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Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis and the Two Kingdoms

My brother-in-law, the Rev. Ken Hahn, pointed out recently that it's primarily in the Kingdom of the Left Hand (the arena of laws, rules, government and compulsion) that the election of Pope Francis is such good news for we who follow the Reformation (which, in our view, represents the authentic teaching of Jesus and His apostles- so much so that, unlike Rome, we regard their teachings as uniquely authoritative, to a degree greater even than those of the wise and pious teachers who followed them).

We have many serious differences with the new Pope (as with his predecessors going back quite a way) on the most important subject of all. At a time in church history remarkably like this one, Jesus, according to legend, told the new pope's namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, to "Go and repair my Church."  But the Church consists of individuals, each of whom God loves so dearly that, as St. Augustine observed, He would have become Man and endured the same cross if only one of us had fallen, and the rest remained righteous.

The most important part of the Church's proclaimation is the Gospel- the Good News of how, in Christ,  the brokenness of a fallen man or woman's relationship with God is repaired- at the initiatve of God, and God alone. He is the One Who finally does the repairing we ourselves cannot even contribute to except with the changed heart and will He gives us through the Word and the Sacraments. He is the Actor; we are the acted upon- and as St. Paul takes great pains to make clear, if we forget this, all is lost. Absent this realization, the Church can never be in good repair. In fact, without it, it can't even be the Church.

To the degree that we who are heirs of the Lutheran Reformation are committed precisely to the teachings of Christ and the apostles, we dare not fudge or differences with Rome on the points upon which, in doctrine and in practice, it has departed from what Christ and the Apostles taught.

Ken is right. But at the same time, that left-handed example Pope Francis gives us includes help with what the Reformation Fathers called the Third Use of the Law- its role even for Christians saved by grace through faith alone in teaching us the kind of life through which we can express the uncoerced gratitude which can only be inspired by what God, in Christ, has done for us.

The life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio has modeled the life Christians are called to lead quite  well, as Peggy Noonan observes. And more than that, he has modeled well for us the courage  we need to speak the truth to power, and to stand for the truth in the face of the relativist, post-modern lie that afflicts modern Western culture like a cancer.

And that, too, is something for which we should be grateful.

One more thing for which I am grateful to God for the witness of Pope Francis (and Popes Benedict and John Paul II for, as well) as to how to do something we Lutherans aren't very good at: following Jesus both in His compassion for people's souls and for their earthly welfare. Too often Lutherans (as well as others) essentially choose between orthodoxy combined with a reactionary indifference to the plight of the poor and the oppressed, or the reduction of the Word of God to mere social concern, while abandoning what Scripture has to say about personal morality.

Man is both body and soul. God is concerned with both. Pope Francis, like Jesus Himself, shows us with his life (and hopefully with his teaching) how to reflect that concern. And for the sons and daughters of the orthodox Reformation, that is in itself cause for a Te Deum.

The Kingdom of the Left is God's kingdom, too. All of it, and not just the convenient parts.

HT: Drudge

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