The sudden word from Pope Benedict XVI was that he will relinquish his papal role on February 28.
In pondering this, I’ve decided to re-release (below) the Guest Editorial that I wrote in 2005 following the death of John Paul II. Ironically, in this editorial I mention Joseph Ratzinger (in a point of disagreement), who would become Benedict XVI. I still affirm my thoughts on a successor (although my phone didn’t ring seeking my opinion last time and I doubt it will this time either).
One Evangelical’s Gratitude for John Paul II
Guest Editorial by Donald P. Shoemaker
Senior Pastor [now Pastor Emeritus]
Grace Community Church of Seal Beach
Long Beach, CA, Press-Telegram, April 9, 2005
In the conservative Protestant environment of my upbringing just about anything that came from Rome was suspicious.
The Roman Catholic Church was, so we were taught, the “scarlet harlot” of the Book of Revelation, chapter 17—clearly identified by her vestments of purple and scarlet, her gold, silver and jewels, and the golden chalice in her hand. She was destined to align herself with the Antichrist, the Devil’s ruler of the End Times, until he tired of her domination and tossed her aside and ruled supreme until his defeat by the King of kings.
To us Catholicism was as Winston Churchill characterized the Kremlin, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Church rituals with their beads and vestments and Latin were a world away from our simple message and revivalist enthusiasm.
A more historically informed approach to biblical interpretation has led to a better look at the Book of Revelation. But what really affected our thought was a courageous and humble man who came out of nowhere to become John Paul II.
John Paul was a human face with which we could easily connect, not a lofty anachronism from the Middle Ages. Coming through the crucible of suffering under two totalitarian systems and being willing to return to Poland to suffer with his people if events so summoned him, he personified the call of Jesus to take up the cross and follow Him.
We saw him as a powerful spiritual leader who in God’s providence, though not single-handedly, brought on the collapse of the Communist evil in Eastern Europe. Though Joseph Stalin mocked the pope in 1935 with “How many divisions has he?” we saw in John Paul the spiritual power of the cross and the Gospel at work emancipating human souls from misery.
We appreciated the unabashed orthodoxy that John Paul represented. His resolute support of pro-life issues resonated with us (opposition to abortion on demand is the one moral position that unites Evangelical Protestants whether their politics are right, left or center).
Significant issues remain on both sides. Some conservative denominations still pronounce that the papacy is the Antichrist. Obsolete attitudes and teachings are readily found amongst Evangelicals, as if the Second Vatican Council never happened.
Pragmatists that we are, Evangelicals cannot see any compelling reason to withhold the option of marriage from priests and we can give many reasons for this option. We are solidly in the Reformation commitment to the authority of Scripture alone, not Scripture and Tradition. We don’t like to hear Cardinal Joseph Ratsinger say that our communities of the faithful are not truly “the Church.”
We see true “apostolic succession” as fidelity to apostolic doctrine more than as a continuity of bishops. We are not comfortable with the veneration rendered to the Virgin Mary, though we are chastened that we have not honored the spirit of her words in the Magnificat, “All generations shall call me blessed,” for she should indeed be our model of devotion and discipleship.
What would many Evangelical Protestants hope to see emerge from the upcoming Conclave? I speak for myself, but I think I have the pulse of much of our movement.
We want to see a pope emerge who would forge a strong confessional relationship with theologically conservative Protestants. We are one in heart with Catholics who can confess the Ecumenical Creeds without crossing their fingers behind their backs.
We would delight in a pope who comes from the Southern Hemisphere, where Christianity is vibrant and growing and orthodox. We want this to be the wave of the future.
Finally, we want to see a pope who continues John Paul’s ministries of being a shepherd to his people and a prophetic voice to the world. News analysis presently abounds with bobbing heads complaining that John Paul did not bring strong administrative skills to the Vatican and they hope the new pope will.
God forbid! In the earliest days of Christian history the infant church carefully and wisely separated the apostolic role of teaching and prayer from the administrative role that others should do (chapter six of the Book of Acts).
I dread to ponder the outcome had John Paul devoted himself to management instead of pastoral and prophetic ministry. We might have the Vatican well oiled and Eastern Europe still in chains.