Getting ready to board a flight from Dallas to Detroit last Saturday, I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal. The most interesting articles I spotted were not about the economy, emerging markets, or the new record highs on the New York Stock Exchange. They were about the selection of a new pope.
Pope Benedict XVI stunned his own Roman Catholic Church and the larger world last month by resigning the papal office. He thus became the first pope to retire from office since 1415. Now the Journal was running six views of “What to Look for in a New Pope.” The writers came at their assignment from a variety of perspectives and with several common themes. Among them were advocacy for the poor, transparency about recent scandals, being a moral-spiritual warrior to a world that seems increasingly immoral and secular, etc.
Among the suggestions I found most insightful were these words from one of the two female writers: “[T]he new pope must bring Catholicism back to basics, not to elaborations on a theme but to the theme itself. The modern Church, at the very highest levels of its thinking, in the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has become somewhat abstract and cerebral. Such things have their place, but for now, in the ruined world, what’s needed is a reintroduction of Christ to the rising and post-Christian nations alike, always with an eye to meaning, meaning.”
I found Peggy Noonan’s words convicting. They speak not only to Catholics but to Protestants as well. They are, in fact, variations on a theme that Time magazine noted almost exactly a year ago. Commenting on Christian believers who say they no longer have a religious affiliation, the national newsmagazine quoted an ordained Presbyterian: “My sense is that for most they’re not rejecting God. They’re rejecting organized religion as being rigid and dogmatic.”
Too cerebral? Somewhat abstract? Rigid? Dogmatic? Why, how dare anyone say such things!
Yet Jesus said similar things about the religion of his day. Tradition had become more important to the religious leaders than Scripture itself. He allowed that the Temple had been turned into a marketplace and den of thieves. He protested that the religion scholars were debating the meaning of obscure texts while the “weightier matters” of justice, mercy, and faith were being neglected.
To the degree that any of us who stand in the Christian tradition feel defensive about the criticisms we hear of church these days – and please hear the term “church” in its broadest possible connotation – we are likely part of the problem. Whether Catholics about priestly transgressions or Protestants about self-aggrandizing televangelists, whether you are non-denominational or a “none” (i.e., Time’s non-affiliated believer), we could all benefit by listening.
The world isn’t dying for a lack of clarity about difficult theological problems or clerical authority. It needs to encounter its redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Lived faith, radiant hope, and selfless love – these are the qualities of a Christ-filled life that will make it possible for someone to meet him through you.