Pope Francis’ Diconcerting Remarks in his First Extensive Interview

The new Pope Francis responded to a lengthy interview that was published yesterday in 16 Catholic journals. It was conducted at his living quarters over a period of three days by a clerical editor of a Catholic journal. This extensive interview was based on several questions submitted to him by editorial teams representing Catholic journals.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the Americas and Southern Hemisphere. He is known for his humility and being “a people’s pope” because he is personable and emphasizes helping the poor and disenfranchised of society. The media first responded to this interview by focusing on his critique that the Church has been too “orthodox” by being overly centered on certain moral issues, as well as being against them, such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and gay marriage. Of course, this is a matter of emphasis. This stance regarding abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage will be received with applause by much of the world, but it will be unacceptable to many Catholics and most Evangelicals.

Pope Francis made other troubling remarks. He said that he is “a sinner.” Now, some will think what I am about to say in reply to this is semantic quibbling. But it won’t be for believers who know the Bible and let its teaching and even its language become a part of their lifestyle. For, it regularly differentiates between the believer and the nonbeliever, the righteous and the unrighteous, the godly and the ungodly, the saint and the sinner. But the Roman Catholic Church long ago established that “saints” are a special class of extraordinary Christians, as if the remainder are sinners.

The New Testament (NT), however, identifies all genuine Christians as “saints” (e.g., NASB, NIV). This word in the Greek NT is agios, which means “holy (ones).” Paul uses it 39 times in his NT letters, and he uses the word “sinner(s)” 7 times. He does not mean that saints never sin, but that upon their initial faith in Jesus they thereafter generally live a life centered on God and his ways. And Paul does mean in his letters that sinners, or the unrighteous, do not know God. For he also says to the church at Corinth, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6.9-11 NIV).

Regarding a question on homosexuality that was put to Pope Francis, he responded, “Who am I to judge?” Now, the Roman Catholic Church rightly differentiates between a person with homosexual tendencies and one who practices homosexuality. Yet about judging, the Apostle Paul chastised “the church of God that is in Corinth”(1 Corinthians 1.2 NRSV) for not judging a professing brother reported to be having sexual relations with his mother-in-law (5.1-2).

Paul then adds, “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord…. I wrote to you in my letter [apparently a previous, non-extant letter] not to associate with sexually immoral persons–not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside [the church]. Is it not those who are inside [the church] that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you’” (vv. 3-5, 9-13).

But for Evangelicals, Pope Francis’ remarks about whether or not a person belongs to God will likely prove most disconcerting of all. For, he said in this interview, “I am absolutely certain of this: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life.” That belief is indicative of Vatican II, despite some of its positive contributions to Christian faith, but it is contrary to biblical teaching. And it is a wide pendulum swing from pre-Vatican II, when the Church dogma was “no salvation outside the Catholic Church.”

The Bible occasionally identifies human beings as the creation of God and thus creatures made by him. But that is quite different from the Bible repeatedly identifying certain people as belonging to him and others not belonging to him.

For example, Jesus told Nicodemus, a reputable Torah teacher, that he needed to be “born again/anew/from above” in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3.3). Later, Jesus taught this truth most succinctly to his disciples, saying, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them…. Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (16.21, 23-24). Especially in Jesus’ parables, he regularly differentiated people as being either inside or outside the kingdom of God. This concept means the same thing as people belonging to God or not belonging to God, to God being in a person or God not being in a person.

In conclusion, praise be to God that “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5.6). If we believe in Jesus as Savior from our sins and make him Lord of our life we will spend eternity with him and God his Father. AMEN!

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