There have been several times over the last week that I wanted to quickly record an episode of Christians In Rome about, but just never had the time. It occurred to me this morning, however, that this is a blog, not just a podcast – or, at least, it doesn’t have to be just a podcast. That said, whatever I say in this blog probably will be repeated at some point on the show, but for now I just couldn’t wait any longer.
DISCLAIMER: I’m potentially going to be saying some strong things, and probably going to be using a lot of generalizing and blanket terminology. Understand that I am well aware that not everyone within the groups I am going to be talking about agree. Not everyone is like who I am going to be talking about. The generalization is for argument purposes. So, please keep that in mind before you feel insulted and reply that “not all of us are like that!”
It’s no surprise that Pope Francis, Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, is in the United States this weekend. Since it was first announced I knew that there was, most likely, going to be trouble on the Protestant front — for ease of argument, I will be using protestant as a broad term to refer to any branches of Christianity that came from the sixteenth century Classical Reformation, so this will include the Reformation itself as well as the seventeenth century Radical Reformation, and eighteenth/nineteenth century Revivalism, and so on.
And let me tell you: I haven’t been “disappointed.”
It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out this one simple fact: Protestants hate Roman Catholicism. At best, they strongly dislike it.
To understand why this is, it is critical to understand Christian History. In the sixteenth century, Roman Catholicism was going through a time that most Catholics now grimace about if they know it real well. The church had capitalized on being a supreme ruling power, and this affected just about everything, including the culture itself — not unlike how things were for the Jews, the Pharisees, and the temple in the days of Christ. Famously, the church sold indulgences — though a good deal of the time it was actually independent merchants. Purchasing things like special handkerchiefs, necklaces, rings, candles, or just money donations, could essentially buy one’s way out of Purgatory, or at the very least “shave off” some years. This specific historical piece is what Protestants latch onto the most and is ultimately what led to the (mistaken) belief that Roman Catholics believe in works-righteousness (doing good works to earn Salvation) — in actuality, this is not a Roman Catholic dogma, and while you may find some Catholics who do believe this, the truth is you will also find some Protestants who, while they would never admit it’s what they’re doing, it is, in fact, the way they are living. Anyway, it was the indulgences and the almost tyrannical role the church had taken that led to Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. And lo, the Protestants were born. Interestingly enough, the Christians of the Classical Reformation were a lot more sympathetic to/with Roman Catholics than Protestants are today. It wouldn’t be until the Radical Reformation some years later that the “battle lines” would be drawn.
Anyway, all of this to say: I understand historically why there are such harsh relations between Protestants and Roman Catholics. And you don’t have to go far to find those harsh relations being played out.
On social networks, my news feeds have been chock full of blogs, posts, tweets, articles, videos, and more, by many Protestants who have scrutinized literally every word spoken by Pope Francis since he arrived in order to find at least one thing wrong. As I said to one of my Roman Catholic friends, there weren’t enough “face palm” memes in the world to answer the biggest accusation I’ve seen so far, namely that the pope apparently never spoke the name of Jesus Christ during his speech(es) here. “How can someone claiming to do the work of Christ not use the name of Christ!?” they exclaim.
Listen, I get it, I really do. Sure, maybe he should have said His name. And I also know that there are some other questionable things Pope Francis has said. But the thing is, and I’m putting this bluntly, where he “fails” and Protestants succeed in invoking the name of Christ, he succeeds where Protestants fail in striving to be like Christ to the Nations. I know, that is probably an outrageous claim to make, but I honestly feel this way.
I’ve made it no secret on the podcast that I feel American Christianity has become severely degraded. Instead of putting our focus on sharing the Gospel, caring for the poor, displaying Christ’s self-denying love, we focus on our rights of who we bake cakes for, how we can speak out against sins, and getting a Republican in the oval office. In stark contrast stands Pope Francis, who has been outspokenly caring for the poor and homeless, and deeply compassionate toward people.
But, of course, he is by no means the first church leader to do so. I was blown away by reading about the spread of Christianity in pre-Soviet Russia, and how a good many of the priests, clergy, and parishioners were well known for living with the homeless, forsaking their own wealthy statuses in society, and it had a huge impact on Russia as a whole.
Where is that Christianity in America? Where is the Christianity that says “It’s not about what you can do for me, but what I can do for you”? For some reason we forget that Jesus Christ placed such great emphasis not on homosexuality or Religious Freedom, but on self-sacrifice, on caring for our neighbor, for the poor and widows, for showing the love of God to people in such a way that they cannot deny His existence.
But of course, we can’t emphasize caring for the poor here in America, because that’s too politically “Liberal.” We can’t emphasize caring for the poor since they are probably choosing that lifestyle because they don’t want to work, and of course “if anyone be not willing to work, neither let him eat.” Or we do care about the poor, but before we help them we need to stop the evil government from stealing our money via Welfare!!
At worst we are deliberately ignorant. At best we are confused. We spend so much time arguing that it is becoming what we are known for. Yet Jesus Himself said “By this they will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
We are so convinced that America is going to hell in a handbasket. At best America is degrading. If you really think that then perhaps it’s time for us to TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH, because clearly the way we’re doing things right now isn’t working. What drives me crazy is when I say that, people automatically think I’m saying “we need to capitulate!” Listen. That is not what I am saying. I am not saying we need to capitulate and let go of our beliefs about the Bible and sin. What I am saying is that we need to try a different approach based on those beliefs. Because, believe me, it is possible, early Christian History testifies as such!
Let not our Christian Martyrs be a marriage-licenser or baker who proudly and triumphantly says “No” to Same-Sex Marriage. To be honest, I find it insulting to refer to these people as “martyrs,” and to refer to what’s happening to us in America as “persecution.” If we think this is persecution… then American Christianity is doomed if REAL persecution ever happens here.
The fact is, we are so closely bound to the American Political System that it is now extremely difficult to tell where Christianity ends and (Insert Political Party) begins. And let’s face it, Politics is not characterized by self-denying love. At all. Politics is about arguing, endless debate, standing for rights, and so on. Sound familiar?
And the way I see it, regardless of whether or not Pope Francis is truly Christian (based on Protestant standards), he is being a better “Christian” than we are.
Several years ago when I was on an Internet message board, I remember spending a lot of time and energy “exposing False Teachers” and “False Doctrines.” And I will never forget this: I received a message from an atheist… an atheist… who said “Why are you spending so much time talking about this instead of sharing the Gospel?” That impacted me incredibly. And I believe it is a sad but true characterization of American Christianity in general. Sure, there is a time for speaking firmly, for pointing out sin, for debating, for defending the Faith, for “martyrdom,” but when that becomes the whole of our existence as Christians then something is horribly wrong, and we have learned nothing from the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus who was swarmed by crowds wanting to know more, in contrast with the American Church who’s attendance is steeply declining.
If America is going to hate us and drift away from us, let it be for the right reasons, rather than the self/manufactured “martyrdom” we’ve created for ourselves.