The Roman Catholic Church has again been revealing just how far it is from Biblical Christianity. Pope Francis has spoken out in support of evolution and/or the big bang theory in regard to the origins of the universe and of man. And at their recent conference on the family, things were said that showed a growing openness to homosexuality.
These are disturbing developments to those who have seen the RCC as an ally in the political battles fought in recent years over what will be taught in the schools, and whether the force of law will be used to force Christians and others to accept homosexual sin as “normal” and appropriate behaviour. And they are surprising developments for those who have seen Roman Catholicism as just another Christian denomination with a few weird traditions like a pope and celibate priesthood, and some funny ideas about Mary and the saints. For those who know their Bibles, and the history and teachings of Roman Catholicism, this is neither surprising nor troubling.
Roman Catholic Syncretism and Institutionalism
The Roman Catholic Church is not just another Christian denomination. It is an institution which has, for far more than a millennium, been at least as much a political body as a religious one. The RCC has always been syncretic. Syncretism is the combining of opposing beliefs or practices. The Roman Catholic Church has often adopted and adapted the religious beliefs / traditions of the society around them, in a way to gain acceptance (and power) which it can use to further its agenda.
Arising out of the Roman Empire, where religion was intertwined with state power and the civil authority was used to enforce religious compliance, the RCC quickly moved to adopt that philosophy when it had the opportunity. Jesus’ statement that “My kingdom is not of this world” was quickly discarded. As modern Western societies followed a model of the separation of church and state, and attempts to impose Catholicism by force in Western Europe failed, the RCC adapted again. They have now adopted, at least in the West, a new model of church-state relations which is more compatible with the society around them. That is just one example of how the RCC shifts over time, adapting itself to society.
The result has been the growth of an institution which is focused on building and protecting the institution. If the institution becomes bigger and gains more power, that is good. Everything is designed to protect the institution. The tradition of the institution has been given an authority equal with the Bible, and the authority to interpret the Bible. This makes it impossible to challenge the institution, because there is no authority to which you can appeal against it. The institution can declare how you get to Heaven, who is in purgatory, etc.
It is no surprise that the institution would cover up the wrongs of its members, however evil they might have been. And it is no surprise that, now that cover-ups are impossible to continue and seen as unacceptable, that public apologies are forthcoming. It is what institutions do to protect themselves.
The Roman Catholic Church would not consider it a good thing to be smaller and purer. In institutionalism, a small church is a failure, and if syncretism is needed to prevent that, syncretism will win. By contrast, in Biblical Christianity, a small church which is true to Scripture, loves the Lord, and loves one another, is a successful church.
Modern Western Religion — the Religion of ME
The Western world has a multi-faceted religion which has grown up in recent decades with certain precepts which are rarely challenged, for to challenge them is to earn the wrath and scorn of almost everyone around us. Those commands flow out of one ultimate belief — the supremacy of the individual. The world tells us that you are your own god, you are the one who decides for you.
The religion of ME requires an explanation of the existence of the universe (and of ME, of course) which does not diminish the right of ME to determine what I will do. It all (including ME) had to come into existence without any Being beyond ME who had the right as my maker to tell ME what to do. Thus, evolution must be accepted, and any doubts or challenges are not permitted. The religion of ME through its adherents gives the command: Thou shalt not question evolution.
The religion of ME makes ME supreme over nature, so I have to protect it. This is not because I have a moral responsibility, as such, but primarily because nature will not survive if I do not do MY bit to save it. I am supreme, and it is in the power of ME to determine the climate and the future of various species. The religion of ME gives the command: Thou shalt be an environmentalist and not question global warming. Few things can bring scorn on a person in modern society as questioning “the science of climate change” — even though parts of it, at least, are highly dubious and speculative.
The religion of ME assumes that all the MEs are basically good, and so the religion of ME is strongly pacifistic. No matter what someone does, no matter how bad the things they do are, we shouldn’t actually use force to stop them, we should talk and be nicer to them, try to understand them, and maybe then they will be nicer than us. To actually use the state to punish evildoers is to violate the goodness of their MEs. Rather, they must be ill or confused, and they need to be rehabilitated and talked to. Similarly, to go to war against anyone, even people like ISIS, is simply not acceptable. You just can’t act as if they are bad people — there are no bad people, if you would just take the time to understand what motivates them. The religion of ME gives the command: Thou shalt not use force against evildoers, and if you really must, it should only be enough to hinder their evil to try to get them to talk, not enough to actually crush the evil.
The religion of ME assumes that no one else, only ME, can tell ME what to do. Thus, immorality, and especially sexual immorality, has ceased to exist. What I feel like is the guide. The religion of ME commands: Thou shalt not in any way restrict or express disapproval of anyone’s actions or sexual decisions. Toleration alone is tolerated.
This is the religion of the world around us — evolutionism, godless environmentalism, sin-denying pacifism, and moral tolerationism.
The RCC — Adopting and Adapting
The Roman Catholic Church is simply doing what it has always done — adopting and adapting the views and practices of the society around it. They will adopt evolution and adapt it to a theistic form of evolution, for it makes their beliefs more acceptable to those around them. Their environmentalism long ago abandoned the real reason for environmental responsibility (that we are to subdue and replenish the earth) and replaced it with elements of the “save the planet” mentality. They have long followed a sin-denying form of pacifism, even if they give lip service to the existence of sin. Their doctrine has always denied the essential sinfulness of humanity.
And the moral tolerationism, which for centuries accepted abusive priests, high officials with multiple children by different women, and various other perversions, is now beginning to be extended to a more open acceptance of homosexuality. The recent conference backed away from that acceptance, but lines were crossed that had never been crossed before.
It is really nothing new. The only thing new is some particular aspects of the way the religion of ME is manifesting itself. Roman Catholicism was always going to adopt and adapt, however the prevailing philosophical and religious winds might be blowing.
Neither Bad News Nor Surprising
If the news is not new, it is also not particularly bad news for Christians. Are we losing an “ally” in the “culture wars”? Perhaps, but it wasn’t an ally you could trust, and any “culture wars” can really only be ultimately won through the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. And one great benefit of the newest phases in the adopt/adapt activity is that believers are much less likely to be deceived by the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, while even some of its members may have their eyes opened to its errors.
“Evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:13). The Roman Catholic Church will never get better unless it accepts the sole and absolute authority of Scripture. That it will not do, and so it gets worse and worse.
But its worsening is neither surprising nor dismaying when we compare the RCC to Scripture. It replaced the Scriptures with syncretism, institutionalism, and the thirst for prestige and power long ago. The institution must grow bigger and stronger, and must be protected no matter what. If society grows hostile to the institution’s traditions and teachings, the institution will simply adopt and adapt. You have to protect the institution, after all.