Why Church Discipline Matters

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While vices are always destructive, few people seem to realise that a virtue taken to extremes is equally destructive.

Take, for instance, the man who practices the virtue of charitable giving by handing his entire wage to the homeless while his own children are left to starve. To do such a thing is to twist the intended virtue into something dark and ungodly.

Or, to use another example, the woman who practices the virtue of cleanliness in her home by using such dangerous chemicals and cleansers that her family grows ill. By going to the extreme, she completely defeats the value and goodness of the virtue.

Unfortunately we live in times when virtues are practised in this fashion. The great Christian virtues have become detached from the Faith and the Person of Jesus Christ, and have instead gone wandering through the world on their own, being taken to extremes, and wreaking havoc everywhere. Like black holes, these virtues have acquired their own cloud of satellite ideas that swirl around them. These prove to be ultimately destructive and are never conducive to human flourishing, despite so promising.

Communism, for instance, was predicated on the noble virtues of helping the poor and relieving the oppressed. It morphed into a dreadful and murderous justification for corruption and power. Feminism was built on the virtues of treating women fairly and giving them dignity. It has transformed into the mutant creature of third wave feminism which seems intent on unloosing the anchors of civilisation itself.

Virtues on their own, are not good. Virtues must always live in balance with other virtues. They must be disciplined and guided. There must be careful thought invested into how best to practice them. Virtues must always be lived out in such a way that they hold the integrity of their form, and achieve God’s purposes rather than ours.

In church history, the question of how to balance the virtues of doctrinal purity with mercy has occasionally arisen. It is not an insubstantial issue. If one goes too far in either direction, the virtue collapses into error and irreparable damage, most especially to people’s immortal souls and eternal future.

For instance, the virtue of sound doctrine – taken to extremes – becomes an excuse for inquisitions, interdicts, and mass excommunications. It results in suffocating, merciless dogmas. Nearly every denomination that once took doctrinal purity to an extreme has receded into a cold, empty formalism.

On the other hand, the virtue of mercy and love – taken to extremes – results in the jettisoning of God’s word and a toleration for every aberration and error within the culture around us. For instances of this, one need look no further than various Anglican communions around the world where, under the umbrella of “love” and “mercy”, there is now such a broad latitude in these churches, that they show indifference to the doctrine of their communicants and clergy.

You hardly even need to believe in God to be part of the Anglican communion nowadays, much less be a Christian. There are atheist clergy walking the ecclesiastical ranks. There is toleration and celebration of nearly every trendy left-wing cause, no matter how unbiblical. Practically the only thing that can get you tossed out of an Anglican communion these days is to espouse something politically to the far-right, like fascism. On the other hand, you can be an atheist, a neo-pagan, embrace historic heresies, and deviations and still find comfort, embrace, and inclusion. Because that is “loving”.

On page 10 of the recent edition of the Diocese of Toronto’s Anglican Newspaper, there was a recent article in which an Anglican church there is devising ceremonies and rituals to bless people who undergo gender changes. It is a testament to the speed at which the transgender movement has gained credibility and acceptance within the Diocese of Toronto that their Anglican newspaper does not once question any of the assumptions surrounding the rite and the individual involved. It is taken for granted that the whole matter is entirely consonant with the Holy Scriptures, because it is about “love” and “celebration”, ergo virtuous.

The photograph features two female clerics performing the rite. The church building is adorned with a rainbow flag. The only visible remnants of any link with our ancient Faith are the vestments worn by the two women which constitute merely the sad vestiges of a past era. The fact all of this is contained in a “Christian” church is illustrative of the compounding nature of error. It grows, steadily but surely, until it reaches a point where it chokes everything else and renders its host a corpse.

(As an aside, the presence of traditional vestments always interests me. This is one the most remarkable things about the culture warriors in these churches: though they are willing to jettison nearly every biblical doctrine, create novel new rituals, embrace fashionable causes, and design hideous new churches with “hip” architecture, the one thing they cling to with tenacity are the robes and collars, the titles and insignia of the clergy.

It is an irony, really, that among orthodox clergy, those external trappings of office are often put aside. Former Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney (Australia) preferred casual clothes or a tidy suit. Most Reformed local churches have done away with vestments entirely. Even Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wore the traditional preaching gown in church, had no interest in collars and robes. Leonard Ravenhill gave those things up and even came to repudiate them as unnecessary innovations. Yet, among liberal, heterodox clergy, those things are always last to die. They seem to exalt in their purples and silk.)

How does a church so spectacularly collapse as these Anglican denominations have done? Precisely because they made a choice in generations past not to try to walk that narrow road in which one rightly balances the affirmation of doctrinal truth with mercy and love.

Neither of these virtue can (or should) undo the other. Both must be present in harmony, the one feeding the other. Pure, sound, biblical doctrine gives rise to a ceaseless flow of love and mercy. And love and mercy to the sinful, broken and the lost reinforces the beauty of orthodoxy; the loveliness of biblical truth; the necessity of God’s holy precepts. Both virtues, properly attached to the True Vine – the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ – are filled, animated, actualised, motivated and energised by Himself. For love is only true love when it is His love. And doctrine is only any good when it is His doctrine.

How does one walk this fine line? By having an apostolic fidelity and allegiance to the Holy Scriptures as the first and final authoritative centre of Christianity.

And the only way to maintain this in any church is with loving, but firm church discipline. Toleration of heresy; the embrace of false creeds and doctrines; the widening of boundaries to the point where there is no longer an identifiable marker between non-believers and believers is a certain recipe for a church’s death. The Anglican communion has now reached a point where its evangelicals and orthodox are evacuating it. This process is very nearly complete. And once finished, there will be nothing left to sustain and maintain these denominations who are already consolidating an ever-shrinking catalogue of churches.

How sad it is and yet how eminently predictable. Church discipline matters because it keeps a church alive for the following generations.

Neglect it, and there is nothing more certain than that the next generation will go into captivity.

The Cult of the Extraordinary

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(The above is a sadly typical image, representative of most of what I found on the internet when doing an image search on this topic. The thirst to be extraordinary, it would seem, has produced reams of images and “inspirational” quotes telling people never to settle for the ordinary and that they not only deserve to be extraordinary but also to be treated in extraordinary ways by others. This thirst for significance is exceeded only by the delusion that fails to recognise that most of us – nearly all – are ordinary people who live ordinary lives.)

A number of articles have appeared lately in newspapers and on blogs regarding what might be called “the cult of the extraordinary”.

One woman wrote that growing up in the 1990’s, she was told that her generation was special. They were the most enlightened and most privileged, and the world was their oyster. They could do whatever they wanted. They were made for extraordinary things.

As it happens, she become a mother and a wife, and now spends her days doing housework and occasionally writing a blog. But, she writes, a voice goes through her head sometimes that what she is doing represents a failure in comparison to what she might have done.

For instance, when she is arguing with her husband, a voice says to her, “You could have been something, but now you’re just a wife”. When she does the dishes, the voice says to her, “You could have really done something, but now you’re just a mother”. When she writes a blog article that nobody reads, “You could have done something, but now you’re just writing a blog everybody ignores”. And on and on.

What is interesting about this experience is that it was echoed in the same week in the Guardian newspaper. There, the writer described the tremendous internal pressure young people – especially those raised in the 1990’s or early 2000’s – feel to be extraordinary. Somehow that particular message has been conveyed to young people, probably through a variety of mediums: schools, entertainment, television shows, video games and so on.

It is a popular message, to be sure. “You can do anything you want to do and your life can be whatever you want to make of it“. But this is a destructive message not only because it is untrue, but also because in trying to make it true (or living as if it were true) places a person in an impossible situation. Nobody can suck the savour out of life at each moment. Nobody is able to live in a constant exhilarating whirlwind of accomplishment.

Something in our culture has transmitted a deep inward pressure within people to have an extraordinary material existence. The serial television show probably plays a role in this. Watching a cast of zany characters doing impossibly exciting things every evening, and then multiplying this by many orders of magnitude (for there are many such shows), might indeed contribute to a warped sense of possibly.

Those warped possibilities really are a parody of reality. For instance, the idea that all relationships and romance should be mind-blowing leads people to conclude that a partner they harmonise with but do not have “chemistry” with must be inadequate and unsatisfactory. The same goes with career. Since one’s career “must” be amazing, filled with every escalating achievement, a person who finds themselves doing a relatively simple job must conclude that it is unsatisfactory. If you’re not a CEO or a lawyer defending high profile clients, or a presidential aide, then something must be wrong!

Perpetual dissatisfaction results from the cult of the extraordinary. The dissatisfaction arises, largely, from the belief that there are other options out there which are better, more satisfying, and more remarkable than one’s current circumstances. Sometimes, of course, that may be true. But much of the time it is needless discontent.

The cult of the extraordinary and the attendant belief that our lives should be extraordinary and amazing, can be explained primarily as the result of an absence of a Christian worldview. A perspective grounded in Christ clearly recognises that the only truly extraordinary things are the Lord himself and the works of his hands. We are not therefore summoned to be extraordinary, although it is certainly the case that some people may live exceptional lives. Rather, we are summoned to be filled with, and immersed in, and awed by that which is truly extraordinary: that is, Christ himself. And Christ alone.

It can be a great liberation to be able to say, “I’m ordinary and unimportant and insignificant, but I worship and know a Christ who is extraordinary, truly important, and wholly significant. And that is sufficient adventure and accomplishment to last a lifetime. It is riches beyond comparison. It is more than I could ever deserve apart from God’s amazing grace. To him be glory and praise!

Ordinary People.Extraordinary GOD

9 Ways to Prepare for the Coming Persecution – Are You Ready to Suffer for Christ?

There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on the blogosphere, on evangelical forums, and in sermons preached around the world regarding the coming persecution.

It is clear – at least to growing numbers of us – that persecution in the hitherto Christian-friendly West is not merely a future possibility. It is now inevitable. The question is no longer “if?”, but “when?”.

It is painfully obvious that the culture around us has reached a critical point. There is growing active hostility toward the gospel. This is an important distinction. The hostility is no longer passive, but an active, energetic, determined and confident opposition to all that falls under the banner of Christ.

And this hostility and immorality has fallen upon our culture with amazing speed. Any comparison between a hundred years ago to today reveals the difference that a mere hundred years can make. A mere hundred years. Just one century! Think of it. There are people today that are over a hundred years old. Those people have witnessed during their long life span the catastrophic transition of our society from a predominately Christian one, to a post-Christian, virtually pagan one. And this tidal wave of rebellion and godlessness shows no signs of slowing. It is increasingly expanding around the ever-shrinking moral residue of Christian thought and practice.

The general moral attitude of 1916 is as different from that of 2016 as night is from day. To illustrate this, compare these two covers from the fashion magazine Vogue. Both come from the April issue, but one was published in 1916 and the other 2016:

The cover from 2016 is regarded as modest by community standards today. Yet, in 1916, it would have been considered a scandalous and immoral portrayal of a woman. In fact, it would probably have been deemed pornographic and titillating.

The Atlantic magazine has published a beautiful set of historic photographs of New York City, including several of beaches and public swimming pools. Take a look at them, and consider the attire of people in different contexts. There is an entirely different atmosphere of modesty on display there from what we would expect in 2016.

And it is not just fashion that has experienced a tectonic shift. It would have been unthinkable, a hundred years ago, for there to be any such thing as same-sex marriage. There was even widespread efforts to combat alcohol, much less the constellation of drugs that now plague our cities. Consider that in 1919, prohibition of alcohol in the United States became a constitutional amendment as a consequence of the enormously successful temperance movement. Even in countries outside of the United States, temperance movements were influential and widespread. Below is a picture of temperance pledge signed by a young Australian in 1916.

Note the influence of Methodism, which was once such a force for social improvement. Methodism promoted godly living with unashamed vigour and passion. It makes it all the more remarkable that Methodism – or, at least, what is left of it – has lapsed into liberal theology, homosexual marriage affirmation, and every other contemporary trend. It marks the sad eclipse of its former strength with a melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.

Temperance

In our generation we have to acknowledge that the secular programme is winning. Evidence of this abounds in every direction. For example, the list of unsayable truths grow ever longer. Hate speech codes are refined to punish people for uttering words, which as Orwell told us in 1984, is the ultimate tool to stop the thoughts that give rise to them.

Adjectives like “bigot”, “intolerant” and “[something]-phobic” are now dangerous accusations, and with a little more time, the accusers will be given the legal force to punish those who are so described. Churches that uphold the scriptures and God’s teaching regarding godliness are vilified and increasingly threatened with state censure.

The sexual revolution will result in the dismantling of democracy as we have known it, because it must. In fact, this process is in full swing already as the freedom of speech is gradually eroded to protect the sexual revolution. This is inevitable because sexual passions are enormously strong and always wreak havoc against the weak. They acquire galloping strength and pervasiveness when unrestrained by law, by marriage, and by the unified recognition of a community that sexuality must be practised according to the commandment of our Creator.

Discard God and a pornographic society results. There have been many pornographic societies like this in the past. For example, some of the monuments and works of art uncovered in Pompeii are so indecent that they have been stored out of public view in a chamber in the British Museum ever since.

Yet in our time, the unleashing of sexual forces on a scale unknown even to ancient pagans will prove to be so destructive to families, to children, to stability, to the economy, to politics, and to virtually everything else. In all such societies the greatest victims tend to be women and children. And minorities who speak out against it become targets.

The time will be upon us soon in the West when faithful Christians will be persecuted for the stance we take. The suffering will be real. We shall need to learn to live with less; and we shall need to find greater joy in Christ and the Heavenly Realms. The church will thin out. But it will more brightly illumine this world than it has perhaps for many a decade.

We need to get ready while the sun yet shines. What can we do? Here are seven things that I believe a person can do to get ready for coming persecution:

  1. Develop a soldierly discipline in our spiritual march: get serious about deepening one’s communion with God. Learn to pray as on a battlefield. Learn to pray regardless of cold or heat; summer or winter. Learn to pray in all environments. Listen to Leonard Ravenhill’s teachings on prayer. Read up on the Puritan’s practice of prayer. Imitate the Lord Jesus’ example of prayer.
  2. Intercede for the suffering church: Learn to offer up “spiritual sacrifices” in prayer for the suffering church. Use what wealth one has to support the suffering church (i.e. Voices of the Martyrs). Be active in giving to those who suffer now. It may well be that we shall receive one day our offerings back again from those we have nourished today. Be generous in giving to others. “He who gives to the poor shall lack nothing” (Proverbs 28:27). “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord shall repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17).
  3. Learn and memorise the scriptures: The day will come when they may try to take your Bible. But as the persecuted saints of the past have so often reminded us, they cannot take the scriptures that are stored up in one’s mind and one’s heart. Many a saint has languished in a cold, damp, filthy dungeon with no script, but has drawn great comfort from reciting the word of God deeply hidden in their heart. The word of God brought the creation into existence; the word of God will nourish his faithful servants until the final fulfilment of all things.
  4. To the best of your ability, get debt-free as fast as possible: The state will enforce some of its censure of Christians, but part of the new tyranny is that it is predicated on a shared set of beliefs throughout the community, and therefore is self-enforcing by the society around us. Speak up and you may lose your job. Your employer will do the work of threatening you or silencing you. Speak up and you may be taken to court and be fined. The work will be done by someone in the community indignant that you have opposed the darkness, and they will film you and report you to the police.

    Under such conditions, indebtedness becomes a powerful tool the world can use to get our compliance. There is real pressure to compromise or remain silent when we know that we might not be able to make the bills if we hold the line for Christ. While time permits, therefore, get the debt under control (ideally, live debt-free) so that there can be greater liberty in the coming evil days. It may even be better in the circumstances to come to live in a small and simple abode without debt, than to be indebted in a McMansion.

  5. Be prepared: It may sound paranoid – perhaps on the level of the infamous “preppers” – but it is not unwise to have a bag prepared in your house for a speedy flight, whether this is due to terrorism, to government persecution, or just a natural disaster. The bag should contain some emergency food, medical supplies, batteries, torch, candles, matches, perhaps even a sleeping bag and essential documents.

    When the Romans besieged Jerusalem and slaughtered much its population in 70 A.D., Eusebius, an early church father, notes that the Christian church at Jerusalem had evacuated before the outbreak of the war, in obedience to a revelation (Book 3, Chapter 5:3). They were, every one of them, spared. In fact, according to the Eusebius, Jerusalem was treated as if it were utterly destitute of holy men – which of course it was, since its entire population of Christians had left it. He writes “the judgement of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men“.

    What is the point? The point is that the Christians at Jerusalem were prepared to leave the city in accordance with what our Lord prophesied in the scriptures, and perhaps even in response to a supernatural revelation given to that faithful church. They believed the Lord; they stood ready; and they went. Be prepared to flee!

  6. Get a passport: In the Old Testament the saints were not unafraid to relocate even to different countries when it seemed wise to do so. If things get bad in the local region, it is wise to keep a valid passport ready so that one may do precisely that and leave for a city, for a region, or for a country that is somewhat more friendly to the gospel (though they be in short supply even today). “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes“.
  7. Cultivate deep love and fellowship with other believers: You should know enough fellow believers and be on such good terms with them that you could have a clandestine service under a bridge at midnight if you needed to. The days will come when believers will need to depend on each other, and will need to suffer together. Be serious about fellowship. Be serious about friendship with God’s people. Be serious about loving other believers.
  8. Support immigration into our countries from non-secular lands: We can slow the rot by supporting the immigration of non-secularists into our countries. People who believe in God – even if their religion is not true Christianity and therefore false – still possess a sense of moral responsibility that a secular population does not. The more these people are allowed into the community, the harder it will be for secularists to pursue their agenda.

    Of course, we cannot ever find common cause with non-Christians, but the presence of people who at least have a sense of reverence and fear of God is surely far better than those who have no respect for the Almighty at all.

  9. DO SOMETHING!: Preach the word, in season and out of season. Not everyone may have the courage to do street preaching (and not everyone is called to it), but anyone can give out tracts. Buy a load of them and place them in letterboxes throughout the community. Run a blog. Make gospel videos on Youtube. Write letters to Members of Parliament or Congress imploring them to uphold righteous standards. Write letters to the editor of the local newspapers. Raise godly children. Invest serious time into training and teaching your children the word of the Lord. Be deliberately and consistently joyful in your workplace. Put your talents to good work. Volunteer in the community and perhaps drop a word in season about the Lord. Read your Bible in a public place. Leave a tract in a library book.

    Whatever you do, do something to build the kingdom. Don’t just be a bump on a log trundling off to church and developing nothing more than swollen head full of knowledge that never makes a difference to anyone else. Be salt and light; be kind; be compassionate; be strategic in how you labour for the Lord.

The Brewing Civil War within Roman Catholicism

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I follow conservative Roman Catholic blogs.

It is fair to say, that I follow very conservative Roman Catholic blogs. The sort written by conservative priests who look fondly back to Old Rome – to the days when the liturgy was in Latin and ecclesiastical discipline within the ranks was iron.

These are the people whose slogan is “save the liturgy, save the world”. Yes, to all the Protestant readers who just fell off their seats, you read that correctly.

This is Rome Catholicism of the Tridentine Rite. This is the Rome Catholicism of arcane medieval mysticism. This is a Rome Catholicism that has been almost forgotten, except in small – but admittedly growing – pockets, where people desperately wish to re-barnacle their religious life in esoteric rituals that were stripped away by Vatican II.

One of the things that has become really, really clear is that there are two utterly incompatible views that now co-exist in Roman Catholicism. The liberal wing are… well, essentially theistic soft secularists, if such a thing can be imagined. They pretty much follow the culture on issues like homosexuality, feminism, abortion, environmentalism, same-sex marriage, and the whole worldview. You can find Catholics within this wing who criticise their own church’s stance on these issues. You can find large numbers of Catholics who even actively and enthusiastically embrace these elements of the culture. For instance, there are entire branches of orders of nuns who are essentially leftover 1960’s radical feminists. They go about crusading for political purposes.

But, to the other extreme, there is the conservative wing. These Roman Catholics largely live in the past, venerating historical Popes and cardinals, and glorying in a very traditional worship that consists of little other than elaborate and ornamented ritual. They reject the minimalist contemporary design of modern churches – which are often built according to zany postmodern designs – and approvingly point to articles in magazines in which pastors describe how they have transformed their parishes by installing pews, altars, candles, and all the other furniture of a heavily-liturgical religion.

(The fact that there is such a palpable thirst among modern Western populations for a deep link to the past and a desire for continuity with history, could be the subject of an entire book. Unfortunately for the poor benighted souls turning to liturgical religions like Roman Catholicism, the tradition that they are told goes back to the New Testament is often only about 500 or so years old. Most of the “apostolic tradition”, along with its attendant rites and rituals developed in the medieval period. To be deeply rooted in God’s work in history, one must turn to the pages of scripture).

Each wing denounces the other. An excellent illustration of this – at least in miniature – is found in the running clash of purpose and perspective between a very popular blog operated by the Roman Catholic priest, John Zuhlsdorf, and the National Catholic Reporter. The National Catholic Reporter occasionally prints insinuations or commentary that would reflect unfavourably on Zuhlsdorf’s website and views, characterising them as unloving or harsh. For his own part, Zuhlsdorf declares the National Catholic Reporter to be “un-catholic”. In fact, Zuhlsdorf usually refers to this publication as “fishwrap” or “the National Schismatic Reporter” and holds in low esteem the liberal Roman Catholics who comment there.

Both parties have convictions utterly removed from the other. The NCR seems hopeful for some changes on the issue of woman’s ordination. They seem to take the view that there is a possibility of having women deacons. Zuhlsdorf, for his part, is implacably opposed to women’s ordination.

Whatever we might think on the issue – and, we, evangelicals and Reformed would typically side with Zuhlsdorf on this issue – the fact remains that these are opposing viewpoints, held with extreme conviction and passion. And both seem to have emerged within Roman Catholicism at the same time and in high volumes. It bespeaks a collapse of church discipline at some point in the line. For how else could two opposing camps emerge in the one communion?

But, this is only the tip of the iceberg! Most of the folks supporting women’s ordination would necessarily (eg. it is necessary to hold these beliefs in order to arrive at their position) have very non-traditional views of the ecclesiastical authority of the Roman Catholic Church and their supposed “teaching magisterium”. They necessarily hold non-traditional views on apostolic tradition. They necessarily repudiate the past example of their own church as repressive, archaic or opposed to women. Indeed, one of the Youtube videos put out by one of these groups has a woman in mock papal attire singing, “Don’t listen to St. Paul… I can lead the way” and a woman dandying her baby wearing a shirt that reads “Mommy for pope”. In other words, Zuhlsdorf – to a certain extent – is right. These people have no theological relation to the theological universe of what once called itself Roman Catholicism.

Another example of this breakdown is seen in Ireland, where the decay of Roman Catholicism is now an unmistakable fact. Here is a country that has a long history of being a Roman Catholic stronghold. A country where 73% – nearly three quarters of the population – claim to be Roman Catholic. Yet in the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, 62% of Irish voters approved a constitutional change to allow people to marry without the distinction of sex.

Assuming that the 25% of the population who are non-Roman Catholic all voted in favour of this change, it would mean that 37% of the Roman Catholic population also voted in favour of same-sex marriage. And this contrary to the advice, teaching and instruction of their own clergy and church! (Although, to be honest, any fair assessment of the political campaign conducted by those affiliated with Roman Catholic Church would surely indicate a fair degree of apathy. The impression I received, at least, was that their heart was just not in it. The secular perspective had already quite clearly won – at least, according to the vote statistics – even within the Roman Catholic community long before the referendum took place.)

You can find these sorts of inroads into Roman Catholicism at every point. And most troubling for the conservatives, the secular viewpoint seems to be held by a growing number of bishops, cardinals, and priests. Many of these come in for regular excoriation from the conservative wing . On the other hand, the conservatives lionise other of their hierarchy as if they were celebrities. These cardinals and bishops receive rock star treatment because they celebrate the mass in Latin or they are fighting back against the ambitions of the liberal half of the church.

Now enter the Pope.

For all the unbiblical Roman pretensions that the Pope functions as an authoritative unifying figure, the reality is the inverse. Nobody could say with a straight face that Pope Francis believes what his medieval (or even early 20th century) predecessors believed given his remarks on a range of issues. He continues along the lines set by previous Popes who proclaim a social gospel to outsiders and a religious practice to insiders so lacking in discipline as to render it almost indifferent to the manner in which they choose to live. Among Francis’ encyclicals is the entirely forgettable Laudata si’, or the “Green Encyclical”, which was about the environment and sustainability. In Francis’ speech to the Congress, he mentions Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Abraham Lincoln but does not once make reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In so doing, he merely follows the example of other post-Vatican II popes, like Pope John Paul II, who was certainly no great evangelist either. When addressing the European Study Congress, Pope John Paul II spoke much about “Christianity” and even mentioned “Christ” once, but his focus was not where the conservative Roman Catholics would have placed it.

It is categorically impossible to imagine the Apostle Peter – whose authority Roman Catholics claim for their pope – if presented with the chance to address the representatives of the most powerful nation in the world, or a congress planning a trans-continental constitution that would govern 500 million people – would fail to present the fullness of the message of the good news of Christ our Lord.

But the Popes reflect the Roman Catholic Church’s culture. True there is a bit of a lag before certain cultural trends and elements get represented in a pontificate, but it shows up sooner than later. Popes are increasingly political-correct beings and mealy-mouthed, never being entirely direct. Each subsequent pope differs substantially from the one before and thus the entire Roman church is in a perpetual condition of division. Half of them will cleave now unto this pope, and the other half will cleave unto that one. Francis is beloved by the liberal Catholics, just as Benedict XVI is beloved by the conservatives – some of which freely admit to shedding tears over his resignation.

Of course, nearly every Roman Catholic holds to Pope John Paul II whose genius for more than thirty years involved the careful placation of all wings of the church by granting to each a measure of what they sought. One month he would pound the arms of his throne and thunder down the old dogmas, gladdening the heart of the conservatives. A few months later he would make a ringing declaration about women or some other group, and bring pleasure to the liberals. But in retrospect, I think it will be seen that Pope John Paul II’s seemingly stable pontificate, solved nothing. In fact, he oversaw the unravelling of the discipline and authority of his church, the continuation of the 1960’s experiment. His pontificate will be seen to mark the further degradation of the belief and allure of the (non-existent) continuity the religion claims for itself.

One could go on. The fact that there is such a staggering variety of religious orders – some liberal and some conservative – each existing side-by-side within the tent. We could examine the rot within Roman Catholic educational institutions, producing generations of Roman Catholics who are probably mostly theologically liberal. We could consider the resurgence of conservatism within many seminaries, coupled with the fact that the overall number of priests is low and shrinking. But time constrains me.

Bottom line: this state of affairs cannot continue forever. One wing will dominate eventually, or there will be a permanent schism. Many conservatives have already thrown in the towel, declared most of the post-Vatican II popes to be heretics, and have run off to sedevacantist movements and the SSPX, who generally believe that the Seat of Peter is empty and there is no legitimate pope.

It is fantasy to imagine the staunch, Tridentine, “Latin Mass” conservatives winning this battle. In fact, their efforts are more likely to accelerate a schism since so many of them actively believe that their Tridentine mass is more legitimate than the Novus Ordo mass which is the common global Roman Catholic practice.

Certainly, the wing that shall be most badly affected will be the conservatives for whom the Pope and bishops and priestcraft is pivotal. Their entire faith is built on it. They have been taught that their church, when manifested in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, is infallible and miraculously safeguarded from error. The ructions to their faith when they realise with the passage of time, that the old Roman Catholicism is beyond revival, will be painful to bear. The conservatives are desperately placing their hope in the next pontificate. Pity them, should the next pope be another Francis. Their demoralisation will be complete.

We must keep our eyes open for these troubled souls, the recipients of a dreadful medieval corruption that enslaves and mesmerises with the false claims of historicity. We must aim to always be ready to offer to these people the gospel – for there can only be one. This gospel is the one that they have never heard. The pure gospel that elevates the Great High Priest, Christ Jesus. A gospel that speaks to the heart and redeems it by the sovereign power and grace of a compassionate and holy God. A God who does not come seeking for the utterances of empty phrases and repetitious prayers. Who does not look for hail Marys and penances. Who does not justify us based on our merits or our works. But a God who revealed himself fully through his Son; who regenerates men through his words – alone infallible and inerrant – and who sends his genuine Spirit as the down payment on future glory.

A God who once spoke words that are much applicable to these burnt out, tempest-tossed, misused, and exhausted Roman Catholics:

Come unto me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn about me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you shall find rest for your souls.