A Christian Response to Pope Francis On Redemption

| May 23, 2013

You may have read about the recent buzz over Pope Francis’ statements that atheists who do good are also redeemed, and not just Catholics. I would like to make a clear response from the perspective of Christians, so that it does not stumble those younger in the faith.

Article reference can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/pope-francis-good-atheists_n_3320757.html. Here are the quoted words of the pope with regards to a passage in Mark:

“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

I believe that the passage he was talking about is found in Mark 9:38 – 41

‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’
‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’
– Mk 9: 38 – 41

There are a few facts that must be made clear from the Christian standpoint:

1) Jesus paid the price of redemption on the cross for everyone and has made this gift of salvation available to everyone. This means that everyone has access to this gift of salvation. But having access doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved. The gift still must be accepted.

2) The verses quoted in Mark do not mean that the disciples think that only followers of Christ can do good. It would seem rather foolish to think that the disciples are so naive to believe that no one else in this world can do good apart from believers. Rather it is is the disciples objection to people who were not a part of the 12 to do ministry work. Jesus corrected them in the sense that anyone who is a follower of Christ, can do ministry and perform signs and wonders in Jesus’ name.

3) Salvation can never be gained through doing good. It is unclear what the pope meant when he said ‘But do good: we will meet one another there.’ If he meant that if you do good, you will gain salvation, then it is contrary to what the Bible says.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
– Eph 2:8, 9

This verse clearly indicates that we cannot be saved through anything we do. Salvation is a gift that must be received freely by faith. And like any gift, we all have the choice of accepting it or rejecting it. And unless you have believed and accepted it, you have not received this gift of salvation, no matter what good works you have done.

4) Doing good is relative and can never be a measure of salvation. How does one define ‘do good’? If I gave a penny to a beggar, is that enough of good? If I live the life of a murderer but take care of my parents, does that mean I am redeemed too? It is without doubt that doing good is in no way a part of the equation of salvation and redemption.

5) There is no middle ground for salvation. Though Jesus says that ‘he who is not against us, is for us’, it doesn’t mean that anyone who is not opposed to Christianity is a Christian. It is similar to what Paul was saying in Philippians:

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
– Phi 1:15 – 18

So just like what Paul meant, Jesus is saying that all who are not actively undermining his work, is in fact helping him to spread the gospel. God uses both good and evil to accomplish his purposes. But it does not give any indication of salvation for these people. The Bible says very clearly that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to God (Rom 6:15 – 23). There is no middle ground, as some would believe atheists are standing on.

In summary, I think that it is dangerous to take what the pope has said as a standalone statement and out of context. I personally, feel that based on the words quoted alone, it is not clear what the pope is trying to say. Mainstream media seem to have interpreted that the pope is saying that salvation can be won through doing good. Regardless whether they are right in their interpretation of the pope, it is important to be clear what we, as Christians, believe.

JESUS PAID THE PRICE OF SALVATION AND IS MADE AVAILABLE AS A GIFT FOR ALL.
SALVATION CANNOT BE WON THROUGH DOING GOOD.
SALVATION MUST BE ACCEPTED AS A GIFT THROUGH FAITH.

Finally the centerpiece of our Christian beliefs in salvation is clearly spelt out in Jn 3:16, which clearly states that a person must believe in Him, in order to gain eternal life. This means atheists cannot receive salvation…. unless they cease to become atheists.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son. That whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life.
– Jn 3:16

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About the Author ()

I have been a follower of Christ for more than 20 years now. Started from a Methodist church, then went on to a few charasmatic churches and again back to a Methodist church now. Thus I have experienced and seen a wide flavor of different denominations. Personally, I consider myself non-denominational as I can worship in many different styles. The important thing is that I follow the gospel and love Jesus. I am currently serving as a musician and a worship leader in my church. I believe that my calling is to help others enter into the presence of God through worship. I also enjoy teaching and discipling other believers, which is the main reason why this site was started. I hope to find other believers to join me in this cause to reach out and encourage other believers.

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