On the day of the publication of this edition of The Christian Examiner, the world was informed of the passing of Pope John Paul II. He had held the office for 26 years, since 1979; the second longest term in that office (the Roman Catholics say third, since they believe Peter was their first pope, although evidence for that is lacking). His illness and passing has been covered heavily by media outlets, and has, no doubt, led to many conversations. Invariably, when people speak with us as Christians about the death of the pope, they will ask if we believe that he is in heaven or hell. Let us examine the Scriptures and see what we can say about these matters.
It must be noted first that we are servants of Christ, and not in the position of judge. We must heed James 4:12:
One only is the lawgiver and judge, even he who is able to save and to destroy: but who art thou that judgest thy neighbor?
We, therefore, do not have the right to exalt anyone to Heaven nor condemn anyone to Hell. On the other hand, we are able to determine on the basis of one’s belief and one’s actions what their fruit is, and so determine whether they have lived in obedience to the word of God as revealed in the Scriptures (Matthew 7:15-20, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Let us proceed in this way.
In worldly terms, John Paul II was a “good” man. He advocated for the poor, coined the phrase “culture of life” and applied it liberally, not only believing in the error of abortion and euthanasia but also decrying capital punishment and the war in Iraq. Furthermore, morally, he held to many conservative positions.
Yet while Pope John Paul II was considered “good” by most of the world, and in comparison with other persons having held the office of pope, was fairly good, such should not distract us from what the Scriptures say. Let us examine some of the matters where Pope John Paul II has not done the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures:
- The position of “pope.” The concept of a pope, a man being the single leader of the church universal, is utterly foreign to the Scriptures. Its supposed basis, the “dispensation to Peter” in Matthew 16:18, in truth teaches that Jesus is the head (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11). Peter himself, in the Scriptures, considered himself an elder among elders (1 Peter 5:1), and refused titulary that popes accept today. Even if Peter received some special dispensation, there is no indication that such would be passed down in perpetuity, and the shifting nature of Roman Catholic doctrine is sufficient to show it to be a work of man and not God (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). Even the term “pope” violates Scripture, as it means “Father” (the pope is often referred to as the “Holy Father”), yet we read the following from Christ in Matthew 23:9:
“And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven.”
The papacy is an invention of the middle first millennium, and has no basis in the Scriptures.
- Undue glorification of humans. Pope John Paul II has been responsible for the “canonization” of many persons within the Roman Catholic church, declaring them to be “saints.” In the New Testament, we see that anyone who is in the body of Christ is called such (1 Corinthians 1:1-2). Furthermore, the pope himself and many of his followers have made many prayers and intercessions with Mary and the collective of saints, despite the fact that Christ Jesus is our only Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). While Mary and pious persons of the past may deserve our respect, they do not merit our veneration or worship, as they themselves would probably tell us. Let us consider what Christ Himself said in Luke 11:27-28:
And it came to pass, as he said these things, a certain woman out of the multitude lifted up her voice, and said unto him, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts which thou didst suck.”
But he said, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
- Involvement in worldly affairs. Christians do live in the world, although their lives are to be as sanctified (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 12:1-2), and as such we should be knowledgeable about what occurs within our world and stand in our own lives for righteousness’ sake. The papacy, however, has always gone a step further. The Vatican, where the papacy resides, is its own state, and the pope believes that his voice ought to be heard in the halls of governments throughout the world. Pope John Paul II in particular has constantly involved himself in political affairs, most notably in regards to the Communism of his native land of Poland in the 1980s. For his actions in supporting the Solidarity movement in Poland he has received accolades from the world, yet according to the Scriptures, he fomented rebellion against those given authority in those lands, and has violated Romans 13:5. This does not mean that Communism was good, or that people in Poland should have obeyed man rather than God; far from it! Yet the civil disobedience of a Christian is to be limited only to those areas where the government’s decrees forbid some practice in spiritual matters, and the creation of a rebel movement cannot be justified Biblically. We are to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, fighting the spiritual battle against spiritual powers of darkness (Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 6:10-17). Pope John Paul II was, on the other hand, heavily involved with worldly, political affairs in the name of God.
- Upholding “Tradition.” Pope John Paul II is most assuredly a “traditional” pope– he spent much time upholding many of the traditions of the Roman Catholic church against opposition in its ranks. Many Roman Catholics, especially in America, believe that the Roman Catholic institution needs to open up the priesthood to married men and women, to be more tolerant of homosexuality, and especially to allow non-abortive forms of contraception. Pope John Paul II would not do any such thing.
While we stand in agreement with the Pope in regards to women ministers and homosexuality, it is evident that the Pope allowed Roman Catholic tradition, and not Biblical truth, to color his doctrinal determinations. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:1-3:
But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.
Priests being celibate is not a Biblical idea, nor was it even the practice of Roman Catholicism until the early second millennium. Likewise, the marriage bed is deemed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4); who is to tell a couple that they cannot use any form of contraception whatsoever? We could go through all kinds of matters where the Roman Catholics have sinned against God in the same way as the Pharisees of old, having voided the word of God on account of their traditions (cf. Matthew 15:3).
It is important to note, however, that Pope John Paul II made a radical break with Roman Catholic tradition in 1998 when he made a decree establishing that Jews can be saved “in their Judaism.” Now, as Christians, we recognize that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, and we must obey Him (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9); in the case of Roman Catholicism, however, it is to be noted that the “tradition” of the Roman Catholic church has always been that Jews who do not convert will be condemned. They believe that this goes back to Justin Martyr in the early second century, and was reiterated constantly throughout the centuries. The Pope, who is to be the guardian of tradition, clearly contradicted almost two millennia of “tradition” regarding the Jews. So who is right, tradition or the Pope? The contradiction shows that neither represent the standard of truth. God, through His Word, is truth.
The list of matters could continue indefinitely; for the sake of time, let us end here. More information regarding the Roman Catholic church in comparison with the word of God may be found at the links below:
What shall we say in regards to these matters? We cannot say that Pope John Paul II will be in either Heaven or Hell, yet when we compare his beliefs and actions– his fruit– with the Scriptures, we find that he lacks much in Biblical truth. If our faithfulness to God through heeding the message of His Word is a significant factor in our judgment before God, then one would certainly not want to be in the position of Pope John Paul II on that day. We encourage everyone to compare themselves– their beliefs and their actions– with the Scriptures to see whether one is in the faith or not (2 Corinthians 13:5). Conform your life to Christ before it is everlastingly too late!