My Struggle with the Papal Visit

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.


Pastor Lee is the Lead Pastor at CrossRoads Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. His message focuses on the healing power of Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Father of three awesome sons and he is madly in love with his wife, Amy. And his favorite past time is losing golf balls in the rough while attempting to play a round of golf.

Posted in Doctrine, Leadership, Social Commentary Tagged with: , , ,
2 comments on “My Struggle with the Papal Visit
  1. Judy Miller says:

    Pastor Lee, your thoughts on this topic is not one that I have not heard before. I was raised Catholic and am now attending a Baptist Church. Pope Francis has touch my heart that when I see him and his commitment to people it makes me want cry. I had the same feeling for Pope John Paul. This is what I want to tell you. God is using him to speak to the people that can relate to him. You will only see and hear what God knows will speak to your heart and soul. Did Jesus ask for all the pomp and attention that the people gave him where ever he went? Why did he draw such attention to himself? MY point is Christ healed not only the sick but he healed spiritually. Pope Francis is reaching people who are hurting. He makes them feel they are worthy and special. Same as Christ did. The Pope spends most of his time in prayer with little outside stimulation. Have you ever tried going days without a cell phone, TV, radio to interfere with your time with God? God speaks to us better without outside stimulation and busyness. We live in a world where we want Proof of belief. God says Blessed are those who believe without proof. So does Mary strengthen ones belief in God and Jesus, only those who believe in her can tell you that. As a Pastor, you should know the history of the Bible; how the Catholic Church was the one that translated it from Hebrew and Greek. There will always be a difference in teaching and interpreting the Bible between the different religions. The only thing that is true amongst all of them, Christian, is the Belief in One God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy spirit. Christ taught Mercy, Compassion, prayer, not to judge, and Love. I believe Holy men are living in this day and age regardless as to what religion they believe in. I let God lead me in my heart and soul on how to speak to others on his behalf . Listen to him and he will direct your ways. I do enjoy your thoughts. God Bless

  2. Pastor Lee says:

    Thank you so much for your comments Judy. I have to say, as one who receives criticism often and at times very harsh criticism, your words, though it seemed that some of the things I wrote might have bothered you a bit, are full of grace with a desire of unity. That is wonderful and I wish everyone could express their opinion with such grace. So, before I say anything, I love the spirit in which you expressed your thoughts. Thank you!

    I agree with you about Pope Francis. I tried to express that I feel Pope Francis is a man of great humility and I do believe that he is an excellent example of Christ’s love for the world. Another thing that bothered me about his visit that I did not write about was how different political parties on both sides tried to hijack his words at time, misinterpret them, and use them for their own agenda though I don’t believe the Pope is political. I know many who read this blog will disagree and say that he is political. I do not. I think his comments, even those that may slightly cross political lines are said out of a sincere desire to serve the Lord and obey His commands. I do not agree with everything he says or his way of obeying the commands of God such as climate change, but I do believe his heart is pure in his desire to honor Christ in all things.

    My issue is more in line of 1 Corinthians 5:12 where we are taught to judge those in the church. The purpose for this is to ensure that we are not led astray by false teaching. I am not at all accusing the Pope of false teaching. I am criticizing any Christian church, including the Catholic church, that discourages their followers from comparing the teaching of their religious leaders with Scripture. I have never heard Pope Francis do this, but it is written into the doctrine of the Catholic Church and exists in practice in many, many protestant churches as well.

    After Henry VIII officially broke away from the Catholic church, William Tyndale a Biblical scholar that came out of the Protestant Reformation, was executed for attempting to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. There were many other Protestant Reformers dong the same thing but Tyndale also openly criticized Henry VIII’s divorce as being unscriptural. When Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church, he made himself the head of the Church of England. It is still the same today. Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Church of England. She is in charge of the official Christian Church of England simply because of her position though she, not any other monarch, has been a member of the clergy. Whether it is a Baptist Church, Nazarene Church, Lutheran Church, or Catholic Church, all believers should check what they are being taught with Scripture. I don’t believe we should follow teachings that go against Christ, Peter, Paul, and the other canonical writers. I was attempting to criticize this, not the Catholic Church in general.

    There I go again breaking into preacher-mode going on and on. Please forgive me.

    May the Lord bless you for such grace and desire for unity in the church. I do not wish to create discord and if it came across that way, please accept my apology. Thank you again.

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