It’s official … it’s what you’ve all been waiting for … Pope Francis has declared 1 September 2015 as the first annual International Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation! It is the natural follow-up to his encyclical calling for political, social and economic changes to stop the effects of ‘Global Warming’ and ‘Climate Change.’ Cue general applause and euphoria from those on the political left for a pope who ‘gets it.’
Please note that I believe that we should, by prayer and petition, let the worries of our hearts be known to God (Php 4:6); and if so-called ‘Global Warming’ has you concerned, then by all means pray about it. But considering the fact that very old Christian communities from Nigeria, to Syria, to India and China are under threat of extermination, millions of babies worldwide are murdered in the womb every year, marriage is being redefined throughout the West, humanism is continually attacking the existence and sovereignty of God, schisms are incessantly showing themselves within Christ’s body, and new opportunities for evangelism are continually opening, I think that the Pope has some misplaced priorities.
Priorities, after all, are pretty important, aren’t they? Isn’t it that far-seeing – almost prophetic – ability to differentiate between the important things and the most important things what truly makes a great leader? Lots of people are born with something clearly innate that makes people want to follow them, but the success of that leadership is tested by circumstance and results. A leader staying focused on the mission is crucial to that mission’s success … and a necessary prerequisite to that mission focus is the identification and setting aside of the extraneous – i.e. those things which do not further the mission.
Please don’t get me wrong regarding what I think about the Catholic Church. Generally I have respect for Catholicism and Catholics, and I regard the work they do for orphans, widows and in healthcare as beautiful and graceful. On the other hand, I am neither a Catholic nor do I view Catholicism as having some sort of father- or big-brother-type of role to play within Christendom. On the other other hand (yes, I’m a person with three hands – big deal), with the way it is viewed by humanists and pagans as a mainstream Christianity barometer (for lack of a better term), I have a certain amount of investment over the way it “leads the way” on moral, and even some doctrinal, issues. This goes both ways – negatively and positively. For example, I like how vocal the Catholic Church can be regarding the sin of abortion and the protection of life. More often however I am let down by Catholicism either not being vocal enough or subscribing to some sort of moral and theological relativism in its follow-up statements or in the actions of some of its well-known adherents. For example, with it’s very strong written dogma I have a hard time understanding how the Catholic Church can be so silent about the way prominent Catholics like Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Jerry Brown, Chris Matthews, Michael Moore, and Alec Baldwin continually, purposefully and flagrantly undermine the teachings of the Catholic Church on issues as wide-ranging as abortion, homosexuality, covetousness and free will – not to mention their general disregard for the sovereignty of God?
Which segues perfectly into the prominent ways which Pope Francis has demonstrated his feeble theology and poor leadership: he seems less interested in the protection of the sovereignty of God and the rampant existential threats to Catholicism (and Christianity in general) than he is about the topic du jour (whatever culture has deemed it to be). In other words, while he fiddles away on something of quite questionable impact, like Global Warming (17 year pause anyone?), the foundational doctrines of Rome burn – quite literally – into an ash heap of irrelevance under the flaming arrows of hell.
To be fair, this isn’t just a problem with Catholicism. Pope Francis might be the easiest and juiciest target within Christendom, but there are just as many – if not more – “leaders” on the protestant side which seem more interested in the way in which the cultural winds are blowing than about what the Bible has to say. Tony Campolo comes readily to mind (with his recent teachings about homosexuality – when “sociologist” gets higher billing in your bio than “pastor”, there might be a problem), not to mention the universal-salvation teacher Joel O’Steen with his milquetoast brand of culturally-acceptable, neutered Christianity. But one thing which separates Catholicism from Protestantism – and therefore adds a challenge to the Catholic faith – is its relative unity. The Campolos and O’Steens within Protestantism are easily pushed to the side as non-representative of Protestantism as a whole … it’s much harder to do that with the Pope and Catholicism (*place your “Is the Pope Catholic?” joke here*).
As stated before, true spiritual leaders must demonstrate their ability to see past the momentary distractions and keep their organization/followers on-course. This ability to guide only comes from spiritual maturity; which you might be able to define as “the ability to discern between right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy, important and unimportant” [my definition]. Paul described the role of mature leadership by stating that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are “to equip [Christ’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until [Christ’s people] reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [themselves], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13, NIV). Notice that Paul is saying in this passage that the best way to identify mature leaders is by whether or not they breed mature followers.
Paul goes on to say, “Then [Christ’s people] will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (v. 14). In other words Paul is telling us that the reason for mature leadership necessarily breeding mature followers is to save them from cunning and crafty winds of teaching (and what is more cunning and crafty than the constant distraction of cultural sway?). How does a mature leader do this? Paul answers in verse 15, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
Here’s my condensed paraphrase of Paul’s instruction in Eph. 4: If a person is to be a pastor or a teacher, they must be mature, so that they can breed maturity in others by speaking the truth in love.
When combined with Paul’s charge to Timothy – and to all preachers and teachers in general – in 2 Timothy 4, we get an even more complete understanding of the aspects of good leadership, “I give you this charge: Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (vv. 1b-5).
With these thoughts on the importance of maturity and the charge to teachers in mind, we can identify who defines a spiritual leader: someone who understands the truth and its importance, someone who teaches the truth regardless of which way the cultural winds blow, someone who explains – with patience and love – the danger of being blown off-course by cultural whim, and someone who develops maturity in their followers.
So … you might then ask me, “That’s all well and good. But how has Pope Francis shown his immaturity or disregard for the truth?” This is a perfectly reasonable question.
My answer is one that I’ve referenced in a few other posts (most notably “Earth Day 2015”) and it is fundamental to Christianity: God is Sovereign! And it is that foundational principle which is called into question when we as Christians – whether Pope Francis or the layman – become obsessed with anthropogenic Global Warming.
If you are to be a Christian you MUST believe in God’s sovereignty and power! It’s non-negotiable. He either is or isn’t the Creator and Sustainer of all things in heaven and earth. You must make the decision to believe that He IS before any belief in the power of His saving grace can be accepted. It is a primary, undergirding, foundational concept which MUST be recognized. Otherwise, where is the logic in subscribing to a faith which requires the unreserved sacrifice of your heart, soul, mind and strength? If you don’t believe in God’s POWER to save and sustain His creation – either by doubting His willingness or His reach – why change the way you live in an effort to have Him save and sustain you? Why change the way you think? Why even try to become more like Him? Why would you want to know Christ if you don’t believe in the power of His rising? Why would you want to know God if you don’t believe in His power to sustain you?
I put it this way in “Earth Day 2015” and I stand by it:
Everything that lives does so at the pleasure of the Almighty King. It is a rebellion of pitiful value and ultimate disgrace to replace an Almighty King with a fragile, brittle and helpless earthen goddess. And it is the epitome of hypocrisy to state that you believe in the saving power of Christ for your soul while you doubt His concern, care or ability to sustain your dirt-fashioned body with its requisites.
Either God is or isn’t the Creator and Sustainer of all things. It seems a very immature and pathetic state of mind to believe that God has the power to save you from your sins, but that He doesn’t have the power to protect the things He has made from corruption. We’re told many times in the Bible that God will determine when it is time to end the world – a notion which presupposes that it will last until that day!
It seems kind of silly then for a Christian leader to be distracted by a humanist tenet like anthropogenic Global Warming – which undermines the very sovereignty and power of God and uses its resulting fear and anxiety to gather more control for the powers of this dark world. It seems rather absurd for that leader to then distract his followers similarly. And it seems patently stupid for that leader to prioritize it over calls for unity, reminders of the truth of God’s instruction, teaching on the importance of obedience, continual defense of the faith, and paternal intercession for the persecuted saints worldwide.
Let’s be clear, there is nothing godly or redeeming about environmentalism. Godliness comes from pure spiritual living in accordance with God’s instruction and redemption comes from the blood of Jesus Christ; both of which come in spite of the natural world and the nature of man. If something taught by a “Christian” leader undermines those facts, that leader should be disregarded. In fact, Paul warned Timothy earlier in his second letter to have nothing to do with people who have “a form of godliness but [deny] its power” (3:5). That warning makes sense to me. How about you?
To be honest, Pope Francis seems not to have a very good grasp on the power of God, period. I believe that he is sincere in his concern for the plight of the poor and I genuinely hope that God blesses him with success in his efforts to provide for them. But with the way he has been distracted and persuaded by humanist philosophy in the forms of environmentalism and socialism indicates that he is not at all someone who will lead people to Christ in anything but the most indirect and dangerous path; something which I find very sad for the millions or well-meaning Catholics who follow him.
With as many false teachers as there are in the world, it is important that we continue to study the truth and develop a firm understanding of the foundational theological principles. We must know them so that we can see when worldly philosophy undermines that truth and so that, by the grace of God, we might have the time to course correct back into line with the steps of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of praying this September 1st against Global Warming, I propose we pray for a greater understanding of God’s sovereignty and for leaders who will give us sound doctrine regardless of the winds of culture. That would be something about which to cheer and a great reason to praise God.