Warren’s comments are a sterling reminder of the importance of knowing our church history. Yes, Christians of all the major traditions receive the biblical and catholic truths of the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Christ. Yes, confessional Protestants are committed to the protection of unborn humans and the affirmation of a creational order for sex and marriage—is Pope Francis committed to the latter?—but we share these commitments with Mormons, Jews, and even some atheists. Obviously, these concerns, as important as they are, are hardly a basis for making the sorts of sweeping generalizations that Warren expressed in the interview.
It is also true that we understand those biblical, catholic truths and their implications rather differently than Rome does, a fact that Warren ignores. No one who knows what Rome teaches accuses her of confessing that Mary has been deified. Roman dogma is offensive enough without embellishment. Rome confesses that Mary is mediatrix, an adjutrix (helper). The very notion that anyone other than Jesus hears our prayers and intercedes for us is nothing less than blasphemy against the Son of God, about whom Scripture says, “For there is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Tim 2:5). There are no other mediators. Just Jesus. Hebrews 9:15 says, “Therefore he is the Mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 9:15). He is “the Mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb 12:24). Nowhere does Holy Scripture teach, imply, or even vaguely suggest that the blessed virgin Mary was ever to be a mediatrix. It is blasphemy against Christ to suggest that she is because it clearly implies that Jesus’ work and person are insufficient. They are not. They could not be.
We heartily confess, with Chalcedon (451) that Mary was the God bearer (θεοτόκος) but Jesus is God. He was in the beginning with God and is God (John 1:1). Mary is not. The earliest Fathers knew nothing about Mary as mediatrix. The notion that Mary was anything more than God bearer was hotly controverted in the medieval church. The magisterial, confessional Protestants, rejected the sectarian doctrine of Mary as mediatrix. That’s not a small thing. We also reject the sectarian dogma that other deceased Christians hear prayers or intercede for us on the same grounds. There is no other name given under heaven (Acts 4:12). None. Rev. Warren, says, “”When you understand what they mean by what they’re saying, there’s a whole lot more commonality.” That’s simply and categorically false. Read the teaching of the Roman catechism and the other magisterial documents. I have. It’s quite clear and it’s not at all clear that Warren has or that he has understood what Rome teaches.
He says, “Now there’s still real differences, no doubt about that. But the most important thing is if you love Jesus, we’re on the same team.” Again, the question has never been “who loves Jesus.” This was one of the red herrings of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement. Indeed, there are real differences:
- Does God accept us because of what Christ did for us (pro nobis) or on be basis of what God the Spirit is doing in us with which we are freely cooperating?
- Do we stand before God partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought, condign (complete) merit and our (covenantal) congruent merit or on the basis of Jesus’ condign merit imputed to us?
- Is grace a medicinal substance with which we are infused by the sacraments and with which we cooperate unto final acceptance with God or is it God’s unconditional favor toward sinners earned for them by Christ’s condign merit?
- Is faith a Spirit-wrought virtue formed by medicinal grace and acts of charity done by our free will or God’s free, Spirit-wrought gift and the sole instrument through which we rest in and receive Christ and his finished work for us?
- Is Scripture one of two sources of authority and ultimately subordinate to the Roman church or the sole, authoritative, Spirit-inspired rule for faith and life imposed on the church by God through the prophets and apostles?
So, yes, there are real areas of disagreement. Confessional Protestants understand these to be fundamental to the Christian faith, so basic that we charged the Roman communion of departing from the catholic faith and of becoming a sect.
Warren’s comments illustrate the importance of having a robust doctrine of creation and providence. Absent those, Warren’s only recourse is to minimize the theological and ecclesiastical differences between Protestants and Rome. He knows of no other way to make common social, cultural cause with them. Here is where distinguishing between spheres or recognizing God’s twofold kingdom in the world helps us to recognize what is, in God’s general providence, common (not neutral) to believers and unbelievers or common to citizens in the common cultural or civil sphere and what is not. Confessional Reformed Christians need not cash in the Reformation in order to make common social, cultural, or civil cause with those with whom we have deep theological and ecclesiastical disagreements.
Second, they illustrate why it is so important for all Christians to have a basic knowledge of church history. Were Warren better educated in church history, were he to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other more recent declarations, in light of the history of the church he would know how idiosyncratic, how novel, and utterly Tridentine Rome really is. The truth for all those who are tempted to swim the Tiber (covert to Rome) is that there is no “Rome Sweet Home.” There are as many “Romes” as there are converts. The ex-evangelical converts have their version of Rome. The liberals have their version of Rome. It’s a Babylon of competing visions only apparently unified. All one need to do is read Darryl Hart’s running commentary on contemporary Romanism to know how deeply divided Romanists really are. To paraphrase Obi Wan, Rome is not the church you’re looking for. The second-century Apostolic Fathers would be horrified by Rome as would most of the church through the 13th century. When the Protestants rejected Romanist innovations they were not rejecting the ancient Christian faith, they were seeking to recover it.