When I woke up this morning I awoke, as so many others did, to the news that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning.
I’m a big theology and church history guy, so I’m devouring every piece of news I can find about this event and can’t wait for conclave to begin.
And I’m not even Roman Catholic.
Which got me to thinking about something.
How many Protestant Christians think the Pope’s sudden resignation even matters? My guess is some, but that many more see the papacy, if not the Roman Catholic Church itself, as rather irrelevant.
Why I do say that? Because I think we as American Protestants have become rather myopic when it comes to the Christian faith. You can see our myopathy in the way we toss around the word “church.”
Many of us use “the church” as an all encompassing term, as if there were one united Christian body overseeing the faithful, deciding policy, and formulating theological positions (something the Roman Catholic church actually does see itself as doing).
While this makes it easier to talk about “the church” and far easier to criticize or trash “the church,” the truth is that when most of us non-Roman Catholic American Christians toss around the term “the church” what we really mean is “the Protestant/Evangelical church” or our particular denomination. Worse yet, the Roman Catholic Church, or the Eastern Orthodox Church for that matter, doesn’t even cross our mind when we Protestants think and talk about “the church,” even though it contains more of the Body of Christ than all other Christian traditions combined.
Why does our use of “the church” matter?
Because if we’re seriously about changing the church for the better, we can’t do that without knowing what we’re actually talking about. The church is infinitely more diverse than we give it credit for. And within that diversity are a whole host of gifts, resources, people, talent, beliefs, hope, goodness, and practices that get tossed aside in our sweeping critiques of “the church” as if all of “the church,” or even most of “the church,” believes, thinks, talks, or acts in the way we are critiquing “the church.”
Sure, there are plenty of problems across the various Christian traditions, including the Roman Catholic Church, but we do a disservice to, if not outright slander, the Body of Christ when we talk about “the church” as if our small corner of it exhausts the Christian experience.
The truth is, the church is far larger than we can imagine and, in many places, greater than we have experienced.
So, as the Roman Catholic church prepares to select a new pope, I hope this moment can be a reminder for all of us non-Catholics that “the church” is a far bigger and infinitely more diverse, and in many places healthier, Body than most of us give it credit for.
As such, it deserves the work it will take to talk about and critique it faithfully if “the church,” rather than “my church,” is something we actually care about.
Grace and peace,