18 May 2017

Fatima Veneration as Adiaphora: John Paul II and Evangelicals

John Paul II took up the office of Pope during the waning years of the Cold War. As the Christian Right sought to expand its political and cultural influence they found common cause with the Polish Pope who seemed to stand for conservative cultural values and was an ally in the war against the Soviets and Communism.
In other words, John Paul II was a bridge between the Evangelical and Roman Catholic worlds.

And indeed by the 1990s, while the 'Christian' West was taking victory laps, a new form of ecumenicism led by figures like Charles Colson was on the rise. The definitions and focus of Evangelical Christianity was rapidly shifting away from doctrine to hone in on the culture. In terms of cultural categories, Roman Catholicism was not only an ally but a Christian one. This shift in thinking continues to reverberate through American Evangelicalism.
The myths of the Cold War, already advanced in the 1990s wove a narrative of Western victory based on the efforts, designs and leadership of Margaret Thatcher but primarily Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Oversimplified and misleading the myth-narrative continues to gain traction especially as the years place a greater distance between our own day and the actual events.  
The deep corruption, the sheltering of paedophiles (known to many even then) and the ongoing scandals regarding the Vatican Bank and its host of sordid criminal conspiracies... these things were swept under the rug and obfuscated. These crimes became trivial details in light of the supposedly great victory and moral leadership of the Papacy.
I recall clearly during the 1990s that many Evangelicals, even several Reformed pastors I knew argued that John Paul II was very likely a Christian. I was appalled.
What I remember is what this Roman Catholic author wishes to recall... and in his case celebrate. I remember a Mariolater, a corrupt prelate and a lot of mythology.
An interesting man to be sure but Biblically speaking there's no reason to assume he's in heaven. If one wishes to revisit John Paul II at this point it's probably more profitable to turn to Roman Catholic authors and essayists than the numerous Evangelical hagiographers who praise him as a fellow believer who battled the Communists even while ignoring what his supposed Christianity was really all about. I don't expect much from Roman Catholic authors but I am both frustrated and a bit angered by the various Evangelical paeans to his memory.
He denied the authority of Scripture and the basics of the Gospel. His system is based on centuries of man-made tradition and rests on a narrative of lies.
And this is just for starters. Apparently we are to ignore the fact that he was a blaspheming antichrist who dared proclaim himself God's regent, the very voice of God on Earth.
During the Reformation, things adiaphora were the things 'indifferent' the points of doctrine and worship that the Scripture did not formally command but did not necessarily forbid. It became a subject of debate. Take vestments for example. Lutherans and Anglicans insisted these were adiaphora. The Reformed rejected classifying vestments as adiaphora and instead classified them as forbidden innovations without New Testament warrant.
Appealing to the Old Testament in order to vindicate their use was Judaizing. Absent a Levitical priesthood the Roman, Anglican or Lutheran variety of vestments were man-made contrivances, not made by following Scriptural commands but were (and are) innovations that while perhaps 'inspired' by Old Testament vestments cannot claim to be established by any kind of Divine decree.
The Reformed (who today have largely abandoned this teaching) had a much more narrow view of what was adiaphora. Largely it was limited to questions such as the time of meeting, the arrangement of the meeting room, the actual order of worship etc...
This issue is worth revisiting. Modern Evangelicals are so confused when it comes to doctrine and worship that they are quickly embracing a host of Roman Catholic practices, viewing them as adiaphora even though you'll rarely hear the term. Gone is any notion of Scriptural sufficiency and authority when it comes to delineating Christian doctrine and practice. Saint worship, rosaries and the Mass are quickly becoming things indifferent. You say po-tay-toe and I say po-tah-toe.
If John Paul II was a Christian then indeed Mary/Lady of Fatima worship, even under the Catholic deception of hyper-dulia (their manufactured and fraudulent concept to escape charges of Mariolatry) has become adiaphora, something indifferent that doesn't affect the gospel. As Evangelicals quickly embrace every Roman Catholic fad transformed into consumerist guise, how long before they start lighting candles to saints?
John Paul II is a man of history. He played a part. He was certainly an interesting and complicated person... but a Christian hero to be celebrated? I think not.


  1. What are you thoughts on Revelation as a source of liturgical metaphors and form for worship? The visions depend on Jewish symbols, which, if one believes, are not empty, or temporally limited, but depend upon heavenly forms.

    My own sympathies are closer to this argument, though I always value your ideas and thinking. And as an update, while I appreciate much in Byzantine theology, I am not, and probably never, going to cross the Bosporus.

  2. I think it would be Judaizing and I don't think you could do it a la carte. So unless you can figure out how to incorporate thrones etc... I'm not sure how one would even do it.

    Not following the Bible Answer Man?

    I will say this. If I didn't hold to my extreme position, the alternative would be the Judaized Revelation example. And when surveying the scene, the East definitely comes closest to fulfilling that vision. I will give them that.

    1. Ha, ok, I was hoping for at least something more, at least why the heavenly forms, revealed in a New Testament book to an Apostle, count as Judaized. But alright.

      Byzantine theology has preserved, in its ancient tomes, Maximus who is someone who grasps Christology past many problems Augustine introduced. He is mostly forgotten in the West. He is what makes Byzantium sparkle, even though, perhaps fittingly, if not ironically, he perished at the hands of patriarch, pope, and emperor.

      And I didn't not much about the Bible Answer Man before, but in the wake of his conversion, it turns out he is pretty fraudulent. But like many denominations, when the clergy found out a multi-million dollar parishioner might join, they rolled out the carpet, even if he doesn't know a thing about theology beyond talking-points and witty retorts.

      I sense some cut to your words, were you worried about me? :)


  3. Hey Proto,
    Would you recommend reading "The Pligrim Church" by E.H. Broadbent? Have you hear of, or read, this book? Not sure how else to contact you so I figured I'd just ask here.

  4. I have to give Broadbent's work something of a mixed review. On the one hand it's a great book with a very exciting and satisfying narrative. On the other hand he undermines his credibility with a significant number of errors and omissions. He gets some things just plain wrong and at times I was rather surprised but what he left out.

    He's theologically baptistic and that preference shines through, though he's honest about the fact that many of the groups he cites did not hold to that theology. This is significantly better than some of the Baptist apologists, like the Landmark group which manipulates history to give it a Baptistic read.

    Broadbent's greatest strength is his post-Reformational history, the chapters where he covers the Haldane's and the various 19th century Restorationist groups. He gives special attention to the Plymouth Brethren... his own group and the group that provides the lens by which he reads history. Interestingly as an advocate of the Open Brethren he takes the baptistic theological position and yet fully aware of the Exclusive Brethren's retention of paedobaptism (infant baptism) he seems to be somewhat tolerant of the position.

    I enjoyed the work and appreciated the fact that it's accessible to people that aren't Church History buffs. But it's not without some significant faults.

    You can always contact me at protoprotestant@gmail.com. I will try to get back to you. I'm way behind on emails. 2017 has been rough as far as time. I hope that within the next few weeks things will get a lot better. I'll be making less money but I'll have more time for the things that are important.

  5. It's been on the back-burner for some time but God willing I hope to publish a series on Church History sometime later this year. I just haven't had the time to put it together and flesh out the notes. In that piece I hope to discuss some of the resources available for those interested in an alternative reading of Church History.

    Time is my great enemy. I have to scrape together enough to pay the bills and sometimes I get trapped into jobs that end up being very time consuming. I've been stuck on a job since the beginning of the year. It's almost done and at that point my 'free' time will open up quite a bit. I am determined to avoid such all-consuming jobs in the future. The long-term steady work is nice but it's way too absorbing, stressful etc... I end up thinking about my work in my free time, in my sleep etc... I hate that. Simple is better even if it means less money.