On Tuesday, March 12, 2013, the conclave to elect the successor to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will have begun.

A few Reformed blogs have treated the Pope’s abdication lightly, when the Catholic Church is in real danger. It is not a stretch of the imagination that, should it find itself in chaos, the rest of Christianity will also be in danger.

With today’s ignorance about the Christian faith — including here in England, even among people over 50 who had to take Religious Education in school — it is quite possible that we will all be tarred with the same atheistic brush of ‘conservative, reactionary perverts and theonomists’.

So, I would suggest that we pray that Benedict XVI can retire in peace and be left alone. We do not know what is really happening inside the Vatican other than that ‘another spirit is moving through’ it — to borrow Martin Luther’s stinging words to Zwingli over the latter’s doubt of the Real Presence in Holy Communion. And that spirit is a form of darkness.

However, there is a cautionary historical story here. Benedict XVI, like the Popes before him going back to John XXIII, advocated teachings which go against Holy Scripture, among them (emphases mine):

Changing with the times: ‘In the era of liberalism that preceded the First World War, the Catholic Church was looked upon as a fossilized organization, stubbornly opposed to all modern achievements‘ … ’Whoever wants to attach himself solely to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures or to the forms of the Church of the Fathers imprisons Christ in “yesterday”.

This ties in with the ideas behind la nouvelle théologie: dogma changes over time and old tenets of the faith, even scriptural teachings, can be discarded.

Indeed, Benedict XVI helped to develop the changes which emanated from Vatican II:

Ratzinger became a professor at the University of Bonn in 1959; his inaugural lecture was on “The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy”. In 1963, he moved to the University of Münster.

During this period, Ratzinger participated in the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Ratzinger served as a peritus (theological consultant) to Cardinal Frings of Cologne. He was viewed during the time of the Council as a reformer, cooperating with theologians like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx. Ratzinger became an admirer of Karl Rahner, a well-known academic theologian of the Nouvelle Théologie and a proponent of church reform.

My mother, a devout Catholic, read everything going on the Catholic Church, especially when the subject concerned Vatican II. By the 1970s, Ratzinger and Küng were household names in our home. My mother sought out the nuns at my school to voice her opinion that the outcomes of Vatican II would ruin the Church. They attempted to reassure her that these particular changes were necessary and not to worry!

Well, we know what happened. Over the past four decades, the Catholic Church has been hemorrhaging laity and vocations whilst accumulating sacerdotal scandals and internal discord.

There was nothing ‘conservative’ about Benedict XVI, then or now. There are times, as was true with the now-retired Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that, amidst all the Modernist and worldly teaching, a glimmer of faith and brilliance occasionally emerged. The latest case in point was Benedict XVI’s final message on February 28, 2013.

The cautionary point is that Benedict XVI reaped what he sowed. Although none of us has eyes into each other’s souls, I would like to think that since his ascent to the papacy he has at least partially repented of Modernism as he saw the maelstrom of unbelief, corruption and immorality around him. The latest news before he ended his tenure was that a cabal of militant homosexual bishops is lobbying the Church for change. Their ability to do so would have to rely on Vatican insiders — other clergy — allowing that to happen. Of course, the fallout from the sex scandals has not gone away, either.

Vatican II really does have nouvelle théologie written all over it and the relativism it brought to all aspects of Catholic life has caused a number of lay members — including my friends and I — to leave. A few of us became Protestants, however, most left the Christian faith full stop.

A couple of years ago, we got together to talk about the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Church. In the pre-Vatican II Church we agreed that we knew where we stood, that the Catholic faith was important to us largely because of the mysterium tremendum in Latin Mass and clear teaching (even if erroneous) which we learned at a young age.  Of the post-Vatican II changes, we thought that Mass had lost that mysterium tremendum, the priest wanted to get people in and out as soon as possible and that there was little guidance from the pulpit in matters of faith.

What is truly unfortunate, however, is that those who left Christianity said that they had little reason to believe that Jesus was active in their lives. Christ seems distant to them. Salvation doesn’t worry them; it doesn’t even enter their minds.

That distance and abstraction are part and parcel of nouvelle théologie:

the Incarnation of the Word (Jesus) was but a mere blip in the evolution of the universe. According to new theology, time moves on and our link to Jesus becomes more abstract. New theology ignores His sacrifice on the Cross, His glorious Resurrection and His promise of salvation.

God is not personally involved in our lives or our world; rather, God is an abstract ‘universal cosmic Centre’. This notion contradicts Holy Scripture from beginning to end.

we can be saved only through pantheism — Gaia — and ‘uniting’ ourselves with the universe.

As is often said in marketing, there is a big ‘So what?’ problem with the post-Vatican II Church. There is no compelling reason to align oneself with watery or, just as bad, extra-scriptural theology.

The other factor which I find troubling is the huge emphasis that Pope John Paul II (during whose tenure I left the Catholic Church) placed on Mary, making her co-redemptrix. For more information, see my Christianity / Apologetics page under the heading Mariolatry.

Then there is the difficulty of the Catholic doctrine of Christ’s specific designation of Peter as ‘the rock’ on which He would build His Church (Matthew 16). Yet, when one reads the Bible, Peter has a smaller role to play. This is no doubt one of the reasons why Catholic clergy had, until relatively recently, discouraged lay people from reading Holy Scripture, because if the faithful had begun to read and study it, who knows what contradictions with ‘tradition’ they might find?

John MacArthur explains:

Paul wrote Romans in the year 56, made no reference to Peter If Peter was the pastor of the church in Rome, why doesn’t he refer to Peter? And he greets a whole bunch of people in chapter 16, he just keeps greeting one after another after another after another, it would be pretty serious to overlook Peter. When Paul was later imprisoned in Rome in the year 60 to 62, he wrote four letters and he included in those letters all who came to him, never mentions Peter. In his last letter, 2 Timothy, written in the year 64 or about that, he gives greeting to ten people in Rome, not Peter..not Peter. By the way, Peter was never called to the Gentiles anyway. Galatians 2:7 and 8, you might want to look at that for just a minute. Galatians 2:7 and 8, he says, “I had been entrusted…Paul says…with the gospel to the uncircumcised, to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.” Peter was never called to pastor a Gentile congregation

By the way … you might think at least Peter would be the head of the Jerusalem church, but he’s not. According to Galatians chapter 2 and Acts chapter 15, the head of the Jerusalem church was James…not Peter at all. There’s no indication whatsoever that Peter had anything to do with the city of Rome.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 1, the Apostle Paul addresses the factions in the Corinthian church, he says, “Some of you say I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, or Peter, I of Christ.”He doesn’t make any great thing of him at all. In fact, he makes it very clear that none of these people are particularly significant. They’re not the ones who deserve the credit for the work of God. Go over to chapter 3. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed. I planted, Apollos watered, God was causing the growth.” It’s a very low key way to treat yourself. He doesn’t give any elevation to anybody.

Furthermore, Paul went to Rome to preach and in Romans 15:20 he says, “I aspired to preach the gospel not where Christ was already named.” If Peter had been there and planted a church, then that would not be true. He didn’t go where somebody else had been. If Peter was already the Bishop of Rome, why would Paul want to go there and strengthen and establish that church?

In 1 Peter, let’s hear from Peter himself. First Peter chapter 1, [‘]Peter an Apostle of Jesus Christ[‘], that’s all, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He introduces himself as nothing more than that, not THE Apostle, not the head of the church. First Peter 5, “I exhort the elders among you as your fellow elder.” As your fellow elder. I’m just one of you. I’m just a partaker of the glory to be revealed. Shepherd the flock of God. “Exercise oversight, not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God, not for money but with eagerness. Not as…here it comes, verse 3…lording it over those allotted to your charge.” Boy, there’s a direct hit at the papacy. We’re just fellow elders. Don’t ever lord it over. Peter himself actually taught against the priesthood of which, of course, the papacy is the highest place. First Peter 2:5 he says, “You are living stones, you are built up a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.” This is what we know as the priesthood of believers. Down in verse 9, “You are a chosen race. You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” There’s no priesthood but the priesthood of believers.

And by the way, Peter completely disappears after Acts 15, completely. But in spite of all of this, the Roman Catholic Church affirms that Peter was the first Pope, the head over the whole Church and the author of Papal Succession. Where do they get it? They get it from three passages completely misrepresented. Matthew 16, and this one you know, Jesus said, “I say to you, you’re Peter and on this rock I’ll build My church.” You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church. It’s a play on words. He’s not saying you are Peter and upon you I’ll build My church. You are Peter, Petros…Petros,small stone, and upon this Petra, rock bed, I will build My church. What rock bed? The rock bed of the reality of Christ. Simon Peter in verse 16, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God. And Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to you, My Father who is in heaven. I say you are a small stone, but it’s on the rock bed of who I am that I will build My church.” How could that be perverted, the language is crystal clear?

Then there is the matter of St Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes. I do not know if it is true, but, if so, and if the translation has been properly interpreted, the next Pope will be the last. His name, according to Malachy, is Petrus Romanus.  Then again, the reliability of our interpretation of these predictions could be akin to the way some invoke Nostradamus whenever there is a disaster or mass tragedy.

Does Malachy’s foreseen ‘apocalypse’ during Petrus Romanus’s tenure mean that referred to in Revelation or one of the Catholic Church?

Is it possible that the Catholic Church could move to another leadership model?

Would the papacy transfer from Rome to another city?

No one knows. Personally, I do not think it means the end of the Catholic Church, although its polity could change. Perhaps it will become more biblical in doctrine. Pray that it does.

To that end, thanks to commenters on John MacArthur’s Grace to You blog, I ran across a few useful New Testament verses for Catholic consideration:

Justification by grace through faith

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Examining teachings against the truth of Scripture

10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:10-11)

On venerating Mary

27 While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.”

28 But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:27-28)

Pray that the Pope Emeritus, the Curia and the next Pope embrace the fullness of Holy Scripture and pass it on to the faithful.