Growing up, whenever I would ask my principle in grade school a ridiculous question where the answer was obviously affirmative, he would answer me in a sarcastic way replying, "Is the Pope Catholic?"
Usually the question was something like, "Will this be on the test?" or "Are you going to make me re-write this paper…again?"
The reply, "Is the Pope Catholic?"
This month we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Time magazine in 1992 listed The Reformation as the 3rd most important event of the last millennium. Then, Luther himself was listed as the 3rd most influential person of the millennium, even above Darwin and Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately , a quick look at society in general and you see how Darwin and others are more influential than Luther in our world. Schools require teachers to teach evolution and American history, but the true Luther is taboo. So what is it about Luther that draws the attention of so many people? Or why was Luther seen as so influential?
Usually Luther is thought of as influential because he was a rebel or someone who broke the oppression of the "Man". The "Man" in this instance was the Pope of the Roman Catholic church. This is all well and good when the "Man" is in error. When the Pope is teaching wrong doctrine then he is not confessing Christ according to the Word of God. When this happens then the Pope is indeed, not catholic.
Many folks have asked me when reciting The Athanasian, Apostle's or Nicene Creed why we say, "I believe in one holy catholic church." Or "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. " In the Athanasian Creed.Recently the word has been changed to "Christian" in the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds. The Creeds teach us what Christ confesses about himself. The church stays faithful to Christ when she proclaims Him as he is revealed in the scriptures. This is what it means to be catholic.
(c)atholic with a little "c" is from the Greek word kaqolikoς- (catho-li-cos) meaning universal. When it is used in the Creeds and in connection with the church it means universal church. The universal church are those who "hold fast to the confession" of Jesus Christ as said in Hebrews 4:14. The universal church are those who say the same thing about Christ that he himself says. This is what confessing Christ means. Those who confess Christ are catholic, " So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven" Matt. 10:32.
The Pope during Luther's time taught many things that weren't supported by scripture, especially the sale of indulgences. But it wasn't just indulgences that bothered Luther. It was the fact that his church was no longer catholic. The church no longer confessed and taught according to scripture. The issue at the time, and still today, was how is a person made right with God? How does a person find peace with God?
The church at the time taught you could buy forgiveness. The church taught you could earn God's approval by something you have done. The confession of the church was more focused on what you did for God, rather than what Christ has done for us. This is certainly false teaching about Christ, false doctrine.
Still today The Roman Catholic Church in their Catechism teaches, "Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom." And "[grace] is needed to arouse and sustain our collaboration in justification"
These two statements teach plainly that the Roman Church believes we cooperate with God for salvation. This is in direct contradiction to the scriptures that teach, "6And if it is by grace, then it is no longer by works. Otherwise,grace would no longer be grace." Romans 11:6. And Romans 3:23ff " for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Luther petitioned and debated with the church in an effort to bring the church back into a catholic confession, but the Pope refused. It wasn't necessarily that Luther was rebelling, but the Pope was the real rebel. The Pope rebelled against God's word.
Luther desired to be shown his error from God's word, if he was indeed in error. If he was indeed the rebel against God's word, he desired to repent. Luther desired catholicity. None of these things happened though. Luther stood firm on the confession of Christ. "Here I stand." became the battle cry of the Reformation. Sometimes standing firm, means you become a rebel. This happens when the world attacks us, "Do not be conformed to this world..."Romans 12:2. But other times, standing firm means you are embraced and brought in, received into the catholic church. " So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." 2 Thess. 2:15.
So is the Pope Catholic? Yes.
Is the Pope catholic? No.
The Pope is still the head of the Roman Catholic Church and still holds and teaches contrary to the Bible. However the Pope is not part of the universal (catholic) church that believes we are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone. Let us on this the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation remember why it is that we are Lutheran. We do not follow Luther. We do not follow a pope. We follow Christ and him crucified.
"… Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
See you on Sunday!