I remain, even in these feel good days, a Protestant. What I protest is what my fathers protested—the folly of the Roman Catholic church. Such can get you in great deal of hot water these days. Everyone wants to go along to get along. Trouble is, Rome still teaches a false gospel, still calls for the damnation of people like me who preach the true gospel. Now I am happy to confess that explaining the nuances that separate infusion from imputation, distinctions between justification and sanctification can require a bit of theological training and historical understanding. I’m sorry to confess that Christians generally have precious little of either. If we can’t see what the big deal is with a little contemporary modalism, if we want to open the tent wide to welcome in those nice Mormons, what chance do I have for making the case that Rome is outside the pale?
Our ignorance is likewise apparent in how we look at the recent canonization of Popes John and John Paul (13th and 2nd respectively). I fear we think that what Rome did was merely to give them a super-duper merit badge. We cheer politely, even if we are a little fidgety about Roman theology, in the same way we would cheer politely if our crazy uncle won the big horseshoe tournament at the state fair. The craziness we’re not sure about, but he’s kin and did well.
What Does Roman Catholic Canonization Mean?
These two forms of ignorance, however, come together. That we don’t understand the nuances on justification is why we don’t understand what just happened in the canonization. The church at Rome just determined that these two popes exceeded God’s expectations for obedience. These men not only were able to escape the punishment of purgatory, having no need to purge their sins, having already achieved the holiness necessary to enter heaven. Not only that, but all the merit they achieved which was beyond what was required was deposited, along with the merit of Christ, into the Treasury of Merit. This merit can become yours, via the purchase of indulgences.
How can Rome know this? They have a system for testing. All saints and only saints, escape purgatory. We know who the saints are, however, through a process of testing. In order to demonstrate that these men were saints, three miracles that resulted in prayers people prayed to these men, must be verified. Three miracle merit badges apiece, and then we know these two men went directly to heaven, without passing go or stopping for a quick burn in purgatory.
Sin, Grace & Mercy
I’ve had friends swim the Tiber, who have been trained in sound theology who went Roman Catholic. I’ve participated in careful, precise arguments over justification. I understand how someone could take a bad turn there. I am grateful for Rome’s fidelity on issues related to the incarnation and the Trinity, on the ancient creeds. I understand the hunger to be able to see the one true church, for it to have an address. But I can’t fathom how anyone could believe the silliness we’re all supposed to be celebrating. Rome actually insists that we believe that when these popes died, they wrote a check for more than they owed and calmly told God He could keep the change. Jesus, however, tells us the only way in is by beating our breast and crying out, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” My prayer to our Lord is that He would tear down this high place, this lofty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, that our every thought would be held captive to the obedience of Christ.
This post first appeared on rcsprouljr.com