On Heidelblog, Dr R Scott Clark recently featured a quote critiquing Pope Francis’s theology.

The quote comes from D C McAllister who writes for The Federalist. Her article is entitled ‘Pope Francis Does Not Get the Gospel’.

I encourage everyone who thinks Jesus’s messages were about economic comfort to read what she has to say in her very thorough examination of the New Testament.

As Catholics and Protestants know, Pope Francis, whilst working in the opulence of the Vatican, plays frequently on middle-class money guilt:

“Poverty is at the very center of the Gospel,” Pope Francis declared. “If we remove poverty from the Gospel, no one would be able to understand anything about the message of Jesus.”

McAllister posits that whilst economic poverty appears in the New Testament, so does spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is more important and what Christ came to relieve through His ministry, death on the Cross and overcoming death in His Resurrection.

She writes (emphases mine):

Francis is reminiscent, in some ways, of the disciples in Bethany. While Jesus was there, a woman anointed him with expensive perfume. When the disciples (and especially Judas) saw what she did, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Jesus rebuked them. “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

To rightly interpret this scene from Matthew 26 (repeated in Mark 14 and John 12) and to understand why putting material poverty at the center of the gospel is so terribly wrong, we need to look at a verse from the Old Testament that Jesus is quoting. When he says, “The poor you will always have with you,” he is referring to a passage in Deuteronomy 15, which tells of canceling debts in Israel every seven years. At that time, every creditor was commanded to cancel any loan made “by a fellow Israelite.” This was not a grace extended to foreigners—only to God’s people. “You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you.” If God’s people were perfectly obedient, there wouldn’t be any poor in Israel (although there would be in the rest of the world).

She observes that even Israelites found this hard to obey, and poverty still existed. We have lived in a fault-filled fallen world since the moment of Original Sin.

But, returning to Francis, she says:

Money has nothing to do with the gospel. When Francis says material poverty is integral to the gospel, he is robbing people of the true message of salvation and the grace of Christ. If material poverty is the “center of the gospel,” Christ is no longer at the center of the gospel. Grace is no longer at the center. Only materialism and works. Francis has, with this statement, exchanged the truth for a lie.

E Burns, a Heidelblog reader, hit the nail on the head with his comment, which reads (in part):

Interesting read on the Pope. The social gospel is sadly alive and well. Truly no better than the health wealth prosperity gospel. Whether social or prosperity gospel or the “you always need to do more” gospel, or “be more monk like” gospel or Jesus plus my works gospel or Jesus plus my……fill the blank, it will always fall far and away short of The Biblical Gospel.

Pope Francis has indeed with this statement, exchanged the truth for a lie.

Money won’t buy us happiness, virtue or Salvation, but neither will poverty. Getting the Gospel right is the preeminent theological, Biblical, and life issue humans face. So many false ones out there. So crucial to the very Salvation of a person and properly giving glory to God is this issue, that the apostle Paul declared anyone changing it or otherwise adding to it should be cursed. Even if a sweet sounding angel from heaven should attempt it, we should not listen. Galatians 1:1-10

Economic poverty and, more importantly, spiritual poverty will exist until the end of time. Some of the former occurs because of injustice, corruption and indifference. It can also depend on individuals’ immoderate lifestyle choices which the West tries to correct through the welfare state: ‘Some people cannot help themselves so we need to keep bailing them out for the rest of their lives’.

Logically, some of us would call perpetually taking state taxpayer money for that purpose theft. The welfare state was intended for a hand-up, not a hand-out. It is based on the same principle as the Israelites’ forgiveness of debts every several years. Unfortunately, it has blown out of all proportion.

Pope Francis spends little time talking about grace, but then, the Catholic notion of grace is not viewed doctrinally as a merciful gift from a loving God, but as a state of being involving something one must work for to achieve periodically and ephemerally.

Presumably, Francis can only preach about economic unfairness in order to remain palatable to a worldwide audience. To speak of Christ bringing us salvation as the principal mission of His ministry, death and rising again would offend those of other faiths.

It’s a lamentable state of affairs — worse yet, a false understanding of the Gospel, which is misleading to many.

Admittedly, he’s not the only clergyman guilty of this. I can think of a number of Protestants, too. However, none of them is in the public eye as much as the Pope.

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