Dear Pope Benedict,
You are cramping my style. Don’t you read Parchment and Pen. Don’t you know that I have been making the argument that things had changed since the Reformation? Don’t you see that thereÂ was some progress being made; we were moving in a direction that is more positive and hateful polemics were being looked down upon. Haven’t you downloaded Catholic theologianÂ Peter Kreeft’s Ecumenism with Compromise to your IPOD?
Then I read this article about your recent actions saying that I and my Christ-fearing brothers and sisters in the Protestant churchÂ are not a part of the true church. This is very disheartening. What is up with that? It is not as if I thought that Trent said anything less, but level with me, (just between you and I) you guys always change your position, you just don’t call it “change,” you call it “progression.” I can roll with that. I am not too uptight. But the fact is thatÂ those on your side and ours thought thatÂ things were “progressing” in the right direction.Â Vatican II attempted to “progress” by softening the language of Trent. It essentially saidÂ to us, “we are sorry,” and that “Protestants are not confined to the pits of hell.” Phew . . . that was encouraging.
I know, I know, it was not as if I expected us to unify publically or for you to renounce your thro . . . umm, seat, but Trent’s claims to exclusivity were arrogant and beyond your authority (yes, question begging, but this is a letter, not debate). Some of us were even calling you a cult until Vatican II. And then there was John Paul II. While he was rather odd about Mary, I was excited to see his willingness to chan . . . ahemÂ . . . I mean progress (I keep forgetting that you cannot admit change as a presupposed foundation to your system).
I have been getting emails from Catholics all over the world that read our blog saying that they were disappointed with this statement. Someone even apologized on your behalf. I know that this someone (I can’t name names – don’t want them to get in trouble) does not have the authority in your system to apologize on your behalf, but I was glad he did nonetheless. My saddened countenance is expressed by all those who believed that things were changing. Sigh . . .
But we can fix this! It is not too late. Here is what you can do to both rectify this situation and save face. First, you have to redefine your use of the word “Church” in that document. You know, like that clever maneuver you did when you changed the intent of Trent’s “anathema” upon Protestants. YouÂ softened it to the point that weÂ are nowÂ “separated brethren.” That was nice. Kudos.Â Granted, I would have much rather you said that Trent was wrong and apologized for saying we were all going to Hell, but the “You just misunderstood us” was accepted.
What you can do here is say this:Â “You misunderstood me.” Oh yeah! You then continue,Â “AllÂ I meantÂ to say wasÂ that Protestant Churches are not true Roman Catholic churches.” It would be like Baptists saying that all those not Baptists are not Baptists churches. Pretty self-evident, huh? That is the beauty of it! Then you go on, “But we did not mean that you were not part of the Body of Christ or that you could not gather in local fellowships.” That would be slick. I won’t tell anyone I told you to.
Later down the road, I was going to tell the next Pope to soften Vatican II, but you can only do so much.
BTW: I am working on the Evangelical church and our problems. They are many. We have so many maverick churches, denominations, and TV evangelists who say whatever they want. They have no regard for those who have gone before them. They have no regard for any type of authority out side of their own private interpretation. As you know, there are some who are claiming that God wants everyone to be rich and healthy. Others are saying that faith is a force. Still, others are beginning to devalue the exclusivity of Christ all together. We are an odd bunch and many in our ranks have either lost the Gospel completely or have lost focus. They are disrespectful and arrogant (oh, but that is a criticism that I have of you as well–but you already knew that). Protestants are just all over the place and frankly we don’t know what to do.
I know, I know, you warned us. ButÂ you must understand that mostÂ of us believe that it was stillÂ worth the risk. I am currently working on a project at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. We have a program called The Theology Program which seeks to help people understand theology biblically and historically. It has been great. We have over 30,000 students online and in local churches. What it does is encourage people to reengage theirÂ minds helping them to be accountable to those who have gone before us and authorial intent hermeneutics. It also helps people to understand what essential Christianity is. OK, enough of the self-promotion, but I do think it can have a serious impact, Lord willing. (BTW: Could you endorse The Theology Program? Chuck Swindoll did.Â Your endorsementÂ might make some of our constituency think we have gone soft, but I think it is worth it to help educate your people to think critically . . . we will talk more about that later).
Now I know that you cannot actually consider the contents of this letter since consideration itself will undermine your own offices’ authority (I know, it’s a crazy mess you guys have gotten yourself into. I will explainÂ how to get out of that laterÂ . . .) And I know that critical thinking is not really encouraged since no one in your church has the right to criticize its head (nice job, BTW, keep them all in line). But I nonetheless encourage you to be wise, humble, and rethink what you have done here. The atmosphere has changed. “Progress” has ceased. You have come dangerously close to putting us back in the time of the Reformation and we will all have to act accordingly to preserve the essence of what Christ did for us.
Pope, we all have problems . . . this I know. None of us has it all figured out. But yours is very significant.Â Nevertheless, you can change and greatly help your people to realize the fullness of the truth and release them of their unnecessary burden. Please consider my shrewd yet sincere proposal.
Truly and respectfully,
C. Michael Patton
Ordination 2001, Stonebriar Community Church
Th.M. 2001, Dallas Theological Seminary
President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries