I need a change of job title. That's the pope's idea, not mine. At least that's what I deduced from an article in last week's Sentinel.
You see, I call myself a church pastor. But according to Pope Benedict XVI, I shouldn't because I'm not even a church member. Not a true church, anyway. He says there's only one of those the Roman Catholic Church.
Well, he might grant a little latitude. I mean, Orthodox communions are kind of quasi-church knock-offs church-lite, so to speak. But all those Protestant groups? They're just that: groups. And non-Christians? Let's not even go there.
"It's no big deal," you say in a patronizing tone. "Let the pope make all the pronouncements he wants. We're still going to do as we please." But it's not quite that simple.
You see, Pope Benedict also maintains that the only door to salvation is through the one true church. In short, if you're not Catholic, you're hell-bound.
Needless to say, Protestants aren't comfortable with such a viewpoint. And quite a few Catholics also find it troublesome. It just doesn't mesh with the openness we've come to appreciate in our postmodern society. What arrogance, we say, for any spiritual group to claim to have the management contract for the gate to heaven.
And, we wonder, just how do the Catholics think they're going to retain adherents let alone gain new ones with such archaic thinking.
But not so fast.
Suppose momentarily that the pope is right. Suppose the Roman Catholic Church is indeed the only way to salvation. Shouldn't we be grateful that he's so outspoken? Wouldn't we want every Catholic to shout this fact from the housetops? I mean, we're talking eternity in paradise versus hellfire. Would we really want someone to soft-pedal such crucial information just because it wasn't politically correct?
As a Protestant, I find myself at odds with Catholics over quite a few issues. But I have to admire any organization that isn't always holding up a finger to see which way the wind of political correctness happens to be blowing. Catholic dogmatism isn't all bad. But that doesn't mean I buy into their theology.
Purporting to possess the only gate into heaven is no small claim. With the human longing for eternal life and the fear of eternal punishment so intense, such theology has immeasurable potential for abuse, whether the claim is made by Catholics or any other faith system.
A great principle of Protestantism is the priesthood of all believers. Salvation doesn't come through one's church affiliation but through one's personal relationship with God. Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me I will never drive away."And lest his listeners assume a monopoly on that promise, he later reminded them: "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen."
James N. Coffin is the senior pastor of the Markham Woods Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Longwood.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4195