In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess (pun intended) that I am not personally a Catholic, having grown up as “black sheep” Protestants in a large, extended Catholic family (we needed color-coded name tags at our last reunion). However, due to family relationships I am often sympathetic to the plight of Catholics. Besides, I also believe in angels and demons — a Catholic exorcist probably would be on my speed-dial, were I ever be convinced that I had literally encountered a demonic entity. I wouldn’t fool around or waste time with any rank amateurs in spiritual warfare.
When in doubt, trust the professionals.
However, in the year 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses protesting the corruption and sin within the Catholic church, under the official title “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, for good reason — the church had become corrupt. Only the priests could read the Bible, because it was written in Latin. The congregation members were being taught that the church could literally sell them permission to sin, called “indulgences.”
The Catholic church lost a great deal of power as a result of the Protestant Reformation. In particular, the perception that the church served as an essential intermediary between God and humanity and the idea that the Pope was God’s messenger on Earth diminished quite a bit after Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin into German so that anyone might be able to read it, not just a formally trained priest. It seems that old (and bad) habits die hard.
Pope Francis recently gave a speech in which he (assuming the translation is accurate) said this:
There are those who believe you can have a personal, direct, and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and meditation of the (Catholic) church. These temptations are dangerous and harmful.
No offense meant to my Catholic friends and relatives, but that doesn’t sound very Christian of the Pope. In fact, it directly contradicts the Bible.
Naturally, as the leader of one of the world’s largest religions, Pope Francis is not immune to making controversial statements. Sometimes, we even agree, at least to some degree. For example, not long ago, Pope Francis said,
God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.
Fair enough. In my book Counterargument for God, I worded it differently and simply said that “Life cannot evolve until it exists.” Meaning before evolution (which simply means “change”) becomes possible, the thing that changes must first be created.
Creationism is often portrayed by “intellectuals” in society as the inferior solution compared to the theory of evolution, but that simply isn’t true. Things do change over time, but only after God — or some quite remarkable (even unbelievable) good luck — could have created them.
The universe came to exist by accident, or it was created on purpose, with specific intent. There is not a logical third option.
But rather than quibbling with the Pope about the possibility that humans might have “evolved” from apes, the more fundamental question remains this: is it really dangerous and harmful to think that humans don’t need anyone or anything to intercede on their behalf in order to have a relationship with God? Conversely, Romans 10:9 tells us this:
If you declare with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
During his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus himself said:
Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)
And Revelations 3:20 reads:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and them with me.
It seems to me that Pope Francis is clearly wrong to claim that a human being must belong to some church in order to have a close relationship with the risen Christ. However, as Alexander Pope so eloquently once wrote — “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
All things considered, I think we should forgive Pope Francis for this (admittedly egregious) mistake. After all, he’s only human. Just like the rest of us.