I have heard much lately of the Pope's opposition to Communism, to liberation theology, to post-modernism, and to the culture of death. He was a commendably one-note champion of the value of human life, leaving no ambiguity to his position, nor that of the religion he represented. Committed Roman Catholics clearly loved this man dearly, and he brought many young people to Roman Catholicism.
A Biblical Christian can be glad for the man's opposition of Communism and his championing of the value of the lives of the unborn and the handicapped. But can a Biblical Christian be glad for the Pope's championing of Roman Catholicism? Does charity require him to wave aside "theological differences," and embrace the Pope and his mourners as brothers and sisters in Christ?
Take for example Fred Barnes. I've liked Fred and enjoyed his observations for years, and often heard him referred to as an "evangelical." Imagine my surprise when I read his outpouring of unqualified praise for the late Pope as A Great Christian. Barnes does not stick to his usual political/cultural commentary, but specifically praises the Pope in the most extravagant religious terms. My jaw dropped when I read, at the start of the essay, the Pope described as "world's greatest defender of orthodox, Bible-based Christianity." Not of Roman Catholicism, which might arguably be a truthful statement; but specifically of "orthodox, Bible-based Christianity." This is followed by the claim that "John Paul was bold and unswerving in proclaiming salvation through belief in Jesus Christ" (at least Barnes does not add "alone"). No wonder, by Barnes' lights, that he concludes with the assertion that evangelicals "have lost a great and wonderful leader."
Then, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Christianity Today subjects us to the mind-boggling He Was My Pope, Too, written by Uwe Siemon-Netto who, we are told, is a Lutheran theologian and religion editor. (As if Luther has not suffered enough at the hands of his nominal spiritual descendants!)
I'm late on this post because I've been thinking about how to approach this event myself. Out of countless dialogues with Roman Catholics, I know how it goes. Object to Roman Catholic dogma on Biblical grounds, and you're immediately a "Roman Catholic basher," or an "anti-Roman Catholic bigot," or of course a "hater." Even when one directly quotes Roman Catholic authorities, if one is compelled Biblically to disagree, one is invariably told he just does not understand Rome's position.
In other words, it exactly parallels the response of homosexuals to Christians who affirm the Bible's stance on that issue -- just with different specifics.
Over the years I have searched fruitlessly for a way to open closed minds, and have concluded that the Bible is right: it can't be done, except by God. And God does do it (Acts 16:14; Ephesians 2:1-3). But that is far from a counsel of despar, for our word of testimony may well be the means God uses to do His supernatural work (2 Timothy 2:24-26). After all, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ passed along by a human herald (Romans 10:14-17).
It is in that spirit that I pose these questions, provoked not solely by the Pope's death, but by the response of so many professedly evangelical Christians to that death:
- Shouldn't a self-identified "evangelical" be concerned about the "evangel" (i.e. good news, Gospel), if he is concerned about anything at all (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2)?
- Is it not still true that one is still saved if, and only if, he holds fast to the apostolic evangel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)?
- Is it not still true that one is damned to Hell if he fundamentally alters that evangel, so that he indeed preaches a "different" Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9)?
- Is it not still true that this condemnation applies to absolutely everyone without distinction, whether he be an apostle, "an angel from heaven," or "anyone" (Galatians 1:6-9)?
- Given the previous four propositions, is the Gospel a peripheral consideration, or a central, watershed issue?
- If the Gospel is not a central, watershed issue, then what is?
- Is it not still true that Satan himself preaches "gospel" and "Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 14-15)?
- Is it not still true that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, and his workers disguise themselves as workers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)?
- Is it not still true that anyone can confess Jesus as "Lord," utter prophecies and work miracles, and still be damned by Jesus at the Last Day with the words "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:21-23)?
- Is it still true that would-be teachers are properly subjected to greater judgment (James 3:1)?
- Given the truth of the previous propositions, are we not obligated to judge ourselves and all purported teachers -- which would certainly include the Pope -- by conformity of both life and doctrine to the Word of God?
- Does a person become exempt from the previous consideration if he does other good deeds, is popular, or dies?
- Is there any rational possibility that a Biblical Gospel of salvation by the grace of God alone, in Jesus Christ alone, on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, received by faith alone and causally unrelated to human works (Romans 4:2-9; Ephesians 2:8-9), can be reconciled with the official Roman Catholic "gospel" of salvation partly by what God does and partly by what man does?
- Is it rationally possible that these two gospels can both be true?
- Is it not certain that the one that is not the Biblical gospel -- along with those who preach it -- falls under the condemnation of Galatians 1:6-9?
- Does it not necessarily follow that the Roman Catholic Church, which explicitly rejects that Biblical Gospel, and those who affirm the position of the Roman Catholic Church, fall under that condemnation?
- Can anyone who is fuzzy on the nature of the Gospel rationally call himself an "evangelical"?
- Did Pope John Paul II ever openly and unambiguously disown the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church on the Gospel?
- Is an institution exempt from these questions because it is old?
- If so, why would not Buddhism, Hinduism, polytheism, and animism be so exempt?
- Also, how long was it before the first false teaching entered the apostolic church (hint: see 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Peter, the epistles of John, and Jude)?
- Is an institution exempt from these questions because it is large?
- If so, how large was Baalism as contrasted with Yahwism in the 15th century BC?
- Was Baalism unassailably true at that time, due to the size of the cult?
- Is an informal, de facto contradiction of the Gospel less damnable than a formal, de jure perversion of it?
- Does not the Gospel mean affirming Jesus' word from the cross, Tetelestai -- "It has been finished" (John 19:30)?
- Does not the Gospel mean affirming Paul's word that we are filled full in Christ (Colossians 2:10), and that we stand abidingly saved by grace through faith as a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9)?
- Does not the Gospel mean affirming the writer to the Hebrews' repeated and emphatic teaching that Christ's sacrifice is perfect and will never be repeated, because its one act accomplished all that is necessary for our salvation (Hebrews 10)?
- Whatever it may say formally, when an institution which re-sacrifices Christ on a regular basis, claiming to offer up (again and again, hundreds of millions of times across the world) the very flesh and blood of Jesus as a spiritually effective act, does it not pervert and contradict those Biblical statements of the Gospel?
- Can any man or woman who affirms such a contradiction of the Gospel be accurately described as a great Christian, an orthodox Christian, a Biblically-based Christian -- or a Christian at all?
- Is it still true that "no one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24)?
- If one formally claims to belong to Christ (as does every Christian: Romans 6, etc.), yet at the same time embraces as his distinctive motto the worshipful vow to Mary Totus tuus ("Totally yours"), and refer to her as "Coredemptrix" (as did the Pope), does not one loyalty necessarily cancel out the other?
- If a Biblically literate Christian is not permitted to ask these questions, then who is?
They can again, today.
UPDATE: a Christian pastor was fired from his job as a radio talk show host simply for entertaining the question as to whether the Pope went to Heaven or not -- which, as James White points out, is a question which itself could be debated wthin the circle of Roman Catholic dogma.