Obama’s take on the pope, gospel, and children of God

Well the moment that we’ve all been waiting for: we have a new Pope. Of course I should say “we” because I believe the head of the church is Jesus. However, I’m much aware of the need for accountability structure and thankful for the biblical standard of Presbyterianism which places the final human authority at a General Assembly level (a la Acts 15). That way there isn’t one dude who can stop the buck, or a panel of several dudes like some denominations nowadays have. But I mean no disrespect to other church polity, nor do I desire to debate it now. Simply an ADD moment!

And when I say “we,” I should admit that I’m glad that if there must be a Pope, that he is a Jesuit. I’m the product, for better or worse, of Jesuit High School education. Yet Jesuits in my experience in my Tampa high school seemed more concerned about education than Jesus, so maybe this is not such a good thing?

And when we say “we,” we should also realize that many American Catholics consider the pope to have the same authority as the King or Queen of England. So who knows what this even means for Catholics?

But Obama chimed in with his take on the selection of a new Pope. His concern was not so much the country of origin but the origin of his actions. Sounds good so far. In an interview, he offers his take:

My hope is based on what I know about the Catholic Church–and the terrific work that they’ve done around the world and certainly around this country helping those who are less fortunate–is that you have a pope who sustains and maintains what I consider the central message of the Gospel. We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them.

Forget whether or not the Catholic church in general (I’ve come across Catholics who can articulate justification through faith in Christ better than Protestants) has strayed from the central message of the gospel. Just consider what Obama posits as the central message of the gospel: “We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them.” 

Hmmm……I guess I can understand why Obama’s faith has led him to approve what he does. If everyone is a child of God, and Jesus taught everyone to love each other as though they are children of God, then I can see how his hermeneutic lands him where he ends up. But I see at least two problems with such a hermeneutic (principle of interpretation).

1.) Not everyone is a child of God. Entrance into the family of God depends upon faith in Jesus. 

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-John 1:11-12

You have to be adopted into God’s family. This is not something you are born into. Jews (“his own”) rejected Jesus and are therefore not God’s children. Jews and Gentiles who receive Jesus, have been granted the right to become God’s children.

….the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:2-3

Notice that we are naturally children of wrath. Such is what the Ephesians were. Such is what all Christians at one time were. Getting together and singing “we are the world, we are the children” brings out the warm fuzzies in all of us. But it just doesn’t really change our status. But the good news is there is a supernatural work of God wherein he doesn’t leave Christians as children of wrath.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved-Ephesians 4-5

You see that to treat everyone as a child of God is not Jesus wants us to, primarily because not everyone is a child of God.  

2.) How does Jesus tell us to love children of God? How does Jesus tell us to love those who aren’t?

Well to quote one poet, “let me count the ways.” Or you could probably go as simple as Jesus’ words in reciting the 2nd greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t love everyone as children of God. We can’t. I tell my wife who is a Christian that everything will work out for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). You’ve probably heard that a zillion times. But it would not be very loving to tell my neighbor who isn’t a Christian, who hasn’t yet been called (he/may certainly be at one point, and to that end I pray!), that everything is working out for his good. That’s tantamount to offering a deceptively acidic band-aid that will hurt the wound and not heal it. And if my friend who is a Christian is willfully ignoring Jesus’ commands, the loving thing to do is to rebuke him. But I will never rebuke my friends who aren’t Christians. Again, what good does that do? So we can’t love everyone as children of God, for if we try to do that, we really won’t be loving them very well.

But Jesus reminds us in this commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Now that applies to everyone, Christian and non-Christian. I owe them love. The same kind of love I naturally give to myself. So the specific way I demonstrate love for my neighbor will be determined by his/her relationship to God, and of course numbers of other factors like how well we know each other, his/her needs, his/her maturity, etc….

God showed mercy on me when I wasn’t a child of God, so am I not compelled to show mercy on those who aren’t children of God? Of course! Just because I don’t see them as children of God doesn’t mean that I withhold love. On the contrary, I’m motivated to give more!

I think the Catholic church, which Obama seems to be referencing here, does some good things when it comes to loving neighbors and assisting the poor. Yet it is important to distinguish between children of God and children of wrath. Not because you don’t love the latter, but because you do. You can’t love the same way or you will do harm. Instead, love unbelievers like you would want to be loved. Not agreeing with every issue, but respecting them as people along with their right to disagree.

In summary, the central message of the gospel is that God is reconciling a sinful alienated people and world to Himself through the Savior Jesus Christ. But if you want to get on that train, you must repent from sin and self-trust and place your hope in Jesus. Jesus is calling out, in the words of the 1990’s rap song, “Come on ride that train. And ride it.”

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