Friday, November 29, 2013

Chasing The Approval Of The World

The media has been all abuzz with jarringly positive stories about Jorge Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis. I say "jarringly positive" because you pretty much never get any good press from the secular media on religious matters, doubly so for the Catholic Church which has, thanks to the sex abuse cover-up scandal, been a convenient punching bag for the media for a long time. Stories about Mr. Bergoglio eschewing some the lavish trappings of the papacy, showing extraordinary humility and love toward children and the ill, railing against the culture of greed and consumption and declaring that the Roman Catholic Church has been too concerned about doctrine have been plastered all over the internet and print media (I am told that some newspapers actually still use paper and ink. Weird.). Even the comment section of the stories about Mr. Bergoglio have been eerily positive, with many examples of people claiming to be atheists/agnostic buying " I ♥ Pope Francis" t-shirts and coffee mugs.

The evangelical world has not missed this and the chorus of praise for Jorge has been pretty deafening and one sided....

"See! SEE! Even atheists love the new pope! The world loves this guy! That is what we should be doing!"

Yeah. Except that doing what the world loves is really not the calling of the church. The world will continue to love Jorge Bergoglio as long as all he is doing is talking about loving people and being exceptionally compassionate to the poor while sweeping those inconvenient doctrines under the rug. You might say "Well what is wrong with that? Aren't we called to love each other and care for the poor, that whole  "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35)?" Absolutely and kudos to Jorge for his unusually fervent desire to love others. But that is not all we are called to. We are commanded to take the Gospel to the world to make disciples and then baptizing them in the name of Jesus Christ. We are not going to win the lost to Christ by doing what the world thinks we should be doing.

Recall that the crowds loved Jesus when they thought He was doing what they wanted: feeding them for free. When He started in with claiming to be the Son of Man and all that other stuff? Well they were quick to change their tune from "We ♥ Jesus!" to "Crucify Him!". We are not told to expect that the world will love us or even like us. We should expect just the opposite:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

Why does the world hate Christianity? Because we are "anti-gay" or so darn annoying about that whole abortion thing? No. The world hates Christianity because the world loves what is evil and abhors what is good. Not some of the world or just bad guys or Al-Qaeda or Wall Street Bankers. The world. Period. God has called us "out of the world" and because of that our minds and hearts are changed in a way that the world hates. Very few people read John 3:16 in context but when you do you see the full message of message of Jesus:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:16-21)

The message of the Gospel is that the world loves darkness because its works are evil and because of that the world is already condemned by the Just and Holy God. The only hope for this world is not in doing good works like feeding the poor or embracing the leper, it is believing in the name of Jesus Christ. If you believe in Jesus you are saved from God's wrath. If you don't you remain under God's condemnation and the coming judgment. Those are the only two options. Jesus or judgment. If we were preaching that message more often we wouldn't have to worry about the world loving us too much. I don't mean to sound like I am brushing off our calling to serve the poor, to visit the widow and orphan, to feed the hungry and visit the prisoner. We absolutely must do these things because that is what Christ did and what we are called to do in response to our salvation. Part of why the world loves Mr. Bergogliois is that the church appears to the world to be far more concerned with filling our own coffers than with helping the poor. Keep in mind that evangelical groups and Roman Catholic groups have been quietly doing extraordinary work helping the poor and the orphan and the sick for centuries but the world barely noticed and rarely notes it in the media. If Mr. Bergoglio was teaching the core, non-negotiable doctrines of Catholicism with the same fervor that he speaks about caring for the poor, you can be sure the fawning media would be singing a different tune. He probably also wouldn't get the same adoring looks from evangelicals if he were doing that (I hope). No one seemed to be a big fan of Jorge's predecessor Joseph Ratzinger because he was just so darned serious about those messy doctrines. Setting up Jorge Bergoglio as the model we should emulate as evangelical Christians is misguided at best.

So Protestants, before you put the Tiger Beat poster of Jorge Bergoglio on your bedroom wall, remember why you are Protestant in the first place. Hopefully your reason is not "because that is what my parents are". I hope that most (some?) evangelical/Protestant Christians have given some thought as to why they are what they are. If things like transubstantiation, veneration of idols/relics, the papal office and all of the attendant claims and blasphemous titles, the rejection of the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, etc. don't matter to you, I wonder why you bother. I have far more respect for Roman Catholics who have thought through these issues and embrace them than I do for "evangelicals" who have never given it a moments thought and go to a "worship service" instead of Mass because evangelical churches have better music and programs for kids so they don't interfere with our "worshiping". These are absolutely not secondary issues that can or should be set aside for the sake of false unity or to curry favor with the world. There is a reason that the Reformers and the Anabaptists were willing to face death by rejecting these claims (and many Catholics faced death for refusing to abandon them) and I don't think it is a sign of our maturity that for the most part we no longer care about them in any meaningful way. There is more, much more, to being a follower of Jesus than caring for the poor. If our gauge of faithfulness is the secular media of the world patting us on the head, we are in deep trouble.


Aussie John said...



Neil Braithwaite said...

Right on brother!