The pope is arriving on these shores next week. And there are many things that make his visit controversial. There are of course even people who want to try to arrest him. I certainly don’t think that is the right way to proceed and bear him no ill-feeling necessarily. Nor does it particularly worry me that he’s visiting the country. Why shouldn’t he? And as they say, ‘some of my best friends are Catholic’.
But if one of the purposes of such visits is to raise theprofile of Catholicism, then it is perfectly fair game to re-examine the reasons why many of us count ourselves Christian but not Catholic.
Some believers constantly relive past battles of spiritual ancestors as if little or nothing has changed for decades or even centuries; while others reject the need to get involved those such debates altogether (perhaps in the mistaken assumption that this makes them more contemporary). Neither path makes sense. The past is not irrelevant but nor is it a straightjacket. As I previously quoted on Q a few weeks back, Tom Wright helpfully sums it up like this:
the trick is to recover the first-century questions and try to give twenty-first century answers, rather than taking sixteenth-century questions and giving nineteenth-century answers…
Still, some past battles continue to have relevance when they concern first-century questions – and that is in large (though not entire) part what the Reformation was concerned with in its determination to get back to the sources (‘ad fontes‘) of Scripture and the early church. We might not answer the questions in exactly the same way that the likes of Luther or Calvin answered them (not least because the presenting issues are different) After all, 21st Century Catholicism is by no means identical to its 16th Century forebear. But we would be unwise to ignore what they said and why they said it, especially if there are aspects of Catholic belief that have not in fact changed that much.
This then was the thinking behind a recent, but all too brief, series preached by the boss, Hugh Palmer last month. It was a corker on the 4 ‘sola’s of the reformation, under the title TRUTHS WORTH DYING FOR. Definitely worth checking out: