Thursday, February 14, 2013

How Should Protestants Respond to the Pope’s Abdication

On February 11, Pope Benedict announced that he was stepping down from his position due to illness and age. This was a huge moment in the history of the Roman Catholic Church because Popes usually remain in leadership until they die. But Pope Benedict prayerfully chose to step aside so that a new leader might be chosen to lead the millions and millions of Catholics worldwide.

As a former Catholic, I was considering how to process this news. I was a senior in high school when this pope was chosen and, at the time, was rather negative about it. Now that I identify as a Protestant, it would be quite easy for me to say that this event doesn’t affect me or that it doesn’t matter. In fact, since the announcement, I have heard many comments and read many articles that don’t seem to really care. Many rail against what they consider to be Pope Benedict’s failures as a leader. They vent their anger against Catholics because of our differences in doctrine. Some are just blatantly hateful.

After reading facebook status after status in which people referred to the Pope as no one special, a little god, or as the Antichrist, I was left deeply saddened. While certainly there is a gap between Roman Catholicism and Protestants, I consider them to be part of the body of Christ. The many Protestant denominations differ on many key doctrinal issues. Some of them, in fact, have a hierarchal structure not unlike that of the Roman Catholic Church. Why is it appropriate to address our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in such a way? I firmly believe that we should care about anything, good or bad, that is concerning the body worldwide.

So here is how I think Protestants should respond to the Pope’s Abdication. Spoiler: It mostly involves prayer.

1.     We should be informed. Saying things like “Catholics consider the pope a lil’ god” are simply incorrect. You can disagree with Catholic doctrine but be informed about it. Don’t say things that aren’t true because you just come off as ignorant and hateful. Study Church History, learn why the Pope has the position he does, learn how a new Pope is chosen. Just learn about what a momentous occasion it is for our Catholic brothers and sisters to have a new Pope chosen.
2.     We should pray for the Roman Catholic Church. In 2009, there were over a billion Catholics worldwide. This is a big event that could possibly threaten to split or otherwise injure the Church. We don’t need anymore fractures in the body, so we should drop to our knees and intercede for Catholics that their Church would be able to overcome any difficulties it might face.
3.     We should pray for the Conclave. As RCC leaders come from around the world in a few short weeks, we must pray for their wisdom and discernment in choosing the man that will lead their Church.
4.     We should pray for the new Pope. Whether or not you agree with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as a leader, Pope Benedict was placed in leadership by God (Romans 13:1). The new Pope will likewise be placed by God and will need our prayers. The issues in the RCC are not small ones; in fact some, of the same issues are faced by Protestant Churches. Leading billions of Catholics is no small task. As fellow believers, we should pray for this man’s wisdom, discernment, strength, and endurance as he steps into a rather difficult situation. The new Pope is also a person. He is a person with feelings, opinions, history, interests, and weaknesses. Let us not forget that there is a difference between the office and the man. You can disagree with the office and care for the man. As believers, we should care for all and recognize that each person deserves our respect. The Pope should be special to us because he is special to God. 
5.     We should prayer for God’s correction in all our lives: God is huge and we try to understand Him the best we can, but I can’t even fathom the millions of ways we go wrong each day in how we see Him. Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox… we all fail to see things clearly at different points and we need God’s continuous correction in our lives. Let us pray that the new Pope would follow God’s voice and bring correction to any areas that need it. Might he call on Protestants to correct things we have done wrong. And might we be open to hearing it.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
-- 1 Timothy 2:1-3