I have really struggled with the recent Papal visit to the United States. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Pope Francis. Many of the things he has said, I agree with and of course, many I have not. But I do believe he sincerely sees himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He walks in true humility. I don’t believe that he attempts to garner admiration from any person, country, or political party. He is who he is. He believes what he believes and I think his only motivation is to serve Christ. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but disagreement is common even within our own churches, denominations, political parties, and for that matter…families. I know that even in my church, many people with whom I have a great relationship and friendship, would still disagree with me on some things. This is normal. So this uneasy feeling I have about the recent Papal visit really has nothing to do with the Pope.
I have waited to say anything about this until I could figure out exactly what was going on inside of my spirit. I wanted to be able to express my thoughts clearly. And I think I have finally figured out what I was struggling with. It is not the pomp and pageantry itself, but what I perceive to be the reason behind it. This is not the Pope’s doing. I think that Pope Francis understands it is part of the tradition of the Catholic Church, but I think if he had his choice, he would not want all of the grandiose treatment he is receiving. I think he expressed this as much as possible by riding in the little Fiat. I see his heart much like that of Mother Teresa’s, who has no desire for attention, grandeur, but instead lives to serve the poor and needy. The Pope has attempted to maintain his humility. The exaltation of his position is not his personal choice, but a tradition within the Catholic Church. It is this tradition that is in no way limited to the Catholic Church that is bothersome.
Now, let me stop you right now because I know there are some of you who vehemently disagree with the Catholic Church that you are waiting for me to say something that you can pounce on to criticize the Catholic Church. If I am honest, this is a criticism of the Catholic Church, but it is also a criticism of the same thing in all Christianity. This issue is more easily seen in the Catholic Church as we see the crowds falling over themselves to touch or get near the Pope. At times, it is reminiscent of a rock star coming to America for the first time. I don’t think anywhere in Protestantism do we see that level of fawning, but rest assured, this same thing is present in many churches and ministries outside the Catholic Church.
The magisterium of the Catholic Church declares that the expounding of Scripture by the Pope and Bishops is always without error on matters of faith and morality. You may have heard the word ‘infallible’ at times in discussions about the Pope or Catholic Church. Do not misunderstand this. Catholics do not believe the Pope is infallible himself. They do however believe that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra (from the seat of the Apostle Peter) on issues of faith and morality, he is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, kept from error, infallible. These infallible statements are then mandatory for Catholics to accept as doctrine. Herein lies a dangerous spiritual trap. Though this is not doctrine in any protestant denomination like it is in Catholicism, it is still present in many protestant leaders and churches. They act and teach their people that only they can truly understand the Scriptures and if they say it, it is true without question. People are expected to receive their teachings as absolute truth and congregants are forbidden to question the teachings.
The Catholic Church has adorned the Pope with infallibility not because of the spiritual maturity of the man, but the position in which he holds. And I would say no matter what position a man or woman has in the church, Catholic or protestant, they still must choose to submit to the Holy Spirit each and every day. It is the Holy Spirit who is infallible, not men. No one, regardless of the position they hold, is exempt from getting something wrong when trying to explain the God whose ways are higher than ours. This is why the Scripture refers to what we do as ‘the foolishness of preaching.’
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1 Corinthians 1:21
The foolishness of preaching – this is the miracle of God that He continues to work through the sometimes imperfect teachings of the priests, pastors, bishops, and yes…even the Pope. The work of the Holy Spirit has not come about because the teachings of the church are perfect. As a pastor, I believe that most of us preacher-type people do our best to find the Truth and expound on the Truth, but it would be dangerous for us or our churches to believe that our teaching is absolute truth just because we have a ‘Rev.’ in front of our name. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and no matter how fully dedicated one may be to the Lord, the possibility of not getting everything perfectly is always present.
Two prominent infallible statements recognized in the Catholic Church are The Immaculate Conception and The Assumption. Both of these have to do with Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The first is not referring to Christ as many may believe, but to Mary. It states that Mary was born without the sinful nature that Scripture says entered into every person since Adam (Romans 5:12). Scripture goes on to say that if anyone says they are without sin, they are a liar (1 John 1:8-10). Though Scripture teaches that everyone is born with a sinful nature including Mary, the Catholic Church stands by their belief that Mary was never corrupted by the sinful nature. My issue is not really that this is the doctrine of the Catholic church as much as it is why this is the doctrine? It is not doctrine because it is backed up in Scripture. It is doctrine simply because Pope Pius IX in 1854 decided that it was going to be doctrine. Because of his position, it was immediately mandatory for all Catholics to believe.
The Assumption is the belief that Mary was assumed into Heaven just as Scripture says happened to Enoch and Elijah. There is some disagreement whether she died and then was brought back to life as Christ was, then taken to Heaven or if she was just taken to Heaven one day before she died. The problem with this doctrine, either way, is that the Catholic Church has no Scriptural evidence of it being true. They believe they have archaeological evidence, but that evidence is really the absence of evidence. The Catholic Church says that since Mary’s bones were never found, she must have been taken up body and soul just as Christ, Elijah, and Enoch. Again, my issue is not that this is doctrine as much as why it is doctrine? It is because it was declared to be true by Pope Pius XII in 1950 and because of his position, it is now doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Before we go and lash out at the Catholic Church, let’s consider protestant leaders. The doctrine of infallibility is not institutionalized in Protestantism like it is in Catholicism, but it still runs rampant in protestant churches. I recently heard a preacher on the radio who said that unless you are reading the ‘authorized 1611 King James Version’ of the Bible, you are being deceived. It was his dogma that every other translation was an instrument of the Devil. For years, protestant churches took on the doctrine that women cannot be preachers or teachers. It is true that the New Testament says that women should be silent in the church, but the Old Testament also declares that the Lord will pour out His Spirit on men and women. This prophecy is repeated by Peter in the New Testament. This prophecy from the prophet Joel even says that women will prophesy. Though the Bible says this, some churches still will not allow women to preach or teach. A lady in my church left her church because it had become increasingly clear that her pastor expected everyone in the congregation to use a Jerry Falwell Bible with Falwell’s commentary. It has become doctrine for his church that the Jerry Falwell Commentary Bible was the only accepted Bible.
My point here is that nothing is Gospel just because a person of spiritual position says it to be. Dogma and doctrine must agree with the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. This is how we discern if something is true or not. It has nothing to do with a person’s position within a religious body. And we are called to test the spirits to avoid being deceived by false prophets. If we are taught, and worse, if we believe, that by a person’s position, it is impossible for them to teach in error, we will blindly accept what our religious leaders teach. This leaves us susceptible to false prophets. We must not look to positions but to anointing of the Holy Spirit. We must not accept blindly the teaching of anyone outside of the teachings of Scripture, but let us test the spirits of those teaching with Scripture that we might not be led blindly down the wrong path. Whether you read something I have written in my book, my blog, notes on my desk, or listened to something I said in a sermon, Bible study, or hanging out with my friends at Chili’s, go and pick up the Bible and read it. Make sure that what you are being taught agrees with the Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Now, go get your Bible and check what I have written here and let me know what you think.