Recently, I’ve seen an overwhelming response to the Roman church’s sex scandals throughout much of the Protestant and even Reformed world to quickly note the sins of Protestant pastors and churches in this area. To some degree, I think it is necessary to note that there is no solution in this life that wholly expunges sin from our midst and we must of course look to the order of our own house. That being said, I respectfully demur from the general framing of these responses. There is not merely a stark choice to be made between claiming infallible perfection or professing equal sin amongst our churches such that there is no moral authority left from which to speak. There is a point where this becomes a denial of the Lord’s sanctifying work amongst His people and a denigration of the bride of Christ.
Historically, Protestants were far more willing to recognize and point out the extreme scandals of Rome because we recognized in these the image of the woman “having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication” (Rev. 17:4). Here we find such institutional coverups as the mind finds hard to fathom, deceit and shameful concealment of evil that reaches throughout every level of the Roman hierarchy to the Man of Sin himself. The man who has broken the recent news regarding the Pope’s knowledge of these things is very literally in hiding due to fear for his life. The scope and depraved nature of these things is hard to grasp at first. Homosexual orgies in Vatican apartments. Detailed documentation of vile crimes against children collecting dust while predators are simply moved about the country. Here is wickedness fitting to “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:5).
As the ungodly hierarchy of Rome combines with her doctrines of devils (e.g., mandated clerical celibacy, unbiblical views of concupiscence, the “sanctity” of the confessional, irrevocable holy orders, etc.) a perfect storm emerges from which arises the wicked fornication that has characterized this mystery of iniquity for centuries. We do a grave disservice to our churches and the world if we fail to make note of this. Certainly let us take heed lest we fall into sin, but let us do so particularly noting that it is as Protestants unwittingly fall into the very doctrines and practices of Antichrist that such wickedness begins to pervade our churches. For example, the fact that married Protestants do sometimes perpetrate abuse does not invalidate the observation that mandatory clerical celibacy is a practice which perpetuates lust while marriage is given by God to restrain such among ministers and ordinary church members alike. Major Protestant sex scandals tend to be marked by significant departures from biblical ecclesiology, doctrine, and practice. The creation of little “popes” amongst churches is a ripe breeding ground for authoritarian misuse of power. The lack of broader accountability and oversight to a plurality of men from diverse settings beyond the local congregation’s leadership is also fraught with danger. While I certainly understand that even the most biblical Presbyterianism cannot prevent the sins of men, I would strongly argue that it significantly protects churches, church members, and the honor of Christ.
Let us be willing, as our Protestant forebears were, to boldly point out the connection between Rome’s doctrine and her practice. Of the true church of Christ, they affirmed that she may be known in part in that “church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin” whereas the false church is rebuked “for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry.” Far from equating the two, the Belgic Confession has affirmed for hundreds of years that “these two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.” While I do recognize that some in professing Protestant circles have indeed declined so as to be no true church at all but rather a synagogue of Satan, I cannot say the same of my own church nor of many other churches of like faith and practice. Let us be wary of sin while still recognizing the distinction between the false and true church. The Westminster Larger Catechism states, “All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.” It is critical that we recognize this in light of the particularly heinous sin of the whore of Babylon so that we may raise up the call to “Come out of her!” (Rev. 18:4), even as we remain on watch for ungodliness within the walls of God’s true Zion.