Pope Francis: Apostolic preaching?

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The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) holds that the Pope is the Successor of Peter and therefore an Apostle. Looking at the recent visit of Pope Francis, let's ask whether his preaching was Apostolic? Did his preaching and the results his preaching had in our national life bear the marks of the Apostles' preaching recorded in the New Testament? And in particular, was it like the Apostle Peter's preaching?

To answer that question, let's look at the Apostle Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost...

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, "I saw the Lord always before me,  for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence." Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."  Acts 2:22-41

Before comparing the preaching of the Apostle Peter with Pope Francis's recent preaching here in the U.S., let's examine the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Pope's apostleship more closely. Does their "apostolic succession" mean that men subsequent to the Apostle Peter merely obtain his office and authority, or must it also mean that their message and method will imitate and bear a strong resemblance to the preaching and witness of the Apostle Peter and the other Biblical Apostles? In other words, is a Pope free to redefine Apostleship? Can he lay claim to the office and then preach a different message than the Apostle Peter did?

I must assume that by calling Pope Francis "Peter's Successor," Roman Catholics (formerly, I was one myself) mean Pope Francis's ministry must and will be in keeping with the original message and goal of the Apostle Peter and his fellow Biblical Apostles.

If so, consider what we heard from Francis. Or perhaps, more to the point, consider what we did not hear from Francis this past week. Weigh his words in the light of the text of the Apostle Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost above.

The Apostle Peter spoke boldly, calling his hearers to recognize their guilt in the murder of the Son of God. Further, he called his hearers to repent and to recognize their need of the forgiveness of their sins. Too, he warned them by crying out, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation!"

Was this the sort of note Pope Francis struck while he was among us last week? Frankly, when Pope Francis spoke at the White House and before Congress, he didn't preach at all. Rather, he gave speeches. This is fine if God sent His Apostles to be national statesmen and Pope Francis was simply acting as a diplomat for the nation of the Vatican. But since when are Apostles set apart merely to be statesmen? 

At the White House, Pope Francis found it in himself to laud President Obama for his policy initiatives to curb global warming, yet he never rebuked the President for his threat to veto any budget that would not provide funding for Planned Parenthood—that national slaughterhouse of infants made in God's image.

The next day Francis addressed Congress. The day before, the Senators he addressed had refused to pass legislation that would halt abortions of babies twenty weeks and older, yet "Peter's Successor" said nothing by way of warning.

Pope Francis's advocates declared that his positive call to recognize the preciousness of human life was a bold stand, with some Catholic commentators even going so far as to label his address "prophetic." Yet when the Apostle Paul described his lengthy ministry in Ephesus, he made it clear that he did not cease to "warn" the Ephesians day and night with tears (Acts 20:31). So really, Pope Francis is redefining Apostleship according to the desires of his audience. Thus he is positive and he does not warn them.

Perhaps Pope Francis doesn't believe the slaughter of 50 million babies by our nation warrants a warning? If not, how many dead babies would we have to have murdered before the offense would elicit a warning from this Successor to the Apostle Peter? Sixty million? Seventy million? A hundred million?

At the White House, Pope Francis called us to tolerance and inclusiveness while being careful not to define either. To those watching and listening to Pope Francis, it would appear that the way to God is much more wide and broad than we ever dared to think.

But contrast his words with the words and warning of Jesus:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7:13-15

Is the path that leads to heaven narrow or not? And if Jesus is right and it is narrow, why did we not hear this from Pope Francis who takes the office of Apostle for himself? Note that Jesus followed His declaration of the narrowness of the path to heaven with a warning about false prophets in sheep's clothing.

Might Jesus want us to know that false prophets will teach us the way to heaven is broad? Then too, what is sheep's clothing? I would ask you to consider that, in the case of Pope Francis, sheep's clothing is vestments, riding in a Fiat rather than a limousine, and stopping the motorcade to greet children.

When Jesus' Apostles preached, the effect on men was very profound. Note that on the day of Pentecost men were "cut to the heart" and cried, "What shall we do?" Yet when Pope Francis finished preaching, all he got was applause. When Jesus' Apostles preached under the power of the Holy Spirit, men became gravely concerned about the safety of their souls. They fell under conviction for their sin to such a degree that they could not keep silent, but cried out for a remedy.

At Pentecost and in the Areopagus, no one clapped for Peter or Paul.

I have often wondered what I would do if given an opportunity to address the leaders of our nation. I know what I would like to think I would do, but sadly, I know myself too well. I know that, apart from a great grace from God, I would play the coward and preach to please men—not God. So I trust that if I were given such an opportunity and President Obama, Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner applauded me after my message, I would go out and hang myself.

The degree to which Americans lack discernment concerning Biblical truth frightens me. The country seemed to swoon in Francis's presence, yet at no point were we cut to the heart or led to cry out "What must we do to be saved?"

As you weigh Francis the messenger in light of Apostleship, ask yourself how many times he uttered the name of Jesus? Did he make the way to heaven clear? If we followed every admonishment he made as it comes to global warming, helping immigrants, and following the Golden Rule, would it lead to the removal of one sin? Would his path reconcile us to God and secure us eternal life?

No, Pope Francis did nothing but preach morality to us.

You would do well to read Pilgrim's Progress and Bunyan's imagery of Mr. Worldly Wiseman telling Christian that he need not travel the rough road to the Wicket Gate and beyond it, but should instead take up residence in the town of Morality. Clearly, Pope Francis is Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

No Pope is, or ever has been, an Apostle. Above all, not Francis. Pope Francis requested prayer for himself many times this week. Let us do as he requested, praying that he will come to understand the Gospel in truth, that he will repent of sacramentalism, and that he will turn away from the exaltation of tradition to the level of Scripture.

But even more, let us pray that Pope Francis will put away his own desire to put men at ease who are eternally lost and without hope in this world and the next.