Vol 9 No. 15 The Inward or Outward Looking Church: A View From the New Pope

 

Dear Folks,

 

Some people are encouraged with the selection of Francis as the Bishop of Rome and the Pope
of the Roman Catholic Church. Some see it as a sign of renewal, hope, and even a re-discovery of some
basic teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. I go someway to agreeing with that.

Others believe that the election of a new Pope is just another set of examples of older men
making decisions for everybody else with little public acknowledgement of the messy issues at hand.
Rather like a lot of Protestant behaviour; a little misogyny, a little smoke and mirrors, a lot of public
prayer. I go someway to agreeing with that, too.

I would remind you of a quote that I haven’t used for 3 or 4 years: the 19 th century Anglican
evangelical Charles Simeon said that “the truth of an issue is not in the middle of two extremes but to
be found in the (tension) of both extremes”. Catholicism and Protestantism have their strengths, their
extremes and their weaknesses, challenges to find a Spirit, and scripturally filled balance between the
two. This brings me to the Sunday after Easter when I went along with other Christian and non-Christian
representatives to Holy Rosary Cathedral, to mark the election of Pope Francis the First. I went at the
invitation of Roman Catholic Archbishop, Michael Miller, who I know through a network of Evangelical/
Conservative Christian groups that meet in Vancouver. The highlight of the event was a quote that
Archbishop Miller used from Francis the First on the Saturday before the Tuesday he was elected. Just
for a reference here, the Cardinals were meeting and talking to each other about the needs of the
Roman Catholic Church, and this was Francis’ comment. The first reaction to this may be “thank the
Lord he finally gets it”, or maybe “if the Catholics could only learn this they would be on the right track”.
Either of these remarks could legitimately be interpreted as condescending, if not rude. Either of these
remarks is not as helpful as reflecting on our own local churches, and whether this quote is about me
and my church, not just somebody else. Here is the quote:

“When the Church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential
and therefore becomes sick. The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions
have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism.”

I love the first phrase about evangelism, especially that if we don’t consider others outside the
church, we become exactly the things described here. Without any effort whatsoever, I could give you a

dozen things that Francis is referring to in the Roman Catholic Church. What I’ve been struck with in our
own churches is the “self-referential (that) become sick”, especially when it comes to our concern about
our own renovating, rebuilding, and worrying over OUR buildings, OUR successes, and OUR life as a
family within our church with little reference to welcome, the conversion story in people’s lives, and the
justice stories in the communities in which we live. I like his use of the word narcissism; it’s brutal, unfair
if it’s used to describe all we do, but clearly appropriate for some of us in some of our work for at least
some seasons of our lives. I’m sorry if this newsletter sounds a little grumpy — it’s not how I am feeling.
I heard the Francis the First quote with a sense of gratitude, insightfulness, and something really meaty
that I need to think, pray and talk with others about. It was almost a relief to hear evangelism, sickness
and narcissism talked about so well within just two sentences. I look forward to continuing to talk about
it.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

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