Yesterday, I argued that humble popes don’t exist. They’re mythical because it’s categorically impossible to receive the unbiblical role of supreme pontiff, make people kiss your hand and call you “holy father,” and then be able to travel under the descriptor “humble.” The papacy is an act of self-excommunication from the Church, albeit with no small amount of flair. And therein lay the rub and temptation for many Christians.
I heartily agree with Clint’s previous post, and am not suggesting you begin a conversation with Joe Catholics with the foregoing. Yet, I believe it’s pastorally important to remind Christians that the Pope has no clothes. As Rome’s pomp and circumstance gets paraded on CNN, Christians too often begin to view their own churches and traditions with more of a jaundiced eye. In an age of plastic, self-designed spirituality, who can deny the appeal of firm traditions made of stone and mortar? And the traditions of Roman Catholicism would indeed hold beauty, if they weren’t false.
The Ruinous Appeal of Roman Catholicism
It would to human view be a blessed thing to have a succession of apostles, i.e., of holy men, infallible in their judgments, to settle all points of doctrine, to remove all doubts, to solve all questions of conscience, and to rule with undeviating righteousness over the whole Church.
And when to this is added, on the assumed primacy of Peter, and of his successor, the Bishop of Rome, as the representative of Christ, we have the beau ideal of a theocracy for the Church and ultimately for the world.
But in proportion as this theory is good if true, it is destructive if false. If the prelates are not apostles, have not their gifts, their infallibility or authority, then for sinful, erring, wicked men to claim their prerogatives is ruinous. To be under the guidance of a good angel is a blessing; but to be under the guidance of Satan, in the guise of an angel of light, is destructive (Princeton Sermons, pp. 51-52).
It would be foolish to deny the manifest beauty of Rome’s clout and tradition, especially when compared to our own. Most of our congregations inhabit buildings with far less swank than St. Peter’s, they’re led by pastors who have a whole lot less geopolitical and even ecclesiastical clout, and, as if that weren’t enough, our pastors likely have hat collections quite inferior to those of the Roman Curia.
So, should Christians feel inferior or be drawn by Rome’s external “beauties”? No, because we’re apart of the Church… while the Pope and his consistent adherents, sadly, are not. Roman Catholicism is, in fact, an “-ism,” not a “Church.” And so Roman Catholicism systematically cuts people off from our Lord Jesus, His Gospel, the hope of salvation in Him, and therefore, from the Church itself.
The papacy represents a destructive ruin that certainly deserves our pity and prayers, but not our admiration. This is what the Protestant Reformation was all about.
Reminding Ourselves of the Reformation
It seems apparent that we still need to reiterate this point. According to a recent CT article, Pope Francis Excites (Most) Evangelical Leaders. Since the Pope misrepresents the evangel, the gospel, I fail to grasp how he could ever excite evangelicals. In the article, Leith Anderson suggests “Pope Francis can bring us back to the biblical and Christian care for the poor and vulnerable.” And Russell Moore hopes that Francis “spurs evangelicals like me to remember our mandate to love the least of these.”
Now, for the record, I am very sympathetic to Christians lovingly serving the poor in Christ. Before I entered the pastorate, I used to help churches do just that for a Christian relief organization. But my sympathies on that issue only heighten my concern about this evangelical “excitement.” If Roman Catholicism gets the Gospel wrong and is destructively “under the guidance of Satan, in the guise of an angel of light” why would we ever want it inflicted upon “the poor and vulnerable”? And since the pope’s very position contradicts biblical Christianity, how could we ever look to him to bring us back to anything “biblical and Christian”?
I do agree with one of Anderson’s statements, that “there are millions of people who don’t grasp the differences between Protestants and Catholics,” and that is exactly why I’m concerned to publicly teach that that the pope is (probably) the anti-Christ, Roman Catholicism is a ruin… but the Gospel of the Bible remains rich in hope.
Rejoicing in Our High Priest
Francis entered an office this week that has existed for centuries and is laden with ancient tradition – all the smells, bells, striking hats, and foreboding buildings that you could ever ask for in a religion. But dear Christian brethren, we are missing nothing. These are not the artifacts of a great unifying tradition. They are extravagant superstitions and evidences of schism, which exceed God’s Word (1 Cor 4:6) and tear apart the truth of Christ and His true Church. The succession of yet another pope is another chapter in Rome’s sad folly of nullifying the Gospel with silly hats and empty titles.
Wonderfully, the office of Priest over God’s House is not an open position, it’s been filled once for all! We have a merciful and faithful high priest (Heb 2:17). One who has passed through the heavens, bringing us to the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:15-16). One without a successor, without beginning or end (Heb 7:3) and who
holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:24-25)
We have a tradition that’s even older than Roman Catholicism, the priesthood of Jesus Christ, our great and eternal High Priest. We do not need a Pope to lead us back to anything, for we are not helped by impressive leaders who boast in outward things (2 Cor 5:12). Nor should we be excited about man-made precepts like “do not handle,” “do not taste,” and “do not touch” – all of which merely appear wise, but are actually self-made religion without value in stopping sin (Col 2:20-23).
Christians, we have a Priest and what we need (and need our leaders to be excited about) is to believe His Gospel and to meet as local congregations to hear that Gospel preached, sung, and shown in the ordinances, on the basis of Scripture. And we need to encourage others, especially Roman Catholics, not to neglect this great salvation (Heb 2:3).
If you have these beautiful necessities, be grateful, exceedingly grateful. You’re a member of the Church.