Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Reflections on the Pope's Visit to America

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the U.S. gave me a 1999 flashback. Almost 10 years ago, it was the globe-trotting Pope John Paul II who showed up in America, even venturing into America’s heartland and my home state of Missouri.

Papal visits are rare things, especially to Midwest America. And John Paul II was a morally good man who had pursued many worthy endeavors. However, a dark, theological cloud hung over the Pope’s visit back then—highlighting his spiritual deception.
A few months earlier, in the quiet halls of the Vatican, John Paul II had issued Incarnationis Mysterium –a papal bull declaring the jubilee year. At the center of this declaration was the practice of indulgences from punishment for sin, the practice which prompted the Protestant Reformation. This practice is a serious divergence from genuine, biblical faith and must be repudiated by true Christians.

Pope Clement VI was the first to start this deviant doctrine. In the mid-1300’s, he advanced the notion that the church was a treasury of merits stored up by saints. In the 16th century, Pope Julius II revived the practice of selling indulgences to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, prompting the fiery dissent of Martin Luther.

The Bible clearly teaches that God (and only God) forgives sin. The church is not the dispenser of forgiveness. Rather, the penitent sinner has access to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther wrote in his 95 theses in 1517, “Any truly repentant Christian has a rich right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.”

And so, Pope John Paul’s Incarnationis Mysterium widened the gulf between Catholics and Protestants. On one hand there is the teaching that you must come to the church for forgiveness; on the other is the belief that you must go to God who alone has the power to wash you and cleanse you.

Pope Benedict XVI has done nothing to correct this theological departure. In fact, his own writings further underscore this historic rift between Catholic and Protestant understandings of the Bible.

So in all the hype and excitement over this latest papal visit, let us commit ourselves afresh to the truth of the Bible and let us resist strongly any and all teachings which pervert the truth of the Holy Scriptures. Finally, may we witness to our Catholic friends and relatives of the grace and forgiveness that is offered directly by God through His Son Jesus Christ.

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PS: Somewhat off point, but is anyone else annoyed by our President's language? Whenever he refers to God it is usually a very detached "the Almighty". When welcoming Pope Benedict, the President said: "Holy Father, thank you for making this journey to America. Our nation welcomes you." Does one sound more reverent than the other?

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