So, I started a post yesterday, but my four month old decided he needed my attention before I could finish it, and since it is impossible to work with a baby screaming in the background *1* I dutifully stepped away from my computer and held a fussy Oliver for a couple of hours. Then it was time to go to church, and on my way my thoughts for this weeks posts were hijacked by more pressing news.
It seemed that in the two hours that I’d been away from my computer, a little puff of white smoke had billowed from the Vatican, and a new cardinal had been given the world’s funniest hat. I actually heard this news from the DJ on the local pop station I’d tuned in to, *2* who announced the news by asking, “So the new pope isn’t a fan of gay marriage….what’d you all expect?” *3* I was pretty surprised, given that they’d only been deliberating for what, a day or two? It seemed like a pretty big decision, but I imagine they wanted to get it done before Easter, so it really isn’t all that surprising.
Here in America, protestants don’t really pay all that much attention to what goes on in the Catholic church. We can do that because 1. We’re Americans, and we’ve been able to live for a long time with the attitude that if it happens someplace that isn’t here, it isn’t important and 2. save for a few big cities, Catholics have largely been America’s red-headed step children when it comes to religion. However, I would contend that what goes on in the Catholic church does matter to American protestants, in a number of significant ways.
I’ve elected to highlight my points “list” style, because I love, more than anything, a good list.
1. There are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics world wide. That is a lot of people, by any estimation. I will readily concede that many, many, many of those who say they are Catholic are non-practicing, non-believing Catholics, but they’re still, at least nominally, tied to the Catholic church, and subsequently to its leader. Even if only 10% of those who say they’re Catholic actually are, that is still a huge number and deserves our attention and prayer.
2. Despite holding a number of doctrines that do more to lead people away from Christ rather than to Him, there are still, within the walls of the RCC, genuine believers in Christ, those who look to Him and trust in Him alone for salvation. That means that they’re our brothers and our sisters in the faith, and so we ought to be concerned with the person who is leading these people in their faith. *4*
3. Rome is not Vegas, in that what happens in the RCC does not stay in the RCC. *5* The sex abuse scandals that have surfaced in the RCC over the last 20 years haven’t left the protestant churches smelling like roses. The sins of those priests sullied all those men who minister in the name of Christ, be they pious priests or protestant ministers who’ve never even considered inappropriate behavior with a minor. It can only be in America, where we are so fiercely individualistic, that we can possibly think that what happens in one church won’t affect the reputation of another. Pope Benedict was a huge boon for the RCC, because he did a great deal to clean up the corruption that had been allowed to fester under his predecessor, and in doing so, he restored at least some of the respect *6* of those who minister in Christ’s name.
4. In America, this connection of reputations between Catholics and protestants may only be a loose one, but in much of the world, and in France in particular, Christianity = Catholicism. That means for us, as we minister in France, what people think of the Catholic Church will directly impact what they think of us, for better or for worse. We’d like to go to France without having the deck unnecessarily stacked against us from the get go.
5. Reputations aside, we should pray for Pope Francis because we want the Catholic Church to not actually hurt people. Even if what the priests did in no way affected my name, what they did was wrong, completely wrong, and needed/ still needs to be cleaned up. And back to the idea of reputation, ultimately, my reputation isn’t worth much, nor is that of any minister, so much as the name of Christ is at stake, and we should be desperately concerned with maintaining His.
6. Conservative Evangelicals and the RCC share significant and currently irreconcilable differences over a variety of different doctrines, and until Rome budges, this will continue to be the case. But, there are a number of social issues, important social issues, to which these two groups stand eye to eye on, and to which Evangelicals would find themselves much worse off for if the RCC changed it’s position. Issues such as abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage, women’s ordination, end of life issues, and a whole host of other topics are all issues on which conservative Catholics and protestants can and should agree. We Evangelicals shouldn’t kid ourselves, were the Catholics to change their position on any of these topics, the dam would explode, and not in our favor. They are our allies, I honestly believe that the Catholic church is the only reason conservative protestants are able to freely worship in this country, *7* and so once again, we need to be in prayer for the leader of the Catholic Church, that he will continue to stand against the tide that would so readily drag him under.
7. There are many more reasons why we ought to be in prayer for this new pope, but I think I’ve hit the major ones, at least for now. I will end with this thought. After he announced his resignation, I read that before he became Pope, Benedict advocated for the RCC to embrace Luther’s catechism as its rule of faith. This was shot down by the other cardinals, because of its position on justification by faith alone. But, can you imagine what would happen if they did this? Benedict may not have gotten his way, but he was later elected pope. My point is this: it isn’t too great a thing to hope that the RCC recognizes the errors of Trent, repents, and comes back to a better understanding of salvation by faith and grace alone. That could happen, and what an amazing day it would be if it did! Can you imagine the allies we’d have in France? In Spain? In Latin America? It may seem unimaginable, but even at the risk of ending on a cheesy note, don’t we believe in a God who can do the unimaginable? We do, and so we pray, for revival, even in the Roman Catholic Church.
*1* And I do mean screaming.
*2* Yes, I’ve taken to listening to pop music these last few weeks, mostly because they’re running a pledge drive on NPR, and no one is more sanctimonious than NPR when they need money.
*3* He went on to make some sort of joke about a prancing pope, which wasn’t really all that funny, but was pretty insightful from someone who had just announced a way to win tickets to the upcoming Britney concert.
*4* I would hate to be accused of downplaying the serious problems protestants have had with the RCC for the last 500+ years. I am in no danger of returning to Rome any time soon. The reformers held that justification by faith alone was the essence of the gospel, and until Rome renounces the decision it made at Trent, we are right to remain removed from it. However, I would maintain that at the very heart of Christianity is the Triune God and the two natures of Christ, and on these the RCC does still maintain its orthodoxy.
*5* Sorry for all the abbriviations. I know that my wife hates them, and I’m not a huge fan myself, but also don’t want to type Roman Catholic Church over and over again this afternoon.
*6* That last sentence may be a little ambigious, so let me clarify. I’m not saying that as a minister of the gospel, people should respect me, or at least that’s not what I’m after. Rather, I’m saying that it’s good to not be immediately associated with pedophilia, simply because of my occupation.
*7* If you’re inclined to disagree with me, or would like me to clarify my rational for this statement, find me on Facebook, I’d be happy to explain.