Not Called to Communion: Preliminary Thoughts

A writer who identifies himself as Protestant, who has come under the influence of those folks at the Called to Communion website said this to me:

Why should I listen to you? [Whatever you say on a given theological subject], that is your opinion. If you say I should listen to scripture, that is saying “listen to my interpretation”. If you say read more books to be convinced of this or that, it just proves what I suspect, which is Christ gave us a visible Church to guide us. Because no offense, you are just one little voice in a sea of voices crying out for me to listen to your interpretation. You are your own Magisterium. In anticipation of your next thought (denying you are your own magisterium) let me point out that EVERY SINGLE PROOF you use to deny the fact that you are your own magisterium is based on either your personal interpretation of scripture, or some teacher/intellectual resource you find compelling. In other words, YOU are Pope of your own Christendom. There is no submission to anyone other than self. As Protestants, we need to repent of this presumption.

I’m not going to try to sort out all of the thoughts in this paragraph right now. It’s enough to say that Protestants who interact with Catholics frequently come across some form or other of this claim.

In response right now, I’ll simply say, it’s wrong to assume that Christ left us with a “pope” at all.  

Believers in Jesus Christ should not seek communion with the Roman Catholic Church – Not for a thousand reasons, but especially not because something like a “papacy” can in theory, provide “unity.”

In the first place, “unity” is often not what it appears to be. A pack of lemmings can have perfect unity as they cascade en masse off a cliff.

Any kind of “unity” that might be found in the papacy is a similar kind of “unity.”

Joseph Ratzinger, while he was still a Cardinal and Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a small book, “Called to Communion,” which he offered as “a primer on Catholic ecclesiology.” This work was published popularly, but that was not its original intent.

The first three chapters “were written for a theology course” and there were “around a hundred bishops” in attendance. In a way, this represents a “Magisterial” peer review. The two other chapters were addressed to another Synod of Bishops on the topic of “priestly formation.”

If anyone can explain what the current Catholic understanding is of the papacy, it would be hard to find a better source than Joseph Ratzinger.

There’s a lot that can be said about the first chapter, too, “The Origin and Essence of the Church.” And I hope to address that at some future date. But my primary focus at this point is going to be Chapter 2: “The Primacy of Peter and the Unity of the Church.”

Ratzinger concludes his “reflections” on the papacy with the following thought:

“The Roman primacy is not an invention of the popes, but an essential element of ecclesial unity that goes back to the Lord and was developed faithfully by the nascent church.”

At some later time, Lord willing, I’ll compare Ratzinger’s conclusion with some of the things that earlier church writers have said about the “faithfully developed” Roman primacy, but for now I’ll just stick to what Ratzinger says.

To support his conclusion, he puts forth two arguments, in the following parts:

1. Peter

            (a) in the New Testament as a whole

            (b) in the group of the Twelve according to the synoptic tradition

            (c) “the commission logion: Matt 16:17-19

2. The question of the Petrine succession

            (a) the principle of succession in general

            (b) the Petrine succession in Rome

In this, he says, “the New Testament shows us more than the formal aspect of a structure; it also reveals to us the inward nature of this structure. It does not merely furnish proof texts, it is a permanent criterion and task. It depicts the tension the tension between skandalon and rock; in the very disproportion between man’s capacity and God’s sovereign disposition, it reveals God to be the one who truly acts and is present. If in the course of history the attribution of such authority to men could repeatedly engender the not entirely unfounded suspicion of human arrogation of power, not only the promise of the New Testament but also the trajectory of that history itself prove the opposite” (72-73).

So he is saying that both the New Testament and history prove that “God truly acts and is present” in the papacy.

My intention then is to review each of the items above, as he makes the case. My contention is precisely that the papacy was neither promised in the New Testament, nor legitimately “developed” in history. I’ve already commented below on one aspect of the first part of Ratzinger’s claim: that Peter was mentioned in early oral tradition, as it was inscripturated by Paul in 1 Cor 15.  

There is a reason why this is so important. In interactions with Catholics, Protestants are directed to some apparent “disunity” in the church, and then asked, “whose interpretation will bring that unity?”

Maybe there is a problem with “disunity.” I don’t concede that. But those who seek unity in Rome, unity around a “Petrine primacy,” seek a false unity.

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

8 replies on “Not Called to Communion: Preliminary Thoughts”

  1. I did not want to believe it, thinking you were a constructive moderate apologist arguing against the RCC but now I see clearly, you are a biased anti-catholic. Easter is near and I did not want to be controversial at this time, but I cannot hold this back, and though I am in favor of interaction, while I read your latest posts, this one, the one on the “sex scandal”, St Francis De Sales came to my mind and I can say that you may write what you want, and you have the right, but when you refer to “defeat” or “victory”, over CTC or NCC, the question over the issue is over. St Francis has hit the nail in the right place and decisively. The one who is so biased against the RCC, like you, that are looking all the time to find resources to write, uniting yourself with the New York Times and other renown anti-catholic sources, does not want to seriously understand and consider seriously the issues. All is cold rationale. I also thought that you have some serious argument, enough to be considered, but now reading the latest posts, I see that this is also not true. One example is the attempt in the previous post, trying with silly attempts to find “disunity” in different opinions about N.T Wright, when on the other side, you have the chaos of Protestantism. This confusion of distinctions is unjustifiable. “If then the Church can err, O Calvin, O Luther, to whom shall i have recourse in my difficulties? To the Scripture, say they. But what shall I, poor man, do, for it is precisely about the Scripture that my difficulty lies. I am not in doubt whether I must believe the Scripture or not; for who knows not that it is the Word of Truth? What keeps me in anxiety is the understanding of this Scripture, is the conclusions to be drawn from it, which are innumerable and diverse and opposite on the same subject; and everybody takes his view, one this, another that, though out of all there is but one which is sound:- Ah! who will give me to know that good among so many bad? who will tell me the real verity through so many specious and masked vanities. Everybody would embark on the ship of the Holy Spirit; there is but one, and only that one shall reach the port, all the rest are on their way to shipwreck. Ah! what danger am I in of erring! All shout out their claims with equal assurance and thus deceive the greater part, for all boast that theirs is the ship. Who ever says that our Master has not left us guides in so dangerous and difficulty a way, says that he wishes us to perish. Whoever says that he has put us aboard at the mercy of wind and tide, without giving us a skillful pilot able to use properly his compass and chart, says that the Savior is wanting in foresight.”


  2. And I need to say also that I am in the same position like the person you adress in this post, David Meyer. PCA! Not a catholic as you would think!


  3. You see that the number of those who are starting to see the inconsistency of your system is growing!


  4. Andy — thanks for sharing. My hope indeed is to be very constructive. But at this point I have not even presented “my system” in a thorough way. I welcome disagreements.

    Though you err in suggesting that I’ve “united myself with the New York Times”. I don’t believe I have cited them — to my knowledge, I have cited actual documents from the investigations. As well, the NYTimes won’t be concerned with doctrine, as I am concerned with doctrine.

    As for “danger of erring,” I’d ask, what’s the difference between a correct understanding, and an authoritative one?” If Rome is wrong, then all Catholics who follow Rome are like lemmings rushing off a hill, are they not?

    You may have “difficulties” with Scripture, but you also have a brain; you can determine first of all, what’s being said in a particular Scripture. In today’s era of Greek texts and exceptional translations, that should not be hard. Then you can work to understand the context of those particular Scriptures with the help of any study Bible. If the Roman Catholic Church is that unerring interpreter, then their “interpretation” should be pretty close to what you think the Scriptures say, eh?

    (Of course, your “difficulties” at this point should lie not with what the Scriptures say, but with what Rome says about them. If you compare the two, there is a very big difference. Newman proposed a “theory” to account for the difficulties. But that “theory” has really been stretched beyond recognition, and official “theories” of development today must account for things far beyond what Newman had to deal with.)

    Consider, too, that God does work to illuminate your thinking. “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Phil 3:15)


  5. Thanks for the response. I wonder have you understood correctly my quote from De Sales’s book I am reading. I say this because of the reference to “my difficulties”. Perhaps is my fault since I put the reference in a confusing way. On the issue of the scandals, I agree that you have not cited WNT, or Hitchens, but I meant on principle. Nevertheless, I have found this good response (not that it is consciously written for that purpose, but it deals with the misunderstandings on the issue, created by the bias) to your post manner.
    in this:


  6. Andy: You quoted Francis de Sales. If you do not have the “difficulties” that he has, then perhaps my response is at least somewhat correct?

    As for the “scandal,” it is no wonder “the world” sees what the Roman church does, and it mocks Christ.

    Consider the words of Peter here:

    Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?

    The Roman “Church” is doing everything but “enduring”. They are defying those “human institutions” that Peter said to obey. They are flaunting their “independence” from these institutions. They are squirming and making excuses. It is a most unChrist-like response by a most un-Christlike organization.


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