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Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he'll be retiring after eight years. He'll be the first pope to retire in almost six hundred years, and the Catholic community is examining repercussions of the historic announcement.
We Protestants often watch Catholic happenings as mildly curious outsiders, as if a distant Facebook "friend" posted pictures of a event we didn't attend--sometimes curious, sometimes snarky, sometimes inattentive. But is an ambivalent Facebook friendship all there is, or should be, to our relationship?
Ask a Catholic who's becoming more evangelical, or a protestant who's rediscovering ancient spiritual practices, and you might discover that there's more potential for an IRL relationship than we realize.
Of course, the Reformation happened for a reason, and critical differences exist between Protestants and Catholics. The doctrines regarding salvation, merit, tradition and the Church differ in real and significant ways, and we should never compromise what the Bible says.
It's true that the Roman Catholic Church holds some positions that conflict with scripture, prescribe some traditions and behaviors that aren't biblical, and have some adherents who aren't saved. The same can be said of many protestant churches. We're not as different as we might think.
Think of the Catholics you know or whose works you've read. Chances are, you'd concede that some are saved by their belief in Christ. Many of the things you experience in your church are experienced by the Catholics down the road. And many of the spiritual practices that protestants are rediscovering are ways that Catholics never forgot.
Does this mean we're becoming too Catholic or rejecting the Reformation? For the most part, no. Many of these activities (like fasting, regular prayer, and silence) are ancient ways many Christians throughout the ages have found to draw near to God. They aren't Catholic practices; they're Christian practices. Those who found the beneficial by Jesus, the disciples, Paul, Augustine, and Spurgeon, D.L. Moody and Billy Graham and even reformers like Calvin and Luther.
So, given the differences and similarities, what should our relationship be? I'd suggest 3 behaviors that will make both sides better.
1. Pray for each other
Pray for God's guidance and sovereignty over the selection process of the next pope. Pray that he'd be a biblically-sound, godly man who'd use his platform to preach the Gospel, better the world, and glorify God. Pray that the Catholics you know would gain a deeper understanding of God's Word and accept the Gospel if they're not saved. Pray for the their work on behalf of the poor, the sick, and voiceless in society.
2. Learn from each other
We have many things to learn. Spiritual formation practices, mercy and justice, diverse expressions of faith (without splitting), the mystery of God, and a commitment to the sanctity of life are among them. Many Catholics have benefitted from our practices of Bible study and interpretation, understanding of grace, and the personal relationship with Christ, and we should be charitable in sharing when and how it's appropriate.
3. Be for one another
As our society becomes less accepting of the Christian faith, potshots about the "other guy" are more and more harmful. While we may disagree on some critical matters, we need to be gracious to one another. When we denigrate a person who follows Christ, we denigrate Christ's name as well. The Enemy loves it when we focus on tearing one another down. It distracts us from the real work.
Standing together against injustice, abortion, and immorality strengthens our influence and our character. Working together to care for the needy in the name of Christ glorifies Him. Helping one another grow as believers by sharing what we know benefits the kingdom.
I'm not trying to minimize the differences between us, but perhaps we're not as different as we thought.