Friday, November 14, 2008

What Do Papal Bulls and Draft Cards Have In Common?

In the Fall 2008 issue of Westminster Seminary California's magazine Evangelium, W. Robert Godfrey opens his article “Calvin and the Bible” by referring to a recent interview of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia by the late Tim Russert. When asked about the role his faith has on the performance of his duties, Scalia, a Catholic and a conservative, replied that his faith had little effect since his role is to interpret the original intention of the Constitution. After all, it’s not like it’s an “evolving document” or anything.

Godfrey then highlights the irony that he sees in a Catholic Justice insisting that the Constitution must be literally interpreted according to the intent of its original framers, while at the same time his faith demands that the Bible be “treated in the very way that his politically liberal counterparts treat the Constitution.” “The Reformation,” writes Godfrey, “can be seen as a conservative return to the original meaning of the Bible as the only revelation of true religion.”

Among the extra-biblical traditions imposed upon the Church by its Catholic Magisterium, argues Godfrey, are the teachings “that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, that the elements of the Lord’s Supper should be worshiped, and that Mary is a mediator between God and men.” In opposition to this, the 1536 Confession of Faith of the Church of Geneva states in Article One: “We affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as our rule of faith and religion… without addition or diminution.”

For my own part, I am not convinced that it’s a good move for us Protestants to charge Catholics with a veiled liberalism when it comes to their treatment of Scripture. After all, with nary a non-liberal denomination older than three-quarters of a century, Protestantism doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to guarding the deposit. Furthermore, for this two-kingdoms crusader it does not seem irksome whatsoever for a Supreme Court Justice to have one set of rules governing his civil responsibilities, and another his ecclesiastical ones. And lastly, it is not obvious to me that even a necessary movement like the Protestant Reformation can be dubbed “conser-vative,” what with our burning of papal bulls and whatnot (at least, no more conservative than it was for people in the 1960’s to burn their bras and draft cards).

My advice? If Protestants want to go after the Catholics over their handling of Holy Writ, we need to do it not by assuming Sola Scriptura and then tsk tsk-ing Rome for failing to adopt our standard, but by calling into question both the need for a Magisterium and the faithfulness of that body to perform the duties it claims to be ordained to do.