Issues Facing the Catholic Church 2

Title: Issues Facing the Catholic Church 2

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:25-26; Romans 14:13, 16, 19, 22; Matthew 5:31-32; Exodus 20:13

Time: March 15th, 2013

 

 

Well Roman Catholics have elected a new pope, Francis, to lead and guide them into the future, at least for a few more years. He’s older, 76, so we don’t know how long he’ll be leading them, but if his health holds up it might for a long time. Benedict XVI, if you remember, stepped down as pope for health reasons and also because he’s 86 years old without much energy to do the job. We’ll see if in ten years Francis follows Benedict XVI’s precedent and retires also.  But we certainly with Catholics well in the future with their new pope. A few weeks ago I spoke on the contemporary issues facing the Roman Catholic church, and today I’d like to follow up that teaching with a continuation of some other issues, three more, that they face going forward. Why worry about Catholics? Why bother to follow or analyze what’s happening in other branches of Christianity, say, Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox? Why not just mind our own business as Protestants? Because like I mentioned last time, there’s 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, which says, “So that there should be no divisions in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” We should care about what’s happening in the different branches of the Christian church. We should wish our brothers and sisters in the Catholic and Orthodox churches well. The great spiritual divide today is not between Protestants and Catholics, but between all Christians and the forces of godless secularism. Militant Islam is also posing a threat to global Christianity as well. So Christians have enough opposition without perpetuating age old grudges between the different major branches of the church. Yes, there are real theological differences, and we shouldn’t sweep them under the rug; they should be faced with openness and honesty on both sides. But, as the old saying goes, “We’d better stick together, or we’ll probably hang separately.” Secularism is seeking to destroy all of Christianity, and that’s why Christians of all strips need to stick together in these days. And besides, the attacks by secularism upon Catholics can soon turn to attacks on Protestants, because it’s not any one branch of Christianity that secularists dislike; it’s all branches, all forms of the Christian faith. So when we examine issues facing the Catholic church we’re really trying to help all of Christianity, because, like the verse says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” So let’s look at three more issues facing the Catholic church today.

 

First, what about the question of contraception? Romans 14:13, 16, 19, 22, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. . . . Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. . . . Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. . . . So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” The Apostle Paul teaches on the Christian value of tolerance, or in other words, putting up with those who differ in non-essential matters. The crisis in the Catholic church over birth control contraception is a non-essential issue. Back in the 1960’s after the famous Vatican II Council in which many practices in the church were updated to modern times, the pope made a study of the new invention called birth control – it actually wasn’t invented in the 60s but for the first time it became widely available for use among women during this time. The pope commissioned a group to study the issue and report back to him; in fact a number of studies were done under the authority of the Vatican on birth control. The findings leaned in the direction of a tolerant attitude towards it, but unexpectedly the pope ruled against the studies findings and spoke against all forms of artificial contraception. Since then there has been a major divide between official church teachings on the birth control and the majority of Catholics. Polling data show that most Catholics ignore the teachings of the church on birth control; women defy the pope’s 1960s ruling on it. And so there continues to be a crisis in authority in the Catholics church today on this matter. Now what can or should be done by the church to address this issue? I think there needs to be another look at contraception today, another study, another re-evaluation to see if there couldn’t be another way forward. Does the Bible actually teach that different forms of birth control are sinful? The traditional argument of the church against it has always been that it interrupts the natural conjugal act between man and wife within the marriage; it imposes human will on whether life will or will not happen. Only God should decide whether life comes about or is prevented. But most Protestants have always argued that it’s not an issue of life yet, but only potential life. Once life is established, once conception occurs, then for the will of man to end it is wrong, a sin. But to prevent something before there’s life is not wrong, it’s not a sin. There are arguments on both sides; good people can differ – which is why birth control is better left up to the individual’s conscience, not ruled “yes” or “no” from the top down, as is present Catholic policy. A neutral position by Catholicism on birth control could go a long way in ending the present crisis situation concerning the issue.

 

Second, what about the question of divorce? Matthew 5:31-32, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.’” The New Testament teaches that while divorce is never desirable and every effort should be made to avoid it, it is permissible in certain limited and strict situations, for example, adultery. Most Protestants recognize this; most of their churches reluctantly permit divorce under some instances. But the Roman Catholic church doesn’t admit to any grounds for divorce, zero. Now this absolute, no tolerance position on divorce has led to another crisis among Catholics. What’s the crisis? Precisely that most Catholics now ignore official church teachings on divorce and go ahead and do it anyway without the church’s blessing. Now in the Catholic church, there is something called “annulment” that sort of takes the place of divorce for Catholics in some cases. But because it’s not a biblical teaching it opens the door to all kinds of abuses far worse than divorce itself. For example, long time politician Ted Kennedy, before he died, was married to his wife for many years and raised a number of children with her. Then he separated from her. But because he couldn’t divorce, being a Catholic, he asked for an annulment, and was granted one. An annulment basically says the marriage never officially existed because it never should have happened in the first place, for different reasons, and so forth. So here is a Catholic who was married in the church, raised children in the church, but separated from his wife and wanted to remarry another woman, and so got his first marriage annulled by the Catholic church to enable him to remarry. The first marriage supposedly wasn’t valid for technical reasons. This is the kind of abuse I’m talking about in respect to the Catholic teaching of annulment. It’s hypocrisy, and most Catholics know it. That’s why there needs to be a re-evaluation on the issue of divorce, and something officially stated that allows for it under certain strict conditions. Annulment needs to be done away with completely because it’s a corrupt practice. It hurts, among other things, the moral authority of the Catholic church. I’m not sure how this re-evaluation could take place, but it needs to happen, and soon, so that the church doesn’t continue to become irrelevant in society today. There’s no reason other than tradition keeping Catholics from recognizing divorce.

 

Third, what about the question of abortion. Exodus 20:13, “Thou shall not murder.” This command is one of the famous Ten Commandments found in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Roman Catholic church has faithfully held to the position that abortion is murder, to take the life of an unborn is to commit the sin of murder. In this it is absolutely correct. In this, the Catholic church has much to teach the Protestant church world, because in Protestantism, the liberal main line churches have totally capitulated to secular culture on abortion, permitting it in nearly all cases; and the more conservative denominations have opposed it in word, but not always very strongly in deed. In other words, while most evangelical churches officially oppose abortion, they really aren’t doing much in the way of opposing it actively, generally speaking. Praise the Lord for those Christians and those churches that do actively oppose abortion, but there are not nearly enough to prevent it from continuing. The Catholic church is by far the strongest force opposing abortion in the world today; in this it must be commended. Like I said, Catholics have much to teach us in standing strong for the life of the unborn, and standing against the evil practice of abortion. Now the challenge of the Catholic church is to get its pro-life position into the hearts and minds of its members to the point where they vote for pro-life political candidates in, for example, the presidential elections every four years. Unfortunately, while the Catholic church is against abortion, while the pope opposes it, while the bishops are against it, while most priests are still against it, and while local churches are officially against it, a majority of individual Catholics continue to vote for pro-abortion political candidates. A majority of Catholics helped pro-abortion president Barack Obama win a first term and then helped re-elect him a second term. What’s the problem? What’s the crisis in the church? It’s that there is a disconnect between what a person professes in their faith and what a person does in their life. Catholics distinguish between cafeteria Catholics and committed Catholics, but there’s the same problem in Protestant churches as well. It’s basically a problem of discipleship, of training, or as Catholics might call it, a problem of Catechesis. But whatever we want to call it, in either the Catholic or Protestant church, we need to address this pressing concern. Culture is gradually sinking lower and lower morally speaking, while Christians and churches profess certain truths, but don’t translate those beliefs into solid convictions or concrete action. This is a crisis that must be dealt with soon.

 

I’ve tried to outline three more issues facing the Catholic church, but many of these same issues apply to all churches in one form or another. According to the most recent survey, there is something like 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today; that’s a huge number of professing Christians. Granted, just like in the Protestant world, not all these Catholics are living the faith in anything but a minimal way; some probably aren’t even trying to do that. So there is the overall crisis facing the church of inspiring and leading people into greater commitment to Jesus and into following his teachings more closely. It’s my understanding that Catholics and Protestants will have to, of necessity, work more closely with one another in the coming years. Many or most of the same problems are being faced in every branch of Christianity today. The number one problem that all Christians face is a growing force of secularism that threatens to destroy or neutralize all Christian truths regardless of the particular name on the church door. In order to combat the militant secular threat today we’re going to have to unite with our brothers and sisters around the basics of the Christian faith. That doesn’t mean that we compromise on our convictions, what we’ve come to hold firmly. For example, for Protestants, we hold that salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone, through Christ alone. This was the main message of the Reformers Luther, Calvin and Zwingli – and it was a prophetic message that all of Christianity needed to hear, and still needs to hear today. Unfortunately, the large Roman Catholic church still needs to hear the message of salvation by grace through faith alone today. So this is a continuing discussion and dialogue. But in the meantime, before complete agreement and doctrinal unity can be achieved, we can and must work together, Protestants and Catholics, and fight for the truths we all hold in common, and fight against the secular threat that is seeking to gradually destroy us all. I for one have decided to read the more popular Catholic authors, such as Pope Benedict XVI, so that I can better understand where Catholic brothers are coming from. I would also encourage Catholics to try to read the better Protestant authors such as Charles Colson and other popular writers in order to understand Protestantism. I pray one day during my lifetime that Catholics and Protestant might be able to reach full unity, but until that day arrives let’s try to practice partial unity at least on issues that are important to us all. Amen.

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