In the past few weeks, Pope-mania swept across the USA. It seemed to carry the media and almost everyone else in its path. His calculated use of public relations played down potentially damaging controversies, working different audiences with different messages. One news outlet was declaring, “Pope Francis wants to be President of the World”, without much hint of concern. They were not realising that he already claims this as part of the papal blasphemy to be king of kings. The pope proclaimed a secular, political message to politicians, seeking to tell many what they wanted to hear. Yet he denounced the biblical requirement of capital punishment. It seems strange that so many are willing to succumb to this spirit of fascination, yet Scripture explains it by saying that “all the world wondered after the beast” (Revelation 13:3).
Sadly, many evangelicals were equally infected by the mania. Especially, it seems, professing Protestant and evangelical ministers. Results of a survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors in the USA by LifeWay Research indicated this. Almost two thirds of evangelical pastors said that Pope Francis was their brother in Christ. More than one-third said that they valued the pope’s view on theology. 3 in 10 said that he had improved their view of the Roman Catholic Church. Ed Stetzer from LifeWay Research commented: “Within a few centuries, the pope has gone from anti-Christ to ‘brother in Christ’ for a lot of Protestants”.
All kinds of evangelical celebrities, especially charismatics, have rushed to acclaim the pope. On 25 September, leading US evangelical Rick Warren was keynote speaker at the Romanist World Meeting of Families. Last year, Christianity magazine hailed Francis as the charismatic pope, and seemed dazzled by ecumenical possibilities. The pope is actively encouraging such connections and aspirations as much as possible.
In some ways it is hardly surprising that contemporary evangelicalism should join the adulation. The pope’s public image chimes with its worldly obsessions with celebrity status, influence and image. Many share with the pope a similar interest in a feel-good pietistic message that is vague on doctrine. Some could almost go as far as the Pope in speaking of atheists being redeemed by the blood of Christ and a gospel of doing good. They have little patience for issues of worship and church government. The headship of Christ over His own Church is in no way precious to them. The testimony of Scripture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 remains, however. It is summarised by the Westminster Confession (in chapter 25, paragraph 6):
“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.”