You can’t save yourself without others; therefore, says Pope Francis, you can’t have a personal relationship with Christ

The “Church is essential for faith; there are no ‘free agents,’ Pope says,” reports Cindy Wooden. (See also Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY Christians are not made in a laboratory, but in a community called the church, Pope Francis said. At his weekly general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis continued his series of audience talks about the church, telling an estimated 33,000 people that there is no such thing as “do-it-yourself” Christians or “free agents” when it comes to faith. Every Christian, he said, can trace his or her faith back to parents, grandparents, teachers or friends. “I always remember the nun who taught me catechism. I know she’s in heaven because she was a holy woman,” he said.

In the Old Testament, the pope said, God called Abraham and began to form a people that would become a blessing for the world. “With great patience — and God has a lot of it — he prepared the people of the ancient covenant and in Jesus Christ constituted them as a sign and instrument of the union of humanity with God and unity with one another.”

Pope Francis described as “dangerous” the temptation to believe that one can have “a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.”

Obviously, he said, it is not always easy to walk the path of faith with other people. “Sometimes it’s tiring. It can happen that a brother or sister creates problems for us or scandalizes us, but the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to human beings, to us, to witnesses,” he said. “It is through our brothers and sisters with their gifts and their limits,” the pope said, “that he comes to us and makes himself known. This is what belonging to the church means. Remember: Being Christian means belonging to the church. If your first name is Christian, your last name is Member of the Church.”

At the end of his talk, the pope asked people to join him in praying that they would never “give into the temptation of thinking you can do without others, without the church, that you can save yourself, of thinking you can be a laboratory Christian.” Christians, he said, are not manufactured in isolation, but belong to a long line of believers who handed on the faith and challenged one another to live it fully.

The audience was the last the pope was scheduled to hold before beginning a reduced summer schedule.

(End of article).

I focus on Pope Francis’s prayer that members of the Church would never “‘give into the temptation of thinking you can do without others, without the church, that you can save yourself, of thinking you can be a laboratory Christian.’ Christians, he said, are not manufactured in isolation, but belong to a long line of believers who handed on the faith and challenged one another to live it fully.”

He equates “doing without others, without the Church,” “save yourself,” and “laboratory Christian.” I am reminded of a  conference on collaborative (team) learning I attended where one of the questions from the audience was: “If we can have collaborative learning, why can’t we have collaborative assessment.” In other words, if we learn together, we should write exams together. Pass one, pass all; and hopefully fail no one – especially if they are nice people.

According to the Pope, God (in Christ) is mediated through the “Church,” defined by Roman Catholicism as the institution consisting of the Pope and his hierarchy. And we all know that institutions do not have one personal bone in their body. And it’s only through cleaving to this clerical institution via the “Vicar of Christ” that Christians are able to cleave to God. So, when Jesus knocks at a Christian’s door (no, he never knocks at an unbeliever’s door, because Jesus doesn’t knock on coffins) and asks to be invited in for supper, for a more personal relationship (“I stand at the door and knock – Revelation 3:21), the Pope would admonish, “What’s with this “more personal!” when “personal” itself is not only forbidden by the Church, but an impossible concept?

Contrary to Pope Francis, Augustine of Hippo writes in his Confessions:

When I shall cleave unto You with all my being, then shall I in nothing have pain and labour; and my life shall be a real life, being wholly full of You. But now since he whom Thou fillest is the one Thou liftest up, I am a burden to myself, as not being full of You. Joys of sorrow contend with sorrows of joy; and on which side the victory may be I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows contend with my good joys; and on which side the victory may be I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! Lo, I hide not my wounds; You are the Physician, I the sick; Thou merciful, I miserable.”

Is it possible to cleave to God? A Christian, as Augustine illustrates, certainly can. Such a God is personal, and if personal then surely one can cleave to God’s Person.

The Pope says above that it is “dangerous” to believe that one can have “a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.” But Pope Francis’s recently pronounced that salvation is a reward for good works.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The Holy Father is full of surprises, born of true and faithful humility. On Wednesday he declared that all people, not just Catholics, are redeemed through Jesus, even atheists. However, he did emphasize there was a catch. Those people must still do good. In fact, it is in doing good that they are led to the One who is the Source of all that is good. In essence he simply restated the hope of the Church that all come to know God, through His Son Jesus Christ.”

Then there’s Vatican 2; one of the major outcomes of Vatican 2 was:

Acknowledging God’s presence beyond the Church. The Holy Spirit is working in all religions, including “our separate Christian brothers” (Protestants). Ecumenical efforts should be made to foster dialogue with all religions.” The Catholic Church, since Vatican II (1962-65), has radically changed its attitude towards inter-religious dialogue. Thomas Merton and other Catholic devotees of Eastern thought had a significant influence on changing Rome’s attitude to non-Christian religions. (Nostra Aetate 2 – (Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965). (See Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate).

So, who needs the Roman Catholic Church to be saved. Salvation for the Pope, has, of course, nothing to do with a personal relationship with God. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heaven awaits, ’cause doesn’t Jesus say: “I (your neighbour) was hungry…and you fed me (him/her)…welcome into the Kingdom of my Father.” Who then needs faith in Jesus as a (personal) saviour? As we say in French, “personne” (no person).

The biblical God is very personal: “You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans, 8:15) and “they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jesus’ prayer to hid father – John 17:20b). I often hear Christians say “Christianity is a relationship not a religion.” Trite but not complete tripe. More correct is it to say that the heart of the Christian religion is relationship; vertical first, between God and Christians, and horizontal second, between Christians. 

The Pope is wrong to dismiss the personal experience of God. It is true, though, that much of modern popular Christian culture is obsessed with self-discovery techniques where the church is set aside in favour of savouring one’s own personal Jesus. Christians do have a personal relationship with Christ but this depends on faith and trust in what Christ has done in history. Instead, we see personal relationship displacing knowledge: “I don’t wanna know about Jesus, I wanna know Jesus.’’ Such thinking is a disaster waiting to happen. It indicates that you know little Christianity. How in a future heaven or on this or a future earth can you have a personal relationship with someone you know little about? Knowledge, like books, is not everything, but it ain’t nothing. Indeed knowledge of the kind we are concerned with often comes from books, or someone bookish. 

The Reformed (Calvinist) position, is that the relationship we have with Jesus is based on the premises that he has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of  the  father. So, he is not with us in the same way  that people are together in a room. We don’t see Jesus in a  face-to-face relationship. He has ascended on high, so if I am going to relate to him it is through the power of the Holy Spirit and my trust in his work for me. This trust in Christ, is granted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit somehow unites me too a personal Jesus who is not even in the room. The “invite Jesus into your heart” people think that Jesus can take up “residence in your aorta” – the pipeline to your heart. 

Paul says the Spirit has been sent into our hearts to cry out “abba father”‘ (Romans 8:28). To be in the spirit, says Paul, is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be in the Spirit. We don’t ask Jesus into our heart – dead hearts can’t invite; we trust in him that his work and mercy will  exchange our sin nature for his righteousness (making us right with God; 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

I think, however, that the personal relationship with Jesus has been largely ignored. Jesus says: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4), and Paul tells of his “commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This is the language of “mystical union” in Christ by the Spirit. Christ is not climbing down from heaven into our hearts.

One of the most marvellous of all the Christian doctrines is our union with Christ (Romans 5 – 6; 1 Cor 15:2). Our union is not only in Christ’s life but in his death: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20). Are these just “objective” words (outside of me) that I believe, or can they be a personal encounter with God? Both. 

I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15) shows us how the corporate aspect of the mystical union comes into play between parts of the body with Christ as the head. This does not mean, though, that the believer only comes alive (to the presence of God) when he or she is united to other believers (the Church). When I am born again, I meet Christ, person to person, in a mystical way of course. Yet just because this meeting is not physical, this doesn’t mean that it is not personal, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not taking up residence in my ”heart.” We are given, says Jones, a new power, a new direction, a new disposition – we’re seated in the heavenlies. This power is given by Christ, not the church. This power is consolidated by the church (fellow members of the body). The key issue, though, is that if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature, a new person. Why? Because he has met the person Christ – in his “heart” – but (first) in his head. 

John Frame writes in his “Doctrine of the Word of God.”

The main contention of this volume is that God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately. Appropriate responses are of many kinds: belief, obedience, affection, repentance, laughter, pain, sadness, and so on. God’s speech is often propositional: God’s conveying information to us. But it is far more than that. It includes all the features, functions, beauty, and richness of language that we see in human communication, and more. So the concept I wish to defend is broader than the “propositional revelation” that we argued so ardently forty years ago, though propositional revelation is part of it. My thesis is that God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.”

There is a mystical union between: Husband and wife, and between Christ and His church – the Body of Christ: Many members, we form one body with unique gifts and roles. The Mystery of Christ – John 17: 20-23 ” …that all of them may be one …so the world may believe that you have sent me …may they be brought to complete unity …” And God and the individual – the Unio Mystica 1. Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you” John 15:5 “If a man remains in me and I in him” 3. John 14:16-17 “for he lives with you and will be in you” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “God’s Spirit lives in you.” 

You can’t save yourself without others; therefore, says Pope Francis, you can’t have a personal relationship with Christ. I am reminded of a Roman Catholic relative  told me that she aims to drag lapsed Catholics and others into heaven on her back. I said to her “You seem to be talking about the Roman Catholic idea of the “treasury of merit.” She probably gets tis piggy-back view of salvation from the horse’s mouth.

(For a rabbinical view of whether one can have a direct relationship with God see Can a Jew singly cleave to God: it seems not).

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2 thoughts on “You can’t save yourself without others; therefore, says Pope Francis, you can’t have a personal relationship with Christ

  1. Hi Raphael,

    2 Peter 1 tells us that faith is a gift so all who know the Lord are first ‘known’ by Him. Jesus is building His church upon “The Rock” of the Father’s work in hearts (the antecedent of Petra in Matthew 16). I’ll believe Jesus instead of Francis any day.

    Also The New Covenant promised that “no longer will a man teach his brother or neighbor ‘know the Lord’ for they will all know Me.” 1 Jn. 2.20,27 states we have an anointing and need no one to teach us, R.E. Brown (a Catholic) identified this passage as fulfilling Jer. 31.31.

    Though the New Covenant was promised and made with Israel, for the most part National Israel will benefit from it in the future. National Israel is still in the mind of God and He has them divided into different tribes still as is seen in The Book of Revelation.

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