Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith PRC in Jenison, Michigan

The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “In 10 Years, Pope Francis Has Disrupted the Catholic Church.”1 We take a brief amount of space to note that this title misleads when it refers to the institution that Francis rules as the “Catholic Church.” Francis rules the Roman Catholic Church. Francis has no jurisdiction over the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church (to which we belong as Protestants) over which there is one Ruler, Jesus Christ. Duly noted; now we turn to the description of Francis as a disrupter.

Francis certainly has instituted changes/disruptions in the Roman Catholic Church. The article explains that he has brought in a “new informality and approachability” in his interaction with people as pope. He has also “thrown into question church teaching on controversial topics from divorce to homosexuality.” During the administration of Francis, “church leaders are openly discussing rethinking teaching against contraception and gay relationships.” In Germany, bishops “voted…to adopt a formal liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships.” The article reports that the decision of the German bishops “is part of a larger project in the German church to change teachingand practice in areas including the ordination of women, priestly celibacy and the role of laypeople in church governance.” Some are disappointed that more changes have not been implemented (the article mentions ordaining married priests and women as deacons), but notes that Francis “didn’t rule out such changes in the future.” The article also credits Francis for removing corruption from the Vatican bank.

The Roman Catholic Church certainly is in need of disruption. And Francis certainly seems to take delight in being thought of a disrupter. But what are we to make of the changes he has implemented?

In giving our evaluation of the changes implemented by Francis, we need to remember that the kind of disruption needed in Rome is a church reformation. Disruption is not needed in Rome for the sake of change. Disruption is not needed in Rome to bring the church ‘up to date’ in a modern world. Disruption is not needed to keep young people happy and in the church. No, the kind of disruption that Rome needs is the kind that Luther brought in 1517, when he attempted to lead the church back to Scripture in its doctrine, worship, and life.

In all the changes Francis has made, has he done anything to bring Rome back to the Scriptures as the rule for faith and life? The article does not mention any concern on the part of Francis to use Scripture to disrupt Rome’s false teachings of salvation by faith and works, of worshiping Mary, of idolatrously worshiping Christ under the form of bread and wine, and more.

We also see no evidence of any effort by Francis to use Scripture to determine what the church shall teach and believe concerning celibacy, ordination of women, homosexuality, or any other vogue issue the pope is open to “disrupting.” His steadfast refusal to bow to Scripture or even to refer to Scripture became evident in an answer he gave concerning homosexuality. The article reports a “famous example” of an “informal comment” of the pope “in response to a question about gay priests: [the pope said] ‘Who am I to judge?’” In a show of false humility the pope claims that he is in no position to make a moral judgment regarding homosexuality. The pride of his statement is that, instead of referring to Scripture, he refers to himself. The implication is that if he, as pope, is in no position to make a judgment, no one else is either. He steadfastly refuses to lead himself and the church to Scripture to say, “Christ rules His church through His written word, and we will submit to His authority and judgment.”

This pope proudly rules a church that rejects the rule of Christ and His Word, and the reason is that this pope and many others in the church want to approve teachings that are contrary to Scripture. Under Pope Francis the Roman Catholic Church continues in all of its unbiblical teachings and practices of the past, and all of the changes/disruptions are only bringing the church further away from the rule of Christ in the Bible.

We take note of the current decline of the Roman Catholic Church to be reminded of the calling of a Reformed church to keep reforming, and of the warning that a church which is not reforming does not stand still but continues to decline.

Hindu attack on Christians

Where do you live? Some of you, like me (in the United States of America), live in a country that is hostile to Christianity in many ways, but do not experience any violent opposition from the government or the populace. Despite wicked laws and practices sanctioned by the state and embraced by many in the society around us, we enjoy the ability to follow Christ openly in peace that should not be taken for granted. We do not know what it is like to have a pastor we know and love personally put in prison (like the apostle Paul). We do not know what it is like to have someone in our church executed for the faith of Jesus Christ (like Jon Huss). Such persecution can seem to be confined to the history of the church in the past. So we should remind ourselves that such persecution is the lot of Christians even in our own day.

Thus we consider some information from the article, “Christians Flee Indian Village After Hindu Mob Brutally Attacks Pastor and Church Member”:

A house church in India’s Chhattisgarh state was reportedly attacked by a mob of 200 radical Hindu nationalists earlier this month, leaving two Christians with serious injuries… the brutal attack started when a radical named Sanjith Ng barged into a worship service taking place in Odagoan village on Jan. 9…. After entering the church, Ng attacked members of the congregation, beating on them, and then dragged Pastor Hemanth Kandapan outside where a mob was waiting. Villagers said the crowd beat Kandapan and another Christian named Sankar Salam so badly that both were hospitalized with severe internal injuries.

During the attack, the mob cursed the Christians and accused them of illegally converting Hindus to Christianity. The pair were told they would be killed if they continued to hold prayer events in the village.

In the aftermath of the attack one woman was reportedly “forced to convert to Hinduism” and “at least five Christian families fled” the village to seek safety elsewhere.

This report reminds us that many Christians, whom we do not know, live in states that either outlaw Christianity or outlaw the spread of Christianity. And these unknown Christians face persecution directly from the government in enforcing these laws or from non-Christian citizens who use these laws as license to do harm to Christians.

Some of us know Christians who live in dangerous conditions. In the Protestant Reformed Churches we have relations with some Christians in India and Myanmar. We are aware that they face the present reality of violence against Christians.

Knowing about Christians in persecution reminds us of the exhortation in Hebrews 13:3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” Them that are in bonds are sometimes believers literally in prison; but the expression refers more broadly to all those who are suffering persecution for Christ’s sake. To remember them means to do what we can for them (Christians visited Paul to comfort him and sent tokens of support and love). Whenever we can tangibly help those who are persecuted, we should do so.

But often the only thing we can do is remember our persecuted brothers and sisters by praying for them. May God deliver our brothers and sisters in Christ (we are bound with them in Christ) from persecution if that is His will, and if not, may He preserve them in their faith and use their testimony for His glory and for a witness that spreads the gospel of hope and peace found in Jesus Christ.

We pray that even those who are inflicting the persecution on Christians may be converted through the testimony given by believers in their suffering. “But I say unto you,” Jesus exhorted in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

1 The article was published March 13, 2023 online and on March 14, 2023 in print. To view the online version see: https://www. wsj.com/articles/in-10-years-pope-francis-has-disrupted-thecatholic- church-acd228f1.