Tuesday, August 09, 2005
One of the Problems about not having a Pope  

The Washington Post reports on a man who was forced to resign from his position as a library clerk at a Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia because he held a doctrinal position at odds with the college's viewpoint. Jeremy Hunley, as a member of the Church of Christ believes (interestingly enough as the Catholic Church teaches) that baptism is necessary for salvation. The college maintains a doctrinal position that baptism is not necessary for salvation. When the school found that Mr. Hunley was distributing flyers regarding his church which included its position on baptism, school officials asked him to resign or risk being fired.

Of course, this private college is free to determine a statement of faith to which it expects its employee to subscribe. However, the incident points to the problem that faces our Protestant brothers and sisters. Without a Pope, there is no one to decide what is the actual teaching of Christ on a particular issue. The doctrinal issue at hand is not some obscure theological point. The question is a very practical and important one: is baptism necessary for salvation? One obvious reason that this is an important issue is simply the fact that either baptism is or it is not necessary for salvation. There is not much middle ground which would allow for the inclusion of both positions. Consequently, the college should be given credit for recognizing that this is not some minor, inconsequential issue. The Christian organizations, including schools, which simply avoid these types of issues by allowing various viewpoints on such a significant point might simply be delaying the problems that seemingly eventually come when doctrinal points like this one become a point of contention.

That is the problem with these statements of faith which are based on a particular interpretation of Scripture. The lack of the solid authority of the Magisterium means that ultimately these statements of faith are subject to change. I know this first-hand because before I became a Catholic, I attended just such an evangelical, Protestant liberal arts college. Not too long ago, the school had to make a modification to the statement of a faith to which both students and faculty are supposed to adhere. The modification was not even based on theological discussion. In fact, the change was based on the fact that the state legislature of the state in which the school resides had passed a law which had an impact on the school's statement of responsibilities. In order to not open itself up to possible legal problems, the school changed its policy on the use of alcohol and tobacco. Only students would have to agree to not use these substances. Faculty and staff, based on the law, could not be asked to agree to not use these products.

Perhaps today this seems like a minor point. Even from a Catholic perspective this might be considered a change in a discipline which is a far cry from a doctrine. However, when the statement which prevented the use of tobacco and alcohol was originally added, I am sure that there were very strong theological reasons cited for the insertion of these prohibitions in the school's statement of responsibilities. How much more so in the case of Patrick Henry college where the issue is the means of salvation?

Posted by David at 4:00 AM  |  Comments (0)  | Link


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