The Grail Code 
The only way

So the Bishop of Rome has endorsed a Vatican statement saying that the Protestant churches are imperfect or defective and the Roman Catholic Church is the only true way to salvation, and of course the Protestants are furious.

At least that’s what you heard from the news services.

From a very early age—kindergarten or so, I think—journalists learn that you have to have something called “balance” in your reporting. What that means is that, if someone says X, you have to find someone else to say not-X, and then your story is balanced. You don’t try to figure out whether X or not-X is true or reasonable or even coherent, because that wouldn’t be objective.

So when Pope Benedict says that the Protestant churches are defective, your job as a journalist is to find some Protestant who’s outraged by the Pope’s statement and quote him as saying that Protestants aren’t defective at all, thank you very much. Then your job is done.

But what if (hypothetically) there were more than one kind of Protestant? What if not all of them agreed? What if some of them understood perfectly what the Bishop of Rome was saying and why he was saying it?

Let’s hope that’s not true. It would make journalism almost like work.

All right, I’ll stop being sarcastic now. Listen up, you journalists, because I’m about to impart wisdom.

Since you know that Christians believe different things, it shouldn’t come as an awful surprise to discover that Christians believe different things.

Why do I always have to resort to tautology with you journalists? Is it the only kind of logic you can follow?

I know I said I was going to stop being sarcastic, but I lied.

If the Pope truly believed that, say, the Methodist Church was the true Church of Christ, deviating in no way from what Christ had meant his Church to be—well, he’d be a Methodist, wouldn’t he? He sure wouldn’t be the Pope.

And—on the other hand—if your local Methodist bishop believed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, and that Catholicism was really the proper route to heaven, then she’d be a Roman Catholic, wouldn’t she?

You don’t have to pick sides in the debate to see that there actually is a debate. Christians don’t agree, and that’s why we’re divided.

So what’s the cure for the division? It’s certainly not just smiling and pretending not to notice the problem. No, the first step toward a reconciliation is a clear statement of what everybody believes. Only by being absolutely clear about what we believe can we begin to understand each other.

When the joint Lutheran and Catholic statement on justification (see it here or here) came out a few years ago, it was hailed—rightly—as a giant step for ecumenism. Justification, after all, was the club with which Catholics and Lutherans had been bludgeoning each other for nearly five hundred years. How could they possibly come to an agreement? Not by wallpapering over the differences and pasting cardboard smiles on their faces, but by rigorously and painstakingly defining what each side believed, and then working hard to investigate the implications of those beliefs. Lutherans say that we are saved by faith alone, but every Lutheran I know immediately points out that faith apart from works is dead. Perhaps, the participants in the dialogue thought, we mean two different things by “faith,” and we’ve been arguing about definitions. That sort of productive investigation can’t happen unless both sides are very precise about their own beliefs.

By now all the journalists in the audience have dropped off to sleep, because that last paragraph was more than five lines long. For the rest of us, though, Catholics and Protestants, I say this: Don’t pretend we all agree just because it might make life more pleasant in the short run. That Potemkin façade will crumble pretty quickly, and the old disagreements will still be there underneath, rotting our false unity from within. Instead, start the hard work now: define what you believe very precisely, and try to understand what the other side really believes, too. The Bishop of Rome is showing us the way.

3 Responses to “The only way”

  1. Connected Christianity » Blog Archive » Christian Reconciliation Carnival #7 Says:

    [...] As you can imagine, the responses of the blogosphere were as mixed and crunchy as the ingredients in a great tossed salad. Several bloggers were quick to remind us that claiming to be the one true Church has always been part of Catholic theology, and journalists really needn’t have sensationalized what was essentially a restatement of centuries-old doctrine. See, for example, “The Only Way” at The Grail Code. [...]

  2. Nord Says:


  3. Lerika Says:

    whar a true story..

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(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey