Protestant Reflections on Pope John Paul II
At age 84, Pope John Paul II died peacefully in his St. Peter’s apartment on Saturday, April 2, 2005. In all my years of ministry, I have never seen such media coverage of any event – ever. Global focus on the Vatican was unprecedented. “As a mark of respect for His Holiness Pope John Paul II,” President Bush ordered the White House flag to fly at half-staff. “The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd, the world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home,” remarked the President of the most powerful nation on earth. It’s not an exaggeration to say that that Polish Pope became more popular – especially in his death – than any other human being alive today. Sales of Pope-products are soaring.
There’s no doubt John Paul II courageously affirmed and accomplished many positive things. He was the key player in the collapse of communism, helped heal centuries of pain between Christians and Jews (he was the first Pope to enter a synagogue), confessed the injustices Catholics inflicted during the Crusades and Inquisitions, and unflinchingly stood for the rights of the unborn. John Paul II was pro-life. So am I, especially since the birth of our son, Seth Michael. In spite of these positive things, the purpose of this short article is to examine just a few issues worth considering by those who accept the Bible “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Media reported, “Pope John Paul II’s body, its pale hands clutching rosary beads, was put on display before the world after more than 100,000 people packed St Peter’s cobble stoned square for a huge open-air mass in memory of their ‘father and shepherd’”. Clutching rosary beads? Catholics use rosary beads in their prayers, especially when repeating the “Hail Mary,” which concludes with, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” John Paul prayed this prayer many times. His lifeless hands clutching rosary beads proclaimed to the entire world his hope that Mary would intercede for him in the hour of his death. What does God think of this? What does His Word say?
Paul wrote, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Notice carefully: “One” means “one,” not two, five, or fifty. And that “one” is a “Man,” not a woman. It is “the Man Christ Jesus.” Truthfully, any shift away from Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Sole Intercessor subtly denies Him. The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), and “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Mary was a godly woman and the channel for Christ’s birth, yet nowhere in the New Testament are any prayers offered to her. Jesus Christ “lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). He’s all we need.
What about calling a fallible human being, “His Holiness Pope John Paul II,” or the constant reference – by Catholics and non-Catholics – to him as the “Holy Father”? Is this right? Jesus Christ used the phrase “Holy Father” only once, and He didn’t apply it to any man, including Peter, but to God alone. The Son of God prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are one…Sanctify them by Your truth, Your Word is truth” (John 17:11, 17). God alone is our “Holy Father,” and Jesus prayed that His followers might become “one” in Him and in His Word, which is “truth.”
God Almighty says, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8). God doesn’t approve of phrases like “Holy Father” or “His holiness” being applied to man, especially to sinful man. The Bible never does this. Catholics say Peter was the first “Pope” (a title meaning, “papa”), yet the Bible never applies such an exalted term to anyone. Once Peter walked into the house of a Gentile who “fell down at his feet and worshiped him.” Peter was horrified! “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man’” (Acts 10:25,26). Peter did not want to be bowed down to, worshiped, or honored in any way above others. After receiving the book of Revelation, John “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel” who showed him the vision. But the angel said, “See that you do not do that…worship God” (Revelation 22:8,9). God alone is to be worshiped, not human beings, or even angels.
I hope to see John Paul II in heaven. He was a kind man who accomplished many great things. Yet on the authority of God’s Word I’m certain that if he ever enters through the Pearly Gates into the New Jerusalem, it won’t be as “His Holiness,” “Holy Father,” or as “Pope.” Neither will it be because of Mary’s intercession. If he makes it at all, it will only be because Karol Wojtyla (his original name) repented of his sins and relied entirely on the merits of Jesus Christ.
In the midst of emotion and the unprecedented media coverage in the wake of John Paul’s death, let’s not forget the words of Jesus Christ to the “Holy Father” when He prayed, “Sanctify them through Your truth, Your Word is Truth” (John 17:11,17).