Giving Old Meaning to Celebrity Pastor

Can you imagine the mayor of Grand Rapids taking a delegation of city officials to Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, the home of the OPC’s headquarters, to solicit last year’s moderator of General Assembly to attend this year’s assembly in Grand Rapids? I can’t. You can’t. No one can. The reason is that a moderator of an OPC General Assembly is not someone who is going to generate tourism dollars for local business. At best, last year’s moderator will show up (if not a commissioner) and plunk down maybe $1,400 in expenses between room, meals, parking, airport taxes, and miscellaneous items.

The reason for this thought experiment is the news that Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, received a bit of a cold shoulder from Pope Francis earlier this week. For a cash-strapped city, it is not enough to be hosting a world conference on families thanks to the Archbishop of Philadelphia’s responsibility. The conference scheduled for next should draw hundreds of thousands to the city. But Nutter wanted to persuade the pope to attend. Since Nutter is not a Roman Catholic (to my knowledge) and since Philadelphia’s origins are Quaker, the only logical explanation for Nutter’s arm-twisting is commercial. With the presence of the pope, maybe those flocking to Philadelphia will double?

Such attention to the papacy, however, has its downside:

The truth is that the more the world flatters the Catholic Church by fixating on the papacy—and the more the internal Catholic conversation is monopolized by speculation about the intentions of one man—the less likely it is that the church will succeed in moving beyond the confusions and conflicts that have preoccupied it since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The church desperately needs to reclaim its cultural and spiritual equilibrium; it must find a density and richness of worship and mission and a renewed public presence, which far transcend mere loyalty to the pope. Lacking such equilibrium and self-possession, the church cannot find its true voice. But to find this voice, Catholics will have to turn not to Rome but toward one another, which is where both the problems and the solutions lie.

The fixation on the papacy trivializes the faith of Catholics, the vast majority of whom throughout history have had little knowledge of, and no contact with, any pope. Traditionally, the papacy was the court of last resort in adjudicating disagreements among the faithful. But in the last century or so it has increasingly become the avenue of first resort, determined to meddle in every theological or ecclesiological dispute. If American nuns are flirting with novel styles of ministry, the Vatican intercedes. If translations of liturgical texts incorporate a bit of inclusive language, Rome takes out its red pencil. This meddling Vatican infantilizes the church’s bishops, who seem to change their tune (as well as their dress) in response to every new papal fashion. Bishops in turn demand deference from the clergy and laity. The consequences have been all too clear: As in any heavily top-down organization, local initiatives fail to gain a foothold, or fizzle out for lack of dynamic leadership, and apathy prevails in the pews. Institutional gridlock and paralysis have become the norm. Seminaries are empty, and clerical talent is thin on the ground.

At the same time, the advantage of the papacy is the one that goes with monarchy more generally. Imagine Mayor Nutter having to fly around to all of the largest dioceses in N. America, Africa, and Europe, to persuade archbishops to attend the conference and to pay for some of their parishioners to visit Philadelphia. It would break the Mayor’s travel budget. So with one person in power comes efficiency and decisiveness (no consensus-building among committee members).

And for that reason, Roman Catholicism will have trouble ever finding the road to the spirituality of the church even when the pope’s real power is merely spiritual.

21 thoughts on “Giving Old Meaning to Celebrity Pastor

  1. Going great already, with my morning coffee.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Rev. Landis is a golfer. He even blogs. Jeff Landis dot org. Take that Bergoglio (emoticon).

    Happy Friday to all.


  2. But it seems Stellman still thinks he can be a 2Ker and Roman Catholic at the same time. Not just him, but the entire American Catholic Church who for the most part certainly does not want the Vatican meddling in our politics. Very interesting and self-contradictory.


  3. Bergoglio and Barack, BFFs:

    Francis presented the president with two medallions, including one that symbolized the need for solidarity and peace between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and a copy of his teaching titled “Evangelii Gaudium,” or “The Joy of the Gospel.”

    Mr. Obama told the pope, “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”

    I suggest the US Constitution instead.


  4. So here is a weird thought…. I am preaching through I Corinthians now, and right in the middle of the section about not boasting in men (I Cor 3). It seems to me that the Great Awakening was a retreat back towards Rome in terms of losing a focus on Soli Deo Gloria. Just go to Newburyport, MA to see the shrine to Whitefield (and the account of how his bones were stolen by some Englishmen to bring him “home”).

    So, insofar as any New Calvinism celebrates celebrity culture (e.g. Driscoll “I am the brand”), they retreat back towards the saint veneration of the medieval church which the Reformers stood so strongly against with their commitment to plainness in religion and its corollary, SDG. Not that this is unique to New Calvinism; it’s everywhere. Before Whitefield, there was Cotton Mather; and before Driscoll, there was Sproul.

    But at least some seem to have read I Corinthians 1-4, and try to fight against men-boasting and party spirit (I Cor 3:21). Wasn’t there a reason Presbyterian churches were not named St. Paul’s?

    Of course, there is balance; God does give leaders to the church, which are to be honored and obeyed; and we may praise the grace of God we see in others. But it seems to me that parts of the Reformed world have gone positively Corinthian/Romish on this. A proper view of Justification should always lead to no boasting (I Cor 1:31; Romans 3:27). So why hasn’t it?


  5. Chris, I think this is right and for all the talk of soli deo gloria, TGC doesn’t always practice what it preaches. This is by the way a problem that historians face all the time — do we do hagiography or do we do history, warts and all. The problem is that warts and all doesn’t inspire and the saints seem to want inspiration (another sign of the triumph of experimental Calvinism?).


  6. Well, obviously, you do history. And the more warts we see, the greater the mercy and glory of Christ to save and use such messes. How about we get inspired by the Gospel itself?

    I had Marsden for a semester or two (name drop! bing!), and he taught me a thing or two about that approach to history; to do my best to take off my party glasses. Monday night, I am supposed to do a hagiography on William Carey for a local missions course. But the more I read, the more I wonder if he had any business being in ministry at all. I guess I am not supposed to think that, since results is what matters. And he did basically get Matthew 28 correct.

    Anyway, judge nothing before its time (I Cor 4:5). All our conclusions are only tentative until that Day. I think we will all be surprised about what burns up and what lasts to reward.


  7. I say leave them alone.

    The religionists. The semi-Pelagians (Catholics are semi-Pelagians to their core – in spite of their protests).

    “The harvest is great … .”

    Let them play church all they want to. A little arguing is fine. But after a while we ought get the message. “The clay is baked.”


  8. Why doesn’t Nutter work other angles, e.g. indulgences? See if the Phila. Abp. can work a few back angles with Francis. Get a deal. It’s been done before.

    “Vatican City, Jul 9, 2013 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will grant a plenary indulgence – a remission of all temporal punishment due to sin – to World Youth Day Catholic participants, the Vatican announced July 9.”

    Throw one out, be contrite, attend a Mass in the Phila. area and offer some Purgo-reductions. For those who can’t travel, jazz it up with some twitter or FB action.


  9. Steve,

    “Catholics are semi-Pelagians to their core – in spite of their protests”

    What is your definition of semi-Pelagianism? Is it the historical one?


  10. Cletus,

    What is your definition of semi-Pelagianism? Is it the historical one?

    This is an interesting question. I’m trying to figure out when the term was first used. What seems clear enough is that nobody at the Council of Orange called what they were condemning “semi-Pelagianism”. One source said the Reformed were the first to use it in reference to any non-monergistic system. Another says RC opponents of Molinism first used it to condemn Molinism because they thought those views were too close to Pelagius. I’d be interested to know for sure. Maybe neither is correct.

    What’s clear is that broadly speaking, the Reformed generally use it to refer to any non-monergistic system. Though Steve is not Reformed, I imagine that is how he’s using it, or at least to use it for any system that makes justification dependent on good works.


  11. Cletus van Damme
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    “Catholics are semi-Pelagians to their core – in spite of their protests”

    What is your definition of semi-Pelagianism? Is it the historical one?

    Yah, I’ve seen that charge leveled at Aquinas. If it means the human intellect, although fallen, isn’t completely useless, it’s true that that’s the “Catholic” viewpoint. Just heard this discussed yesterday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show

    where Hillsdale College scholars have been doing a series on Aquinas with Hewitt.

    Unfortunately, the great reactionary Presbyterian Francis Schaeffer got Aquinas all wrong, as do many or most Protestants. But they’re learning. Faced with a culture that demands logic and intellectual rigor, “Saint” Thomas Aquinas is becoming an increasingly valuable resource for Christians regardless of denomination.


  12. Sometimes not even the celebrity helps:

    Those of us who are Catholics have had a rough few years. Well, make that a rough few decades. Horrific abuse scandals. Some weak, sometimes feckless, bishops. Wacky theologians. Boring homilies. Dreadful music. Widespread dissent, often rooted in appalling ignorance. I could go on. We envy our Evangelical friends for the vibrancy of faith in their communities. (Causing our Evangelical friends to wonder whether we’ve been hitting the communion wine too hard.) We envy our friends in the historically black churches for their great preaching and singing. We envy our LDS friends for having strong and inspiring leaders. We envy our Eastern Orthodox friends for having a beautiful liturgy. We envy our Orthodox Jewish friends for understanding the value of tradition, instead of throwing it overboard in pursuit of “relevance.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.