I hope this is not coming across as "anti-Catholic" although I am sure it will cause some people to be irate and others to fling that charge out. It is a common response, one that I get all the time from mormon apologists. It is an cheap debate tactic but often an effective one but it is not one that I let dissuade me. If we have gotten to the point that we cannot even ask the hard questions because we are terrified of losing our influence in the world, we ought to just close up shop.
In addition to my rejection of Mr. Bergoglio's frankly arrogant claim to the title "Holy Father", which seems disconnected from the constant refrain of how humble a man he is, I am quite concerned that so many Christians are, if not wholeheartedly embracing Mr. Bergoglio, at least tacitly recognizing him and his claims as "pope". Many see his elevation as a positive thing for "the church" even those who disagree with him on the occasional issue. This is puzzling but not surprising, what is somewhat surprising is the extent to which evangelicals/Protestants/what have you are embracing the new "pope".
David French, self-described "Reformed Protestant" writes at National Review (emphasis mine):
I may be a Reformed Protestant, but I still care a great deal about the new pope. He is, after all, only the world’s most prominent advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Christians everywhere should be grateful that the new pope is by all credible accounts a humble, devout man with a heart for the “least of these.”
When someone can call themselves "Reformed" and describe the "pope" as "only the world’s most prominent advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ", something has gone horribly astray. Mr. French, as a Presbyterian who speaks of being "reformed", might want to look at what that word means. He uses the word reformed but I do not think he knows what it means. Like many Christians he seems to confuse conservative political social policy with the Gospel. Someone can be opposed to abortion and gay marriage and yet also be opposed to the Gospel. Back in the day, people who were "reformed" described the "pope" as something other than "only the world’s most prominent advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ". In fact the Westminster Confession, something that should be known to anyone who claims to be "reformed", says of the papacy:
VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.
While I might not go quite that far, this much needs to be made clear: there is nothing Christian about the office and claims of the papacy. If anything it is the very antithesis of everything we know of leadership in the church from Scripture. In his opening speech as pontiff Mr. Bergoglio closed with his desire to go and pray to Mary...
Tomorrow I wish to go and pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome.
Praying to Mary might not be anti-Christian but it certainly is not Christian.
So what is this all about? Why are so many evangelical Christians of all stripes seemingly smitten with the new "pope"? I attribute it to a lack of clarity about what the mission of the church is and how our priorities are ordered. On the religious right we have culture warriors who are more concerned with the "pressing issues of the day" than they are about theological issues. Exhibit A is Gary Bauer, who is pretty much a non-factor anymore speaking broadly but still speaks for the religious right in America. Mr. Bauer wrote an article for USA Today titled Why evangelicals should care about the new pope in which he wrote:
One e-mailer responded in a way that I think exemplifies the view of too many evangelicals. He advised me not to "minimize" the doctrinal differences between Catholics and evangelicals. And he accused me of "blurring" the lines between evangelicals and Catholics and of advocating for a "one-world religion."
Thankfully, most evangelicals wouldn't be that uncharitable toward our Catholic brothers and sisters. But, sadly, a minority would endorse that characterization. They need to realize that they, too, have a stake in who is elected pope, because without a strong pope, evangelicals will lose their best allies in the most important cultural and political battles of our age.
Catholics and evangelicals (and to a lesser extent orthodox Jews and Mormons) have formed a formidable partnership in recent decades against the threats of secularism, relativism and Islamism.
Doctrinal differences remain, of course, but the Catholic-evangelical alliance has reshaped American politics. In many cases, Catholics have provided the intellectual framework and vocabulary to discuss Christianity's vital role in our democracy, while Protestants have contributed fervor and youth.
We do not agree on every issue. But on the essential ones -- those both faiths consider "non-negotiables" -- Catholics and evangelicals are allied.
We both champion the idea -- the truth -- that there are reliable standards of right and wrong to which all institutions, including government, must adhere. We stand together in proclaiming that all human life has equal dignity and worth. And we stand together in defending the traditional and time-honored conception of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
In other words, better to have a powerful ally to combat moral relativism, combat abortion and oppose "gay marriage" than to quibble about the issues that Christians have been persecuted, tortured and murdered over for centuries. The issues of the Reformation, Magisterial and Radical, are so 16th century, we have bigger fish to fry today. I found it interesting to note that Gary mentioned mormons as similar allies to Rome. I wonder just how heretical you have to be to no longer be welcome on "our team"?
On the religious left we have similar sentiments, largely because Mr. Bergoglio is a Jesuit and is big into aiding the poor and social justice. For example:
Give me a Spirit filled catholic leader with flawed theology over a tyrannical unregenerate Protestant with perfect theology any day. 1/2I would cautiously agree but I would also ask, what makes Skye say that Mr. Bergoglio is "Spirit filled"? I agree that caring for the poor and are non-negotiable but they don't trump the other truths of the Gospel. It is not an "either-or", either you care about poor and downtrodden or you care about theology, either is fine. It is a "both-and", we must be passionate about the foundational truths of the Gospel like justification and making disciples of all nations and as a result we must also be passionate about our responsibility to the poor and the orphan and the widow. I am not interested in false unity based on being social do-gooders that look the other way at heresy and I am likewise not interested in a coldly academic "orthodoxy" that sees buying more books on proper theology as more important that feeding an orphans.
— skye_jethani (@skye_jethani) March 15, 2013
Again, it behooves me to differentiate between individual Christians who are associated with Rome and with Rome as a religious institution. I know some very fine Christians who would call themselves Catholic, friends and co-laborers alike. While I would love to see them come out of Rome, that is not my primary calling or concern. It is Rome and those who lead her, more so as you get near the top, that I am concerned with rather than individuals who go by the name "Catholic".
I think John Piper made an interesting statement in this regard in a provocatively titled post Clarifying My Words About Roman Catholic "Heresy" as it applies individual Roman Catholics versus Rome as an institution...
The reason for saying, “when consistently worked out,” is because I think it is possible to inconsistently deny the truth of imputation while embracing other aspects of the gospel (blood bought forgiveness, and propitiation, for example), through which God mercifully saves.
I think what John is saying is that you can inconsistently get some things wrong, as we all do, even on some very important issues. On the other hand, Rome as an organization and religious institution consistenly teaches errors that undermine the Gospel and that is not something to be
trifled with or glossed over, no matter how noble we see our motivations. Those that teach are held to the higher standard.
So I am afraid that I can't join with so many of my brothers and sisters in celebrating Mr. Bergoglio being named the new "pope". He seems like a nice guy. He might be a Christian. He is many things but he is not my papa.