So I awoke yesterday to find the news of Pope Benedict XVI resigning, the first pope to do so in almost 600 years. As Lutherans it is a strange thing to look onto Roman Catholic matters knowing that we are a people who have come out of Roman Catholicism and who also say some very harsh but very true things about the office of the papacy and certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in our public confession of the faith (see the Book of Concord).
Here are some of my thoughts on this now resigning pope. I have only had two popes in my lifetime (at least two that I was old enough to notice), John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I think they were very different kinds of men and handled their faith quite differently. John Paul II was very pro-life (good), a strong proponent of the adoration of the Virgin Mary (to the point of being described in ways that Scripture does not), and also very ecumenical (which can be either good or bad, usually bad in the current age). Benedict XVI always appeared to be a little more strict on things than his predecessor. He was an “old school” Roman Catholic. Like a priest I once knew, I am pretty sure that Benedict would have no problem declaring a marriage between a Lutheran and a Roman Catholic as “interfaith” (not intrafaith). Honesty is refreshing. As a pope, a man who held up traditional Roman Catholic beliefs I can be saddened that the errors which he embraced are so damaging to the Gospel of Christ (and to the soul which embraces them). As a man however, I respect Benedict for his adherence to his confession of the faith. Benedict was not a wishy-washy pope, but a “confessional” one. That I can respect even if the Scriptures condemn the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.
Come to think of it, confessionalism is on the rise. In the last decade I have met “confessionals” of various faiths. I have met true five-point TULIP “confessional” Calvinists who staunchly defend the teachings of John Calvin. I have met staunch “confessional” Wesleyans who defend the teachings of John Wesley. Pentecostals and Baptists too have seen a rise in people having conviction behind their specific and dinstinctive beliefs. You can see this by the splintering of traditional denominations with conservative groups (usually preferring to be more strict in their beliefs) breaking off of of the often larger more liberal groups (usually more open and flexible in their beliefs). This climate change of increasing conviction in religious discussion is a good thing. This will allow actual discussion to take place rather than “pious” niceties. In this new discussion can have solid meanings to words and concepts, contrary to much of the vague verbiage and results of other discussions founded upon being nice and getting along (a recent example might be the wordplay of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification).
So now we will watch as the guys in red get together from around the world to pick their new leader, and we can pray that the fruits of the Reformation would find some foothold in their church, that repentance would come and the pure Gospel would be proclaimed officially.