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Yesterday was the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Forty-nine years later, many Protestants (like me) still have no idea what our Catholic friends are talking about when they refer to the changes in Catholicism that occurred because of that council. Fortunately, evangelical theologian Fred Sanders has put together a brief primer (based on a work by Avery Dulles) that explains some of the key issues:

Reformability of the Church. The church is to be understood as the biblical People of God, which, though always sealed by the covenant, is nevertheless sometimes unfaithful. Since the Reformation, the idea of church reform has been understandably suspect to Catholics, but Vatican II harkened back to the earlier tradition of admitting, confessing, and repenting of abuses. The term “sinful church” remains off limits and distasteful, but “church of sinners” is appropriate.

Renewed Attention to the Word of God. After a period of neglect in which the Bible seemed to be a remote source of doctrine, Dei Verbum recovered the primacy of Scripture. The two-source theory was set aside in favor of a view of the teaching office which is “not above the word of God, but serves it, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously, and explaining it faithfully (DV 10).” This constitution also recommended the use of Scripture to all of the faithful, and called for a renewal of scriptural preaching.

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