This post is not for them.
This post is for those non-Catholic Christians, particularly those in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, who may wonder what to make of all the hullabaloo in light of Catholic and Restoration Movement differences.
Maybe more than any Pope in recent memory, Francis has captured the attention and hearts of folks beyond the ecclesial reach of the Roman Catholic fellowship, capitalizing on the growing trend away from factionalism/denominationalism in Evangelicalism.
I am one of those Protestants impressed with the self-effacing demeanor and actions of this Pope and his personable manner of speaking and being.
There's a simplicity about him that is attractive, especially as important a figure as he is.
However, the differences between the Catholic Church and the independent Christian Churches did not change when Francis became pope.
For those of us Christians who stand in the heritage if the Restoration Movement, doctrines like believer's baptism, the supreme authority of the Bible alone, the autonomy of the local church, biblical eldership, the priesthood of all believers, the sinfulness of sectarianism, and more make coöperation with Catholics on issues of Christian faith and life difficult if not unwise.
Thus, what are some tools that might help us balance our personal positive appraisal of Pope Francis and disagreement with the institution he represents?
Firstly, let's remind ourselves that doctrine still matters.
Doctrine is not abstract. Doctrine is what separates the Westboro Baptist Church from the Amish
Doctrine is simply a word to describe the truths particular to our faith.
For all his genuine humility and kindness, Pope Francis is a man who takes upon himself names like Holy Father and Vicar of Christ, while we understand Christ as the sole head of the Church (Eph. 5:23; Col 1:18), God as the only Holy Father (John 17:11; see also: Matthew 6:9), and the Holy Spirit as the Vicar of Christ (John 15:26, 16:7).
This is an important doctrinal difference.
He also believes and teaches Christ is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the elements of communion.
This is more than the Communion wine simply being the literal blood of Jesus and the bread being his literal flesh (1 Cor. 10:16); this is a doctrine that sees the divine person of Christ himself in the Eucharist in such a way that the "host" is "adored" and put in a special tabernacle inside of the nave of the church.
The priest (which Francis is), takes upon himself the name of Alter Christus (another christ; see: Matt 24:5 for how Scripture speaks of other Christs), "celebrates" (to use Catholic terminology) a Mass believed to be propitiatory (something that satisfies the demands of God) re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross such that it were Jesus himself, not the priest, who was offering himself up.
|The Catholic priest is said to act in the person of Christ during the Mass.|
For us, this is blasphemy (see Exodus 20:4; Hebrews 7-10), a massive show of idolatry at the heart of the Catholic faith.
This is true with or without Pope Francis.
Secondly, we need to remember our brothers who have left the Catholic Church.
I have met and talked with many Christian Church/Church of Christ people who were once Roman Catholics.
They each have their own stories. Some sacrificed much to be immersed into Christ as adults. Some are still praying for Catholic friends and relatives that they will undergo the change they have.
When Christians, whether in our our movement or not, glom on to Pope Francis without restraint or pretend the differences between Catholics and Christians (of the RM) don't exist, we disrespect their journeys and devalue the truth behind their change.
The fact is, there are differences. And when someone recognizes this and still chooses to come to Christ in the Church of Christ, this should temper any potential over-enthusiasm with the Pope or his church that may dishonor the work Christ has done in their lives.
Thirdly, we need to listen to our brothers and sisters in countries like Italy and in Latin America, where Catholicism is the religion de jour, who are telling us to be sober-minded.
A joint statement titled “Roman Catholicism in Evangelical Perspective” written by a consortium of Evangelical denominations in Italy says as much. They write:
...it is incompatible with the teaching of Scripture to have a church whose heart is a political state that is a legacy of an “imperial” church from which it has inherited titles and prerogatives. Christian churches must refrain from imitating “the princes of this world” and follow the example of Jesus who came to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:42-45).
...what appear to be similarities with the evangelical faith and spirituality of sectors of Roman Catholicism are not in themselves reasons for hope in a true change.
All the standing theological and ethical differences considered, they cannot initiate nor advocate for ecumenical initiatives with regard to the Roman Catholic Church.
[We] invite all evangelicals at the national and international levels to exercise a healthy biblical discernment (1 John 4:1) without falling into unionist initiatives that are contrary to Scripture and instead renew their commitment to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).
Whether you agree with the statement or not, we owe it those believers who are fighting it out in the thick of Catholic land to listen to and consider their concerns.
Finally, when I express admiration for Pope Francis, some of my Evangelical friends get antsy, while my Catholic friends become hopeful, but neither reaction is warranted because the reasons I like him and other Catholics like Oscar Romero, Greg Boyle, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and Miriam Heidland have nothing to do what makes them good Catholics, but because they show Christ in many of the things they say and do.
We can appreciate Francis's Christlikeness and recognize the truth when he speaks it while still respectfully disagreeing with some of the doctrines of his church.
I hope these emphases will help guide you and I as we follow the Pope's American tour.