Wednesday, January 20, 2021
It's Wednesday, January 20, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is the Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Pope Changes Catholic Church’s Rules to Allow Women to Serve in Some Roles During Mass: Lessons for Evangelicals from the Controversy
Today marks the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States. Yesterday, on The Briefing, I gave an extensive briefing on the meaning of the inauguration and its component parts, the role that presidential inaugurations play in history, many of the worldview issues that are connected to an inauguration. You'll find that again, in yesterday's edition of The Briefing.
Today, we're not going to talk about politics specifically out of respect for the fact that this marks, as we see as a nation, every four years inauguration day. We'll get to the politics tomorrow, including the comments made by the president of the United States in his inaugural address. We'll also be speaking about the fact that the president elect has named the first openly transgender candidate for a position that requires Senate confirmation. A lot of worldview issues for us to talk about, plenty on the agenda for tomorrow, but today we're not going to talk about politics. There are plenty of other issues for us to discuss on this day.
We turn first to the issue of doctrinal development as it is occasioned by a recent letter issued by Pope Francis. It's roiling the Roman Catholic church. The letter was dated January the 11th as Elisabetta Povoledo of the New York Times reports, "Pope Francis has changed the laws of the Roman Catholic church to formally allow women to give readings from the Bible during mass, act as altar servers and distribute communion, but they remained barred from becoming deacons or priests." She goes on to report, "In many countries, Catholic women were already carrying out these duties which are officially reserved for men, but by amending the Code of Canon Law, which lays down the rules of Catholic practices, Francis has removed the possibility that conservative bishops might prohibit women from acceding to these positions."
Later in the article, we read, "In an online note published by Vatican News, an online portal, the Vatican said the Pope wanted to make clear that," in his words, "what is under discussion are lay ministries." They are "fundamentally distinct from the ordained ministry that is received through the sacrament of holy orders.'" Now, why would this occasion evangelical interest? For a number of reasons. That's the answer: numerous reasons.
First of all, we have to consider the fact that this is a move that is at least somewhat controversial in the Roman Catholic communion. Roman Catholic traditionalists have long argued that this kind of liturgical leadership should be demonstrated only by men and not only by men, but by males that would include altar boys. The use of the term here, "altar" servers as gender neutral, but you have other articles that it made clear this means that both altar boys and altar girls may participate, but beyond that, adult women may also participate by reading from the Bible during mass and serving as an altar server, they may distribute communion.
But you'll notice also that the article began with Povoledo saying that this does not mean that women may become either deacons or priests, diaconal ministers as they're defined in Roman Catholicism or priests. And that would mean most importantly, priests who have the power of the sacrament, the priestly role, according to the Roman Catholic church. Now let's unpack this for a moment, what's the first level issue here? Well, the first level issue is something really fascinating.
In the official statement released by the Vatican, Pope Francis speaks of his stewardship and responsibility to guide the development of doctrine. Now, this is really interesting. This is something every biblically minded evangelical needs to think about. We all understand that doctrine does develop. We understand for example, that the word "Trinity" is not found in the New Testament, but the biblical revelation in both testaments makes it necessary that we affirm that God is one and simultaneously, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
The doctrine of the Trinity was developed within the church, not as the revelation of new truth, but as a way of articulating, defining and defending orthodox Christianity. And let's just state the obvious, there is no such thing as non-trinitarian Christianity. Christianity is inherently, inescapably, irreducibly trinitarian, but the question is, how exactly does doctrine develop? Both Roman Catholics and Protestants understand that doctrine does develop, but there's a huge difference between the Catholic understanding and the evangelical understanding or the Protestant understanding.
The Roman Catholic understanding is that doctrine develops over time and it does so in a singular direction, "There is an unfolding logic in the truth of scripture," says the Roman Catholic church. And it is the stewardship of the magisterium of the church, that is the leadership of the church headed by the Pope himself as the Bishop of Rome. The Pope has the power to change Canon Law as the Pope did. Announcing so in this letter of January the 11th, the Pope has awesome power in the Roman Catholic church. He is understood to be the culmination, the singular individual who has the power and stewardship, holding the keys in the succession of St. Peter, they argue, to determine what is right and what is wrong in church teaching and what church law, Canon Law as it's known is to be.
It is a people announcement that came on January the 11th, stating that it is now the official teaching and law of the Roman Catholic church that girls and women may serve in these positions, but not as diaconal ministers or as priests. The Roman Catholic church has documented at various points in its history and particularly in the modern age, where the church acknowledges it is developing doctrine, or it is defining doctrine in a way that very clearly reveals some sense of development.
Now, here's an example. Some years ago, Pope Francis announced that he was speaking as Pope to say that the death penalty violates Christian moral teaching, Catholic moral teaching. But here's what's important, the current catechism of the Roman Catholic church does not state that. And so how would Pope Francis get there? Well, he got there by saying there was this inward dynamic that led to the development of doctrine. And it's basically a statement that the church has more light now on the issue. And thus it is self-consciously developing doctrine. The same thing is true in this case, this is a change to Canon Law.
Now, what's the Protestant understanding of the development of doctrine? Well, it comes back to the fact that Protestants believe that the Scripture is sufficient. It is the sole final authority and the Scripture does not develop. The church comes to a deeper understanding of scripture, but the doctrine that is revealed in scripture does not itself develop. It is merely to be affirmed. Where there's a doctrinal dispute among Protestants among evangelicals, it is to be settled by Scripture.
Furthermore, we do not believe in any churchly magisterium. We don't believe in any group, any elite that has the priestly responsibility for the stewardship of doctrine. And we do not believe, most importantly, in the role of the papacy. But it is interesting in this case that having a Pope and acknowledging the Pope's power of doctrinal development comes to the point where the Catholic church in his Canon Law, as of January the 11th is saying something different than the Canon Law said on January the 10th.
There's a second issue, what exactly is going on here in the internal Catholic logic? Well, it has to do with one issue of doctrine and also has to do with one issue of demographics. The fact is that in many parts of the world, there is a shortage of priests. And that means that there is the call for the church to allow women to serve in an ever expanding array of offices and roles. There's also, especially in the West, the social pressure, the pressure from feminism and from ideas of modern, egalitarianisms suggesting that it is merely prejudice that would limit any role to men and not make that role equally open to women or to boys, but not to girls.
Behind this also, is was the Roman Catholic understanding of the priesthood, and the Protestant world has nothing like that Roman Catholic notion of the priesthood. The priesthood is aptly named in the Roman Catholic church because there is the affirmation that the priest stands as a priest between sinful and redeemed humanity on the one hand and God on the other. The priest is understood by the sacrament of orders to have the power, for example, to give absolution from sins.
Most importantly, the priest is qualified and assigned to the task of presiding at the mass. And remember, the mass is very different than an evangelical context of worship, but now you have the fact that in much of the world, there simply aren't enough men. There's a shortage of men to be priest and diaconal minister serving alongside the priests. And then you have the ideological pressure coming from so many who are pushing an egalitarian agenda, Which is largely instigated by feminism.
But it's also interesting that one of the Pope's predecessors, Pope John Paul II, stated that, "It is the enduring and unchangeable doctrine of the Roman Catholic church that the priesthood is limited to men." Now, will that stand? Time will tell, but it is really interesting that Pope Francis has mentioned that unchanging principles articulated by John Paul II. And the Vatican was at pains even on January the 11th to say, "This does not mean that women may serve as priests." But that then takes us to something we can all understand, because as you look at the mainstream media coverage, the headline in the New York Times, "Pope lets Women Officially Conduct Some Mass Roles. Rule change Prohibits Rise to Deacon or Priest."
You have the LA Times, here's an editorial comment. "The pope's latest decree is a victory for Catholic women." You have other kinds of headlines that come along. But what we learned by looking at them as this, there is enormous cultural pressure for the Roman Catholic church to go all the way towards the ordination of women as priests. And those who are working from an egalitarian or ideologically feminist frame of reference, they're never going to be satisfied with women merely reading this text of scripture and serving alongside priests at the altar. The next step, by the way, would be women serving as diaconal ministers. That would be a step towards women serving in the priesthood.
Well, here's the lesson for conservative evangelical Christians. The world that is demanding that we get with the times on this issue and abandon biblical complementarianism. That is a world that will never be satisfied with anything short of total victory. The editorial in the LA Times is basically says, "Look, we know this doesn't go far enough, but this is the necessary step in order to get where we want to go." You have organized groups of Catholic women on the left saying the very same thing and there's one other issue. And this is something that evangelicals should think about very clearly.
As I started out by saying, we do not hold to the same understanding of the development of doctrine as Roman Catholicism. But if you do hold to the Roman Catholic notion, then you can understand why political pressure would become extremely powerful to go ahead and develop that doctrine so that it aligns more closely with modern secular values. We'll watch the Roman Catholic church to see if that happens. But it is not safe for evangelical Christians to sit back and say, "Look, we don't have that model of the development of doctrine. We don't have a magisterium. We don't have a papacy. So we don't have to worry about this."
No, very much to the contrary, that kind of cultural pressure can be even more effective against evangelicals because we do not have some of the instincts to defend against those powers and ideologies that you see elsewhere. To state the matter bluntly, there are many who would consider themselves evangelical who would actually make similar demands for an egalitarian understanding of gender rather than to obey the very clear teachings of scripture. The difference between the two lines of argument must come down to this. The Roman Catholic church does claim a scriptural authority, but it's ultimate doctrinal authority is the church's magisterium.
The magisterium with the papacy, that it says bears the responsibility for the stewardship of doctrine and the trajectory of doctrinal development. But we as evangelicals have to remind ourselves that we are bound by the Word of God, and where the Word of God clearly speaks, we cannot claim any right of doctrinal development beyond Scripture. We are bound to the scripture and that means that the clear teachings of scripture, and that's what we define as coming under the understanding of complementarianism. That is different roles for men and women in the home and in the church, biblically defined.
We have nowhere to go. We don't believe there is any power of doctrinal development. We are bound to scripture and there's nowhere for us to go. And if we understand what's at stake, of course, there's nowhere else we would want to go.
What Is a Spiritual Director and What Kind of Spiritual Direction Do They Give? A Hybrid Approach Tailor-Made for a Postmodern Age
But next, we're going to turn to a context in which there is no doctrine, no meaningful doctrine whatsoever. We're living in a postmodern world in which a vacuous, sentimentality and spirituality is the replacement for the void left by the absence of biblical Christianity in the hearts of many people and at the heart of our culture. Andrea Cooper also writing for the New York Times, tells us about increasing demand for spiritual directors. The headline in the story, "Using a Spiritual Director to Help Guide Your Way."
Cooper writes, "Last spring, after a divorce, Qadeera Ingram needed someone to talk to. Specifically, she wanted to be able to speak about spirituality and the bigger picture of her life. Though Ms. Ingram, a 33-year-old government contractor in Goose Creek, S.C., is Christian, she isn’t a member of a church. So she hired Susan Pannier-Cass, a spiritual director and ordained minister, to talk about what she was experiencing, including raising her 6-year-old son in a pandemic at a time of widespread unrest."
The story continues: "In some of the virtual sessions, Ms. Ingram talked about her dreams, and Ms. Pannier-Cass would help her analyze them. In others, Ms. Ingram discussed elements of the natural world, how they made her feel closer to God. Ms. Pannier-Cass would encourage her 'to go outside more and take my shoes off,' Ms. Ingram said, 'put my feet on the ground, just to reconnect with my center and what brings me peace.'" Now, this article says that the woman at the heart of this story identifies as Christian, but there's no particular Christianity here. There's no doctrine whatsoever.
The spiritual director in this sense is serving something of a priestly role, but there's no truth claim. There's no doctrine. It's just a basic new age model of connecting with nature and trying to find some kind of meaning in the world, partly through dreams. We are then told by Andrea Cooper, "Spiritual companions also known as spiritual directors are guides, whose purpose is to listen deeply to clients and help them explore their spirituality, usually in a non-denominational capacity." That's another way of saying, religious without being at all specific. No doctrine here, no true claims. Don't worry about that.
To make the point later in the article we read, "'Spiritual but not religious' is how 27% of Americans define themselves, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2017. But one-quarter of American adults in an April survey from Pew reported that their religious faith has increased because of the pandemic." She goes on to say, and this is very telling, "For some seeking spiritual connection, this results in a hybrid approach." Hybrid means syncretism, and syncretism is one of the theological errors we need to watch very carefully. We need to watch for it. We need to recognize when it happens.
Syncretism is when we take biblical Christianity and say, "We can mix in a bit of something else, a dash of new age there, a Hindu god or goddess over here, an idea of reincarnation that we think is cool. And of course you could go on and say, I like Christian stained glass. I like a certain kind of music." This kind of hybrid approach is just tailor-made for the modern, more specifically, the postmodern age. To state the matter just as bluntly as possible, whatever a spiritual director is, it's the opposite of the New Testament model of the preacher.
There's nothing here about teaching the Scripture. There's nothing here about teaching doctrine. There's nothing here about truth, other than your truth, your own personal truth that gets back to something else. This kind of spiritual direction, just as we are told in this article is about listening deeply to clients and to help them explore their spirituality. Well, in other words, this all starts with you. Now. We're living in a time, frankly ever since Genesis 3, to some extent, it's been a time when we love to be told it's all about you. You be you, you define your own religion. You just hire your spiritual director, whose purpose is to help you connect you.
One man who spoke of an evangelical background said that his current questions are these, "Where have I been? Where am I at with whatever I've been experiencing? That encourages me," say this individual. "To check in with myself, to maybe name the ways in which I noticing the divine in my everyday life."
Now let me just say as bluntly as I know to say, let me make this as simple and straight forward as I can. I dare you to try to find any verse in Scripture that comes anywhere close to saying that what God wants you to do is to check in with yourself. But if you are going to try to check in with yourself, evidently you can try to check in by paying a spiritual director to help you check in with yourself.
Who Can Give Definitive Answers about Life’s Biggest Questions? The Burgeoning Demand for Online Psychic Services During the Pandemic
But the very same newspaper ran an article just a few days earlier by Flora MacDonald. The headline of this one is, "The Psychics Will See You Now." The subhead, "Demand for their services has illuminated another kind of national health crisis."
Now, wait just a minute. We're in the midst of a pandemic. We have constant attention to a national health crisis, but maybe you didn't know, there's a health crisis that the New York Times thinks needs to be answered by psychics. McDonald writes, "A few weeks before the presidential election, Zula Hamachi, a tarot reader in Los Angeles, chose a card to reflect this state of the nation. It was the one that depicts a tall building struck by lightning with flames bursting from the top and occupants leaping to their deaths."
"The tower, she said, "is the end of a system as we know it, the end of an era as we know it." We're also told that this tarot card reader "has an intimate understanding of the ways the past year upended people's lives and sapped their optimism. She has peered into a huge number of homes during virtual consultations. Her clients tell her they are eating and drinking more, and that they feel desperately lonely. And sometimes they mention even more troubling details." Well, it goes on and on. And trust me, some of these details are indeed troubling.
We're told that there is this huge expanding market in online virtual, often on the Zoom platform, psychic encounters. There are people who are hiring psychics, looking for psychics and the demand for their services is showing us another national health crisis. The article has all kinds of fascinating things. James Alcock, a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada. We're told that he has spent his career looking at belief systems and debunking scientific studies of the paranormal.
He said that he wasn't surprised by the appeal of this new psychic movement. "If you look throughout history, whenever there's been some sort of upheaval or some sort of collective anxiety in society, interest in psychics has shot up." Alcott went on to say, "People experience a lack of control and anxiety. We'd all like the pandemic to end. And without definitive answers from scientists, physicians or elected officials, people are turning to more spurious sources for reassurance."
Now, my interest in that particular statement is the list of those who would give definitive answers to the big questions of life. According to this professor from Toronto, those people who have failed us in giving these definitive answers are scientists, physicians or elected officials. Now here's the point, if you were to look throughout the history of Western civilization, if you were to look at the history, say of Europe and of North America, you were to look through the centuries of that experience and then answer the question, who would society recognize as having the responsibility to give definitive answers to the biggest questions of life?
While I guarantee you that the center of that answer through most of those centuries would be ministers, Christian ministers. Those who have the responsibility of teaching, defending, defining Christian truth. You'll notice they're absolutely missing from the list. They're actually, in this case, missing from the list of those who are missing in action. So missing in this sense that no one seems to feel the need to even document the absence. We're then told, "Online psychic marketplaces have been around for decades, though many of the businesses that host them didn't begin with overt ties to the occult."
Now that's interesting. In other words, they have gotten to overt ties to the occult and this article makes very clear. There are very important ties here to occultic practices and what we're seeing in the absence and decline of orthodox Christianity, the center of our culture, that something else is moving into the center and that something else. And the fact that this is a big story in the New York Times tells you this, something else has to do with psychic interest and even official, and very clearly documented ties to the occult. There's very little embarrassment about that now.
A man identified in the article as Warren Heffelfinger, he's identified as the CEO of one of these firms. He, as the story tells us "sees the trend of consulting psychics as part of a broader secular movement." In recent decades, institutional religion has declined. More than a quarter of adult Americans now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious. And we're told a surprising number of people say they've consulted fortune tellers. One in five Americans, according to one poll that was taken back in 2017.
To the credit of the Times, by the way, it recognizes that some of these people at least may be taking advantage of the vulnerable. One man quoted in the article said of many of these psychics, "These people are dangerous. Anyone can be a psychic, it's expensive, it's the industrialization of clairvoyance." According to the New York Times, these things limits on how much clients can spend, should be mandatory on these sites.
My favorite statement in the article in this regard goes back to Mr. Heffelfinger. He said that safety is a priority, but the Times said, "He declined to say how exactly the site vets it's psychics." He said, "I'd love to share with you," he said. "But maybe if I did the bad guys would figure out how to get on our platform." Well, maybe if you did, you'd have to describe how it is exactly that you determine who is and is not a legitimate psychic.
Another authority quoted in the article simply said, "Psychics are barometers of social anxiety." Well, they are of course. That's a very accurate statement. Psychics are barometers of social anxiety, but the popularity of these psychics, regardless of whether they're online or in person is also a barometer of the spiritual trajectory of the United States as a culture.
Nothing like this can move in until orthodox, biblical Christianity is moved out of the culture center, that tells us a lot.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.