A Facebook friend posted a link to a recent article by well-known Christian blogger Tim Challies. The essay is one in a series dealing with false teachers in the Christian church.
I have read Challies’ work before and have always found his writing smartly-provocative and worthwhile.
A few short hours ago I learned that Mr. Challies believes Pope Francis, head of the entire Roman Catholic Church, is a false teacher or a heretic. This of course implies that Francis is not a bona fide Christian and, by extension of this, neither are his denomination’s millions of members.
For an individual supposedly committed to sharing the Gospel of Christ and God’s love, Mr. Challies just shot himself in the proverbial foot the same way fundamentalist hard-liners have been doing for hundreds of years.
A bit of background on Mr. Challies: he is a pastor asociated with Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto and has been blogging away for over a decade. He’s written three Christian books and states he is, “Christian, Protestant, Reformed, Evangelical and Unfinished”. Unfinished? According to him, on his ‘About Me‘ page, this means, “Though I find great beauty in traditional Protestantism, I realize that in some areas traditions may not be fully Scriptural. Where that is the case I am eager to change as the Spirit convicts me through the Word.”
Let’s start there – Mr. Challies’ ‘traditions’. His theological leanings may be one of those traditions that could use a healthy dose of re-examining.
Here’s the article in question:
THE FALSE TEACHERS: POPE FRANCIS
In summary, it’s a diatribe against Roman Catholic doctrine; Pope Francis is simply used as a prop for his platform and the Catholic Church is wrong about everything. The Pope is the messenger of – not just the poster-boy for – the religion.
To his credit, Challies states, “Those within the Roman Catholic Church who have experienced salvation (and I sincerely believe there are those who have) have done so despite the church’s official teaching, not through it.” Having come from a Catholic background myself and after meeting a munificence of souls in love with Jesus, via several church/prayer-meeting settings, I couldn’t agree more. It barely has to be stated that in any church, Protestant or Catholic, you’ll find fakes or non-followers; as Larry Norman once said, “God’s not fooled by those who believe and those who say they do.” Mr. Challies is also correct in stating that there are still many old-world traditions and practices (known as catechism) that deny (or at best, fail to fully endorse) the all-sufficient grace of God in favour of works-plus-faith-based salvation, and granted, that is not a good thing.
But that’s not what’s wrong with Tim Challies piece. The problem is that he has called out one man – Pope Francis – as a ‘false teacher’ and uses very little evidence to back up such a serious claim. How serious? Based on his strict fundamentalist leanings, the next step (not taken – gee, I wonder why?) would have been for Challies to imply that Pope Francis is bound for hell, will suffer eternal punishment and is taking a ton of folks there with him. Wow.
Now, I’d like to take the opportunity to first state that I would have appreciated the chance to address Mr. Challies’ thoughts directly on his blog, but apparently ‘comments are closed’. Bit of a chicken—– move, if you ask me, but just maybe he has some comment-limitation policies in place so ‘my apologies’ if this is the case.
WHAT DOES THE POPE SAY? (No, not a new song by Elvys)
I have to ask outright here: Mr. Challies, have you yourself ever heard a definitive statement from Pope Francis that denies the complete and total saving work of Christ? Have you heard him advocate that the Catholic Church, “officially damns those who believe anything else”? Don’t think so, sir. Therein lies the problem. You yourself quoted Francis as stating, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying—and this is the fundamental thing—that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart.” Seems very unjudgy to us. Looking at it another way, the pope himself doesn’t appear to fully subscribe to his religion’s subset beliefs! And if this is the case for the head of the R.C. church, how likely is it that your average church-attending Catholics also aren’t apt to buy into every doctrine tossed out during catechism class?
The remainder of the Pope Francis’ quote found on Challies blog appears to be a fairly close paraphrasing of Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically a few verses found in Chapter 2 of the missive. Compare:
“The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”
“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”
Romans 12:14-16, NASB **
JUST HOW DOES THE BIBLE DEFINE A FALSE TEACHER?
A false teacher – the type Christ warned us about – is a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Whether from a spirit of ignorance or deliberation, he/she lives to deceive and draw people away from Christ’s Gospel of grace. Paul wished that any such ‘false teachers’ (or any angels teaching false gospels) be ‘forever accursed’. 1
In Jude’s one-chapter letter, Christians are warned,
“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Jude v.4 NIV
Paul warns of the latter days (which some Christians believe are upon us now) where,
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
1 Timothy 4:1-4 NIV
Mr. Challies, do you really feel Pope Francis is a ‘hypocritical liar’, ‘ungodly’, a sensuality-driven ‘grace-perverter’ or a ‘demon-influenced’ man? Has the Pope said anything about people refraining from marrying or stopped anyone from eating certain foods? Do you think him worthy of being ‘eternally cursed’? More to your point – have you personally heard him attempt to draw people into works-based religion while dismissing the doctrine of grace via his teaching?
Don’t think so.
Call me stupid, but I just don’t see Pope Francis as a false teacher. His life seems to embody the outworking of a life devoted to faith in God and Christ. I certainly don’t see him pushing anything contrary to the Gospel.
But should we even be judging the man?
THE CHRISTIAN JUDGMENT DILEMMA
Tim Challies, like a lot of fundamentalist watch-dogs out there, feel they have the right to expose false teachings and judge the men/women purveying errant doctrine. As Christians, we technically understand that there’s a very fine line to watch for when it comes to judging. But for some reason, some evangelicals like to hurl themselves across this line like a pole vaulter. Just as in a court of law there’s a difference between judging the evidence of a case and determining what judgment awaits a defendant on the stand, there is a difference with respect to how we Christians are to evaluate certain people and the things they believe. Sadly, we often get this quite wrong.
According to Scripture, we are not to judge those who are ‘outside the church’ – in other words, those who are outside of our faith. So if Mr. Challies believes Roman Catholics are basically ‘another religion’ due to their doctrines of works-plus-faith (which would be similar to Islam or Mormonism), then he technically has no right to pronounce judgment on Pope Francis (calling him a false teacher) or anyone else claiming to be of the Catholic religion!
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NIV
Oh but wait. ‘Roman Catholics claim to be Christians’, Mr. Challies might say, and therefore has the right to call the Pope a False Teacher.
Uh, no – no he doesn’t.
“You never know another man until you’ve walked in his moccasins”, say the indigenous peoples of North America. Without personally knowing Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Mr. Challies has no right to assume how God will judge him. But that’s not the impression you get from Challies’ blog-post.
Jesus tells us,
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
But rather than do this, Mr. Challies fires off his digital bullets that wound and maim, saying things like:
- “… he (Francis) … remains committed to a false gospel.”
- “He (again, Francis) is the head of a false church that is opposed to the true gospel of salvation by grace alone …”
- “Rome remains fully committed to a gospel that cannot and will not save a single soul …”
And worst of all, Challies states,
“Even while Francis washes the feet of prisoners and kisses the faces of the deformed, he does so out of and toward this false gospel that leads not toward Christ, but directly away from him. Good deeds done to promote a false gospel are the most despicable deeds of all.”
If this isn’t a heavy-handed implication that Pope Francis and his followers are bound for eternal punishment, I don’t know what is. Remember what we noted earlier; Paul warned that anyone teaching a ‘false Gospel’ should be forever accursed.
This kind of rant by Mr. Challies reminds me of a bully who throws stones at you from a distance. There’s nothing remotely Christ-like in Mr. Challies approach or evaluations.
WHY MORE CATHOLICS MIGHT BE CHRISTIANS THAN CHALLIES BELIEVES?
Ignorance is a funny thing. Sometimes it works in our favour and at other times it works against us (see John 15:22-24). On the issue of ‘Grace alone’ vs. ‘Works-Plus-Faith’, I propose a different view of things that may be considerably more gracious (and biblical) than the judgments offered by Mr. Challies who is ironically a pastor associated with ‘Grace Fellowship Church’.
Let’s assume the lady living next door to you is a Catholic. Believes baptism keeps babies from Purgatory, prays to Mary as well as Jesus and maybe calls upon a few saints now and then. She has crosses over every doorway in her house and believes in transubstantiation when taking communion at mass. (I can already hear some fundamentalist blood boiling as they read this). She’s faithful to light a candle for her husband who has passed, and has a mass said for him once a year, hoping it’ll get him closer to God in the next world. Now as protestants, we realize a lot of this is just nonsense – to us. To them, however, it’s an important part of their religious practice. But aside from all of these rituals or practices, the dear woman truly loves Jesus. She believes He is The Saviour of all mankind. Believes He rose from the dead. And believes every word of the Apostles Creed when she offers it aloud and with her whole heart and soul on any given Sunday.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ,
His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”
Can anyone state with absolute certainty that this woman’s Christianity is false and more importantly, should anyone even venture down that trecherous road of judgmentalism? No. Sure, some of the church’s religious observations are questionable or out of whack with Scripture to most protestants, but that does not afford them the right to assume that the majority of adherent Roman Catholics are – as Challies states – heading in a direction “directly away from Him (Christ)”!
STOP THE BULLYING
Mr. Challies, I appeal to the grace of God that lives in you to be more considerate and less judgmental of individual souls while dealing with false teachers/false teachings through your essays. Yes, some wrong teaching out there needs to be exposed and it’s an important topic to delve into. But at present, your careless approach affects your quality of ministry and undermines the credibility of the all-encompassing grace you claim to believe is offered to us in Christ. I sincerely hope you take time to re-evaluate your thoughts on the matters discussed and leave judgments of an eternal nature in the safe and outstretched hands of the Eternal.
Grace and Peace to you in the Lord Jesus Christ,
© 2014, Flagrant Regard
1. Galatians 1:8-9
** In our experience, this passage in Romans is one of the least explored or talked about parts of the New Testament. Fundamentalists shy away from it because it seems that Paul is indicating there is a separate and distinct judgment for those who haven’t received the salvation of Christ in their lifetime on earth. This is, in fact, EXACTLY what Paul was outlining. If one looks at the structure of Paul’s letter to the Romans, it is clear that right up until chapter 3 and verse 20 of his letter, Paul is providing a running commentary on the world ‘as is’ – a world that hasn’t been made aware of Christ, is unaware of His atonement via the cross and living without the assurance of eternal life the Christian believer is in receipt of, through faith. (From Chapter 3, verse 21 onward, Paul then explains to the Romans the nature of the Gospel and why it is superior to anything ‘law-based’, Jewish or otherwise.)
This passage clearly shows that God’s mercy, in Christ, is in some way extended to those who’ve not accepted the Gospel or (if you’re of the Calvinist ilk) who are not predestined to receive Christ’s unique, all-encompassing salvation through faith. These individuals, however, live with NO assurances of the coming rewards and/or punishments due them. Just as there are levels of reward in heaven based on one’s works while in the body, it would appear the same goes for souls that do not step into eternity’s glory at the moment of death. Apologists such as C.S.Lewis understood this; and his sentiments on justice in the afterlife were creatively expressed in his fictional books ‘The Last Battle’ and ‘The Great Divorce’.
Other authors – considered evangelical protestants – have also addressed the issue of the unsaved:
“The great prophetic discourse (Matthew 21-25/Mark 11-13/Luke 19:29-48 Chap. 20 & 21) worthily ended with a solemn representation of the final judgment of the world, when all mankind shall be assembled to be judged either by the historical gospel preached to them for a witness, or by its great ethical principle, the law of charity written on their hearts; and when those who have loved Christ and served Him in person, or in His representatives, – the poor, the destitute, the suffering, – shall be welcomed to the realms of the blessed, and those who have acted contrariwise shall be sent away to keep company with the devil and his angels.”
The Training of the Twelve, A.B. Bruce
“On a trip to Japan I found myself late at night in a pastor’s study in one of the largest churches in Tokyo (which isn’t saying much, since the average congregation numbers thirty in a nation where Christians claim only 1 percent of the population). … I wanted to check into my hotel room and go to sleep, but Japanese hospitality required this courtesy visit. For the next twenty minutes without interruption the pastor poured out the agony he felt over the 99 percent of Japanese who had not accepted Jesus. Would they all burn in hell because of their ignorance? He had heard of theologians who believed in people having a second chance after death and knew the mysterious passage in 1 Peter about Jesus preaching to those in Hades. Some theologians he had read seemed to believe in universal salvation although certain passages in the Bible indicated otherwise. Could I offer him any hope? Thinking aloud, I mentioned that God causes the sun to rise on the just and unjust and has no desire that anyone should perish. God’s Son on earth spent his last strength praying for his enemies. …
“I do not know the answer to your questions,” I said at last. “But I believe strongly that at the end of time no one will be able to stand before God and say ‘You were unfair!’ However history settles out, it will settle on the side of justice tempered by mercy.””
PRAYER: Does It Make Any Difference? Philip Yancey
My wife and I have, over the years, conferred with several pastors from different backgrounds. Three of them – a Free Methodist, a Presbyterian and an Anglican – all concurred that there will be a fairness in a person’s judgment even if they’ve never accepted the Good News of Christ. None of these ministers supported the idea of ‘Universalism’ or ‘Inclusivism’, they just concluded – from Scripture alone – that God will be righteous in His judgments of every man’s soul.
We sincerely feel that those Christians who continue to assert that everyone who’s not a believer automatically burns in the fire of hell and suffers eternal torment in a lake of sulphur study the scriptures more deeply in order to determine and highlight the depth of God’s amazing grace, through Christ – Lord and Judge over all.
Some Bible verses to consider:
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.”
John 15:22-24 New International Version
“Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. …
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Revelation 20:6,11-15 New International Version