Today, I have opted to not to a Reformation Day post from the past – it seems to me that there are more timely things to talk about. Ross Douthat’s recent N.Y. Times op-ed piece on Pope Francis was rather significant, I would say. Here is how Mr. Douthat ends that column:
“….if [Pope Francis] seems to be choosing the more dangerous path — if he moves to reassign potential critics in the hierarchy, if he seems to be stacking the next synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change — then conservative Catholics will need a cleareyed understanding of the situation.
They can certainly persist in the belief that God protects the church from self-contradiction. But they might want to consider the possibility that they have a role to play, and that this pope may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.”
As a Lutheran, these kinds of words sound vaguely familiar. And what if those who are very cynical about Pope Francis’ intentions are correct – that he intends, gradually, to change the church’s moral teachings? Of course, if this were the case, there would undoubtedly be theological reasoning behind that…
Perhaps God evolves?
Now today, on the podcast of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, we hear more about some disconcerting things Francis said at “the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which gathered at the Vatican to discuss ‘Evolving Concepts of Nature.’” (from the Religion News Service article Mohler quotes from).
Pope Francis evidently said – and Mohler personally checked with the reporter on this – that God is “not a Divine Being” and also that “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so….”
As Mohler points out in a more careful analysis than the one I am providing (listen to his podcast), that does not sound like the God the Scriptures reveal to us. God, it seems, is subject to other things outside of God.
Needless to say, Mohler is surprised that there seems to be little controversy here – little concern for what the Pope actually said and meant. Seems like a big deal to me as well.
Another thing that was brought to my attention recently as well from one of this blog’s readers. In one of his General Addresses, from April of 2013, Francis said the following regarding the final judgment:
Finally, a word on the passage of the final judgement, that describes the second coming of the Lord, when He will judge all humans, living and dead (cf. Mt 25:31-46). The image used by the Evangelist is that of the Shepherd separating sheep from goats. On the right are those who acted according to the will of God, helping their neighbor who was hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, thus following the Lord himself; while on the left are those who haven’t come to the aid of their neighbour. This tells us that we will be judged by God on charity, on how we loved him in our brothers, especially the weakest and neediest. Of course, we must always keep in mind that we are justified, we are saved by grace, by an act of God’s gratuitous love which always precedes us; we alone can do nothing. Faith is first of all a gift that we have received. But to bear fruit, God’s grace always requires our openness, our free and concrete response. Christ comes to bring us the mercy of God who saves. We are asked to trust him, to match the gift of his love with a good life, with actions animated by faith and love.
Dear brothers and sisters, may we never be afraid to look to the final judgment; may it push us rather to live better lives. God gives us with mercy and patience this time so that we may learn every day to recognize him in the poor and in the little ones, may we strive for good and we are vigilant in prayer and love. May the Lord, at the end of our existence and history, may recognize us as good and faithful servants. Thank you!
This might sound good on the face of it. No doubt many devout Christians will detect nothing wrong with such a statement. But note what I have bolded above – I submit that Francis’ words necessarily throw us back on ourselves. We play a role not just in our salvation, understood widely, but in our final justification before God. Here, there is no way left open for a person to understand good works as being the evidence of one’s salvation. Words such as these will necessarily cause some of the most pious men who do not know better to doubt that their faith is enough and that they should have confidence that they are in a state of grace. Therefore, in the end, the Pope’s statement must be said to be false.
So, one might ask – how would you faith alone folks talk about something like Matthew 25 and the final judgment then? How do you read it? Here is my harmony of how faith and works go together, which I have shared here before. I believe if you think about it carefully, you will note there is indeed a large difference between what Francis says and my words here:
“Regarding the final judgment, Christians will judge the world as Jesus says and Paul echoes. That said, prior to the final judgment, Christians of course were to judge as God judges: showing mercy – both pity in the form of physical assistance and the forgiveness of God Himself through Christ – to all, first to the believer and then to the terrified unbeliever. Come the separating of the sheep and the goats, Christ and His Church will show mercy to those who have been merciful. In other words, to those who have shown themselves to be His children (after all, sons of God act like sons of God and it is right that they should be found with their father and brother). This means those who have forgiven much – echoing the forgiveness, or reconciliation of God Himself – will be forgiven. This means that those who opened up the Kingdom of Heaven to others will have the Kingdom of Heaven opened up to them. Like Christ, they eagerly gave the promise of paradise to those enemies of God dying to the left of them (and to the right, if they would only have it) who had nothing to give, and could pay nothing back. God’s people, like God Himself, are profligate with pity, mercy, and grace.”
….and when we talk about the individual standing naked before God (Romans 3), we must always strictly distinguish between justification and sanctification.
Mohler pic: Wikipedia ; Douthat pic: NY Times