Certainly no one can doubt that the death of Pope John Paul II is a monumental historical event. I listened to the radio this morning as literally millions of people--a line of humanity no less than five miles long--lined the streets of Rome outside St. Peter's Bascillica to pay their respects to a man who has no doubt left his mark on Christendom.
As an evangelical reflecting on this Pontiff's life, I admit to mixed feelings. One the one hand, John Paul made large inroads as the "people's pope." The first non-Italian leader of the Catholic Church since the Protestant Reformation, John Paul was a "down to earth" individual at heart, and loved nothing better than to be among his "sheep."
As an outspoken advocate for life, this pope was a hero to all Christians who understand the Scriptural truth concerning issues like abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. Regardless of one's opinion on the war in Iraq, John Paul's stand against violence reminded us all of the seriousness of such decisions. Admittedly, this pope seemed to have more strength of character than many avowed evangelicals, especially when it came to the issue of keeping one's "prophetic function" when in the White House!
Still, many who respected this world leader had strong disagreements with him on present social issues. Even prior to his death, pundits were speaking of the need for change regarding Catholic policies towards women in the priesthood and homosexuality, among other things. But are these really the true caviats of John Paul's otherwise respectable ministry? Evangelicals must ask deeper questions than this.
For both Protestant and Catholic evangelicals, the primary questions of John Paul's shortcomings should concern the content of the Gospel. While John Paul II was our ally on issues of moral concern, his departure from the Biblical Gospel during his tenure is without a doubt the most tragic part of his legacy. The implied push toward making Mary co-redemptrix robbed Jesus Christ of His rightful place as the only source of salvation; the only path to God. And a papal bull issued in 2000 granting huge indulgences shed new light on a centuries old Catholic heresy; the belief that relatives and friends can be freed from this fictional place called "purgatory."
As the Cardinals wrangle over who should succeed John Paul, evangelicals, including those who exist inside the Roman Catholic church, should exhort them to consider the Biblical picture of salvation in Jesus Christ alone--by faith alone! While we certainly hope that the next pope shares the same moral convictions as his predecesor, if the Biblical Gospel is not recovered within Roman Catholicism, will any of these other issues really matter?