Rev. Spriensma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
By the time that you read this, this visit will be a past event. What was its significance? Why should we as Reformed Protestants take notice?
Pope Benedict XVI was chosen as Pope at the age 78. Now, after being in office for three years, he is making his first visit to the United States. He says that the theme for his visit will be three words, “Christ our hope.” This will be the seventh official visit of a pope to the States, one by Pope Paul VI in 1965, five visits by Pope John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI.
The New York Times (Mar. 31) reports that Benedict plans to visit from April 15-20, holding a mass at the National Park in Washington and at Yankee Stadium in New York, speaking to Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America in Washington, praying at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, visiting the White House, and addressing the United Nations General Assembly. His visit was intended to coincide with the commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the dioceses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown, Ky. There is the hope, as is evident in the New York Times article, that the visit will present this pope in a softer and more personal image. John Allen (in the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “The Pope comes to America”) writes that the pope will be stressing “affirmative orthodoxy.” By this word is meant a strong defense of traditional Catholic faith and practice, calling people back to those traditional markers of Catholic thought, speech, and practice, but doing so positively! “People are far too familiar with what the Catholic Church is against rather than what it is for.” While the issue of liberal teaching at Catholic schools and seminaries has been on the back burner lately because of the sex-abuse crisis, Benedict is expected to address the distinctiveness of what should be taught in Catholic schools. A hot-button topic will be the sex-abuse crisis. Five dioceses have gone bankrupt. More than $2 billion has been paid out in lawsuits. Benedict is expected to say that he has regret for what has happened and to show his determination to ensure that it does not happen again. But there are no plans to go to Boston, which was a sort of center of the crisis, nor to go to meet with some of the victims of this horrible crime.
Besides this American Catholic Church audience, there is a second and third audience. The Pope is coming to the United States, and to them he brings a social, cultural, and political message. Benedict is said to appreciate the United States. John Allen writes in the Pew Forumthat a dominant note in Benedict’s message to America will be his “appreciation for the religious vitality of American society.” Religious vitality in America? That is, of course, in comparison with contemporary Europe. It is not that anything has changed in the United States. Rather it is what has happened in Europe. Allen writes that Europe is in the grip of a kind of exaggerated secularism, which is eroding traditional religious faith and practice. “For all of their problems, yet American society is an intensely religious culture.” Benedict is expected, among other things, to urge a defense of human life, to promote marriage based on union between a man and woman, and to speak regarding the carnage in Iraq (an invasion that the Vatican opposed). John Allen, as Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR, says that he expects at least veiled references to the Vatican’s desire to see the Holy See operate in a somewhat more multilateral function in its approach to global policy and foreign affairs.
Benedict’s third audience will be the world, as he addresses the United Nations on the morning of April 18 and goes to “Ground Zero” in Manhattan. This will be the fourth time that a Pope is to address the UN. Pope Paul VI did in 1965, and Pope John Paul II was invited in 1979 and in 1995. Things to be expected are standard Vatican diplomatic concerns such as peace in the Middle East, a responsible transition in Iraq, religious freedom around the world, the need to combat terrorism, economic development, and peace building. What some expect is especially an emphasis on the need for a global moral consensus, and on moral truths that are universal and unchanging, such as protecting human rights and dignity.
Why so many visits to the United States, which is tied with Poland for most number of visits by the pope to a foreign country? The United States is not a nation that has a majority of Roman Catholics. John Allen, who is also a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, suggests that it is because of the political and cultural role of the United States on the global stage. Oh, the Roman Catholic Church is important in this country. It is the home of 70 million Catholics, nearly one fourth of the national population. The United States has the third largest Catholic population in the world, after Brazil and Mexico, and just ahead of the Philippines. But the United States wields the most power and influence!
Rome has not changed from the Middle Ages. Power, influence, and money are important. Do we not see here the beast that is come out of the earth (Rev. 13:11)? This beast has the appearance of a lamb with two horns, but he speaks as a dragon. Because of his appearing as a lamb, we would expect that he is affiliated with Christ and that he brings the words of Christ. But he speaks like the dragon, bringing not God’s Word but word from the devil and from hell. He is a false prophet!
In Revelation 17:1, the angel speaks to the apostle John and says, “Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters.” The waters upon which the whore sits are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. Rome and her papacy (and for that matter, any apostate church) are pictured as a woman, being rich and powerful, surrounded with glory. The woman is the nominal church as she appears on earth. Here she is a woman married but unfaithful to her husband, forsaking him for fornication and adultery. She lives in an intimate, but illegitimate, relationship with strangers, who are not her husband. She is a filthy harlot, giving herself to be used by the beast. She has power and influence through her fornication—fornication with what are indeed legitimate, instituted, God-ordained governments. But the church has her proper sphere, and governments have their proper spheres, and now these two are in a most intimate union, which makes the woman a harlot, carried about as a whore of the kings of the earth. And she is the mother of all abominations. Great and glorious she seems for a time. Many victories she scores, for she sits on many waters. But her end is that she will be hated and loathed by the beast that she rides, and ultimately destroyed by him.
Marvel not then when many are in awe of Pope Benedict when he comes to our country. Rather, behold Christ’s hand as He directs the history and destiny of the world. And look up, for your redemption draws nigh! Indeed, Christ is our hope, not this false prophet called Benedict. People need to be called back not to ‘traditional markers of Catholic thought,’ but to the very Word of Christ.
While Benedict might express regret for the sexual abuse practiced by Rome’s priests, what about the abuse of Rome’s spiritual harlotry? What about regret for the millions whose blood cries out from the ground, slain by Rome because these Reformed saints loved Christ more than their lives? Watch Benedict as he rides around in his popemobile, and be warned. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech.4:6).