By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist seminary president urged evangelicals not to get too caught up in all the excitement surrounding the naming of a new pope.
“Evangelical Christians simply cannot accept the legitimacy of the papacy and must resist and reject claims of papal authority,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a podcast commentary March 14. “To do otherwise would be to compromise biblical truth and reverse the Reformation.”
Mohler said the reformers rejected papal authority during the 16th century for good reasons that are seemingly forgotten today by “some liberal Protestants and careless evangelicals” seeking theological consensus and common ground on social issues like marriage and the sanctity of human life.
“First and foremost, evangelicals must affirm that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is an essential, because that is the very definition of the gospel itself, and there is nothing more core, central and essential than the gospel,” Mohler said.
“The reformers were absolutely right in saying that any understanding of justification – even the understanding that justification is by faith and something else — is another gospel, is anathema to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “The only way of understanding salvation by grace alone through faith alone is defining justification as the Scripture defines it, and that is justification by faith alone.”
Mohler noted that Pope Benedict XVI famously affirmed the doctrine of justification by faith when writing about the apostle Paul, “but he would not add that crucial word ‘alone.’”
“Lacking the word ‘alone,’ that means justification by faith that works in synergistic mechanism with our own righteousness or attempts at righteousness and efforts to gain merit,” Mohler said.
Mohler said evangelicals watching the pope’s election also “must recognize what isn’t broadcast to the world with all of the adulation and attention and indeed celebrity focus that accompanied the press coverage.”
“For instance, the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches that the pope has the power to dispense merits, to forgive sin, to extend indulgences,” he said. “When you consider that you realize just how unbiblical this office is. The Roman Catholic Church, by its symbolism and by its formal teaching, says that the pope, whom they claim to be the successor of Peter, actually holds the keys of the kingdom to which Jesus refers in Matthew Chapter 16. We understand that the keys of the kingdom do indeed exist, that they belong to Christ and that they are handed to the church as a stewardship, not to Saint Peter.”
“Furthermore, when you look at the institution of the papacy, evangelicals looking at all the ceremony and all the liturgy and all the secrecy and all the mystery must understand what is crystal clear in official Roman Catholic teaching, and that is that the pope has the opportunity and the responsibility under the powers that are supposedly invested in him, to be a conduit of divine revelation,” he said.
“That is something that is anathema, absolutely foreign, absolutely in contradiction to the evangelical principle of sola scriptura — of Scripture alone — and of the affirmation of scriptural authority within the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Mohler, who has a Ph.D. in theology, has spoken out before on his views about Catholicism. “As an evangelical, I believe the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel,” he said in a 2000 appearance on Larry King Live. “I believe the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”