I like the Pope. He’s cool. I do not believe he’s a nasty grumpy old man trying to manipulate people into becoming Catholics. I truly believe he’s an all around good person with great morals and an example for how we should care for the marginalized people in society. After all, wasn’t Jesus like this? Jesus hung out with the poor, healed the sick, and helped the widows. It’s hard not to like the Pope. I even enjoyed reading the homily he gave at Madison Square Garden. However, for someone claiming to be a successor and a symbolic descendant of Apostle Peter, I just see way too many red flags that I believe some of us need to wake up to. We need to be able to have these conversations and discuss these issues. Here are some of my thoughts.
The American Dream
When we look at the life of Paul, Peter, and the other Apostles, we find nothing but suffering, affliction, anguish, and pain (2 Corinthians 7:5). Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (NLT). I am sure the papacy has had their share of haters, backstabbers, and life threats but are they wholeheartedly preaching the true Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Well let’s see. The message of the Pope, his bishops, and priests is that ultimately, we can earn our way into heaven. This is music to the ears of our society. This feels good and gives us hope. It boosts our self-esteem and coincides with the American Dream. If only we try hard enough, we can win God’s approval and get a ticket into heaven. If we avoid sin and do good deeds, God will let us in.
This is why the world likes the Pope so much. Even if they are not Catholics, they respect his message because it looks exactly like their own belief system: we must earn what we have. People hang on the Pope’s every word as if it is God’s very own words. People pay for tickets and wait in traffic for hours to be able to witness the Pope speak while their Bibles lay in a dusty corner–God’s very Words unheard and ignored.
People like the Pope because while they have strong opinions about everything else that happens here on earth, they rather have someone else make decisions for them concerning eternal life. Why would someone want to rest the eternal state of their soul on one man? If you selectively agree with what the Pope says, then it rests in your own hands and you are your own authority. Scary.
The Bible is the Ultimate Authority
I agree that there are passages in the Bible open to interpretation. It is fine to disagree on certain doctrines in the Bible. Not everyone at my church (Pure Word Church) agrees with everything that I preach and that is fine. However, when a belief forces us to adapt who God is to fit our own religion, this is dangerous ground.
It is dangerous to like the Pope too much because if we like him more than we like Jesus, we’ll choose his words over the Bible. This, however, is true with any authority right? If evangelical Christians like their pastors more than Jesus, they won’t bother reading the Bible for themselves. Some evangelical churches flock with people desiring to hear what a preacher has to say and they don’t even bother to check if he is actually preaching the Bible. Dangerous ground!
Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”
The truth is: people hear what they want to hear. The reason the Apostles were tortured and killed was because people didn’t like their message. People rather hear that they can check off a list and go to heaven instead of hear that they can never earn God’s love and that they need a Savior. They “believe” in Jesus as Savior but are they really letting Him do the saving?
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
I can’t boast about behaving well and being saved. I’m a pretty horrible person if you get to know my struggles, fears, and issues. This is why the message of the cross is so very hard to accept. It tells us that we are not good enough. It tells us that we are God’s enemies and heading toward eternal destruction in hell (Romans 3:23). However, there is good news (which is what “Gospel” means)! Jesus came to take our place and be punished for us, so we must put our faith in Him and accept His payment on our behalf.
Peter says it beautifully, “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus paid it all! Not your parents. Not your Sunday school teacher. Not your pastor and not the Pope. We receive this payment by responding to Jesus’ grace. The Pope teaches that we must pay. If we don’t confess our sins enough here on earth, we pay for it in purgatory. It’s as if the crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection was not enough.
Call to Action
One blog is not enough to explain all of these complexities. If you disagree with me, I am sure you have some verses or good arguments to throw at me in the comments or e-mail. I never like to use isolated verses to make an extremely important point so I challenge anyone who disagrees with me. I challenge you to read the Bible for yourself. Don’t lean on the Pope’s words because someday he will be replaced. Don’t lean on my words for I am prone to fail. Instead lean on the Word of God which is “inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16).
It’s ok to love the Pope. I love him too. I just pray that you have a greater and much deeper love for the Word of God.
I close with this verse.
Acts 17:11, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”