Hold the presses! For the first time since the Reformation a Protestant has something nice to say about the Pope. OK, that’s maybe an exaggeration! But seriously, I have been reflecting on the list of “Most influential Pastors on Twitter.” It struck me that Christians are very good at criticizing other Christians, and especially those who are in any way successful. There are times when it is right to point out another’s flaws. We may even hold doubts about the salvation of some, while recognizing their right to use the name Christian of themselves.
But increasingly I am convinced that our focus should be on learning to identify what is right about other people. Thus, for example, I did once write a post about areas Muslims and Christians disagree about Jesus. But, it was I am sure a good idea to first post about the things that Muslims and Christians agree about him. If this is true even for those of other faiths, how much more those who profess to be Christians?
So, I thought I would start a little series, where I work down the list of these pastoral figures and denominational leaders and look for just one thing that I can commend about them. There may well with some of them be 1000 things I’d disagree on, and this is not in any way negated by these posts. But, for a change let’s focus on the good things.
I really thought when I first came up with this idea that thinking of something positive to say about the Pope would be the hardest. In fact, it is really easy: I like that he resigned. Not in the sense of, I like that there is no Pope at the moment (though I suppose of course that I would be very happy if they decided simply not to replace him!). But rather, there is a very simple but immensely important reason why I think that Benedict did the right thing to step aside: It demonstrated his humanity for the world to see. I think he had already begun to do that by creating a Twitter account for the Pontif which I am told the new Pope will inherit.
Roman Catholics are far from alone in sometimes imagining their leaders to be almost super-human. We are all often guilty of putting men on a pedestal that should be reserved for Christ alone. By retiring, Benedict made plain to all that would listen that he is in fact no substitute for God. God does not grow old. God does not lack strength. God will always be there for us. How foolish we all are to think too highly of our leaders.
It seems to me that at least to some degree Benedict will have altered the perception of the papacy for all time. To the extent to which he has reduced its mystique, reduced the level of adoration, which to the Protestant observer looks almost like worship, that is a good thing. But I do wonder, how many Protestant pastors who have served the Lord for years and are now seen in a similar way by their congregations were given pause for thought. If for the first time in hundreds of years a pope can say “enough!” what of them? Maybe for some a similar decision to step aside in favor of someone younger, someone with more strength, will at least in part be inspired by this brave act.
When you are a Roman Catholic Pope it takes bravery to lay aside hundreds of years of tradition. Of course, some of us would like to see the next Pope lay aside a few more inherited ideas. But, in demonstrating that something so critical as the idea that the Pope dies in office can be changed, it does open up the question what else? Perhaps married priests?
People who know me would know that I am from the modern “non denominational” wing of Christianity. Some would no doubt criticize me for being a revisionist for the sake of change. Of course there is a vital balance to be had.
No doubt in a world that is known for the pace of “improvements,” the Roman Catholic church will always be known as a break on the pace of such transformation, a conservative bastion. The last Pope may have demonstrated that change is certainly possible for them, but in the years to come we may be very glad as Evangelicals that Roman Catholics stand for stability. We may need to make common cause together on certain issues where we agree with them, and also take up our stand together with the Muslims at times.
We live in a world where anything modern is worshipped. The Pope showed us that even for an organization like the Vatican change is possible. But, lets also be glad that such change is tempered by a desire to respect what has gone before. Some Evangelicals could learn from that not to simply jump on the bandwagon of every new idea. It seems Benedicts decision was carefully thought through and planned as all major change should be. No doubt it was born in his witnessing up close the tragic scenes of his predecessor clinging onto life and visibly suffering in full view of the faithful. Lets think carefully before enacting change for the sake of it, but lets not be afraid to modernize when that is wise, appropriate, and does not involve compromise.