Monday, July 13, 2015

Is Pope Francis Right About What It Takes to be Happy?

Someone recently sent me a list of suggestions by Pope Francis I on what it takes to be a happier person. Most of them are fairly straightforward and make good sense, such as being calm and working for peace. There were two, however, which were closely related and also somewhat suspect (depending on how you take them). While I think they can be read generously, I feel it is still worth offering some clarifying remarks from an evangelical perspective.

The two points in question were “live and let live” and “don’t proselytize.” There is a sense in which he is correct. I agree, it is not our responsibility to judge people by telling them how much better we are than them (especially since that is not true). And we have no right to forcibly convert anyone. The Gospel is a message of love, and no one can be forced to love anyone.

However, these ideas are also very easy to take too far. They could be taken as saying we have no calling to tell others when they are alienated from God. Francis might be suggesting we only let people be drawn to Christ by our life example, not with our words of warning. And if that is the case, he could not be more wrong.

As always, we turn to the Bible to understand this. And I have difficulty in choosing examples because there is such an embarrassment of riches. God wants us to tell people the danger in which they have placed themselves by sinning. This is covered in every single book of the Bible, especially those in the New Testament. And if Francis is right to say we should not tell people to convert to Christianity, then the entire book of Acts would need to be removed from Scripture. But for this post, I think it wise to refer to 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

This passage is the best version of what Francis might have meant. Or, if you take his words in the worst way, then this passage is the best response. When we come in contact with those who do not know Christ, we must approach them in a particular fashion. We must be gentle, patient, and humble. However, we must go to them with the truth. We must correct them, showing them the error of their ways so they can “come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil” (verse 26).

“Proselytize” is a word with a bad connotation. It suggests forced (or at least aggressive) conversion. I can understand Francis’ fear of it, given the sad history of the Catholic Church in that regard. However, he may be sacrificing evangelism as a result. 

We need to tell the world the good news (which is the meaning of “evangelize”). This means they need to know the bad news first. The bad news is that we have wronged God. The good news is that He will forgive us through Christ, if we accept Him. People don’t just learn that when Christians seem like nice folks. There is no “conversion through osmosis.” They also need to be flat-out told.

If Christians “live and let live,” then we are letting die. That is not compassionate. It is cruel. It is to close our eyes to the reality of sin and judgment, and pretend everyone can follow their own way. As Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, said, this attitude leads not “to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion.” We need to be better than that. We need to offer clarity, and challenge the world to see it is on the road to destruction.

So instead of listening to the Pope, listen to the Holy Spirit, Who said through Paul, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). This is our mission. This is what it takes to fulfill our purpose as Christians. Therefore, this is what we must do to be happy. Because leaving people to their own devises only leads to sorrow. 

No comments:

Post a Comment