Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who is the Head of the Church?

Last night I drove to Cheltenham to speak on behalf of the Protestant Truth Society at Cheltenham Evangelical Free Church on the queastion Who is the Head of the Church? 

Here's an excerpt from the intro:

At certain points in church history the big issue has been, “Who is the head of the Church?” This was the case at the time of the Reformation, when the Reformers insisted that Christ alone is the head of the Church to the exclusion of the pope. It was the defining point in the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 that led to the founding of the breakaway Free Church of Scotland. The seceders could no longer tolerate the position where local grandees appointed church leaders. In 1934 the German Confessing Churches published the Barmen Declaration in an attempt to resist the Nazification of the Church. They asserted that the Church belongs solely to Christ and is subject to his Word alone.

I suggest that this is one of pressing issues of our time. In recent years the Government has attempted to ride roughshod over aspects of the historic teaching of the Church. Secular rights-based equality legislation has trumped biblical teaching on sexuality. Christian adoption agencies have had to close. Back in January of this year there was a titanic battle in the House of Lords to protect the freedom of Churches to employ only people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with the Bible.

Also, we can’t ignore pope’s visit to UK in September. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the Bishop of Rome is the head of visible church. The goal of ecumenical movement is to reunite Christendom under the authority of the pope. How should we respond to that as Evangelical Protestants?

So, as we consider “Who is the head of the Church?” we will be bearing in mind both the political and the religious contexts of the question.

To be continued...


Jonathan Hunt said...

We have the url you know! It makes us look less cheap! ;-)

Jonathan Hunt said...

And seriously, the talk was welcomed by all whom I spoke to afterwards, so thank you for coming!

Exiled Preacher said...

URL changed.

Thanks for arranging the meeting. It was good to renew fellowship.

Anonymous said...

The goal of ecumenical movement is to reunite Christendom under the authority of the pope.

Really? Can you document that claim? I realise that I'm coming from quite a different place (although I don't accept papal claims) but this does seem rather an over-the-top claim. And, given recent developments in official ecumenical organisations, the thought of WCC movement-types being enthusiastic about putting themselves under the authority of Pope Benedict XVI is, well, just a bit bizarre...

Exiled Preacher said...

Clearly this is the Roman Catholic objective in engaging in ecumenism given its belief as stated in its Catechism,

CRC 882: The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.

ARCIC III's "The Gift of Authority" states,

62. An experience of universal primacy of this kind would confirm two particular conclusions we have reached:

that Anglicans be open to and desire a recovery and re-reception under certain clear conditions of the exercise of universal primacy by the Bishop of Rome;
that Roman Catholics be open to and desire a re-reception of the exercise of primacy by the Bishop of Rome and the offering of such a ministry to the whole Church of God.

The Swanick Declaration, founding document of the UK's Churches Together, which includes the Roman Catholic Church affirms,

We now declare together our readiness to commit ourselves to each other under God. Our earnest desire is to become more fully, in his own time, the one Church of Christ, united in faith, communion, pastoral care and mission.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for replying.

I grant that this can justifiably be understood as describing the Roman Catholic approach to ecumenism. But the Roman Catholic Church was not only absent from, but visibly hostile to, the development of the ecumenical movement. The insistance on a commitment to visible unity came from other quarters, notably the Orthodox, who are by no means clear that they want to be under the authority of the pope. It seems that you're confusing an acknowledgment of papal authority with a concern for visible unity.

I grant that the ARCIC report said surprising things (although primacy is of course different to headship, but it did say some rather drastic things on infallibility if I remember correctly) but that is a bi-lateral dialogue, rather than "the ecumenical movement."

However, I didn't really intend to get into a discussion - I was just rather shocked by that statement, having noticed the title of your post on a link at Faith and Theology...