(Editor’s note: Within Evangelical circles, there is great division as to how to respond to the election of Pope Francis I. In this analysis, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, offers thoughts on the papacy in light of this week’s development. Blogger Ryan Smith offers some reactions below. Feel at liberty to send your writings, opinions and comments on this or other topics to firstname.lastname@example.org, or make use of the comments section below. The views of contributing writers do not necessarily represent those of The Baptist Messengerof any its affiliated publications.)
Like most people, I spent last Tuesday and Wednesday going about my normal business of weight-lifting and charity work. However, for millions of Catholics across the globe, these two days not only were spent in anticipation and excitement, but in preparation for a possible new direction for one of the world’s largest religious denominations.
As a born-and-raised Southern Baptist, the papal conclave seems intriguing, yet wrapped in a bit of pomp and circumstance I would be fine without. The robes, secrecy, white smoke, it all seems somewhat extraneous. However, this is the method of a church that genuinely believes they are seeking God’s will in finding a leader in the line of St. Peter.
As Baptists, of course, we do not answer to the pope. Often times our biblical doctrine comes into conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. As Christ-followers, there are tremendous implications wrapped in the selection of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis I. Here are a few reasons why this selection could have major ramifications not only for Catholics, but for the world at large:
1) SEXUAL MORALITY. In a move that may have more cultural implications than anything, the papal conclave chose not to cave to public trends or cultural waves in regard to sexuality, but chose a man who has been unwaveringly orthodox on sexual morality issues. He is outspoken against abortion, so-called same-sex marriage, and contraceptives. With over a billion Catholics worldwide, a pope taking such stands will likely keep sexual issues on the front lines of the cultural battle for years. For pro-life and sanctity of marriage advocates, this will be viewed as a huge win.
2) JORGE BERGOGLIO IS A JESUIT. While you may not know about the Jesuits or Ignatius of Loyola, their founder, Jesuits are a pretty imposing brood. Ignatius founded the Jesuits to be “Soldiers of God” in 1534. Known also as “God’s Marines,” this group takes a sincere vow of chastity, poverty, on-call mission, and strict obedience to the pope. If you are wondering why all the news outlets and media are so surprised by Bergoglio’s low-key and relatively bare lifestyle, this may be why.
3) THE PLIGHT OF THE POOR. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis reportedly will focus much of the Catholic Church’s attention on the poor and disadvantaged. Jorge Bergoglio himself is noted for going to a hospice center for AIDS patients in 2001, washing and kissing the ailing feet of twelve patients. He was also a key figure in the Argentine economic crisis. He noted in 2007, “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”
4) MAN ON A MISSION. Jorge Bergoglio has been noted for his evangelistic efforts. He recently stated, “It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.” If you thought the Lou Holtz commercials about “Coming Home” were pushing the envelope, just wait.
While the ideals of Pope Francis are just that—ideals—his focus and direction will no doubt have impact on the 1 billion-plus Catholics across the globe. Despite the Catholic theology, methodology, or church polity, as those of us who are mission, it is important for us to know what this major religion teaches and the direction they are headed. This not only has implications for the Vatican, but for our neighbors, co-workers, family and friends.
Regardless of where we agree or disagree, we should pray for all those in a leadership role. Finally, it is important to learn our distinctions, and be ready to make a defense for the exclusivity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, and biblical orthodoxy.