Catholicism today

Disagreements that divided Lutherans from Catholics at the time of the Reformation are still valid causes for continued separation.
Except perhaps for other Lutherans, no church body grabs our attention like the Roman Catholic Church. It is the world's largest church with over 800 million members. It is the strongest church in virtually every country in which we do mission work, except Scandinavia and some eastern European countries.

Our Lutheran Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church 500 years ago after bitter controversy. A sizable portion of our Luther-an Confessions is devoted to outlining the doctrinal differences that compelled our Lutheran ancestors to make this break. Today, however, many people are asking whether the disagreements that divided Lutherans from Catholics at the time of the Reformation are still valid causes for continued separation.

Five hundred years ago Luther said there were two reasons to identify the pope as the Antichrist. The pope usurps Christ's authority to himself, and he curses the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Is Luther's claim still valid today?

Papal authority

The pope's claims of supreme authority in the church have been made more emphatic since the time of the Reformation. The official declaration of papal infallibility was decreed by Vatican I in 1870. In the 1960s, papal authority was reaffirmed by Vatican II, which declared:

Religious submission of will and mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra [that is, in a formal doctrinal decree] (Vatican II, p. 48).

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official guide for Catholic teaching says:

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 (Par. 882).

The Supreme Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful--who confirms his brethren in the faith--he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals (Par. 891).

Official Catholic teaching today subtracts nothing from the authority and infallibility of the pope. He can declare that eating meat on Friday is a sin, or he can change his mind and allow it. He can forbid priests to marry, and he can ban all forms of artificial family planning. He can forbid divorce and remarriage to a wronged wife and allow annulment for an adulterous husband. If Catholics enjoy some greater freedoms today, it is by papal permission not by acknowledgment of their God-given rights. The first of Luther's charges against the Pope is still valid.


Another article in this issue (p. 30) shows that some Lutherans believe that Lutheran and Catholic teachings on justification are no longer church divisive. Is this true?