Of Popes in the Belly
I have been reading Barton Stone's writings. This is not my first journey through his writings but I think I have gained more understanding than previously . . . or at least I see things now that I did not before. Stone began publishing his journal, The Christian Messenger, in November of 1826. The very first article, which is untitled, covers the first four pages of the journal . . . it is on barriers to Christian union which Stone relates to personal spiritual growth.
Since this is the first article in Stone's journal it seems that he places some importance on its content. Freedom is essential to both Christian growth and unity. Stone had witnessed first hand the intolerance of those who would cast one out as a heretic for simply studying the Bible and coming to his own conclusion that may differ from one traditionally held. Freedom is a sword that cuts both ways however. If I truly grant it I allow for the possibility one will come away with a different understanding on some things than me. How do we handle this in others and in ourselves? In practice we have a tendency to assume a position of infallibility. Hear Stone:
"We must be fully persuaded, that all uninspired men are fallible, and therefore liable to err . . . Luther, in a coarse manner, said that every man was born with a Pope in his belly. By which I suppose he meant, that every man deemed himself infallible . . . If the present generation remain under the influence of this principle, the consequences must be that the spirit of free inquiry will die -- our liberty lie prostrated at the feet of ecclesiastical demagogues." (Christian Messenger 1 (November 1826), 2)
Do we not suffer from this malady today? Do Christians have a "Pope in the belly?" Why is it that when a brother or sister disagrees with a position we take we assume that they disagree with God . . . when all they disagree with is our interpretation.
I survey the doctrinal war zone of the Churches of Christ. In many ways it looks like the wasteland of
Just as in the religious wars of the Seventeenth Century, rooted in Pope in the Belly malady, so our divisions testify that it is still around. We have nothing to fear from the freedom to think and study and learn . . . and even change our minds. The first step, Stone says, of defeating the Pope in the Belly is being able to see the need to GROW. If I admit that I have not yet arrived . . . there is hope. I admit that I, at times, suffer from this cancerous blight.
Ut omnes unum sint (John 17.21, Vulgate, 'that they may all be one')