In the first part of this post, I told the story of a Baptist youth pastor whose message to a group of teenagers and their families offended one woman, who said she was Catholic. She took exception to his description of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. In the course of their brief conversation, he apologized and said he did not mean to offend. Some might not think that he should have apologized, but I do, though maybe a little differently.
Apologize for what?
For mentioning purgatory?
No, I don’t think so. First, a preacher must preach what he believes God is leading him to preach. I don’t think any of us really have the right to tell a preacher what he should or should not say, so long as he’s honest. He shouldn’t be tossing out his personal opinions while claiming that they came from God. But we should remember that even Jesus said things that we probably would have advised against. (Matt. 15:12)
Second, this particular preacher was teaching by contrast. He was simply employing a basic teaching principal that seeks to demonstrate what something is by also showing what it is not. This is basic to all study and learning. His goal was to show what the Bible taught about death, and so he mentioned several views that did not fit with what he believed the Bible teaches.
I don’t think that’s a problem. I think that’s a mark of a good teacher. And in this particular instance, I agree with him. I know what Catholics believe about purgatory, having read the Catechism, researched Catholic websites, and spoken with devout Catholics, and he was correct when he said that there is a belief in the “cleansing fire” of purgatory for those Christians who, at death, are still “imperfectly purified.”
And despite the Catholic defense of their doctrine, I don’t agree with it. I don’t think they’re stupid, but I don’t believe it is a correct interpretation of the Scriptures, though I realize it is a very old argument in which neither side stands much chance of convincing the other. I believe the doctrine undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross; Catholics disagree. And for my part, if I ever heard a Catholic teach on death, I would expect him to teach something with which I would disagree. However, that’s not the same thing as being offended.
For mentioning Catholics?
I don’t know whether this one was right or not. Obviously, if he mentioned purgatory, he was implicating Catholics, so if there was nothing inherently wrong with the former, then there was probably nothing inherently wrong with the latter. However, the mother took issue with his “mentioning other churches.” Should he have apologized for that?
I go to the New Testament for this, and I note that Jesus never paused before denouncing the Pharisees for their false doctrine. The apostles, in their letters, never hesitated to call out unorthodox groups, or even to name ungodly people! That doesn’t encourage hatred, by the way, and it doesn’t even suggest that those who differ from us are our enemies (even if they are). It simply serves us notice that those who champion truth shouldn’t necessarily feel any qualms about naming names. We live in a squeamish age, an age in which “love” and “tolerance” look a lot like fear.
The point is, despite the mother’s opinion, Protestants and Catholics do not believe the same things. We differ in many areas – the definition of “justification,” the role of works in salvation, the nature of the sacraments (“ordinances,” for Baptists), the authority of the Bible, the role of Mary, the history of the church, and the place of the clergy.
Why should it be offensive to state this? I wouldn’t expect a Catholic to agree with me on extreme unction, any more than I would expect a Presbyterian to agree with me on baptism. Or a Muslim on the proper name for God. Or a Hasidic Jew on the person of Jesus Christ.
It’s not my purpose here to debate the differences between Protestants and Catholics, but I guess I would have to say that, in a way, both the mother and the youth pastor had a point. If a person, repenting of their sins, receives God’s salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in the work of Christ alone, they will be saved, whether they be Baptist or Pentecostal or Catholic or Jewish or Muslim. And whether they be Baptist or not, if they do not receive salvation on that basis, they cannot be saved. Any preacher of the Gospel must make at least this clear, and if there were a religion or group that explicitly declared another path, another Gospel, he would derelict in his duty if he did not – at the right time, in the right way, and in the right spirit – point it out. (Titus 1:9-11)
For telling the story of Johann Tetzel?
OK, maybe this merited an apology. True, the story can be told in a way that deliberately makes Rome look bad, but even in the best light it’s not the brightest spot in Catholic history. It might be embarrassing for some to hear this story told, and as I’ve suggested, it’s not often told well.
Why did the youth pastor share it? I’m not entirely sure except perhaps to use a story from history to illustrate how some people have been misled by the doctrine of purgatory. Preachers do this all the time. However, they should always remember to wear the shoe before putting it on someone else’s foot.
Baptist history has its own characters that give the rest of us a black eye. Whether it’s a child molester in northwest Indiana, a shooting Salvationist in Texas’ twin cities, or a funeral defiler from Kansas, it would be wrong for someone to take an extreme example and treat it as normative. In other words, it would be wrong to take the worst of us and use it as an example of all of us. And it’s wrong when we do that to anyone else.
From everything I can tell, Pope Leo X probably wasn’t the greatest guy around, and Tetzel was a scoundrel. But that’s not reason to assume that everyone claiming the same religion clings to the same errors. They have their place in history, but history shouldn’t be used to shame people that would willingly disavow those who had gone before.
Still, that’s not the main reason for the apology. At least not the way I see it.
You can read Part 1 here.