The Pope Resigns
When I was a boy growing up in an area that was significantly more Catholic than where I live now we evangelicals weren’t all that fond of the Pope and his flock. We didn’t hate them but we did sort of resent them. The battle was over the way they claimed to own the phrase “the church.” This was some years before Pope Paul VI (at least I think it was him) admitted that it was possible, not likely but possible, that some of us outside of the Catholic Church could perhaps actually be Christians.
Nobody likes to be on the outside looking in and to be told that when it comes to “the church” that is where you were was not easy to accept with grace. Of course, we could get on the inside any time we wanted, we just had to convert. I was young at the time but I remember some of the adults in my faith community huffing and puffing with indignation that the Pope thought he was letting us go to heaven without being in his church.
I am pondering those days as I consider the wealth of news about the resignation of the current Pope, Benedict XVI. If you had even cast half an eye to the news or to the late night comedy shows yesterday you would have noticed that the story of that resignation was all over the news. It was clear that this was a HUGE deal; and I suppose that the resignation of the spiritual leader of almost one billion people does qualify as a big deal. How about to evangelicals? Is it, and the choice of his successor, a big deal to us?
Frankly, I don’t expect many evangelicals to take more than a passing notice. I doubt that many of our pastors are hastily rewriting their sermons for this Sunday to address the issue. I don’t expect too many calls from evangelical circles for prayer for wisdom and guidance in choosing a successor. I doubt many of us are pouring over his resignation announcement trying to discern why he took this rare step. To most of us it simply is no big deal.
OK, I am going to contend that it actually is a big deal and we should learn from his act and follow the process of choosing his replacement. To begin with, we need to see the humility of the act itself. Giving up a position of immense power, privilege and prestige, particularly one that you can hold until the day you die, is pretty amazing. If you do it with the admission that, mentally and physically, you are not up to the job is even more impressive. How many people do you know who have ever said “I am not smart enough or strong enough to do this job.”?
But even more importantly, if we are disinterested in this process we are committing the same act that my church found offensive all those years ago; we are ignoring it because our definition of “the church” really does not, at heart, include Catholics. Some of us pay the same lip service to the idea that some Catholics may be bound for heaven that was paid to us in Pope Paul’s admission years ago.
The vast majority of American evangelicals are not anti-Catholic. Sometimes it seems however that we are equal opportunity doubters. Mainline Protestants, Charismatics, Eastern Orthodox and others all fall into the same “maybe but probably not” camp.
For decades our culture has had an image of St. Peter standing at the gates of heaven deciding who gets in and who does not. Sadly, I sometimes feel too many evangelicals want his job. I have no idea who we are going to see when we walk the streets of heaven. I suspect however that we may be in for a lot of “How did you get in here?” moments.