Cut Off At The Knees

Pope Francis has cut off pro-family Catholics at the knees. Granted, his newsworthy comments on abortion and gays made up just a small portion of a long interview, but it’s hard to imagine anything more unhelpful to what traditionally-minded Catholics are trying to achieve and defend in the US.

His words can only serve to marginalize even further pro-family voices in American society. Catholics who work against abortion or the militant gay agenda can now be painted by their foes as not even being in step with their own church. This is an astonishing and sudden turn after the combined 35 years of John Paul and Benedict.

The broad family of Evangelicals probably has no interest in the in-house Catholic discussion but can lament the loss of a clear voice for the family.

As a matter of evangelical concern (with a small “e”) these twists and turns point out the need for society’s morals to be informed by the unchanging standard of the Scriptures, and not by the shifting winds of men’s personalities. In Galatians 1, Paul definitively placed himself under the authority of the Word of God, and he even invited that church to measure his teachings by reference to an unalterable Gospel.

That Gospel, well understood, guides the Church and assigns the Church her mission. It is in fact the power of God to deliver, and it does not let us omit people from the scope of our seed-sowing on the grounds that we cannot judge, as Francis is now famous for saying. It compels us to warn the world that, whether I judge you or no, judgment is surely coming – and the fire of the latter day is against those who do not obey the Gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

Yes, as Francis says, there are always many pastoral priorities, but the Gospel isn’t served by altering the terms of the deal, and “repent” is still the first word of the Gospel. Say it with tears in your eyes, say it knowing it will put you in irons or worse, but it must be said. In the Western world’s current environment of relativism and rejection of all standards, Francis’s words are not a cold compress to a fevered brow – they are gasoline on a fire.

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The danger of rejecting the Spirit’s truth… and gifts

I do not believe the gifts of the Spirit were ever withdrawn from the Church. It is a doctrine without any Scriptural warrant whatsoever.

John Wesley, who certainly had no axe to grind in the debates surrounding modern Pentecostalism, said in a personal journal entry in 1750,

“I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected, 1. That the Montanists, in the second and third centuries, were real, scriptural Christians; and, 2. that the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.”

The wide-scale renewal of spiritual gifts in the early 1900’s may well have been a gracious offering from the Father to all the churches to participate in the fellowship of the Spirit as it was enjoyed in Early Church life. Rejection by the more “mainstream” parts of the universal Church seems to have brought, over time, a number of consequences.

1. Blatant apostasy on the part of groups which ostensibly believed the Scriptures. Thus, the Episcopal Church has a homosexual bishop; the largest Lutheran body in the U.S. has also voted to allow non-celibate gays as clergy.

2. Ongoing rejection of the gifts by cessationist groups (i.e. those who believe the gifts have passed away) persists, though much progress has been made. While this is not a scientific study by any means, my own recent encounters with cessationists convince me that many do not even know what the Scriptures say on these matters. One brother said that the tongues-speaking Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 14 was not to God but “a god.” He said this could be demonstrated from any lexicon!  Sadly, the arguments of cessationists seem to be filled with straw men and caricatures, thinking that the pretenses and outlandish practices of some are representative of all who believe in spiritual gifts.

3. Groups which already stood in opposition to Biblical truth are further hardened. The Roman Catholic Church, which had its own pleasant charismatic renewal, saw it degenerate in our opinion into Mariolatry and subjectivism. Now in the news we see that body promulgating documents which call for the establishment of a world Authority. Are they now ready to play a part in world history which would not have surprised Calvin or Luther? Alas, largely rejecting the Spirit and the Word, Calvin and Luther’s heirs are powerless to raise an alarm.

In all these cases, rejecting the reality (and the voice) of the living Spirit has caused instead the spirit of slumber – or worse – to come upon established Christendom. We watch them completely fall away from the Word, and mock and patronize the spiritual children of their forebears in Africa and Asia as primitives. All that remains for them now is to accept the substitute the clever enemy of our souls will soon offer them – a man to embody their hopes and lust for godhood.

Why?

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and sent to lead us into all truth. To reject Him when He comes spotlighting a truth is to grieve Him – and to lose Him is to cause our house to be left to us desolate.  The Presence of the Spirit, welcomed and cultivated in their midst, would have honored the Word He authored and pointed them to the Christ of Scripture, not the faux Christ of our own invention.

This alone can keep individuals and entire church Communions from coming under judgment with the world, which judgment is soon to come.