the new Pope are the reasons why Pope Benedict XVI is being considered too conservative. I quote:

"Pope Benedict's well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is "true" and other religions are "deficient"; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam. He has also strongly opposed homosexuality, women as priests and stem cell research."

One can only ask if those who speak so freely of his being too conservative believe there is any truth in Scripture, tradition, reason and human experience that is binding on us all. If truth is simply the latest cultural position or whatever I personally prefer or whatever parts of Scripture and tradition I might like to retain, even if I can't say why, then in principle any view that is more traditional or conservative than mine is too conservative any position that does not retain what I retain is too liberal or revisionist.

Relativism really reduces our convictions to preference and logical disputation to vacuity.

Reason and Truth function in the context of fundamental assumptions or presuppositions and sources that are held to be self-evident, in the context of a world-view . Perhaps the place to start is by asking what are the assumptions and sources from which and by which we reason.

A biblical world-view assumes the reality of God and His Revelation, which Revelation is now canonized in the Holy Scriptures. It assumes we can understand what God has said and now says to us in and through the Scriptures. Without agreeing about the authority of Scripture and about commonsense methods of interpretation it is hard to see how we can even argue intelligently about Christian matters.

If these presuppositions are not held by all parties in the discussion, the discussion becomes merely emotive and we are like ships passing in the night, blowing our fog horns, hoping someone will notice.

An example: Archbishop Tutu in response to the election of the new Pope stated that "God is not a Christian". By that he seems to mean, in context, that it is too conservative of the Pope to assert the great Commission, to affirm with the apostolic Christian Faith that Christ is the very God incarnate and is the (not a) way, the truth and the life, and that all should be invited to come and follow Him. However, if God be incarnate in Christ then He is personally, even bodily, a Christian.

Did He not say He was not ashamed to call us, who are his disciples, brothers and sisters? If that be true, the question then becomes is Tutu a Christian leader in good standing? The question is not is he a wise man, or a man who has done much good in South Africa but "Is he a Christian leader in good standing?". Can a leader in the Church teach what he or she wants, deny the Great Commission with its biblical presuppositions as too conservative and still be a Christian leader in good standing? Many leaders in the Church do. They teach and live universalism (lack of evangelism) and often include an affirmation of the salvific character of all of the world's religions.

Such views are popular today in our relativistic culture in the West and now it would seem in South Africa, at least on the part of some. But the question remains: How do we define what it is to be a Christian leader in good standing? Can we embrace relativism and be Christian preachers and teachers in good standing? We are not asking if anyone is saved. Only God sees the heart. The determination concerning eternal salvation is entirely His to make.

What I want to suggest is this: that without a confidence in Scripture and the place of logic in determining the meaning and application of the central affirmations of Scripture and some sense that on the whole the Church has gotten the main things right when it has grounded its teaching in Scripture, we in the Church are reduced to personal preferences and to perpetual conflict with those who differ from ourselves as too conservative or too liberal. The only way to peace then is to affirm that truth does not fundamentally matter.

And perhaps that is the biggest difference of all, the difference between those who believe that there is truth, that Jesus as found in the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures is the Truth, that what you believe and teach matters and those who do not. There can be little doubt on which side of that debate Jesus and the Scriptures stand.

I, for my part, plan on clinging to Jesus. I want to sit at the feet of Jesus with anyone, so willing, with our open Scriptures and Books of Common Prayer, including the 39 Articles, and concerns so that we might reason together with the expectation that in due time we can and will, by grace, come to a common mind.

--The Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers is a Bishop in the Anglican Mission in America.


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