For the last two weeks, one of the major news stories all over the world has been the resignation of the pope. This is arguably the most important story in the world as 1.2 billion people identify themselves as Catholic and thus should have a vested interest in what is going on in the church. And of course they should have an interest in who the next pope will be. History tells us that speculation is almost completely fruitless as likely “frontrunners” for pope are far more difficult to predict than frontrunners of an election. And in case you don’t recall how well people have done in predicting that, 2012 had no less than five different leaders for the Republican nomination to run for president.
So, this is in no way an attempt to speculate on who will be pope. The broader question to ask is, should I, as a Protestant, even care who is the next pope? The easy answer would be no, because I am not Catholic and therefore the selection of pope will have no bearing on me one way or another. The truth though, is that I am always concerned about who the pope is and you don’t need to be religious at all to have a vested interest in the pope.
The pope has the ability to sway the thoughts and opinions of more people in the world than anyone else. Of course of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, not all can be considered “good” Catholics as not everyone will listen to the pope. For instance, the church has taken a stand against abortion and there are still plenty of pro-abortion Catholics. Secondly, the pope heads an institution in the church that is quite unchanging. It is unlikely that any pope in the foreseeable future will change any longstanding beliefs and traditions that impact millions of people. Nevertheless, the potential is there. Should the church change its stance on a major issue such as homosexuality, the ramifications would be far reaching and ultimately affect far more than just Catholics.
As a Protestant, I have even more interest in who the pope is and what he will do. For better or worse, the Catholic church symbolizes the universal church for many people. When the church does something or says something, it often speaks for all of Christianity. Certainly not every priest is a pedophile (likely a very, very small minority), nor is every Protestant minister without grievous sin, but in the eyes of many outsiders Christianity is full of perverted leaders. The Catholic church is what shapes the perception of Christianity for many people because they do not know the differences between Catholic and Baptist and Presbyterian.
While I do not hold to many Catholic beliefs, the Catholic church is often in line with conservative Protestant churches on social issues. In many ways, the battles over social issues have already been fought and popular opinion has swept away any sense of morality or upholding what the Bible teaches. Nevertheless, should the Catholic church shift from a conservative position on any social issue, conservative Christians will not only be a minority but will find themselves badly outnumbered and possibly even open to persecution.
There are some who look upon the Catholic church as evil and will even try to call the pope the antichrist (or the false prophet of Revelation.) I believe such speculation is foolish and serves no purpose. I do believe that anyone who teaches anything other than “salvation by faith alone” is in error. To that extent I believe that the Catholic church is in error as it upholds works and dogma alongside the importance of faith and scripture.
Nevertheless, no matter what one thinks of the Catholic church and the pope specifically, I believe that it is our duty to pray for the selection of the next pope. This will be a man who wields more influence over the world than any president or world leader could have. He has the power to hold the church in a conservative position or to allow it to be washed away with the tides of popular opinion. Protestants don’t agree with Catholics on issues of faith and many will question whether the pope can be saved while holding to Catholic dogma, we must still recognize the influence that the position holds.
God can use a person to accomplish His will whether they are saved or not. Without any insult intended to Catholics or the position of pope – if God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, through false prophets, and through Caiaphas the high priest of Jesus’ day, God can certainly accomplish His will through the pope as well. And that will have ramifications on Catholics and Protestants alike. So be in prayer that God would place the right man in leadership regardless whether you follow the pope or not.