Friday, March 15, 2013

Da pope ain't my papa

I have been out of town on business and kind of out of the loop but the world is abuzz with the election of a new "pope". I am sure that Mr. Bergoglio is a nice guy and sounds like a refreshing change from more recent "popes" but I won't be calling him "Pope Francis" just as I made a point of not calling Joseph Ratzinger "Pope Benedict".

As I understand it, the title "Pope" is a different way of saying "papa" or "father". As I already have a man who is my earthly father, i.e. my dad, and a Holy Father who is one of the members of the Trinity and who is enthroned in Heaven, not in Rome, I choose to not use the honorific of "pope" when speaking of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Now this may seem petty. After all it is just a title, right? Where is the harm in calling him "The Pope"? It is just the polite and proper thing to do. I don't mind referring to my family phsician as "Dr. Waters" so why not "Pope Francis"? For me there is a crucial distinction here. The title Mr. Bergoglio has assumed along with the new name he chose for himself has a very important and distinct theological meaning. Words have meaning. In claiming the title of "Father" or "Holy Father" or "Vicar of Christ", Mr. Bergoglio has staked out a claim of authority over the church that is reinforced every time we affirm his claim by using his title even if that is not our intent.

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:
I 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.

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.


Anonymous said...

I think, Arthur, you are taking it a little overboard. As far as I know, no one in the evangelical circles or Anabaptist circles are saying that Francis is "their pope" or their church leader. However, when it comes to looking for a leader of the Roman Catholic Church, what started with Benedict's humble resignation has been continued in Francis where he is taking on, as "Vicar of Christ" the true sense of the term... he's a servant of the church, for Christ. And those of us who are critical of the RC church (and yes, I am one of them) are seeing what Francis is doing and actually rejoicing along with our Catholic brothers and sisters because we are seeing what appears, at least at the start, as a rebuilding of the church in a different way than before.

Every Christian denomination has problems with theological points and such... NO ONE has it 100% right. Mennonites, AoG, Presbyterians... we all fall short. Catholics are no different. But see, there is a problem here in all these denominational squabbles... we spend SO much time criticizing each other for our differences that we forget that we ALL have some very, simple, common core beliefs that we spades. Rather than focusing on our differences, perhaps it's time for Christians to focus on our commonalities and working together.

While your criticism of the pope may be "right", I think it is, as I said before, ungracious and, frankly, unChristian.

As Ephesians states:

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

We humans have divided the church, we have broken it... but we are supposed to be long as we quibble like this, we will never be able to get anything done. It's time to stop dividing and start working together.

Sorry, but that's the way it is... and I find the tirade here quite unChristian.

Unknown said...


Arthur Sido said...

If it is "unChristian" to point out when someone who claims to be the "Vicar of Christ", a claim that is far more than a simple expression of servanthood but a bold claim of authority that no man has right to claim, or that someone presides over a "church" that has been responsible for untold persecution of Christians for centuries and that teaches as truth doctrines that are antithetical to the Scriptures, then I guess I am guilty as charged. I would also say I am in some pretty good company historically.

I just don't get your argument. My criticisms of the pope may be "right" but to express them is ungracious? How does that makes sense? Do we see Paul being gracious with those who misrepresent Christ in the New Testament? I am certainly not Paul but how exactly are we to distinguish between false teachers and teachers of what is true when we aren't allowed to even discuss it?

There is an enormous difference between extending grace to brothers and sisters in Christ and turning a blind eye to heretical teaching and wolves among the sheep.

Bean said...

Figured the Catholic basing post was coming.

Aussie John said...


You are most correct, and most certainly not ungracious, nor un-Christian, when you say what you do regarding the so-called "Vicar of Christ","a bold claim of authority that no man has right to claim".

Of course one can speak truth in an ungracious manner, but simply to speak the truth is not in itself ungracious, even if there is a negative aspect to it.

Arthur Sido said...

Bean, this was not intended as a Catholic bashing post. These are critical issues that we can't ignore and asking hard questions shouldn't be seen as "bashing" anyone. The issues at hand are the same issues that men have been willing to die over and other men have been willing to kill over and they get to the heart of what the Gospel and the Kingdom are all about.

Julie said...

While you have a perfect right to your opinion, you should probably just admit that you are anti-Catholic and get it over with. I mean, granted, you aren't as bad a a Chick tract, but you are still anti-Catholic in your sentiment and you don't really understand the Church -- nor, apparently, do you have much desire to.

Aussie John said...

In the event of my agreement with you being misunderstood in the way your correspondent appears to have done, I would similarly, as you did.

I'm quite flabbergasted when Christians see any attempt to point out dangers as anything but loving.

I would suggest that they purchase a copy of the "Catholic Catechism for Adults" and inform themselves of the dangerous differences.

For instance,they will the doctrines surrounding soteriolgy
" Under paragraph # 816 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read, "The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: 'For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.'" (C.C.C. # 816)

The first sentence alone denies the truth of Scripture (Eph.2:8-9)

I love Catholics, and have know genuine Christians, who remain where they are to seek to help their fellows, but I cannot love something that, despite the words used, takes glory from the Lord Jesus Christ,

Anonymous said...

If you want to call other Christians to account for possible theological problems, that's fine... but do it in the proper context. Standing off at a distance and "bashing" them is not the way that Jesus would have us do it. Instead, how about take some time to actually sit down with a Catholic, talk to them, learn about them and from them before you start throwing stones at them?

If you want to criticize the Pope, that's fine... but again, consider your context and consider the proper way of doing so.

If you cannot have that relationship with the Pope to have a decent conversation, then perhaps a blog isn't the place to do it, either.

TWH said...

Very insightful post, brother.

Arthur Sido said...

Robert, I would love to sit down with Jorge but just as 99.9999% of Catholics will never have the chance to do so, neither will I. I am not "bashing" Mr. Bergoglio, he seems like a nice guy. Of course my knowledge of him is very limited as it is for those who seem so enamored of him, in and out of the Catholic church. My issue is not so much with Jorge as "the pope", it is with the papacy itself and what I see as a very concerning tendency among Christians to gloss over critical issues for the sake of "unity".

My blog is a place for me to publicly express and work out various issues, a creative outlet for me, just as your blog is for you. If this is not the proper venue, where is? By the way, as I mentioned, I minister alongside Catholics and we do have these discussions. I am not seeking to "convert" them.

Arthur Sido said...


Since nothing you wrote was of any value in advancing a conversation, I am not sure what the point was in posting a comment. "not as bad as a Chick tract". Faint praise indeed but thanks I guess. If you would like to actually engage in an something I wrote, I would be happy to discuss where we disagree.

Robert Martin said...

It's not a matter of glossing over critical issues... it's a matter of prioritizing issues... in this case, ecclesiastical differences, while we could have a lot of conversations about what's what and who's who, these ecclesiastical differences are inconsequential in light of the more critical issues Christians of all flavors face... and don't make me relist those issues for you. :-)

Yeah, you know, I have my beef with Catholic ecclesiology and in another time and another place it might be beneficial to debate such things... But if we're supposedly on the same team (and I honestly believe that Catholics, Protestants, and Anabaptists alike are all on the same team), then playing style is not quite so important as making sure we work together to get all our playing styles to mesh to get this game moving.

Suggested reading: Manifold Witness by John Franke.

Robert Martin said...

As for Julie's comments about being anti-Catholic... I honestly agree with her. You seem more interested in pointing out the faults of the Catholic church (as you see them) rather than looking for commonalities where we can come together and work together for God's Kingdom.

Again... we're in post-Christendom/post-modern societies any more. Debates about "flavor" of Christianity, as critical as we might think they are within our own little Christian circles, serve more to divide us and present a non-unified front to the rest of the world than they do in any way clarify the gospel we're supposed to be teaching and preaching.

Arthur Sido said...


Calling someone "anti-catholic" is the same as calling someone "anti-mormon", it is a cheap debate tactic designed to discredit someone based on an alleged irrational bias to avoid confronting real issues.

As to your point, the one you keep making over and over. I am not speaking of mere ecclesiastical issues. You make it sound as if we are debating presbyterian versus congregational church governance. I can find common ground with Christians who are Arminian, dispensational, "egalitarian", etc because those truly are secondary issues however important. What we are talking about, or in your case avoiding talking about, are fundamental, Gospel make or break issues.

Let me state this an unequivocally as I can. I am not on the "same team" as the Roman Catholic church. I don't see how we can find commonalities with a religious organization that has for over 1000 years perverted the Gospel, persecuted Christians, worshiped dead people, blasphemously declared that their leaders have the power to forgive sins (for a price) and transform a wafer and a cup of wine into the literal Body and Blood of Jesus to be offered up again on an altar. Again, and I sound like a broken record but it keeps getting ignored, I am making a distinction between Roman Catholics as individuals and the organization.

I agree that we need to prioritize issues but if our list of priorities skips over gross error and heresy in favor of working in soup kitchens together, we have it backwards.

Robert Martin said...

And thus the church fails...

Arthur Sido said...

Robert, if the church is considered to "fail" because of standing for the truth then we are all in serious trouble. There was a time when men and women would be willing to suffer and die for the truth rather than seeking a false unity. The issues that led to the Reformaation and the Radical Reformation have not changed but now many Christians seem to think that they are not important enought to even discuss, much less die for.

Robert Martin said...

It fails when we classify Christian groups as "cults" the same way we classify the mormons as a cult. There is a world of difference between Catholics and Mormons and I find it repugnant to lump the two together...

...hence, my statement... when we make that kind of judgment call against fellow believers, the church fails... both internally as we divide and divide and divide... and externally as the world is watching and sees our squabbles and says, "That's not for me."

As long as Christians fight each other... the church fails...

Arthur Sido said...

Your argument would be valid if we concede without debate or question that Rome as an institution is “Christian”. As you have studiously avoided any discussion of specific issues other than vague generalities about unity and looking past minor differences, it is hard to nail down the real question. Should Christians look to Rome as a legitimate expression of the church or is the opposite true, namely that Rome as an organization has for over 1000 years denied the central tenets of the Gospel, led countless people astray and persecuted the church? We have to answer that question if the discussion is to have any legitimacy. You object to the comparison between mormonism and Rome but when we start to dig into the specifics which would demonstrate why there are substantive differences (which I agree is the case in spite of organization similarities), you again and again seek to shut down conversation. I am absolutely open to discussions of setting aside differences for the sake of the Gospel among believers who differ over issues of gender roles, the end times, spiritual gifting, church governance, even highly charged issues like the omnipresent debate over Calvinism and Arminianism, but to try to reduce the enormous and historically irreconcilable chasm between “small o” orthodox Christianity and the Roman communion, especially when I am certain that in spite of your reticence you are well aware of those differences, is to make discussion virtually impossible.

I understand why you are trying to avoid the specifics but it is disingenuous and unhelpful. I read through some of the writings of the namesake of your denomination the other day and I don’t think Menno would agree that Rome is just another Christian group with some minor quirks that we should overlook. Perhaps he and the other Anabaptists and Reformers were alarmist, perhaps they just lacked our social graces. Or perhaps not much has really changed in doctrine even if the practical outworking looks different as Rome has lost influence in the world. Were the Anabaptists wrong to call out and separate from Rome even when it put their lives in peril? Should they have just baptized their infants and agreed that a priest can transform a wafer and a cup of wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus for the sake of “unity”? I don’t think so and I doubt you do either, otherwise being an Anabaptist is divorced from its historic roots.

Robert Martin said...

Okay... get specific... Roman Catholicism is Christian... why? Because they preach the supremecy and rule of Christ, they preach the salvation that comes through Christ, and they preach the gospel of a world that is in the process of being made new and WILL be made new in the consummation.

Is that not the basic Christian definition?

In fact, that is 1 Corinthians 15 in a nut shell... the oldest known "creed" documented upon which even the Nicean and Apostle's creeds were built.

Did the Catholic church do some really stupid things in the past? Yup... but so did Anabaptists... and Lutherans... and Reformed... and Anglican... we're all guilty of distorting the gospel... and yet, somehow, the Kingdom continues to move forward despite our best efforts.

As for the "original" Anabaptists... like Luther, I don't think Menno Simons or Michael Sattler either of them were really interested in creating a NEW church denomination but, like Luther, were calling their home church back to the basics...

You mention baptism and communion as points of difference... points that I agree with and still hold firmly to my Anabaptist/Mennonite roots... BUT, as much as there is theological differences as to how we practice them (and I can argue the Anabaptist side as good as anyone), we cannot deny that even our "good" Anabaptist ways of doing things haven't really done any good. We've still created churches where the aim is simply to get people baptised and then coast their way into heaven.

So, no, I will not engage any more specifics beyond that... not because I don't think there is a place to discuss them, but because when it comes to what the church is doing to further God's mission in this world, if we are professing 1 Corinthians 15 and similar creedal statements, then go ahead and baptise your babies... so long as you subsequently raise the kid as a disciple and don't just leave it to "automatic" salvation. OR... go ahead and baptise your people at the age of accountability... again, same admonition, it doesn't do squat if all it is consists of something you "do" as a church.

Frankly... Roman Catholics are Christians and the Roman Catholic church, at it's core, is a Christian institution... much like Eastern Orthodoxy... Or Lutherans... or Anglicans...

We all have our problems... and we all have our successess... but we are all on the same team, that being to proclaim the supremacy of Christ, his life here on earth, his salvific work on the cross, the immense hope in the resurrection, and the fulfillment of the Kingdom in the church and the upcoming consummation.

So, yes, they are Christians... what is not Christian is outright condemnation of someone who professes Christ simply because they carry out the practice of religion differently than you... debate it if you must, but in relationship with someone.

Go find a Catholic priest, sit down with him, talk to him, ask him questions, but LISTEN to him as you would hope he would listen to you. This does not imply you will agree, but before you condemn an entire group of people, it would be better to find out who they are first.

And yes, I know you're not talking about individual Roman Catholics... but even for those Roman Catholics who are Christians, to them, the Catholic church is where they find Christ, much like I find him in the Mennonite church or like my friend, Derrick, finds him in the UCC church... We all confess the same Lord, the same King, the same mission, the same gospel... if that's the case... aren't we on the same team?

Robert Martin said...

Just to clarify... I don't have a problem with Christians talking amongst themselves, graciously, over differences in practice, theological views, etc. That is important and necessary. It is part of the community discerning.

What I have a problem with is one Christian or Christian group standing on a soap-box of sorts, claiming that they have all the answers and that their way is THE right way of Christian expression and condemning all others who claim Christianity as heretics, apostates, and what amounts to occult devil worshippers. Catholics did it to Anabaptists in the 16th century... and now I hear Anabaptists returning the favor in the 21st century.

The church will continue to fail in it's mission so long as we continue this outright condemnation of each other.

I disagree with much of Catholicism polity and practice...but, as I said above, they preach 1 Corinthians 15... and build their theology on that foundation. By that definition, they are Christian... and I cannot deny them communion in the body of Christ over anything that we have built on top of that.

Arthur Sido said...

Robert, you know full well that this is not a simple matter of polity or practice but the underlying theology. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 but he also wrote other stuff, like Galatians, where he called out those who sought to add to the simplicity of the Gospel by faith alone.

I will leave it at this. I have no issue with ministering alongside Roman Catholics. I will also not cease pointing out where the teachings of Rome as an institution diverge from Scripture in ways that negate central doctrines of Christianity.

Robert Martin said...

Just don't call the Catholic church "non-Christian"... they are Christians... we can disagree on the specifics of their practice, that's fine... but that judgement call is not our place any more than it was the Catholic's in the 16th century.