|The Roman Catholic Magical Mystery Tour|
Here is Gregg Allison’s summary of how the Roman Catholic view of itself as the “ongoing incarnation of Christ” plays out in its various doctrines. Note how indispensable Rome makes itself out to be in the world. It is something of a “Roman Catholic Magical Mystical Tour”: “how wonderful, wonderful it is that Rome is in the world”.
And note that it is Rome making these “interpretations” about itself. Jesus said, following the principle from Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established”. Jesus said, “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true” (John 5:31). He says further:
You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18).
Later, in John 15, Jesus confirms that both the Holy Spirit and the Apostles will also “bear witness”:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26-27).
This is one of the Scriptural reasons why the Protestants rely on both “word and Spirit”. The internal confirmation of the Holy Spirit confirms the Word of God for believers.
Rome, on the other hand, excludes witnesses other than itself: “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.”
And for this reason, Allison points out that, with Rome in the world (according to Roman doctrine), of what use is the Holy Spirit in the world?
Here is Rome’s “Magical Mystery Tour”, based on its lone testimony about itself:
A proper evangelical assessment of Catholicism will treat Catholic theology as a coherent, all-encompassing system with one of its two key tenets being the Catholic Church’s self-understanding as the prolongation of the incarnation of the ascended Jesus Christ; as such, the Church functions as the mediator between the realm of nature and the realm of grace (thus, the two key axioms are closely related).Allison, Gregg R. (2014-11-30). Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Kindle Locations 1166-1208). Crossway. Kindle Edition, pgs 60-63 in the printed edition.
Specific theological doctrines and practices in which the outworking of this understanding can be seen are:
Scripture: The Catholic Church claims to be the determiner of the canon of Scripture.
Faith: The Church is the first to believe and indeed grants faith to human beings.
Christology: Catholic doctrine certainly affirms the traditional view that, forty days after his resurrection, the God-man Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. However, it emphasizes a strong continuity between the incarnate Son of God who has ascended and now is seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven and the extension of that incarnate Son in the life of the Catholic Church. Indeed, it maintains that the whole Christ, in the totality of his divine and human natures, is present in his body, the Church, and thus is here on earth.
Ecclesiology: The Catholic system always associates Christ and the Church; the bond between the two is so essential and unbreakable that to think of Christ in isolation from the Church is impossible. Moreover, because the incarnate Christ mediated grace to nature, the Church as the continuing incarnation of the ascended Christ mediates grace to nature and thus is necessary for salvation. Additionally, the Church identifies itself as the universal Church that professes a common faith, engages in worshiping God with a common liturgy, is nourished by means of common sacraments, and is taught, governed, and sanctified by a common hierarchy through apostolic succession.
The only true church: Because the Catholic Church is the prolongation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, his mystical body, and a sacrament of union with God and the unity of the whole human race, it understands itself as the only true church, meaning that evangelical gatherings are only ecclesial communities, not actual churches. Moreover, for the Catholic system, the universal church is identified with the visible Catholic Church on earth. The Church is both Mother and Teacher.
Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit): Catholic theology clearly underscores the important role of the Holy Spirit in the world and the Church, but it fails to explain how the ascended Christ, who is wholly present here and now, relates to the Spirit, who as another Helper/Comforter was sent to take the place of the absent (that is, the ascended) Christ.
Sacramental theology: For Catholicism, when the sacraments are administered in the Church, Christ himself is the one who baptizes, Christ himself celebrates the Eucharist, Christ himself ordains, and so forth. Furthermore, these sacraments, as mediating divine grace, are necessary for salvation.
Priesthood: For Catholic theology, the bishop/ priest, in virtue of his consecration received through the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in the person of Christ the head (in persona Christi Capitis) when he engages in the service of the Church; accordingly, it is Christ “who through the Church baptizes, teaches, rules, looses, binds, offers, sacrifices.”
Offices of Christ: The Catholic theological system underscores that Christ delegates the exercise of his threefold office— kingly, prophetic, and priestly—to the Church. Because Christ is the king, the Church exercises his rulership through its authoritative leaders. Because Christ is the prophet, the Church exercises his teaching ministry through its Magisterium, or teaching office. Because Christ is the priest, the Church exercises his priestly ministry through its priesthood.
Hierarchy: The Catholic Church as the mediatorial institution is characterized by hierarchy, which can been seen in the higher realm of its clergy— among which there is also a hierarchical order, from its highest officers, the bishops, and their assistants, the priests, to the lowest offices, the deacons— and the lower realm of the laity. At the head of this hierarchically structured Church stands the pope, who is the Vicar—the concrete, tangible, visible representative— of Christ himself.
Doctrine of Mary: In relation to the Catholic Church’s vision of its general mediatorial role in salvation, it elevates Mary to a particular mediatorial role in the distribution of grace, naming her as Mediatrix alongside her son, the Mediator.
The communion of saints and indulgences: Catholicism embraces the interchange of spiritual goods (for example, prayers, sufferings, and merits) because of the communion of all the faithful in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory. Specifically this exchange means that indulgences may be obtained not only for oneself but also for those whose souls are in purgatory.
Ecumenism: Catholic theology’s notion that the Church is a sacrament—and especially that, as such, the Church is an instrument of unity among the entire human race—results in ecumenism being a very important project for the Church in its mission to the world.
Transubstantiation: Though presented and supported in a different way, Catholicism’s understanding of the sacrament of the Eucharist (that during the mass, the bread is transubstantiated, or changed, into the body of Christ, and the wine is changed into the blood of Christ) is at home in the Catholic theological system grounded on the Church’s understanding of itself as the prolongation of the incarnation of the ascended Jesus Christ. For a similar reason, the Church encourages the faithful to engage in ongoing worship of Christ, who is present in the unconsumed consecrated wafers stored in the tabernacle.
In his “evangelical assessment” (which, Lord willing, I will provide next time), Allison notes that this reliance upon its own authority leads to “grave errors”, which he later discusses.
The implication is clear. Rome has gone too far in defining (yes, it defines) its own glory. It is the usurper of things that God has promised to believers in the world. And it operates on its own testimony, while excluding the testimony of any other.