They got a new Pope today.

pope francisas a descendant of 16th century “protesters”,  i was raised to see the catholic church as sort of the opposition…the other side…even the enemy.

protestants and catholics.  oil and water.  hatfields and the mccoys.  the usa and russia.  you get it.  many, throughout history have call the catholic church the whore of babylon.  in the words of sheldon…bazinga!

growing up in southern california, right next to the border of mexico,  many of my friends were hispanic catholics.  they went to saint mary’s catholic church.  they wore saint christophers around their necks (along with all the surfers).  they carried beads.  they partied hard and went to confession to even everything out.  they went to catechism.  the girls had their quinceaneras.

and they were the reason we had to eat fish sticks in the cafeteria on fridays.

i always thought they were cooler than all the other athletes because of that awesome “sign of the cross” they would do in the batter’s box or before they would do a penalty kick.  i never had anything that cool.

but everything changed for me when i was in graduate school…in my mid-twenties.

on the first day of one semester, i met two guys in one of my church growth classes.  when they told me they were studying for the “priesthood” and they were currently in charge of the youth ministry at a local catholic parish…well, let’s just say the game pretty much changed.

i didn’t know what to do with them.  these guys were members of the other team, but now were sitting side by side with me… studying the same bible…using the same terminology…working for the same boss…striving for the same goals.  at least that’s what they said.

how could this be?

we sat in the same classes and talked over lunches and worked on the same group projects.  we discussed grace and discipleship and evangelism and salvation.  we came to many of the same conclusions.  we wrestled with some of the same doctrines and found ourselves falling on the same side of the theological fence, more often than not.

i remember asking them one day, why they didn’t leave the catholic church.  their answer stunned and inspired me.  they said even though they saw many flaws in the catholic church (just like i saw many flaws in the fundamentalist upbringing of my youth), it was their heritage.  it was their family.  their parish was full of people they loved…full of people who needed to know the gospel…people who desperately needed to know jesus.

it was in those classroom settings…in those deep conversations with guys who were so different, yet so similar, to me… in those conversations of brutal honesty and compassionate transparency…that my heart changed.  catholics stopped being the enemy.

do i think the catholic church is missing the mark?  you bet.  i think they have since the days of the second and third centuries when the church and the government of rome got in bed together for political advancement.

do i question the catholic church’s system of leadership and hierarchy?  definitely!  but in my not-always-so-humble-but-often-critical opinion, the protestant church since the time of martin luther…through the birth and growth of evangelicalism…all the way to today’s modern church growth movement and beyond…we protestants have also created a system of hierarchy that seriously misses the mark of the teachings of the apostles, as well as the heart and message of jesus himself!

beware the smug superior attitude.  it’s an ugly thing.

do i think the catholic church is full of traditions and rituals that have little, or no, connection to authentic biblical teaching?  of course.  like we protestants don’t have closets full of secrets and damning arguments over meaningless traditions.  sheesh.

do i struggle with the idea of a “pope”?  of course.  i believe the whole idea of papel succession is built on a completely faulty interpretation of three verses in matthew 16.  i don’t believe that any man should speak with heavenly authority.  i don’t believe that any man has the “ear” of god more than any other man.  i don’t believe that any man has the power to absolve the sins of another man.   i don’t believe that any man should be revered and lifted up higher than another man.

yup.  that’s what i think.  and i also believe for many protestant/evangelical pastors, the only real difference between them and popes and cardinals and archbishops and priests is the absence of a pointy hat.  god help us all.

are catholics saved?  not because they’re catholics.  are protestants saved?  not because they’re protestants.  are christians saved?  not because they call themselves christian.  the world…even history…is full of people and churches and systems who think they are “right”.

have i ever met a catholic who knows and loves and serves jesus?  most certainly.  many.  have i ever met a protestant/evangelical/christian who i think has completely missed the point of grace and atonement and discipleship?  many.  i mean, many.

there’s so much more that could…and probably should…be said.  but for now, here’s my conclusion:  i prayed for the new pope today.  you should too.

you could pray for me, also.  i need it as much as he does.

probably more.


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