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Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement on Monday indicated he will become the first pope in six centuries to resign. (The last was Gregory XII in 1415.)
Much speculation abounds as to what his replacement’s position will be on many issues, as the papacy has certainly wielded significant political and cultural influence for centuries, in addition to influencing what many people think about God and the Bible.
Pope Benedict, like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, has been a staunch supporter of the sanctity of human life. According to Russell Moore, dean of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Pope Benedict has consistently taken a stand “for those whose lives are seen as a burden to society: the baby with Down syndrome, the woman with advanced Alzheimer's, the child starving in the desert, the prisoner being tortured.” Moore added, “These lives aren't things, he [Benedict] has said, but images of God, and for them we will give an account. When society wants to dehumanize with language: ‘embryo,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘anchor baby,’ ‘illegal alien,’ ‘collateral damage,’ and so on, Benedict has stood firmly to point to the human faces the world is seeking to wipe away.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler, however, made clear at the time of the pope’s visit to the US in 2008 that the most important issue at stake between Protestants and Catholics concerns eternal salvation. Mohler noted that the pope’s declaration that eternal salvation depended on the ministrations of the Roman Catholic Church—rather than on faith in Jesus Christ alone (as the Bible indicates, for instance, in Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8–9; 1 Timothy 2:5–6; and Romans 10:13)—had long been the consistent position of the papacy. Mohler respected Benedict’s sincerity but of course disagreed.1
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler, however, made clear . . . that the most important issue at stake between Protestants and Catholics concerns eternal salvation.
Nevertheless, in addition to practicing Roman Catholics who consider the pope to be God’s spokesman, Mohler notes “that millions of people around the world gain their idea of what Christianity is from the papacy.” Therefore, it will also be of interest to all of us to see what position the new pope will take on the question of the historicity of Genesis.
While it is unlikely any new pope would take a non-traditional position on salvation, it remains to be seen whether the cardinals’ selection will hold any different position on evolution, human origins, or the big bang. Pope Benedict’s position, best described as theistic evolution, has not reflected our Lord Jesus Christ’s recorded testimony regarding the historicity of Genesis.2
Jesus Christ pointed people to the foundational book of God’s Word to settle basic questions about foundational institutions like marriage when He warned “Have ye not read?” (Matthew 19:4). Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who certainly knew and knows all things, also treated the foundational book of the Bible as literal history. He referred to Adam and Eve as the first married couple (Matthew 19:3–6; Mark 10:3–9), Noah and the Flood (Matthew 24:38–39), as well as to Abel (Luke 11:50–51), Lot’s wife (Luke 17:28–32), and Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15). If Jesus Christ is the true head of the church, as the Bible declares Him to be (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23), who is any religious leader to gainsay Him (though noting that the papacy would consider some accounts in Genesis as historical)?
As we have repeatedly emphasized, of course, acceptance of a 6-day creation is not necessary (or sufficient!) for salvation. Rather, acceptance of evolution and/or millions of years undermines the reliability and authority of the Word of God in which the Gospel is proclaimed. In fact, it is in Genesis where we learn that man’s sinful rebelliousness against God (Genesis 3) is not only the ultimate cause of the suffering in the world today but the very reason Jesus Christ needed to come and offer Himself as “the Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22 and 45), sacrificing Himself for our sin guilt.
Indeed, a complete reliance on the authority of God’s Word from the very first verse would settle humanity’s most vital theological issues, not only about our origins, but also about our eternal destiny and the provision God made available to each of us (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9) with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
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