You may have seen that the archbishop of Nancy Pelosi’s Roman Catholic parish in San Francisco has excommunicated her for her views on abortion. Of course, this is long overdue, and there are many high profile pro-abortion Roman Catholics (like Joe Biden) who have still not been disciplined. But nevertheless it’s a good sign. This is what Archbishop Cordileone had to say about it:
"After numerous attempts to speak with her to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that the point has come in which I must make a public declaration that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion unless and until she publicly repudiate her support for abortion “rights” and confess and receive absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance. I have accordingly sent her a Notification to this effect, which I have now made public.”
Church discipline is one of the most important weapons in the church’s arsenal. As I preached last Sunday from Matthew 16, in our war against Hades (Satan’s house), the church has to press the crown rights of King Jesus into every realm. We do not fight using the tactics, strategies or weapons that the world uses. We wield the far more powerful weapons Jesus has given us. This is an example of that.
Speaking of the Roman Catholic Church, in the sermon on Sunday, I offered a brief critique of the papacy. Matthew 16 cannot in any way be understood to teach that Jesus is establishing a permanent ecclesiastical and political office, based in Rome, that vests universal authority over the church in a single man, and that will not fully arise for centuries later. It simply is not there in text, neither explicitly nor even in seed form. But let me extend the critique a bit here. Many modern day Roman Catholics will tell you that the papacy (with its powers of infallibility when speaking ex cathedra) is necessary to interpret the Bible for us. Without the papacy, the church descends into chaos as every man reads the Bible in his own way. The splintering of Protestantism provides ample ammunition for Rome as it makes this argument. But there are at least a couple problems with it. First, the Pope does not actually do biblical interpretation. If you want to know what Amos 4 (for example) means, the papacy has not provided an infallible commentary. In other words, Roman Catholic readers of Scripture have no special advantage over Protestants. We are going to rely on the history of interpretation, the faithful community to which we belong, and the work of the Holy Spirit to help us understand the text. But even if the pope did provide a supposedly infallible commentary on Amos 4, all it would do is push the problem back a step because we would still have to interpret that commentary. It becomes an infinite regress: we need an infallible interpretation of the infallible interpretation, which requires an infallible interpretation of that infallible interpretation, and so on. At some point, we will be stuck with our own fallible interpretation of an infallible text. You simply cannot get around personal interpretation of the Bible. Interpretation cannot be outsourced to the papacy. All we can do is be good Bereans. But as Paul explained to the Galatians, the basic message of the Bible simple and clear enough that any Christian of age should be able to recognize false teaching (Gal. 1). Why assume God can speak more clearly through the pope than the apostles who wrote the Scripture?
A Roman Catholic has to say either, “I have read the Bible for myself and determined Rome’s claims are biblical,” or he has to say, “I am not going to read the Bible but will just allow Rome to tell me what it says.” Those who take the first option will have a hard time demonstrating the claim (as I showed from Scripture on Sunday), and they are functioning as Protestants anyway since their commitment to the papacy depends on their own reading of Scripture. Those who take the the second option are simply being irresponsible. Historically, the papacy has not solved anything, and in fact, has been one more source of division within the church since neither Protestants in the West nor Orthodox in the East accept its claims. The papacy has not solved a single controversy in church history, whether in the early church with its debates over the Trinity and Christology (e..g, the main main issues were resolved at various councils, especially the Council of Nicaea, where the bishop of Rome was not even present) or at the time of the Reformation, with its debates over the justification, the extent of the canon, and so on. And indeed, Roman Catholics today are just as divided doctrinally as Protestants, e.g., look at debates online between “traditional Catholics” and “progressive Catholics.” They hide their divisions behind a connection to the papacy, but they are still very much there. Catholics are not even agreed on what counts as an infallible declaration of the pope. My conclusion: Other than Darwinism, the papacy is the biggest myth foisted on the human race in the last 2000 years. For more, check out these notes and the Reformation 500 sermon series.