Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

What Should We Do With the New Pope?


Cruising up Highway 29 just after completing our daily radio broadcast of “Calling for Truth,” in which we had discussed biblical evangelism and Jesus’ terms of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Him alone, one of my church members by way of cell phone informed me that smoke was coming from the Sistine Chapel. “Black or white I asked?” Though black at the time, the next day it would be white and the world was informed that a new Pope had been elected. We learned subsequently that Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the “watchdog” for Roman Catholic doctrine and primary advisor to Pope John Paul II, had been elected with remarkable speed.


Upon hearing the news, not all in the Roman Catholic world were pleased. The chief complaint is his conservative stance. He’s another John Paul II, though perhaps more so. On Nightline, Cokie Roberts lamented his statements in regard to other religions. He said they were flawed to which she responded by saying that goes against the pluralistic stance and philosophy of our nation. She noted that his theology was out of step with the theology of love required for modern clerics. Of course, anyone who understands authority cringes at such statements. Can anyone take Cokie seriously when she comments on philosophy and theology and indeed thumbs her nose at the head of her church?


Of course, she is only an example of the millions in the Roman Catholic Church who now reject authority. One poll declared that 74% of Roman Catholics would follow their own consciences before they would follow the Pope. Postmodern philosophy has indeed penetrated the Roman Catholic Church. One wonders why anyone would call himself Catholic or continue to go to church if he rejects the Vicar of Christ on earth. That’s tantamount to rejecting God Himself. Of course, most people go to church because they are religious and believe that being part of the church somehow merits them favor with God. Their guilty consciences need some kind of salve.


As I have listened to Roman Catholics, and others, criticize the conservatism of Pope Benedict XVI, I have found myself wanting to defend him, by virtue of who he is, in terms of his religious commitment to historical Roman Catholic teaching and theology. What else would you want your Pope to do? Again, if one disagrees, let him join another religion. (Now, don’t hear me defending Roman Catholicism or the Pope’s theology: more on that in just a moment. I am simply amazed at how the Pope could be criticized by Catholics for being Catholic!)


The Pope himself uttered these words: “How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many waves of thinking…The small boat of thought of many Christians has been tossed about by these waves--thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth…We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain, and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." The Pope is right and he is now experiencing postmodern seasickness from his own people.


Of course, Protestants are not immune to postmodern relativism either. In the midst of all the criticisms of the Pope, it has been evangelicals who have defended him, even hailed and praised him as they did John Paul II last week. From the evangelicals we are hearing how wonderful it is that this Pope is so conservative. More than one evangelical said to me, “we have a new Pope!” To be quite candid, I don’t have a new Pope.


Defending the Pope in the context above is not the same as hailing the Pope. While we should applaud his stance regarding abortion, homosexuality and a few other things, we must not become confused. Evangelicals act as if abortion, or homosexuality, or a politically conservative agenda are the most important issues in life. Is it not problematic when evangelicals spend more time talking about politics than they do about Christ? Is it not disconcerting that the lines in our postmodern world are becoming fuzzy even between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals? Is it not halting that the massive bulk of what evangelicals have to say about the Pope is how great it is that we agree on so much? Are not the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls far more important than the comparatively petty issues in the news? Have we forgotten the thousands of Evangelicals who have been martyred to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints?

Many evangelicals would have us join forces with Roman Catholics to advance the conservative agenda. It’s ECT on a grand scale. While others would not go that far, no doubt the lines have been blurred in their minds. When evangelicals refuse to be unequivocal concerning the way of salvation and the fate of those who don’t trust Christ alone, “Houston, we have a problem.”


In Rev. 20:11-15 we read, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” There is no special dispensation for “great” men.


What should we do with the new Pope? We should affirm his words and warning concerning postmodernism and false religion. And, we should apply those words to Roman Catholic theology. We should heed the admonition of Scripture concerning sound doctrine. A sacred deposit has been given to us and we must protect it.

In 2 Tim. 1:13-15, Paul told Timothy to do just that. He exhorted, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” We too must protect the same deposit. How can we do so? How can you do so?


First, protect the deposit with which you have been entrusted by retaining the truth. An ability to retain the truth lies in the fact that it has a distinct form. Paul commands Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words.” This phrase refers to a pattern.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, the truth of His word, has a specific pattern or content. In an ever-shifting theological climate, we must recognize that there is only one faith once for all delivered to the saints.


Too many in our day claim that the texts of Scripture have more than one meaning. That meaning, in their minds, is dependent upon the subjective thoughts and feelings of the interpreter. However, in reality, any text of Scripture can have only one meaning. The text can never mean what it never meant to the original audience. It is also important to understand that the meaning of the text may be applied many different ways. This does not mean that the text means different things to different people. It simply means that God’s one truth in any given text has more than one application.


Note that Paul, in both of his letters to Timothy, emphasizes more than once the critical importance of holding fast to sound doctrine. In a hyper-relative, postmodern day when the common cry is tolerance of competing world views, this message could not be more timely or relevant. Sound doctrine is grounded in an objective standard: the word of God.

We can retain the truth by being faithful messengers. Paul reminds Timothy to retain the standard of sound words which he had heard from him. Paul had proclaimed the gospel to Timothy. The young church planter was Paul’s true son in the faith. Now, as Paul had proclaimed the message of the gospel, Timothy had been charged with doing the same. The primary means of ensuring that the standard of sound words will be embraced by the next generation is the faithful proclamation of that same pattern. We have no liberty to add to or take away from the word. We have no liberty to twist the plain meaning of Scripture. We have no liberty to impose our notions of fairness or proper ethics on Scripture.


Those who do not proclaim the standard of sound words contained in the Scriptures are unfaithful and do not have the call of God upon their lives. Jeremiah comments, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.’ Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them-- yet they keep saying, ‘There shall be no sword or famine in this land’-- by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end (Jer 14:14-15)!’” We must be faithful in a postmodern age.


An ability to retain the truth comes from God as He gives us a faith in His truth and a love for His truth. Note the way in which we are to retain this standard: “in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” We retain the truth in faith. That is, we are so convinced of the veracity or truth of the gospel that we are willing to stake our lives upon it. We believe it. We also love it. We love the truth because God has given us a love for His word. It is a reflection of His character and a revelation of His being.


Note also that an ability to retain the truth lies in the fact that it has a proper sphere. We believe and love the truth in Christ. That is, we believe and love the truth by virtue of our union with Christ. It is only because Christ has died for us and lives in us that we believe and love His word. “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures (Jas. 1:18).”


Second, protect the deposit with which you have been entrusted by guarding the truth. Paul says, “That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”Guarding the truth is grounded in a reliance upon the Spirit, in a recognition of its value, and in a remembrance of God’s trust. Paul reminds Timothy to guard the truth. He refers to the truth as a “good thing” or a “treasure.” It is such because it is truth. All other doctrine or philosophy is error and leads to death. Only the gospel is truth and leads to life. It can’t be mixed with anything else, especially false religion.


This treasure of the gospel truth has been committed or entrusted to us by none other than God Himself. When God calls us to Himself, he does so by the power of the gospel and for the purpose of proclaiming that same gospel, that He might be glorified for His mercy. He reminds Timothy that he cannot guard this deposit in his own strength. He must rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit. The good news is that the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer and emboldens him and empowers Him to be faithful to his calling.


Third, protect the deposit with which you have been entrusted by maintaining the truth. We can maintain the truth by acknowledging that some fall away. When some, even in the evangelical camp are faithless, we must not be such.


Paul gives Timothy an example of some who have not been faithful in protecting the deposit of the gospel. Finding himself in prison, Paul may well have been in need of character witnesses. There were those who were ashamed of Paul because of his imprisonment. They kept their distance from Paul. They forsook him and were disloyal. It seems that a great number had abandoned Paul: “all they which are in Asia.” May we not abandon the truth of Christ or those who publicly affirm that same truth.


Paul even goes so far as to mention two by name, Phygellus and Hermogenes. Perhaps Paul is simply lamenting their disloyalty to him. However, in light of his statement and his mentioning these two by name, it seems that Paul feels they have been disloyal not only to him, but also to the Lord.


Further, by mentioning these two by name, one cannot help but get the impression that Paul is speaking of something more than disloyalty. He quite possibly is speaking of two or more who have apostatized from the faith. They had turned away from the gospel because they had never been born of the Spirit. Paul warns Timothy not to follow their example. Timothy would have known more than we do regarding those who had departed. Note the phrase, “…this thou knowest…” Even so, no doubt, we can see that this issue was quite serious to Paul and the whole issue revolved around holding fast to the truth in an hour when some apparently were not doing so.


In the end, we must maintain the truth by understanding that we must persevere. We must persevere regardless of what anyone else does. We must persevere in loyalty to Christ and in loyalty to His truth. To blur the lines between the biblical way of salvation and a false religion is to be loyal to neither Christ nor His truth. It is to be loyal to that false religion.


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