Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RTS Student Jeremy Tate on the Authority of Divine Love

Over at Called to Communion, Reformed Theological Seminary student Jeremy Tate, who will receive his graduate degree this spring -- and will be received into the Catholic Church next month -- offers a brief guest essay in response to the question, “What is it, most fundamentally, that still divides Catholics and Protestants?”  Jeremy's essay, entitled "The Authority of Divine Love", is an exercise in Christian charity and honesty.  I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are my favorite exerpts:

The fundamental disagreement that underlies all other Catholic-Protestant disagreements can be pinpointed, specifically, in the Catholic Church’s claim of authority.  Disbelief in the unique authority of the Roman Catholic Church has become one of the only beliefs shared by all Protestants.  Every other Catholic teaching, from baptismal regeneration to purgatory, is affirmed somewhere in Protestantism. This belief, or rather disbelief, stands alone, as the most unifying tenet of Protestant theology. . 

How can Protestants and Catholics move towards unity?  First, Catholics must ask Protestants for forgiveness. . .  As a student of the Reformation, and now as one coming into the Catholic Church, I have no problem conceding that in part, the Reformation was a response to serious sin and often heinous abuses of the Catholic Church.  As seen in the sex scandal over the past decade, the Catholic Church continues to struggle with grave sin.  For this reason, Catholics must ask Protestants for forgiveness for the sin of misrepresenting to the world the loving authority of God.

In response Protestants must forgive, seventy times seven.  Then, Protestants must ask questions, each of which, when answered, will be a step towards unity.  From a Protestant perspective, these questions are not safe to ask.  They are not new questions either.  Some of the greatest and most influential Protestant theologians in history, such as John Henry Newman and G.K. Chesterton, wrestled with these questions and found their answer in the Church they had previously condemned.  For years I believed that the Catholic Church would eventually die out. . .  I did not know of, nor see, the army of passionate, Christ centered, scripturally knowledgeable believers, who had converted to the Catholic Church after facing these questions.

First, Protestants must ask questions about the promises of Scripture and the character of God.  Most importantly, did Jesus himself found a Church?  I believe the answer is yes and I know many of my Reformed friends would agree.  Clearly, Christ is very busy in the gospels, teaching, training, appointing, delegating authority, and setting up a visible entity, with twelve visible leaders.   This entity, Jesus calls the Church.  If it is true that Christ himself founded a Church, then it must also be true that for a Church to be “a Church”, it must, by definition, have divine origins.  If Jesus founded a single Church and made a promise that it would be indestructible (Matt 16:18), can we trust Him?  I do not know of any Protestant denomination that claims to have been personally founded by Jesus.  The Catholic Church makes this claim.  If Jesus did not found the Catholic Church, who did?  Every single Protestant denomination or theological tradition has a man or a few men standing at its inception.  Standing in the place only Jesus can stand.  Calvin’s Reformed Church, Knox’s Presbyterianism, Wesley’s Methodism, William Miller’s Adventism, Luther’s Lutheranism, all have men as their founders.  Who founded the Catholic Church?

Second, Protestants must ask how denominationalism reflects God’s love as our Father.  If I met ten children with the same dad, none of whom would eat meals or worship together, I would be inclined to think that the children had a bad father.  When I was doing a Pastoral internship for the Presbyterian Church in America, in New York City, I had several well educated New Yorkers, ask me, “Which Christianity are you selling?”  One unbeliever, in a conversation I’ll never forget, put it to me this way, “You tell me the Bible teaches this, the Jehovah Witness at my door tells me it means that, and the ten other Churches on my block have ten more views…my take…the Bible must be an unintelligible book.”  Although few Protestants want to preach to the unbelieving world that the Bible is unintelligible, that is the message being preached every time a Church splits.  My hope, my prayer, is that this week of prayer for Church unity will be accompanied by the voices of Catholic Christians asking for forgiveness –  asking for forgiveness for failing to accurately display authority as love in reflection of our Heavenly Father.   My prayer is that Protestants would forgive and then reconsider the bold claims of the Catholic Church.


  1. Intelligent post by Mr. Tate, but entirely to sweeping and simplistic.

    Even if I granted his perspective was accurate, I'm not holding my breath waiting for Papa Ratzi to ask for any kind of forgiveness from Protestants.

  2. Yep, it was written in response to a call for short essays, so simplicity is almost a prerequisite.

    I know JPII asked for the forgiveness of Protestants on behalf of the whole Catholic Church -- not sure about Pope Benedict. I certainly won't hesitate to ask forgiveness on behalf of the Church. She has too often made it all too easy to disbelieve in her divine mission and authority.