The last few weeks have been pretty intense in the religio-political world. The arrival of Pope Francis in America has elicited all kinds of responses. For some, he is a breath of fresh air. For others, he is no different from any other Pope apart from his “terrific PR”.
Regardless of which position you may take, one thing is certain – Pope Francis is a historic Pope. He is the first Latin-american Pope and the first Jesuit Pope. In addition “[h]is tour [in America] marked several firsts for the papacy: Francis was the first pope to address a joint sitting of US Congress. He also [conducted the]… first canonization to occur on US soil.” And if that weren’t enough, Christianity Today recently published an article titled “From Antichrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope” which reveals the results of a Life Way Research project which discovered that “[m]ore than half of evangelical pastors say Pope Francis is their brother in Christ.” This is a long shot from Luther, the father of Protestantism, who emphatically declared “I am entirely of the opinion that the papacy is the Antichrist.”
Those who share the apocalyptic-consciousness that Luther and the reformers proclaimed continue to view the papacy (not necessarily the pope) as the Antichrist. This consciousness – or state of awareness – is arrived at through the historicist reading of apocalyptic literature. In the Bible, this interpretation chronicles an unfolding of end time events in which spiritual fraud forms the overlying strategy of scriptures protagonist – Satan. At the center of this strategy lies the Roman Papal system and the story that this system tells. A philosophy which, taken as a whole, forms a counter-narrative to the story that Jesus came to tell.
As a result, those who share this consciousness feel a responsibility to warn the world. Thus, while the masses may engage in ardent adulation of Romes pontiff, this group finds itself swimming against that stream. As a historicist I find myself in that very position and wonder, how can I effectively share this story with those who do not share my worldview? And while I have yet to arrive at a complete answer, the last few weeks have taught me 3 things I certainly do not want to do.
The first item on my list is false accusations. I cannot tell you how many Facebook posts I have seen that level false accusations against Pope Francis. The worst of all would have to be a recent article accusing the Pope of declaring Jesus’ work on the cross a failure. If this were true, it would be very significant. But it turns out, that’s not what Francis actually said. His exact words were:
The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
The relatively unbiased and careful reader would note that the interpretation of this passage rests on the phrase “humanly speaking”. In other words, we are not to measure success by way of human standards because “humanly speaking” Jesus’ life ended in failure. To say the Pope was actually saying that Jesus was a failure is clearly a false accusation. While such an accusation may convince the sensational and overtly biased it fails to bear the test of scrutiny.
Antichrist or not, Christians do not have the right to label false accusations against Pope Francis. Exodus 20:16 clearly states “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And last I checked Pope Francis is my neighbor. While I may not agree with his meta-narrative he is still a child of God. And while I may fully embrace the apocalyptic warning concerning final events that does not give me licence to break the commandments in the name of “I’m just warning people”. If we are going to warn people against deception, lets not resort to deception. If we are going to proclaim truth, lets do so in the Spirit of truth and not vindictiveness and hatred. Our words and discourses regarding this matter should stand the test of scrutiny. As Ellen White said,
It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith, we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny. . . .
Rhetoric is defined as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” Combine that with “hateful” and you have got yourself one nasty piece of literature. Paul tells us in Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” With such a clear command one would expect Christians to exercise caution when it comes to the kinds of rhetoric that they engage in regarding any topic – including the Pope. And yet, it is from Christians that I have witnessed some of the most hateful rhetoric around. From sarcastic memes to outright insulting statements the internet is crawling with the greatest exhibition of Christian hate that I have seen in a long time. Sadly, most of what I have seen is being promulgated by my Adventist kin. In many ways some (not all, of course) of my own brothers and sisters in faith have become, in the words of Adventist evangelist Roger Hernandez, “the kind of Christian other Christians have to apologize for.”
Examples of hateful rhetoric can include articles and memes insulting the Pope with phrases such as “Marxist”, “idolater”, “blasphemer”, or “man of sin”. Now some may argue “but that’s what the Bible calls him!” To which I would say, no. That’s what we call him while borrowing scriptures language. Truth is, we don’t know who the Antichrist is. While I share the conviction that the Antichrist is certainly the papacy, that does not automatically mean that a particular Pope is the Antichrist. But even if Francis were, what have we accomplished by promulgating this? By calling someone “Antichrist” outside of Revelations narrative does nothing but offend those who do not share our worldview. If we want people to know who the Antichrist is its not about slapping Antichrist on a picture of Francis and sharing it all over social media. Its about inviting people into the story of Daniel and Revelation and lovingly helping them to see the entire tale unfold – a tale which has Jesus, not the pope, as its central theme. If we skip this and instead opt for the shallow meme or the anti-Catholic propaganda, what have we really accomplished? Have we led people to see the beauty of Jesus? Have we drawn people to the truth of the cross? Or have we attempted to simply convince them of the Papacy’s evils through our own brand of evil – our hateful words?
The worst part of engaging in hateful rhetoric is that ultimately we are the ones who suffer, not our target. By engaging in hateful rhetoric against the Pope we are sending a message to our friends and neighbors that we are intolerant, unloving, unhealthy, and fanatical. While Pope Francis pours his energy into relieving the suffering of illegal immigrants we raise our hate-speech banners all over Facebook to let everyone know where we stand. In the end, we accomplish nothing of value. Instead, we succeed in making ourselves look like the biggest fools on earth and do damage to the cause of Christ.
Thirst for More
The final point I would like to mention is our seemingly insatiable thirst for more beast and more Antichrist. I recently came across an article which, while rejecting the Catholic worldview, attempted to highlight the areas of Pope Francis’ philosophy that all Christians – especially Adventists – can embrace. The author focused exclusively on Francis’ appeal to social action, acts of charity, and stewardship of the earth. In the end he concluded that in relation to these positive and necessary pursuits we were in full agreement with Francis. I enjoyed the article and found it to be both balanced and thought provoking. What I found alarming where the comments that followed. Beginning with the very fist comment all the way down the page was one complaint after another on how the author had failed to mention how the Pope is the Antichrist, the beast of Revelation 13, and how he is using social justice as his mask for the Sunday law.
As soon as I read those comments all I could do was ask, “Haven’t you read enough of that already? Do we really need another article on the Antichrist agenda? Do we really need to be told again and again?”
The article did not deal with the apocalyptic narrative of Revelation 13. Instead, it approached the issue from the angle of “common ground” and called Adventists to recognize the value in social action. In my estimation, this is an angle that is painfully overlooked. Revelation 13 has been extrapolated in countless sermons, articles, documentaries, and books. Do we really need another article repeating the same stuff? And here I discovered one of the greatest dangers to avoid in this whole discussion – the thirst for more. Some, it seems, are constantly and endlessly craving more anti-Catholic and anti-Pope ideologies. It’s like we can’t get enough of it. Like addicts, we freak out when someone writes an article about the Pope that is not anti-Pope. “I want more anti-Pope!” is the cry of our “itching ears”. And the more we go down this path the more susceptible we are to fanatical conspiracy theories, an imbalanced apocalyptic-consciousness, apocalyptic paranoia, and an unhealthy witness.
So here is my main objective with this article. I wholeheartedly embrace the reformers historicist interpretation of Daniel and Revelation. I am all for giving the warning. I am all for preaching final events. But it can never be done via false accusations, hateful rhetoric, or a continual thirst for more anti-Papacy discourses which leave the avenues of our souls wide open to the dangers of apocalyptic paranoia. When discussing Revelations narrative we must remember that it is the “Revelation of Jesus”, that our words should always be seasoned with salt, that we are never to bear false witness,* and that if there is one thing that we should thirst for more and more it is Jesus and Jesus only. Psalm 42:1 says “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” May this prayer be ours.
Note: This article was originally posted at pomopastor.com
* One of the main reasons why false information continues to spread is because many have not educated themselves on how to identify it and evaluate it. Here are 3 articles which should be of help with this endeavor:
 “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” – 2 Timothy 4:3
 See: Christians and Conspiracy Theories – http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/01/christians-conspiracy-theories.html