Thursday, May 16, 2019
Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) is at it again. He is known to be controversial, even among faithful Catholics. For example, his comments on divorce, LGBT “rights,” and his reluctance to deal with the Catholic Church’s sex scandals, etc., have caused quite a stir. Another example is some controversial things he said about the “failure” of the cross that we recently addressed here:
But this time he said that having a personal relationship with Jesus is “dangerous.” Do we take this at face value, or is there more to it? Let’s look at the context.
Pope Francis gave a speech in Rome at St. Peter’s Square on June 25, 2014, in front of an audience of 33,000 Catholics. In his speech he complains about people who say, “I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t care about the Church...” And he described as “dangerous” and “harmful” the temptation to believe that one can have “a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside of the communion with, and mediation of, the church.”
The official Vatican text of the speech is here:
A condensed version of the message in video form can be found here:
We just want to address a couple of points here.
First of all, we don’t know of any true Christians who “don’t care about the church.” This is not a Christian mentality and it is certainly not scriptural. The New Testament church is a creation of Jesus Christ, therefore, all believers need to have an active part in a local church body. We agree that there should be no “Lone Ranger” Christians (or, as he called them, “freelancers,” or “do-it-yourself” Christians). We agree that Christians need each other (1 Corinthians 12:14-18, 21-22). The author of Hebrews tells us of the right attitude – “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25). So, the pope’s complaint about people “not caring about the church” doesn’t even apply to true Christians.
Secondly, concerning the idea of having a relationship with Jesus Christ “outside” the church is just nonsense. Because if you have a real and personal relationship with Jesus, by definition, you already belong to the church, you are already part of the universal body of believers. Having that personal relationship means you are saved, that is, you have been added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14).
The problem is that so many times the word “church,” when used by Catholics, is equated only with the institution we know today as the Catholic Church – rather than using the term biblically, which is used either as:
1) the local assembly of true believers (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:2; Revelation chapters 1 through 3), or
2) the universal body of true believers worldwide (Galatians 1:13; Colossians 1:18).
What the pope really means is that having a personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous unless you are part of, and in communion with, his church, and that we need the Catholic Church’s “mediation” in order to be spiritually healthy. We must (according to him) be dependent on its sacraments, rituals, and hierarchy to be spiritually safe.
Maybe he is afraid that if you use that relationship to discover the truth of Scripture on your own, that you will not want to be in his Church, since so many of its teachings will be found to be false and unbiblical. But he wants you to be subject to the Catholic Church, whether you actually have a relationship with Jesus or not. For the pope, it’s ok to have this relationship… as long as it is controlled and influenced by his church.
The pope’s concern is more about your submission to his church than it is about your relationship with the Savior. Thus, the pope treats your relationship with Jesus as secondary. Is a personal relationship with Christ all that important? We would say that it is absolutely critical, in fact, more important than the local church you join. That relationship should be what properly guides you to a biblical church in the first place! The reason that a relationship is so important is because it is the very cause of your salvation, when you surrender to God’s will.
Having a relationship means knowing the person. On Judgment Day Jesus will say to those who aren’t true followers, “Depart from Me: I never knew you…” (Matthew 7:21-23). Does “I never knew you” mean that Jesus doesn’t actually know certain people, or that He is unaware of them? Is there anything at all about their thoughts or actions that surprises Him? Of course not. He knows everything about everybody. The word “knew” in this context denotes intimacy, i.e., having a close, personal, robust and meaningful relationship with Him. This is what those in Matthew 7 did not have.
Salvation and sanctification depend upon our knowing Him (John 17:3; Philippians 3:8, 10)! Christianity has always been about a relationship with Jesus. In Acts 4:13, the Jewish leaders recognized that Peter and John “had been with Jesus.” The Jews observed that the apostles’ lives were greatly affected by this relationship with their Lord. So why does the pope downplay this concept?
We’re not saying that the pope doesn’t believe in a personal relationship with Jesus and we’re not saying that he’s telling his audience never to have one, but, once again, he seems far more concerned with your submission to his Church than he is with you having a personal relationship with Jesus.
Sometimes the issue is not just what the pope says, but what he doesn’t say, or what he should have said. He had ample opportunity in this case to encourage the members of his audience to have a strong and fulfilling relationship with Christ and His word, but he neglected that opportunity. Instead, he is implying that it is more important to be devoted to the Catholic Church than it is to have that right relationship with Christ! But a true relationship with Christ will steer you away from the works-based Catholic gospel.
Any religious group or cult that claims to be Christian can say that having a personal relationship with Jesus is “dangerous” apart from being associated with that particular group. So how can anyone know that they have the real Jesus? It is an authority issue and this blog has dealt with that topic over and over. It is the Word of God, Scripture, that is the true and ultimate authority to determine what is actually dangerous and what is not (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The bottom line is that Pope Francis is saying that you don’t know Jesus unless you are in the Catholic Church. But there are millions upon millions of believers today and throughout history who have enjoyed a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus Christ without ever being part of the Catholic Church. And to all those who have this true relationship, He promises that He will never leave them, nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5).
The danger, my friends, is not in a fervent relationship with Jesus Christ, but in the false teachings of Pope Francis’ church.