“Habemas papem” — “We have a Pope”
With those words, the world was introduced to the new Bishop of Rome — former cardinal and now Pope — Jorge Mario Bergoglio. My wife and I were watching the live broadcast (on Fox News Channel, of course) when the curtain on the Vatican balcony was pulled back and the new Pope — the first named Francis, the first Jesuit, and the first from the Americas — walked onto arguably the largest stage in the world. As a student of culture, religion, and politics, this moment was truly historical, even for non-Catholic Southern Baptists like me.
When French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (who himself looked frail and weak) declared, “We have a Pope,” he obviously meant that the Roman Catholic Church had a new Pope. But, do Christians outside the RCC also have a Pope? Now, I know that is a loaded question. In one sense, the answer is a clear-cut “No!” As the Pastor of a Southern Baptist church, our church, like the overwhelming number of other Baptist (Southern and otherwise) churches do not recognize any other ecclesiastical authority outside the local church. That simply means that we do not answer to any Bishops or Popes or any entity or seminary Presidents. The members of the local church, under the headship of Jesus Christ and in accordance with the Bible, have final say as to what happens within the church.
However, as part of the greater Christian community worldwide (and yes, I do believe that Catholics are part of that community while Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not), Pope Francis I is “our Pope.” Now, before some of my Baptist brethren become unhinged, let me explain. I do not believe that any Pope, including this Pope, is infallible. Only Scripture is inerrant and only Jesus Christ was perfect. I also do not believe that Peter was the first Pope. When Jesus told Peter “on this rock I will build My Church,” I believe that Jesus was telling Peter (and us) that the Church would be built upon the rock of Peter’s confession of faith, “You (Jesus) are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and not upon Peter himself.
That being said, I believe that Pope Francis will be the symbol of Christianity for a watching world. What he says and does will not only affect the Roman Catholic Church, but Pope Francis’ words and actions will speak for all of Christendom, whether we like it or not. Of course, there will be some things that non-Catholics will not like when it comes to certain doctrinal issues that continue to differentiate Catholicism from other Christian groups (i.e., the importance of the Virgin Mary, the veneration of saints, and the ultimate meaning of the Gospel and Salvation to name but a few). But, it seems that on the major moral issues confronting not just American culture, but cultures the world over — abortion, euthanasia, and sexual ethics, including same-sex marriage/gay rights — that Pope Francis will continue to speak Biblical truth. Regardless of what actions the new Pope takes to confront poverty, his Biblical stance on the sanctity of human life (from conception to natural death) and marriage (one man and one woman) will not endear him to the liberal, anti-Catholic elements within the Catholic Church itself, much less to those outside the RCC.
Being a non-Catholic, it is not surprising that I had never heard of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio prior to Wednesday’s announcement. And, while I will continue to harbor strong disagreements with my Catholic friends on certain doctrinal issues, I nevertheless recognize that Pope Francis I is “my Pope,” much like John Paul II was the Pope to the world. In one of his first acts, the new Pope asked for the prayers of the people, that God would bless him in his new ministry of service. Even as non-Catholics, might it be our prayer for Pope Francis that God would use him to bring honor and glory to the Lord as he proclaims Peter’s confession: “You (Jesus) still are and always will be the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And, may Pope Francis, the Jesuit from Argentina, live out the example of Romans 1:17, “the righteous shall live by faith.” That wouldn’t be a first for a Pope. But, that would be a pretty awesome witness for a lost world!