Tim Challies, a neo-Calvinist watchblogger of note, has just issued a statement in which he decries Pope Francis as a false teacher. This is part of a series of posts which puts Pope Francis in the same company as Arius, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White (founder of Seventh-Day Adventism), Norman Vincent Peale, and Benny Hinn. Interesting assortment, wouldn’t you say?
So what are Challies’ grounds for saying that Pope Francis is a false teacher? Francis is the leader of an organization that holds to a false Gospel. In Challies’ own words:
For all we can commend about Pope Francis, the fact remains that he, as a son of the Roman Catholic Church and as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, remains committed to a false gospel that insists upon good works as a necessary condition for justification. He is the head of a false church that is opposed to the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The core doctrinal issues that divided Protestantism from Catholicism at the time of the Reformation remain today. The core doctrinal issues that compelled Rome to issue her anathemas against Protestantism are unchanged. Rome remains fully committed to a gospel that cannot and will not save a single soul, and officially damns those who believe anything else…
But there’s more. Here is perhaps the most striking part of the whole piece:
Even while Francis washes the feet of prisoners and kisses the faces of the deformed, he does so out of and toward this false gospel that leads not toward Christ, but directly away from him. Good deeds done to promote a false gospel are the most despicable deeds of all.
In the Neo-Calvinist universe, of which Challies is a part, doctrine is everything. So much so, that you are saved or damned based on the statement of belief that’s on file down at your church or denomination’s front office. Get this right, and all is peachy. Get it wrong, and you’re putting your faith in a false Gospel and on a path straight to hell.
Seriously, people????? SERIOUSLY?????
Look. There are points of Catholic teaching and belief that are issues of conscience for me. These issues present serious obstacles to my ever converting to Catholicism. Though I love to take in a midnight Mass at Christmas or an Easter Vigil service, it is doubtful that my involvement with the Catholic Church will extend beyond that, and these issues are the reason. If you feel similarly about certain points of Catholic belief, I get that. I really do.
But to say that the Catholic Church is “a false church that is opposed to the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone”, or that Pope Francis, by virtue of his position as the leader of the Catholic Church, is “committed to a false gospel”, or that any good works he does are done “out of and toward this false gospel that leads not toward Christ, but directly away from him. Good deeds done to promote a false gospel are the most despicable deeds of all“? That is uncalled for. To trot out the same old, tired, and possibly incorrect talking points that so many of the Reformed persuasion have been trotting out for so long, and to take those talking points all the way to the absurd extreme of consigning an entire branch of Christianity to the status of “false church” simply because the statement of belief on file down at the front office is a little off in regards to soteriology (I’m not above trotting out big theological words to impress my readers)…That is uncalled for.
I think it is best to close with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In the introduction to Mere Christianity he likens the Christian faith to a large guesthouse. The hall is a common space where Christians of all stripes can interact freely, while the rooms represent the various churches and denominations inside the Christian faith, places where one can find deeper fellowship and closer agreement. No one is saying here that anyone has to give up their room or choose a different room, but it would behoove us all to spend some time in the hall, interacting with Christians of other stripes, seeking to understand and learn from them, talking with them rather than spouting talking points, especially old, tired, and possibly inaccurate talking points. And when you return to your own room, take these words of C. S. Lewis to heart:
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.