Tim Challies has been running a very helpful series on false teachers throughout church history. He has looked at men like Arius, Joseph Smith and Marcus Borg, mostly uncontroversial posts. Today he takes a look at a far more controversial false teacher, Jorge Bergoglio aka "Pope Francis". The comments are sure to be explosive. Few figures in the religious world get the sort of attention that Jorge garners. The head of the Roman Catholic Church always commands a large audience as the head of a religious organization with over a billion followers. This particular pope gets even more attention due in large part to his very public humble acts of mercy. Many evangelicals hang on his every public act even as they brush aside concerns over his theology. It seems the church is in desperate need of a serious conversation about this man and what he means, not just to Rome, but to the church of Jesus Christ.
As Christians we cannot ignore the very public witness that Jorge presents to the world. In a media driven world where Christians are painted in the worst possible light, Jorge Bergoglio is a notable exception in that his every public act of mercy and humility is broadcast around the world. I believe that this is because a segment of the cultural elite hopes that Jorge will overturn some of the culturally distasteful practices of the Roman Catholic Church, namely a celibate all male priesthood, hard-line positions against birth control, abortion and contraception and maintaining the historical insistence that homosexuality is inherently disordered. Whatever the reason Jorge gets far more, and more favorable, treatment from the media than any of his predecessors or any other contemporary religious leaders. For that reason alone the church needs to engage with this very public persona.
However, as Christians, we cannot separate the deeds from the doctrines. I maintain that one cannot be said to be "Christlike" when propagating a false "gospel". I am somewhat more of a voice crying out in the wilderness on this than usual, cautionary expressions regarding Jorge get the stink-eye among many in my online circles, and I also keep returning to this topic but as I have said many times before, when you have someone that is put forth as a representative of the Christian faith to a world (and more often than not a church) that is theologically illiterate it is irresponsible to not engage the underlying doctrines he champions that are anathema to the Gospel.
Even the most ardent fan of Jorge that has even a smidgen of theological background knows the questionable doctrines I am speaking of. The issue becomes whether those are deal breakers or not. For hundreds of years the answer to that question has been a resounding "yes". In fact even asking that question would be a puzzle for most of church history post-Oct 31, 1517. Many, many Christians were martyred for refusing to compromise on the very issues that contemporary Christians are too open minded and enlightened to be concerned with today. That is many things but progress it ain't.
There is a serious choice to be discussed in the church as it pertains to Jorge Bergoglio. Do we set aside his heretical teachings (Tim Challies does a decent job of presenting some of them in his piece) in favor of embracing him for his public acts of mercy? Or do we stand for the Gospel and give it priority over admittedly humble and humbling acts of mercy towards those outcast by society?
The charge of Christ is clear. He sent out His apostles with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples and teaching them to do all He commanded. The order and priority is obvious and critical. Our first calling is the call to repentance. It is a call that needs to be extended even to a public religious rock star like Jorge Bergoglio. Acts of mercy, especially to the poor and the outcast, are a necessary implication of the Gospel but they are secondary to our primary calling.
It will be unpopular and likely reinforce the stereotypes of the church in public but our stand for the Gospel must take priority. We can certainly applaud Mr. Bergoglio as he washes feet and serves the poor but always without compromising on the damning teachings he represents, teachings embodied even in the public title of "pope" that he embraces. The wolves among the sheep that are obvious aren't much of a danger, we can see them for what they are. The truly dangerous wolves are those that blend in with the sheep, wolves that devour from within wearing a smile and being embraced by their victims. That may sound harsh and jarring to ears attuned to our contemporary enlightened religious sensibilities but we are warned repeatedly to be on watch for those who seek to lead astray the sheep. Church, we have been warned. It is up to us to decide whether we take those warnings seriously.