John Piper is a well known evangelical author. I was a student of his many years ago. He holds a Ph. D from the University of Munich but quit teaching to become a minister. I was briefly on staff as an intern at his church in downtown Minneapolis. I viewed him as a man of integrity. He invited me to Thanksgiving dinner one year when I didn’t have the money to fly home.
I had already been exploring the Catholic Church after taking a course on the Early Church Fathers as a student at an evangelical seminary; but something that happened at Dr. Piper’s church pushed me over the edge. He was preaching on Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 19: “so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”. The people in the pews gasped when he told them that he could not marry people who were divorced with their former spouse still alive; nor could they be voting members of the church.
He proved he was truly a man of integrity. I could never understand why this passage was so consistently ignored in the evangelical church (evangelicals are conditioned not to ask those kind of questions). But then came the following Sunday’s sermon. Apparently his job was in jeopardy when the complaints came pouring in to the deacons (there’s no higher authority for the Baptists then the individual church’s board of deacons). He announced that different opinions can be maintained on the question based on individual personal conscience. An official statement included the following:
“While he [Piper] does not count this view [the indissolubility of marriage] the normative one for the staff, deacons or church, it is the guideline for his own counsel, preaching and performance of weddings. The same freedom of conscience applies to each of the other pastors as well.” (link here)
So if you’re divorced and want to get remarried just go to an associate minister. Piper kept his job by what I view as a colossal cave-in. I converted to the Catholic Church as a result of this. As a born and raised protestant I had a lot of problems with Catholicism but I perceived the Catholic Church as solid as a rock on this clear teaching of Christ and the decision to join the Church was not a difficult one.
My fear is that this current papacy is trying to change that perception. Francis can’t change the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage, but he appears to want to change the Church’s application of that teaching and consequently the perception of its understanding of the doctrine in the eyes of those inside and outside the Church. This was obvious at the synod in October with his not-so-subtle manipulations. He’s done the same with other moral issues.
To a questioning protestant, the only place where decisions on Christian doctrine are not made by a democratic process is the Roman Catholic Church. Steadfastness regarding traditional teaching is what draws people to the Church, especially at a time when protestant churches keep voting themselves into moral/theological oblivion. Why would Francis, Cardinal Kasper, et al., want to change that? What could be their motivation?
I don’t think Francis really cares that much about communion for the divorced and remarried. It’s a convenient platform for his broader plan to change the perception of the Church as the steadfast repository of unchanging truth. I hope I’m proven wrong. I’m sure that there are a lot of protestants today in the position I was thirty years ago; I wonder if they will see the Church as the only alternative and embrace the difficult journey home with joy and thanksgiving as I did.