What the New Pope Means for the Future of the Church

By | September 5, 2019


Darrell Bock: Welcome to The Table, where
we discuss issues of God and culture. And our topic today is the selection of the new
pope and the relationship between Protestant churches and Catholic churches worldwide.
It’s an important topic because there are so many of both groups in the world. And everybody
is keeping an eye on what’s happened recently in Rome in relationship to the replacement
of a pope who retired – the first time that’s happened in 600 years. So we’ve got a little bit of an unusual situation.
And so this is a new selection, and it’s also significant because, in this case, the pope
comes not from Europe but from the New World, in fact, from Latin America. So we have assembled
a panel of experts to discuss this with us. I have Scott Horrell, who teaches in systematic
theology here at Dallas Seminary to my left. And to my right is Lanier Burns, who also
teaches in systematic theology. Lanier is a senior professor. It’s a designation I share
in New Testament with him. And Scott is professor of systematic theology. And then our guest,
by Skype, is Leopoldo Sánchez, who teaches systematic theology at Concordia Seminary.
So I’m not allowed to put a single foot wrong because I have all these systematicians next
to me who will it together if I blow it apart. We’re pleased to have you all with us. And,
Leopoldo, I’d like to begin with you. Talk about your reaction when you heard not just
that a pope was selected, but that a pope was selected from Latin America. And tell
them your own background as you respond to that question. Leopoldo Sánchez: Well, an Argentinian pope.
I was born in Chile – so just next door – and I was raised in Panama. So I reacted
to the news at a very visceral level, if I may say so. It wasn’t a kind of systematic,
that final reaction at first. And there was a bit of joy in the sense that it was good
to see the church, who calls itself Catholic – capital C – also express in her own
leadership and face to the world, a Catholic’s mostly global face, and so a Latin American
pope. So my first reaction, I think was one of joy
with a little bit of a smile maybe. And at the same time, a reaction of sadness. There
was even a little bit of a tear coming out. Because being from Latin America and understanding
the history of the presence of Roman Catholicism in the continent, I have family who are Catholics,
whom I love dearly. And so the election of a new pope also reminded
me of the divisions that we have in the one holy Christian and apostolic church, very
visible a division. And so it was both a moment of joy, but also a moment of sadness. So that
was my initial reaction to the election of the new pope. Darrell Bock: Okay. Scott, I’m going to start
with you, since you’ve ministered some time in Latin America. And, again, you might tell
people a little bit of that background as you answer the question. What was your response
to the election of Francis I? Scott Horrell: Well, my background, Darrell,
is starting out in the city of Porto Alegre, which is the closest large city to Buenos
Aires and to Argentina, in Brazil. And so the population was largely Italian, German,
Russian, more so than what we might think is Spanish and Portuguese, or Indian for that
matter. And a number of times I was at the large Roman Catholic Seminary in Porto Alegre,
and they would come to join me. Even in our church there was an openness,
a rather extraordinary openness back in the early ’80s in that regard. Then moving to
Sao Paolo and teaching across the street from the huge Pontifical University, we had quite
a lot of rubbing shoulders with – not always amicably, but usually so – Roman Catholics
in the larger city of Sao Paulo too. So there’s a history there. When I heard that now Pope Francis the First
was put in place, I was impressed by the wisdom of the Catholic Church in so doing. And not
only do you have what, 41 percent, more or less, of the Roman Catholic population worldwide
in Latin America, but here’s a man who has been sympathetic toward a number of different
groups, evangelicals as much as any. And when those, like our own Luis Palau who’s
representatively evangelical, rejoice when this man that they prayed with has been appointed
pope, that’s a good sign that there will be, hopefully, fruitful relations in the future. Darrell Bock: Yeah. I’m going to read some
of the material that Luis gave Christianity Today when they asked him about this, because
he is very, very close to the pope and has worked with him on many, many matters. Lanier,
you and I are just average everyday Anglos who have hung out here in the United States
for the most part, no extensive overseas ministry. Some overseas experience of course. So what
was your take on the selection of Francis I? Lanier Burns: Well, I don’t bring the expertise
on the ground that Leo and Scott do. But my doctor of philosophy research was on the Catholic
response to the Protestant Reformation in early modern and modern times. And so my approach
to all of this is mainly theological and historical. My reaction to Francis I’s election – Jorge
– my response to his election, like Leo’s, is very mixed. Number one, I think he’s the model of a servant
leader, and I was deeply impressed by some of his gestures as pope, which can be suffocatingly
hierarchical. So I think he is a humble man, and I’m very encouraged by that. I also feel
the need to have cooperation internationally, because the Catholic Church is conservative
on family values and certain ethical issues. And we simply have to stand together at that
level. However, when we speak of dialogue and we
speak of relationships, I’m skeptical until I hear the details. Because if we’re talking
evangelism and we’re talking church growth, I feel that most people don’t understand the
inner doctrinal workings, the hard system that is Roman Catholicism. So I’m mixed with
Leo. Darrell Bock: Yeah. It is a very, very complex
kind of discussion for a variety of reasons. Let me just – and since we’re talking about
Francis in particular to start off with – let me just read to you some of the things that
Luis Palau had to say about his election. This was in response to a question – well,
actually, this is an interview that dates back to March 14th of 2013. And this is in response to a question. “What
was your reaction when you heard that Bergoglio – and I probably didn’t pronounce that very
well – had been selected as pope?” He says, “It was exciting because of Argentina, because
of his personality and because of his openness towards evangelical Christians. I got kind
of emotional, simply having known him. “He came in second to Pope Benedict XVI in
the last election –” that’s something we’re not supposed to know, by the way, but apparently
it’s public knowledge – “and pulled out of the vote voluntarily, because he thought,
‘We shouldn’t be doing this vote after vote.’ “I said to him when I saw him afterwards,
‘What a pity. I thought I would be able to say I know the pope as my friend.’ I said
he’d probably get elected the next time. But he said, ‘No, I’m too old.’ It was a total
surprise because I also thought he was past the age. Since last time he didn’t win, I
figured he wouldn’t win this time. But here we go. He got elected. He’s not too old.” And so he talks about his personal friendship
with Francis and says, “You know he knew God the Father personally the way he prayed. The
way he talked to the Lord was a man who knows Jesus Christ and was very spirituality intimate
with the Lord. It’s not an effort for him to pray. He didn’t do reading prayers. He
just prayed to the Lord spontaneously. It’s a sign that good things will happen worldwide
in the years of his papal work.” So here’s Luis Palau, probably the most visible
or one of the – certainly, one of the most well-known evangelicals in Latin America,
who knows Francis and knows of him, and has prayed with him and has worked with him and
their fellow Argentineans, which means that they’ve rubbed shoulders in much the way
that you, Scott, have rubbed shoulders with Catholics from Brazil. And so, from that standpoint, it seems to
me we have insight with someone who may well know him. We have a little bit of the details,
to use your phrase, Lanier. Leo, what – as you hear Luis talk about this figure, what
insight do you gain about Francis? Leopoldo Sánchez: Well, yes, I have sort
of an approach to the pope in terms of the person of Jorge, the person of Bergoglio on
the one hand. But also an approach of the person of the pope as one who sits in the
office of pope and all that that represents. Lanier was talking about the historical and
the theological complexities of the office. And so, as a Lutheran, listening to Luis as
a Latin-American Lutheran, on the one hand, the Latin-American in me says, “Jorge Bergoglio,”
and all this means in terms of the openness and the wisdom, as Scott put it, of the Catholic
Church in reaching out to a more liberal community. And, as a Lutheran, then I also have questions. Darrell Bock: You got your hammer ready, huh,
your hammer with the 95 Theses on the door. Leopoldo Sánchez: Yes. I mean you have the
whole history. And even more than that, Luther’s statements and the Lutheran Confessor statements
on the pope as one who has the marks of antichrist, which is not a very popular language to be
using at a time when you’re kind of excited to have a pope from Latin America. Darrell Bock: Right. Leopoldo Sánchez: But you know it’s not something
said against the person of Jorge and what that represents in terms of the church’s openness
to the world. But it’s something directed more to the office of pope when it sets itself
above the Word of God, which was one of the criticisms of the reformation against the
office of papacy, the office. And so I have a mixed reaction again. On the one hand, I see the possibilities,
and I can see how the Holy Spirit through the Word can bring reform to the Catholic
Church. And, of course, that is up to the Holy Spirit. We dare not put aside the power
of the Word to accomplish things everywhere. And, at the same time, I don’t get too overly
excited because I do want to hear more, like Lanier says, about what a common witness to
Christ would look like. As you know, the Catholic and the Lutheran
Church have been involved in dialogues for quite some time. In those dialogues, the Lutheran
Church Missouri Synod or the International Lutheran Conference, which whom the Missouri
Synod has some association, have not really been invited in the past. It’s been mostly
the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And so what does dialogue look like? Which
Lutherans are you speaking to? A couple of days ago, we had a visit from the representative
of the Office of Ecumenical Affairs of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference.
That was the first time in a long time that we had the official representative come to
have some initial talks with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. And they came here to Concordia Seminary in
St. Louis, and what was interesting about that is that it seems that they are pitching
a broader tent for dialogue. And part of the reason, I think – going back to what Lanier
was saying – is where we are together on some moral issues. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
has gone the way of allowing, for example, for same-sex unions, the ordination of homosexual
pastors, which is not the case in the Missouri Synod. So I think the Catholic Church sees
a connection there on that moral witness and are now having kind of a broader tent for
their dialogues, and so we’re now being included. Darrell Bock: And now, just to make clear
for everyone, you are a Lutheran, but you’re in the Missouri Synod part of Lutheranism,
is that correct? Leopoldo Sánchez: Yes. So we sort of divided,
even within the Lutheran family. We have friends and families, some of whom are ELCA, others
LCMS Lutherans. So we have our own issues there in terms of dialogue with one another.
I imagine with evangelicals you have similar things. Darrell Bock: Oh, absolutely. Leopoldo Sánchez: And now, then you have
to talk about discussions with the Roman Catholic Church. So when Pope Francis was elected,
I was excited like Luis about all the person of Jorge Bergoglio represents and what that
can bring to the church. And, at the same time, I was sad because all these positions
among Lutherans – among Lutherans and Catholics came up as well. And it’s an opportunity to
think about what it means to be the one church. What does it mean to contribute towards unity?
Where should we stand together? Darrell Bock: Right. Well, we’re going to
transition and talk about the Catholic Church in just a second. But I want to finish on
Francis for a moment if we may. What signals have you seen Scott and Lanier – and I’ll
start with Scott – on the character of this pope and what drives him, what he’s concerned
about? Scott Horrell: Well, that’s one thing that’s
attractive Darrell, in that at least through his sister we’re told that his father moved
out of Italy to escape fascism in part. It was back in the early 1930s. And as he, the
oldest of five children, got into high school, began increasingly – he got to be about
age 21, I understand – wanted to move into the Jesuit Order. And so that’s that interesting
mixture. The Jesuit Order, in itself, is fascinating because they’ve been the kind of Rottweilers
and Navy Seals of the Catholic Church since the Counter-Reformation. Yet, he has taken a more conservative stand,
theologically and, yet, something of a liberation sympathy in terms of the way he lives. And
so the fact that he would, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, live in a fairly small room
and make his own bed each day and take the subway or the bus to his headquarters, that
he would live humbly, is really quite remarkable. He, on Holy Tuesdays – or Holy Thursdays,
excuse me – would go out to wash the feet of prisoners or of even newborn babies – and
pregnant mothers – that were born out of wedlock. He has shown a remarkable and genuine
desire to identify with the poor and minister to the needy. And he’s done so in a way that
has yet maintained a firmness within the Roman Catholic camp of theology. This, at a time when the great majority of
Latin-American Roman Catholicism moved toward a liberation theology and, quite frankly,
was letting go of many of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. May I give you a little background
there? Darrell Bock: Yeah, sure. Scott Horrell: You have a Catholic faith in
Latin America that was largely identified with the bourgeoisie, the military, and the
military dictatorships. Through the centuries, a number of attempts to create a third way
were unsuccessful in the 1920s, 1930s, a third way between Marxism and absolute atheism on
one side, and the status quo Catholic Church on the other. 1955 brought about the first
Episcopal all Latin-American Conference, and that was in Rio de Janeiro and, really,
that event amounted to nothing. But with Vatican II, from 1962 to 1965, you
have – representative numbers of the Roman Catholic met, of course in Rome, for this
major event, this modernization of the Roman Catholic Church, and that created the communication
links all over Latin American, already the largest constituency of Roman Catholics in
the world. And so out of that was birthed a liberation
theology that in the second major Episcopal Conference, called CELAM II, in Medellín,
Columbia, exploded into what became known as liberation theology. And the 1970s then,
you have some of the theologians writing as though Jesus were essentially Che Guevara
or Fidel Castro in Palestinian clothing, and almost nothing was said of his deity. So it was a young John Paul II that was elected
as pope in 1979, and months later, came the Puebla Conference, all-Episcopal Conference
of Latin America. And it was then that John Paul II, and right behind him, Joseph Ratzinger,
began to lay down strictures and limitations to what this liberation theology could look
like. And they, in fact, walled in liberation theology,
theologically, on many sides, such that some like a John Sobrino would actual apologize
to the pope, saying, “You’re right. We’ve emphasized so much the humanity of Jesus,
we have not adequately stressed his deity as well.” So you have this third conference
at Puebla in 1979. The next conference occurs in Santa Domingo
in the early ’90s. And it is there that with the washout of Catholicism into especially
Pentecostalism and the hostility created between neo-charismatics, in particular, and the Catholic
Church. That’s where the barriers really went up. You had in Brazil, on television even,
certain figures in one well-known situation putting a statue of Mary on the platform,
speaking against it and then kicking it off into the audience, calling the pope the antichrist,
and many things like this. So John Paul the II, in CELAM IV in Santa
Domingo and the Dominican Republic, basically said, “The pagan traditional religions are
God’s form of pre-evangelism to bring people into the church. The real problem are the
evangelicals.” And, at that point, the walls went up. No longer was there dialogue or cooperation
between even the major Protestant denominations and Catholicism. There was like an iron wall
that came down between them. So the fifth Episcopal Conference was in 2007,
again back in Brazil. And it is this Jorge Mario Bergoglio that was one of the main articulators
of what is called the Aparecida Document. A lady who has appeared, or Nostra Signora,
Aparecida is the patron Saint of Brazil, just like our Lady of Guadalupe is of Mexico. But
this document said nothing against evangelicals; in fact, seemed again to be opening the door
to some kind of dialogue going on there. So in terms of Latin American Roman Catholicism,
the election of now Francis I as pope is an open door that had been closed for at least
15 years, toward again at least talking together and moving on from there. So there’s a lot
about this pope from a Latin American perspective, even an evangelical perspective that is encouraging. Darrell Bock: That’s interesting. You know
when I see how he is described and the way he lives, and his lifestyle and the concerns
that he has for the poor, the way he reaches out, I’m kind of reminded of a male Mother
Teresa. That here is someone whose instincts seem to be driven to be concerned for people
who cannot, or are not in a position, socially, to speak for themselves. And that’s very,
very clear in the way he goes about doing what he’s doing. Even the first masses and worship that he
has led has shown to have an element of spontaneity about it as opposed to the formality that
you’re used to seeing from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rome. And so all these things strike
me as very interesting. Lanier, you have any observations about what you’ve seen from Francis? Lanier Burns: Well, I think that Leo and Scott
are very, very insightful. I think in the public square, I think that the Episcopal
gatherings mentioned by Scott are unknown to most people. Darrell Bock: That’s right, yeah. Lanier Burns: And I think another thing that
is unknown to most people is the exquisite sensitivity of Catholicism when it looks in
the mirror. I think every gesture, I think every little garment tweak, they think through
that. And Jorge was a Cardinal and these are not ignorant men. And as a pope, he’s a Jesuit,
highly intelligent. So I think what you’re looking at is a parade of details that are
carefully orchestrated and choreographed, which are genuine for him. The thing that strikes me, at the public square
level, is that reforming the Catholic Church really can be traced – or attempts at reform
to Vatican II mentioned by Scott, ’62, ’64, convened by John XXIII, who was a very remarkable
man, probably the most open of all recent popes. And I think John XXIII was quite open
because the Catholic Church has been in crisis, a giant medieval organization trying to come
to grips with modernity. When you look at John Paul and you look at
Benedict, you’re looking at very, very conservative, intelligent people with great public relations.
John Paul will no doubt be canonized. Now, with Jorge, I’m not competent to speak just
yet, but I understand that he is of the same convictions. And so he’s going to be very
conservative, theologically, and he’s going to try to hold the Catholic Communion together
with gestures, and maybe not explicit communication. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And I think that one of
the challenges that the Catholic Church has is actually a challenge for all the churches,
is that not only does it have to adjust to modernity, but it has to adjust to post-modernity.
And when you’re global, like the Catholic Church is, society in Europe is not society
in Latin America, nor is it society in Asia. These are different social – Lanier Burns: Nor is it society in North America. Darrell Bock: North America, exactly right.
And so what little experience I have with the Catholic Church is involved, primarily,
in my time in Europe. I’ve spent four sabbaticals in Europe and Germany and three years doing
doctoral work there, seven years of my adult life in the context of theological training
in Europe. And what strikes me – because I’ve spent
some time in Latin America as well – is the difference between how Protestants and
Catholics interact in Europe versus the way Protestants and Catholics have historically
interacted in Latin America. It’s two very different playing fields. It’s almost like
soccer and football, American football. Two very different games, two very different sets
of rules. In Europe, Christianity is – has become
culturist post-Christian. Christianity has become very much minority in any form, evangelical
or Catholic, highly secularized. And so you see this pull for Catholics and Evangelicals
to work together in Europe, to represent God and morality in a culture that is moving away
from that very direction very, very quickly. And so the dynamics are one thing. Well, come to Latin America, the playing field’s
completely different. Here, you have millions and millions of Catholics who have been evangelized.
You have a core Roman Catholic undergirding to the culture that exists. You have evangelicals
who have come into Latin America, who are gaining popularity in the hold. And the Catholic
response has been for a long time with resistance as you described through the various conferences
that you’re talking about. That’s a different dynamic. And so one of
the challenges is how do you – how do Christians representing all these different groups interact
with each other, when even the playing field that they play on are so different from location
to location. Leo, you have any observations to make, how this works? We’re kind of transitioning
into the relationship now between Catholics and evangelicals. Leopoldo Sánchez: Well, let me affirm something
that Scott spoke about. And that is the kind of social consciousness that we see in the
new pope, given his experience with the harsh realities of poverty in Latin America, and
so on, and also what Lanier talked about in terms of his conservative outlook on various
moral issues and traditional church doctrine. It is interesting that the new pope kind of
brings a blend of that. He’s described as conservative and yet socially conscious. And
it is actually characteristic of global South Christians to be conservative on moral issues,
like abortion or gay marriage, and yet more socially conscious at the same time in other
areas. Darrell Bock: So you’re contrasting that to
the way Christianity tends to manifest in North America, is that right? Leopoldo Sánchez: That is exactly right.
And Europe. One of the painful stories of division that has take place most recently
in Africa, is that we see African churches affiliated with more liberal Protestant Churches
in the U.S. breaking fellowship with those who first brought the Gospel to them, precisely
because there is a sense in which North America and Europe have misread the global South. The new pope actually seems to have kind of
a better handle on this you see, and so things like lack of access to education, things like
poverty, the environment. These are issues that are experienced overwhelmingly by brothers
and sisters in the global South. Your typical Christian, your typical brother and sister
in the global South in not only poor, but usually very poor. It’s not at all the picture
of a Christian that we might have in North America. And so this pope does open avenues for discussion
on both issues that we can stand on in terms of the morally conservative outlook on life
and at the same time this kind of socially conscious outlook on the church’s mission.
And so that can draw a number of conversation partners together. I do want to say something briefly, Darrell,
about the point made about Francis’ humility. This has been brought up a number of times.
I do want to say that this is very, very important, not only in terms of what this might mean
for the Catholic Church and its public persona in the world, but also what it might mean
for Lutherans, for evangelicals, for others, because we, too, have issues in our churches.
We, too, have an opportunity to be humble. I think Lanier used the word servant leaders.
What are the areas in which we need reformation? What do we need to repent of? Where have we
not – where have we been going out to bless people rather than getting their prayers for
us first? So because the Catholic Church is so visible, it provides us an opportunity
for reformation. What is it that we need to die for? You know Luther speaks of the Christian life
as a life of daily repentance. So the election of a new pope also opens a door for us to
die to self in order to be raised to new life. And what does that need to be for us? So I
want to just sort of bring some of the threads of the discussion together, which I have found
very, very helpful from our guests here today. Darrell Bock: Good. Thank you, Leo. Let’s
turn our attention to issues of the Catholic Church and evangelicals. And let’s talk a
little bit about the papacy, because this is a public podcast and people may or may
not have background to understand the history of the papacy and where it comes from. I’m
going to say it this way. The pope has not always been with us. Would
that be a fair thing to say that the history of the development of the papacy is part of
the history of the development of the Roman Catholic Church? And even though sometimes
the impression is that the pope has been in a succeeding line going all the way back to
Peter – I’ve walked into the church in Rome where you can see the head of every pope since
Peter up on the wall. In fact, the history of the papacy is quite
complex. And I actually don’t know who’s the better person to discuss this. So I’m going
to throw it out and see who jumps on it in terms of the history of the papacy. Why don’t
one of you tell us where the roots of that come from? Lanier Burns: Roots of the papacy come from
a form of hierarchical leadership that spanned the Middle East, Europe, the world really,
when you look at how recent American type of democracy is, where votes really count.
It’s very hierarchical. And historians speak of the duel crown of Europe, which became
a duel crown more and more as nation states came into the existence. But the pope was
the big honcho. And there were lengthy centuries where Catholicism basically was Europe. The papacy has – it hasn’t been completely
static, but it has always been relatively absolute. There’s a substratum that says the
pope is inerrant. Another stream of Catholicism would say the church is inerrant, and those
are primarily conciliarists. But he is the Vicar of Christ, who, according to Catholic
dogma, received the keys of the kingdom from Jesus Christ, himself. Darrell Bock: Through Peter. Lanier Burns: Through Peter. Darrell Bock: Um-hmm. Lanier Burns: He sits on the Petrine seat
in Rome. He’s the bishop of Rome. It’s magical turf. And so, in the public square, you have
to understand the pope is an absolute ruler of an invisible empire. And I was – I guess
I was very impressed in Francis I that he rode the minivan with his fellow cardinals
after being elected pope. That was a little countercultural. Once you’re pope, you are
the Vicar of Christ for the Catholic Church. And people go through the church to get to
Christ, as opposed to the universal priesthood of believers. Darrell Bock: Yes, and the other thing that
I think is interesting – it’s the same kind of picture – is when he went to visit Benedict,
he insisted that they pray together on the side pew on opposed to praying in the front
of the sanctuary together or making a distinction between him and Benedict. These symbolic acts
are full of significance in a culture that has been so terrifically hierarchical. The
question that I’m really getting at is how far back do we go to we go to get to the formation
of the papacy formally. Lanier Burns: That depends on who you talk
to. Darrell Bock: Okay. Lanier Burns: Most of us would say Gregory
1, shortly after Saint Augustine. Darrell Bock: Okay, so just so people – most
people don’t have the dates. Lanier Burns: Sixth century. Darrell Bock: Sixth century, okay. Scott Horrell: Yeah, you have a plurality
of leaders of churches in Alexandria and Ephesus, Constantinople, Rome. And, really, with Gregory 1,
at least the Latin Church. The Western church begins to form after a strong – I shouldn’t
say begins to form it, but crystallizes that strong, strong hierarchy. So defecto, the
pope is that word of God into this world. But it is interesting; you have the Magisterium,
which is the term for the collection of cardinals and the collective wisdom that Lanier was
referring to as well. So it has been out of that body that many of the doctrines of the
church has been formed. But the pope has been, in a way, over all of that. It is with Vatican
I, however, back to about 1870, that the idea of the infallibility of the pope speaking
ex cathedra, or from the throne, the idea of the infallibility of the pope was locked
into place as dogma. Darrell Bock: And it really a reaction to
the things that were happening in modernism. And the church was trying to get control over
that process. Scott Horrell: And there have been other doctrines
since. It would surprise, I think, most of our listeners to know that in 1950 declared
absolute dogma is the physical ascension of Mary, called the Assumption, the Assumption
of Mary into heaven, that Jesus would never leave his mother to die a physical death.
So that contradicts what we have of early church history. Yet, dogmatically, she’s not
only without sin, either in nature or in activity, but now, she did not die. She’s taken into heaven as the queen of heaven,
daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, spouse of the Holy Spirit. So there are some
very strong doctrines that have locked into place prior to Vatican II – again, from
1962 to 1965 – that yet continue on. No Roman Catholic can negate those doctrines.
They are as absolutely infallible as the Bible itself. In fact, many times even more so. Darrell Bock: And so the structure of Roman
Catholic theology is obviously – and the way it works with the Magisterium alongside
the Bible, and the pope at the top of the pyramid, if I can say it that way, is one
of the theological differences that separate Protestants and Catholics from one another.
I do think it’s interesting. Most people are not aware that many of the doctrines of the
church, or at least a few of them, are very, very recent in terms of their being established
as a central – Lanier Burns: But there was a whole stream
of tradition. I mean those were decisions that locked in. I mean Mariology and the papacy
were – unh, that’s medieval. Darrell Bock: Right, right. Well, the roots
go back, but they don’t go back all the way. My understanding has been – you can correct
me if I’m wrong – that first impulses to try and unify the church under a head started
with figures like Ignatius and Irenaeus, who were trying to elevate the status of the bishops
as a whole, and kind of get the church under some level of organization. And then it gradually
evolved to the point that by the time we get to the 6th Century and Gregory, this has
been formalized. I remember reading – my son attended – attends,
actually; he’s still there in a master’s program – St. John’s University in Queens, which
is a Catholic school. He had to take a theology course as an undergraduate of Catholic theology.
And, interestingly, the book that they had him read was a history of the Catholic Church
by Hans Kung [laughter], which I thought was an interesting little exercise, since Hans
isn’t exactly the most popular Catholic – or ex Roman Catholic, depending on your point
of view – in the church. But this history of the Catholic Church, which
I read while Stephen was reading it, was interesting because the bulk of that book is actually
the history of the papacy from Hans Kung’s point of view, and how he felt that the papacy,
as an institution, really became not a unifier of the church so much as a threat to the unity
of the church, which I thought was an interesting way to think about the papacy. So it shows
the tension. I think if you look at how Scripture and the
church are related to one another in Roman Catholicism versus Protestantism; you think
about the role of Mary in Roman Catholic theology vis-à-vis Protestantism and what that means
about the priesthood of the believers, et cetera, and you think about the role of the
papacy, that those are probably in – I don’t know if that’s the Trinitarian roadblock between
Protestants and Catholics, but certainly – Lanier Burns: No, actually it’s the cult of
the saints as well. Darrell Bock: There’s the cult of the saints
as well. Lanier Burns: I think that Mariology is – Darrell Bock: It’s a part. Lanier Burns: – is a major part. Darrell Bock: Right. And so it’s no accident
that Francis gets up at the very first, after he asked for prayers about himself, and almost
as quickly out of his mouth, there are illusions to Mary as he’s speaking to the public there
in St. Peter’s. And I catch those when that happens. So we’ve been going on here for a
while without letting you speak into this. What’s your observation on the conversations
that we’re having here about the historic position of the church, of the Roman Catholic
Church? Leopoldo Sánchez: Well, I was thinking that
most people would probably be shocked to know that the Lutheran Confessors would actually
allow the pope to be the leader of the Western church, if he were to teach in accordance
with the Word of God. Darrell Bock: Hmm. Leopoldo Sánchez: In other words, you could
be a pope – one of the arguments the Lutheran Confessors made was that you could be a pope
by human arrangement if you wanted to. You could have any form of government in the church
because there was nothing divinely mandated in the Scriptures. And so you go ahead and
organize yourself the best way you can, but don’t say that this is somehow by divine design.
And so that was kind of an issue. The other one, too, was that the authority
of the pope also extended over, actually, kingdoms of the world. And so there was kind
of a political dimension to the pope’s reign as opposed to only a Spiritual, pastoral kind
of work on behalf of the sheep. And so Lutherans were actually, at first, willing to consider
having the pope by human design and live with that arrangement. But the issue was one of the Gospel, and so
where is the Holy Spirit to be found. You can talk about apostolic succession all you
want. But what happens when the teaching is not in accordance with the Scriptures, see.
So, ultimately, you don’t locate spirits in a particular office because people in office
can err. But Luther would say, “You are located in the Word in God,” which points to Christ
and through which Christ speaks. So this might be a little bit shocking, but
the problem with the office of pope is the office sort of trying to set itself above
the Word of God. But in terms of an arrangement, you could go hierarchical; you could go congregational.
And this is another issue that Lanier sort of brought up. The Catholic Church, itself,
is a little bit – I wouldn’t say divided over this, but with Vatican II, you have
kind of two intersecting conceptions of the church for Roman Catholics. You have the hierarchical view and at the
same time, you have this people-of-God view. It’s more of a from below thing. Lanier also
mentioned concilliar theory, which means that the bishops, speaking together with the Bishop
of Rome, actually sort of define or articulate Catholic teaching, as opposed to just the
pope giving it to you from above. And then, furthermore, in Vatican II you
have another tension in Catholicism, which is between those who want to push for aggiornamento,
or the bringing up to date of the church, conceptualizing it. And these are the people
who you might call progressives. The church doesn’t move fast enough to change some things
that should be changed. And, on the other hand, you have sort of those of the continuity
party, as it were, more the resourcement, the going back to the sources. How are we with the continuity with the church
of all times and places? So someone like Jorge Mario, someone like Bergoglio, Pope Francis,
certainly is more in the continuity party. So things like the dogma of papal infallibility,
the Assumption of Mary, those are not going to go away anytime soon. But, at the same time, he also comes into
this tradition of concilliarity, of bringing up to date the church on issues that relate
to this societal concern. So we’ll have to see. One thing is to talk about what pope
represents. Another thing is to talk about what will happen in the church under this
pope. Darrell Bock: That’s right. Now, let me go
back and just close a loophole for people who aren’t that familiar with the Lutheran
Church and Lutheran theology. When you speak of the Lutheran Confessors, who are you talking
about? Who are those people? Leopoldo Sánchez: Yes, thank you. So when
we talk about Lutheran Confessors, we talk about those with Luther who wanted to confess
the truth of the Word of God over against certain abuses that they saw in the Catholic
Church, both theological and practical. And, typically, it’s a reference to a set of writings
that came together under the Book of Concord. The Book of Concord, a number of confessional
documents, where Lutheran theologians would confess the truth of Scripture over against
some abuse that they would see. And so, there is a whole list of these documents compiled
under what is called the Book of Concord. Concord means unity or harmony, meaning that
the Lutheran Confessors were not thinking about separating themselves from the Catholic
Church. They were thinking in terms of uniting. They were thinking in terms of bringing everybody
together. Darrell Bock: They were Catholic progressives
of their time. Leopoldo Sánchez: Yeah, that’s right. I mean
they were actually concerned for the unity of the church. Even though today we think
of Lutherans and Protestants as just kind of they’re leaving a country in exile, never
to come back again. Where, in reality, there was a big concern for the unity of the church
with the early reformers. Darrell Bock: Now, I don’t mean to bore everyone,
but where does Melanchthon’s locis – where does it fit into all this? Does it fit in? Leopoldo Sánchez: Yeah, Luther spoke highly
of – Melanchthon was basically a layperson. Melanchthon was a layman who taught Greek
and Latin, the classics, at the University of Wittenberg, and was a close associate of
Luther, and was one of the ones who actually wrote down some of the initial documents that
were presented before the emperor to define the Catholic teaching as it was understood
and received by the Lutheran princes and so on. And so Melanchthon wrote – actually was
kind of the first systematician. He was the first Lutheran systematician, and kind of
put some of these confessions into a more – that final format, with the law, the different
articles of faith. So Luther spoke rather highly of Melanchthon. And then other systematicians
came in the generation after Luther. Darrell Bock: Um-hmm. So that group as a whole,
those are the Lutheran Confessors. Leopoldo Sánchez: The Lutheran Confessors,
yes. Darrell Bock: Yeah, very good. All right,
well as we talk about – let’s talk practically about what advice would you give to people
who interact with Catholics on a regular basis as evangelicals, and how should we think about
those relationships. As you said, there’s theology from above, but there’s also theology
from below; there’s theology as it’s conducted between people. And sometimes these institutions
and what people think about institutions can get in the way of the personal relationships
that people have or have the potential to develop. So what would you say about that,
Lanier? Lanier Burns: I’ve had any number of Catholic
friends, and I led a number of Catholic people to the Lord in the 1990s, particularly, and
the early part of the 20th century. Our conversations are Christocentric. They are really bound
by the system. And Catholics have the feeling that if they leave the system, they’re going
to hell. One of the things that I’m watching is Catholicism
and globalism, because I think it depends on where you are in the world as to how you
dialogue with Catholics. We’ve not talked about Catholic Anglican dialogue. We’ve had
a heavy Lutheran input. But what’s very interesting to me is Jorge, Francis I, has on his agenda
greater dialogue with the Muslims. Wow. Let’s see how that goes. But in my friends, and at a local level, we
don’t talk doctrine deeply. We wish them well as they go on their pilgrimages to Lourdes
and that sort of thing. But that some of these people at the bottom level know Christ, participate
in Bible-study fellowship and do other things, is beyond question. Darrell Bock: Yeah. I mean there’s some people
who really have their feet in two camps simultaneously. They have one foot in the Catholic Church,
but they’re hanging out and going to Bible studies that are led by evangelicals on the
other. And that mixture produces an interesting condition and an interesting dilemma for everybody
in terms of how people view their Christian identity. Scott, what do you have to – Scott Horrell: Well, I would agree with what
Lanier’s been saying. That you talk Christ and that salvation through grace, that we
are indeed fully forgiven. It is interesting that in Latin America, at least in some of
the larger cities, the methodology, even of Catholicism, has shifted around to singing
evangelical songs, the television productions. It’s the handsome people in the front, even
with invitations of different kinds. There is a lot of increasing – what do you
say – copying or cloning, or at least paralleling what one or the other’s doing. And, yet in
my experience in Latin America, I found very few who were even conservative Catholics.
And I found almost no – although the numbers were supposed to be great, but I was there
18 years – charismatic Catholics, almost none. And the number of my students at different
schools that I would teach in had been – even in seminaries – training for the Catholic
priesthood and then really come – in reading the Bible, in certain cases, to come to Christ
directly through faith. They tended to be the most dogmatically opposed then to the
Roman Catholic Church. So as we talk about how do we talk with our Roman Catholic friends
around the world, it varies so very greatly. Darrell Bock: Yeah. You’re triggering my sense
of my interaction with European Catholics that I had contact with. And so many Catholics
in Europe are what I would call cultural Catholics as opposed to being church Catholics, by which
I mean it wasn’t that they adopted an identification with all the theology of the Roman Catholic
Churches. It’s just that it’s almost like an ethnicity.
They identified themselves, culturally, as Catholics, that if you pushed them they would
say “I’m Catholic.” But if you asked what that meant, you could anything and everything
in terms of what you’re hearing. So I think it is – I think it’s right to think about.
This is a very, very complex relationship. Not only the relationship at the institutional
level complex, but the relationship at the individual level or complex. Because people
are on their own individual continuums in terms of where they fit in relationship to
the faiths that are being presented to them. Leo, what would you have to say to us in terms
of practical advice? Leopoldo Sánchez: Well, I think the Catholics,
they tend to see faith through church. That is to say you may never actually go to church,
but you’re still sort of part of the family because you were baptized there once. So I
think Catholics approach faith mostly through the church, or what Lanier calls, perhaps
a system. You know, you’re kind of part of the system. Darrell Bock: And denominational evangelicals
can be the same kind – can do the same kind of thing. Leopoldo Sánchez: Yeah. And so I think in
the Lutheran tradition, and I think this might be true of evangelicals, too, is that we tend
to approach things in terms of faith in Christ. Now, we don’t want to detach that from church.
We have to be careful on that that we don’t make things so personal that now we’re no
longer part of the Body of Christ, but just kind of an individual Christian. So that’s
a challenge. But let me give you kind of my take on that
from below, and this is going to sound a little shocking coming from a Lutheran who actually
tends to be pretty heavy on the doctrine. But I think often what happens among people,
everyday people, is that they don’t come at you with questions right away necessarily.
They’re looking for your life, the kind of life that you live. And so if I can trust you with the little
things, the things that have to do with welcoming the immigrant; if I can trust you with things
like taking care of my family, then I can trust you with the big questions about God
and Christ, and then maybe we can talk about Mary and how do you understand that. But global
Christians, they tend to approach things from below. So it’s all about building relationships once
again. And that will open the door then to talk about maybe other issues that have to
do more with what we believe. So I think ecumenism, the promotion of a church’s unity, can happen
at a very local level, at the level of relationships, not always simply through statements that
are put out by churches from above, which never kind of trickle down. So that’s maybe one way of thinking about
promoting the church’s unity at the local level. And get together with other pastors.
How often do we get together with pastors with whom we don’t agree on everything, to
kind of talk through that? So I think people will follow what their church leaders do.
If their church leader has no concern with getting together with other Christians to
talk about the issues, they’ll never do it. So how do we model that concern for the unity
of the church? How often do we pray that Christians will come together? How often do we pray that
divisions will be healed? How often does that happen in the church service, you know? So
how do we sort of lose the parochial way of thinking, and think ourselves more in terms
of an expression of the universal church, you see, which is not only limited to our
own denomination? But the church are all those who believe in Christ. And that, of course,
includes more than Lutherans or evangelicals. Darrell Bock: Now, I’m going to close with
this last question. It’s a hard question to ask at the end. But what would be your advice
in the context of some people who say that any relationship or contact with the Roman
Catholic Church should be shunned simply because of the system of what the Roman Catholic Church
is, and that there is no – it’s kind of the hard Protestant edge, if I can say it
that way. How do you have people think through that? Scott, you mentioned people who sometimes
have come out of Catholicism, have come to Christ as evangelicals, and sometimes the
people who are harshest against the Catholic Church are former Catholics who feel – if
I can say it this way – betrayed that the Roman Catholic Church never drew them to Christ
in the way that their subsequent experience has drawn them to Christ. And so they feel
like it was an obstacle to their understanding as opposed to a benefit. What would you say? Scott Horrell: Sometimes I think we – our
different cultural expressions of Catholicism or experiences with Catholicism are not always
true to the broader church and the church history itself. I often will go back to the
doctrines of who Jesus Christ is as the eternal Son of God, and the doctrine of the Trinity
and what we call the hypostatic union of two natures of Christ, and show that, in great
part, even the Roman Catholic catechism today, the official doctrine of the church, corresponds
largely with what we, as evangelicals, believe. There are those areas of the Magisterium,
of Mary, of the authority of the church over the Word of God, so to speak, areas that we
have to speak against. But there is a lot in common as well. And so as I negotiate with
those who are Roman Catholic, I often – one thing that I do, as in Brazil, is I say, “Do
you remember those great conversions of Augustine’s and others in your church history?” I’ll ask,
“Why doesn’t that happen anymore? Could it be that you’ve lost some of the original message
that was proclaimed by the early church, that is now no longer being heard?” Darrell Bock: Hmm. Lanier. Lanier Burns: I think, in the modern technological
world, you can’t avoid it. I think that the average person with information’s revolution
technology is forced to come to grips with issues like interrelationships between religions.
I’ve already received four lengthy articles, by e mail, on the fact that Francis 1 is
a sure sign of the antichrist because he’s such a good guy. Darrell Bock: Yeah. The candidate list always
grows. Lanier Burns: And so, my feeling is that I
can’t change people’s opinion on something that’s so deep seated. Usually it comes from
an intensely Catholic/Protestant juxtaposition, like Ireland for example, or like Italy for
example. And so I choose not to respond to that, and I try to offer a little bit of a
more intelligent appraisal of why we have to relate to one another as human beings,
with our differences. But, hey, who doesn’t differ with other people. Darrell Bock: That’s right. Leo, what do you
have to suggest in this regard? Leopoldo Sánchez: Well, this may be an apocryphal
story, but I’ll say it anyways. It seems like when Pope Francis was a professor of theology,
he was apparently asked once what he thought about divisions in the Catholic Church. And
he told his student the problem here – or the solution rather – was for him to stay
away from the church because if he would join it, he would make a mess of it. And I think the bigger point here is that
the real issue is not the division in the church, but sin. And we all, insofar as we
are not faithful to the Word of God, we will sin. And we will speak at times even against
that Word, or do things against what the Scriptures teach. So I think when we talk about ecumenism,
there has to be a recognition that, as Luther would say, “We are saints and sinners at the
same time.’ So we can, at times, be an obstacle to the
unity of the church, by [break in audio] to speak. But, at the same time, from a pastoral
point of view, not everybody’s in the same place. If you’ve been really hurt by being
in the Catholic Church or an evangelical church or a Lutheran Church, because we find also
abuse of children in other – Darrell Bock: Exactly right. Leopoldo Sánchez: – right. If you’ve been
really hurt and it’s all raw, well you’re not one of those who are going to be promoting
the unity of the church at that point in time. Maybe later. So you have to meet people where
they are at and be sensitive to their – to each of their individual experiences. At the
same time, we still have Christ praying that the church be one. And so that’s also part
of what the Lord’s prayer is. And if it is the Lord’s prayer, then it should also be
the prayer of his disciples regardless of what denomination they’re a part of. Darrell Bock: Well, I think that one of the
great challenges, of course, of life in the modern world where knowledge is so free flowing
and where the interaction is happening at so many levels, globally and otherwise, is
to deal with this diversity, this religious diversity that we all face and have to engage
at one level or another. And I just want to thank you all for taking the time to come
on and speak with us about the new pope, about the relationship between the Catholic Church
and evangelicals. And, hopefully, those of you who have been
listening have benefitted from the conversation and gotten some perspective on the background
of not only the new pope but the way to think about engaging in what is a very, very complex
world. So we thank you for joining us at The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture.
And we look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank you.

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