Sunday, April 03, 2005

Protestant Praise for Venerable Pope John Paul II as a Great Christian Man and Leader

[emphases added throughout]

1) Peter J. Leithart (Reformed pastor):

The obituaries and eulogies for John Paul II will be written in superlatives. That is as it should be. A handful of men were responsible for the collapse of the Soviet regime, the evil empire that tyrannized millions and cast a shadow over the 20th century, and the Pope was one of that handful.

. . . Protestants view John Paul II, as they view any pope, with ambivalence. The Roman Catholic church is still riddled with errors, and this Pope held to many of them with passion.

. . . Flawed though his theology was, he remains far and away the greatest Christian leader of the past century. No Protestant comes anywhere close. Billy Graham may have preached more (maybe!), but Graham had nowhere near the political weight or the theological depth of Pope John Paul II. John Paul II's life is not only testimony to the wonders that God can perform through imperfect instruments but an inspiration for all Christians, whether or not we aspire to pope.

2) Douglas Wilson (Reformed):

. . . we are grateful for John Paul’s role in bringing down one of the greatest instances of human wickedness in history—the practice of international communism in Eastern Europe. We are grateful for his stand against the secularist culture of death, and his unwavering opposition to the carnage of abortion. We are grateful for the good he did within his generation.

We do not say this in the grip of an ecumenical fuzziness, in a sentimentalist blur, that wants to pass over every difference, however important, in order to get to the eulogy. We are mindful of the many idols that remain in our day, and we want to be faithful in resisting them, whether they are Roman or Protestant idols. And yes, this would include the idols that John Paul did not topple.

3) John H. (Lutheran):

. . . unflinching opposition to the culture of death, and his role in bringing freedom to countries under Communist oppression (not least, of course, his homeland).

. . . But the immediate question is how we respond to Pope John Paul II. Should this man's greatness, and self-evident Christianity, put into question our opposition to the papacy as an institution? Well, I find it helpful to bear in mind that what our confessions take aim at is not the individual person who holds the office of pope at any time, but the office of pope itself. Pope John Paul II held this office; but he also held other offices, not least his office as a pastor in the church of Jesus Christ; and then there are his own personal qualities as a human being.

. . . As Pope, John Paul II has held an office that is indeed, in the anathemas it has upheld against the pure Gospel, "antichrist". As a pastor in the church of Christ, however, he has done and said much that should command our respect. As a human being, he must be recognised as one of the most impressive individuals of the past 100 years. And as our fellow Christian, asking (as Pr McCain reports) that the accounts of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection be read to him on his death-bed, receiving the Sacrament of the Altar to the end, we do indeed hope and pray that he will die trusting in the Gospel of Christ and not in the office he has held.

4) Paul T. McCain (Lutheran pastor):

As a pastor who is pledged to the Lutheran Confessions, I am keenly mindful of how deep and pernicious the errors of Roman Catholicism are and continue to be. There is no question in my mind that the Roman Catholic Church continues to be a source of deep anti-Gospel teaching in the world. And I can not even begin to describe the agonizing grief this causes me as a Lutheran.

. . . What am I as a Lutheran feeling as we observe what appears to be the impending death of Pope John Paul II? Quite honestly, sadness. Sadness on two counts. Let me explain.

First, John Paul II has been for the twenty-six years of his Pontificate a powerful leader and spokesman against what he termed "the culture of death" and a powerful advocate for, again, what he termed, "the culture of life" -- consistently he has provided worldwide leadership on issues that all faithful Christians share in common: a deep concern for the spectrum of life issues, from birth to death. And I am saddened to be losing this powerful voice in defense of life. He also played an extremely critical role in the downfall of Communism, another thing for which I am deeply appreciative. I am saddeneed to think the world is losing this powerful voice on these issues.

Though I disagree, profoundly and deeply, with many of his core theological convictions, I have great respect for him and for his church. Unlike churches that share the name "Lutheran" with me, John Paul II never compromised what his church stood for.

. . . I am most deeply sad to realize that in spite of all the good that John Paul did during his long career, he was head of that organization and institution that continues, at its very core, to deny and stand in opposition to the clear proclamation of the Gospel. There is so much that is right, so much beauty, but there is so much that continues to obscure the glory and merit of Christ--alone. And this is what causes me continuing sadness. I pray that God would in some way bring Reformation to the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church.

And so while I deeply oppose the essential theological errors that John Paul II has stood for and embraces, I admire the man and respect him for many things. I find him to be one of the most fascinating personalities and leaders of our time.

5) Billy Graham:

Pope John Paul II was unquestionably the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years. His extraordinary gifts, his strong Catholic faith, and his experience of human tyranny and suffering in his native Poland all shaped him, and yet he was respected by men and women from every conceivable background across the world. He was truly one of those rare individuals whose legacy will endure long after he has gone.

It was my privilege to meet with him at the Vatican on various occasions, and I will always remember his personal warmth to me and his deep interest in our ministry. In his own way, he saw himself as an evangelist, traveling far more than any other Pope to rally the faithful and call non-believers to commitment. He was convinced that the complex problems of our world are ultimately moral and spiritual in nature, and only Christ can set us free from the shackles of sin and greed and violence. His courage and perseverance in the face of advancing age and illness were an inspiration to millions - including me.

(2nd link / 3rd link)

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He'll go down in history as the greatest of our modern popes," the Rev. Billy Graham told TIME magazine. "He's been the strong conscience of the whole Christian world."

(link)

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Billy Graham appeared on the Phil Donahue show on 10/11/79, and in discussing Pope John Paul II's visit to the U.S.A., said: "I think the American people are looking for a leader, a moral and spiritual leader that believes something. And the Pope does. … Thank God, I've got somebody to quote now with some real authority."

"No other man in the world today could attract as much attention on moral and spiritual subjects as John Paul. He is articulating what Catholic and Protestant churches have traditionally held, the moral values from the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. The country is responding in a magnificent way. It shows there’s a great spiritual hunger. The Pope has reached millions of Protestants. The organized ecumenical movement seems to be on the back burner and ecumenicity is now taking place where Roman Catholics and Protestants share beliefs in matters like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ" (Billy Graham, Time, October 15, 1979).

"Since his election, Pope John Paul II has emerged as the greatest religious leader of the modern world, and one of the greatest moral and spiritual leaders of this century … The Pope came [to America] as a statesman and a pastor, but I believe he also sees himself coming as an evangelist. … The Pope sought to speak to the spiritual hunger of our age in the same way Christians throughout the centuries have spoken to the spiritual yearnings of every age-by pointing people to Christ" (Saturday Evening Post, Jan.-Feb. 1980)

On coming to Vancouver less than a month after the Pope had been there, Graham commented on the Pope's message: "I'll tell you, that was just about as straight an evangelical address as I've ever heard. It was tremendous. Of course, I'm a great admirer of his. He gives moral guidance in a world that seems to have lost its way" (Foundation, Vol. V, Iss. 5, 1984).

(link)

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6) Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod

[The pope] provided inspiration and leadership, not only to Roman Catholics but also to the greater Christian world and beyond with his uncompromising stances in favor of life and against the culture of death.

7) Mark Noll (evangelical historian and author):

Billy Graham and John Paul II are indisputably great men. However much of what they accomplish should be attributed to their own actions and however much is due to other factors, these two must be considered significant actors in 20th-century history. For Billy Graham in 1957 to invite participation at his New York City evangelistic campaign from representatives of all willing churches--thereby opening up a wide array of ecumenical possibilities for former fundamentalists, new-style evangelicals and many mainline Protestants-was indisputably an important action. But even that significant action will probably receive less attention in the history books than John Paul II's trip to Poland in June 1979, when millions of his compatriots ignored official disapproval to attend masses and other Catholic services--and so accelerated, or maybe sparked, the shaking that eventually brought down state-communism in Eastern Europe.

8) Charles Colson (Baptist author and founder of a well-known prison ministry):

Pope John Paul II is one of the truly heroic figures of the 20th century. He will be remembered not only as a great leader, but as one of the handful of people singularly responsible for the collapse of the Soviet empire. Stalin once derisively asked, How many divisions does the Pope have? John Paul II answered that question and changed the world.

I had the honor of meeting his Holiness, and I have actively been a part of a collaborative fellowship called Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The Pope's willingness to reach out to Christians outside of the Roman Catholic faith was critical to promoting unity across the Christian family. His vision, his determination, and his loving spirit will be missed by Christians around the world.

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The most hopeful words from any Christian leader today have come from John Paul II....

(How Now Shall We Live, 1999, 302-303)

9) Dr. James Dobson: well-known evangelical family advocate (Focus on the Family):

Today's passing of Pope John Paul II is an immeasurable loss - not only to our friends of the Roman Catholic faith, but to the entire world. We found common cause with him and with the 'culture of life' he espoused so eloquently; the legacy he left us is to be cherished.

While we grieve the profound loss of this remarkable man, we celebrate his life, his ministry and his undeniable impact on the world. During his time as leader of the Catholic Church, he embodied the belief that freedom is a gift from God that should not be infringed by any government; that all life is precious and should be protected; and that dying is part of living and should not be feared nor hastened artificially.

Pope John Paul was an uncompromising voice on the sanctity of life - in fact, his was one of the greatest contributions of the 20th century to that cause. The 'culture of life' will forever be indebted to the man who championed the value of all human life, even to his last breath.

10) Pat Robertson (evangelical broadcaster):

He has been a man of great warmth, profound understanding, deep spirituality and indefatigable vigor . . . [I am] deeply grieved [at the death of the pope]. John Paul II has been the most beloved religious leader of our age--far surpassing in popular admiration the leader of any faith.

11) Jerry Falwell (Baptist pastor and conservative activist):

The world has lost a great moral leader and we will certainly feel his loss . . . [Pope John Paul offered] unparalleled pro-life and pro-family leadership.

12) Os Guiness (evangelical writer):

Pope John Paul II is, in many ways, closer to Luther and Calvin than many of Luther and Calvin’s followers today.

13) Norman Geisler (evangelical apologist and prolific author):

Catholics and evangelicals share a common core of beliefs about salvation. ... For both groups salvation is by grace and is not prompted by human works. It comes as a gift of God to undeserving humanity" (pp. 81,103,104).

Since evangelicals and Roman Catholics have so much in common doctrinally and morally ... we believe that there are, nonetheless, many areas of common spiritual heritage and practical social and moral cooperation possible. ... In this final section we wish to end on a positive note, firmly believing that a cooperative effort between Roman Catholics and evangelicals could be the greatest social force for good in America. ... Our common doctrinal and moral beliefs are too large and the need in America for a united voice on them is too great for us to dwell on our differences to the neglect of crucial cooperation needed to fight the forces of evil in our society and our world. ... Even the most reactionary of Protestant fundamentalists has more in common with Cardinal John O'Connor and John Paul II than with Joan Campbell and John Spong (pp. 357,358).

Perhaps evangelicals felt a bit guilty when they realized they were 'Johnnie-come-latelies,' given the fact that Roman Catholics had been alert to the moral dimensions of the problem while their evangelicals neighbors were spiritually asleep (p. 360).

(from: Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, co-author: Ralph MacKenzie. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995; page numbers given above)

14) Richard Land (president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission):

I've got more in common with Pope John Paul II than I do with Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. [both Southern Baptists]

15) Franklin Graham (president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization):

Pope John Paul II has modeled three qualities I will always associate with him--faith, courage, and forgiveness. He also reminds us that, regardless of one’s power or status, we all answer to an Almighty God. It is this God, and not the Vatican or the Catholic Church that Pope John Paul II looked to for strength and wisdom and guidance during often-perilous times in our world.

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