In the face of continual revelations of sodomy and pedophilia perpetrated by Roman clergy, abuse cover-ups, and the enabling of repeated abuse by the highest levels, how should Lutherans respond, and how should we consider the Roman church?
We should start out by understanding that perverse doctrine leads to perverse lives. Thus, it should be no surprise that the perverse lifestyle of Roman clergy is nothing new, nor should we be surprised that it continues today. The perversion of the Roman church far precedes the time of the Reformation, and it stems from their perverse doctrine.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession talks of the wild living of their lazy priests who could not control their bodies in holiness, the “infamy of their sordid celibacy,” their public disgrace, and unnatural lusts. “Modesty forbids even mentioning most of the things which these people do with the greatest license.” (Ap XXIII.1-2,44).
Leading up to the time of the Reformation, the Roman church was embroiled in evil and wickedness. Popes were often powermongers and whoremongers with mistresses, including married women, and engaged in simony, murder, torture, pedophilia, and other vile, licentious behavior. Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borja, pope 1492-1503) and Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici, pope 1513 – 21) were among the worst.
Why would we expect the Roman church to be any different today? They rejected the return to following God’s Word, for which the Reformation called. Their doctrines haven’t changed. They still forbid the marriage of priests which God tells us curbs sexual immorality (I Cor. 7:2,9). Scripture calls this the teaching of demons (I Tim. 4:1-3). Opposing the natural relations of husband and wife is opposing natural law and cannot but lead to unnatural behavior. Who can say how much the Roman teaching that ordination is a sacrament draws homosexuals into the priesthood, especially when they are groomed into it and provided a network of protection by other perverts and abusers?
The cover-ups and enabling come from Roman doctrine, because the Roman church still sets the authority of the pope and councils above the Word of God and above secular laws. The pope believes he is above all secular and spiritual authority, so if he decides someone should not face civil penalties for their crimes, he covers them up. The Roman church still teaches as doctrine the commandments of men and leaves the commandment of God and holds to the tradition of men (Mark 7:7-8). They most significantly reject the Gospel.
Why would we expect holy lives from those who reject the Gospel? We confess that faith in the Gospel is what produces good works. The Holy Spirit is received through faith (Gal. 3:14), and only through the Holy Spirit is it possible to be renewed and endowed with new affections so as to be able to do good works. “Without the Holy Spirit human powers are full of ungodly affections and are too weak to do good works before God. Besides, they are under the power of the devil, who impels human beings to various sins, ungodly opinions, and manifest crimes.” (AC XX.31-32)
That the Roman church rejects the Gospel is clear from their own confession:
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema. (Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Canon 9)
If anyone says that a man who is justified and however perfect is not bound to observe the commandments of God and the Church, but only to believe, as if the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life without the condition of observing the commandments, let him be anathema. (Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Canon 20. 44)
This is still the current teaching of the Roman church, as they confess in their catechism, “we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 416.2010)
From these quotations, it is clear that the pope and the Roman church reject the foundation of Christian faith, the sola fide of Scripture. In fact, not only do they reject it, but they curse anyone who believes it! They place a yoke on the neck of their followers that neither they nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15:10). They leave the commandments of God and hold to their own rules and regulations like the Pharisees did.
We should not be surprised that perverse doctrine leads to perverse lives. When God’s Word is replaced with the commandments that come from the sinful hearts of men, a sinful life follows.
As despicable as the Roman church was before the Reformation, the primary purpose of the Reformation was to return to God’s Word instead of the errors and heresies which plagued the Roman church. As despicable the Roman church is today, returning to the truth of God’s Word must also be the goal. It is only through the Gospel that lives will be changed. The Gospel is the key. The Gospel alone has the power to save. The Gospel alone turns men from wicked lives to God-pleasing lives.
If you deny that one is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, you are no Christian. These days we seem to be too cowardly to confess this truth, but it was not always so.
Luther wrote of the pope and his propagandists, “They are therefore truly apostles, evangelists, and prophets in the same way that they are churches. In other words, they are the devil’s apostles, evangelists, and prophets. For the true apostles, evangelists, and prophets preach God’s Word and do not preach against God’s Word.” (A Christian Holy People, 35)
Luther’s pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen wrote, “‘God has made this Christ wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and salvation for us’ [I Cor. 1:30]. Whoever does not grant this to us is not a Christian.” (Selected Writings I:178).
Lutheran dogmatician Francis Pieper wrote, “Making the Law and the entire Scripture the object of justifying faith, the Papists, the Arminians with their followers, and the Unitarians no longer teach Christianity, but pagan works-righteousness.” (Christian Dogmatics II.424)
This does not mean that there are no Christians in the Roman church. Whoever clings to Christ by faith alone is a Christian, even within heterodox church bodies. Whoever rejects the Roman teaching of works-righteousness and believes that faith alone is the beginning, middle, and end of righteousness is a Christian. Our fight is not with the members of the Roman church, but against the false teaching there found, and our prayer is that by the grace of God, many would be saved from heresy and false teachers. The only hope for abandoning perverse lives is abandoning perverse doctrine, which comes from the power of the Gospel.
So that God may use us to shine the light of the Gospel to our Roman neighbors, let us Lutherans stand for the truth of the Gospel and understand that perverse doctrines lead to perverse lives. Neither can be tolerated in the Church of God. Let us also understand what the Church of God is. The Church is, properly speaking, the assembly of saints and those who truly believe (AC VIII). As Luther writes, “God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.” (SA IV.III.12.2)