The media, including some in the Christian media, throw around the word evangelical with little understanding of its proper definition. Most recently, the media has done this in referring to Pope Benedict XVI as the “Evangelical Pope.”
In an attempt to say he’s a missionary-minded Pope, or a proselytizing Pope, they impart a title that would probably make him most uncomfortable.
I have a deep respect for Pope Benedict. Respect for his impressive intellect. Respect for his strong stand on moral issues. Respect for his belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ for salvation. Respect for his levelheadedness in understanding other religions. The list could go on and on.
But to label the Roman Catholic Pontiff as evangelical is an attempt to mix oil and water. About the only thing those two elements have in common is they are both liquids.
Evangelical is a word that was invented to define protestant believers who attest to the fact that salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
The evangelium, or the gospel, is the good news that any sinner can come to Jesus in repentance and faith, believing that His death and resurrection as a substitute for their own deserved punishment. That is the only way that sinners (which includes all of humanity by birth) can be eternally saved.
The Roman Catholic Church cannot be called evangelical. For, although they would agree with the good news of the gospel, they would deem it not quite sufficient for salvation.
They would say that you must also:
- Come to Jesus through the mother church
- Believe in the Seven Sacraments
- Believe in intercession by the blessed virgin
- Believe in the intercession of the saints
- Be baptized in the Catholic Church
- Attend mass and confession
- Believe that during mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus
- Believe in the ex cathedra infallibility of the Pope
And that’s just to mention a few. But any one of those, by definition, conflicts with the core of evangelical belief: that salvation equals Jesus plus nothing more.
True evangelicals view baptism and the Lord’s Table as important symbolic reminders, but they don’t view them as necessary for salvation. Nor do they believe that priests, bishops, or popes have any authority other than the authority of God’s own Word in the Bible.
In an age that is so enthralled with muddle thinking and ambiguity, it is critically important that people, especially members of the media, use words properly and with clarity. The serious differences between evangelical and Catholic beliefs should not be ignored nor minimized.
Nonetheless, evangelicals need to be in deep prayer that we may one day have an “evangelical Pope.” After all, the Roman Pope claims to be the successor of the Apostle Peter.
For when Jesus asked the disciples if they knew who He was, it was Peter who declared this truth: “You are the Son of the living God.”
Peter never viewed himself as the embodiment of Christ on earth. In fact, he called himself a “servant of Jesus.”
Thus we need to pray in our hearts and on our lips that our Roman Catholic friends would call a pope who truly sees himself like Peter—as a servant of Jesus, and as a proclaimer of salvation through Jesus and nothing else.