There is always some risk whenever an evangelical Christian reports about the goings on of the Roman Catholic Church. Some hold the Romish church in utter contempt, believing that it advances a doctrine that is wholly unbiblical. Others are more forgiving or perhaps could be described as more tolerant of a religious institution that they see still plays an important role in both temporal and spiritual matters.
In any case, the Roman Catholic Church claims more than 1.2 billion adherents or roughly one-sixth of the world’s population. And this writer — himself baptized a Roman Catholic shortly after birth, but no longer affiliated with that body — understands the significance of the pope’s announcement today. Say what you will about this aged religious institution — its place in history is great and its influence today is still profound.
Today, the Catholic News Service and Vatican sources reported that Pope Benedict XVI — born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger on April 16, 1927 — was resigning from his position as leader of the Catholic Church, citing health reasons. His resignation is effective February 28, 2013, becoming the first pope to step down since 1415.
Said the pope, “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” Petrine refers to the apostle Peter, the first in a successive line of 265 church leaders.
The Rock: Jesus
Indeed, Roman Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope, taking Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 to mean that he was the rock our Savior was referencing. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” However, others such as the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry contend that the rock Jesus was referring to was Himself, not Peter. There is not enough room here to delve into this matter deeply, while a visit to the CARM page linked in this paragraph can shed light on this critically important subject.
The pope’s announcement has taken many by surprise, but the Vatican says it was his own decision, one that had “matured over the past few months.” Pope Benedict XVI has been been considered by some as a transitional church leader, following the near 27-year reign of Pope John Paul II. That pope visited some 129 nations during his tenure and has been credited with affirming and advancing church teachings. Like his predecessor, the current pope is also not an Italian, the first ones since 1523.
Speculation about the pope’s replacement has nearly eclipsed news about the resignation announcement itself. Church leaders, known as cardinals, will soon assemble in a “papal conclave” in the Sistine Chapel to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor. During the conclave, all eyes will be on the Sistine Chapel as smoke produced by the chimney sends messages to the world about what is going on inside.
For instance, when black smoke is sent up, that means no pope has been elected. Or at least not yet. However, when a white puff is observed, that means the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will soon ring to confirm that a new pope has been chosen. The new pope will then be installed within days of the announcement.
The Next Pope
Although no frontrunner for the head of the Catholic Church has been identified, speculation that it could include someone that is not a European has been mentioned. One possibility is that it could be Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson from Ghana. Choosing a non-European leader would make sense as the church’s following and strongest growth is in emerging nations, not Europe.
Evangelical Christians, of course, will have a mixed reaction to this news, but one thing we can all agree on is this: people need Jesus and it is only through Him that we are saved from our sins.
Wikipedia photo courtesy of Haiducul.
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