But now, he is Pope Francis.
Now, I am fully and securely a Protestant, as most of the readers of this blog are. But for those of us that find ourselves in that Protestant tradition, we often forget a little detail of that name: Protestant.
It means, literally, “the protesting ones”. We are “protest-ant” about many of the practices and teachings of the Catholic Church. But to “protest” something does not necessarily mean you are no longer a part of it.
This is why I describe myself, denominationally, as a “Protesting Catholic”. (Okay, I stole that from Austin Ricketts.)
And you should to.
We are all, as the Creed says, part on “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Part of maintaining that unity is seeing us as one family with disagreements, not different churches entirely. We did not “break off” from the Catholic Church.
The first Reformers had no intention of creating the situation we have today. They wanted to reform the existing Church, not start something altogether different. But when faced with such strong opposition, they (eventually, after much blood, sweat, and tears, admittedly) established denominations as a loving way to maintain the “family name”, without focusing on distracting differences. As a good friend of mine posted on Facebook:
The purpose of denominations is not division but diffusion. They function so as to diffuse the finer theological tensions between all those who “confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead.”
And so, in a sense, Pope Francis is my Pope, though I’m still in protest of the tradition of the Church he leads.
In the end, I think I’m more okay with the Catholic view of Church authority than what contemporary Evangelicalism has had to offer. Just like how Protestants overreacted to priestly celibacy by imposing the unspoken principle that pastors seemingly must be married, Evangelicals seem to have overreacted to Catholic-ish forms of church government and authority by casting off authority in general (and no, saying “the Bible is my authority” is not the same thing; you’re still inevitably making yourself the “infallible” reader and applier of Scripture).
I honestly think the whole “non-denominational” thing is far more dangerous than the papacy. I’ll take a Pope over a Mark Driscoll any day.
And honestly, I’m sort of okay with the idea of a Pope, though not as it’s exercised right now. In one article I read about the biblical basis for the papacy, the writer described the Pope as, in a sense, the “Prime Minister” of the Kingdom of God (where Jesus still is King). The Pope articulates and tries to put into practicalities the decrees of the King among his People.
I’m okay with this, and I get the arguments for Peter’s “first Pope-ness” and the subsequent idea of papal succession. But even this “first Pope”–after his ordination to the top spot, mind you–denied Christ, ran away from Jerusalem and disappeared from the major work of the Acts church after persecution began, was called out for his racism by Paul, was martyred by the State (and was not in collusion with it), and may have even flirted with Gnosticism (depending on your thoughts on 2 Peter).
He seems to have been the first among equals, who had been set aside for prominence, but not necessarily “authority”. Remember: the “first Pope” is the one that said that we are all a Kingdom of Priests.
In short, I’d prefer a very human Pope.
And indeed, this is the beauty behind the very idea of a Pope. G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic, said this about the papacy, and I couldn’t agree more:
When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, he chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward – in a word, a man. And upon this rock he has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.
And so with that in mind, let us rejoice in God for our new Pope. Let’s pray for this next “weak man” in a long line of “weak men”.
Even as we continue to Protest.
You can also check out my on-going series “Catholics Aren’t Crazy” for more thoughts on Catholicism.