The pope of the Roman Catholic Church, recently made an admission that is rather startling: he said that no one is actually condemned forever, since it was contrary to the gospel. Here is his quote:
“No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” the exhortation says. He adds that he is speaking not only of the divorced and remarried, “but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.”
This was found in his paper on The Joy of Love, a treatise that many have shown to be quite ambiguous, in which the pope is saying that it is OK for those who are divorced to come back to the church and receive holy communion. Remember that Roman Catholics believe that marriage is a sacrament, so to break that union, is to commit a heavy-duty sin which results in those who are divorced being barred from communion. It is basically excommunication. (I don’t have a problem with the pope changing his church’s teaching on the way it views those who have gone through a divorce. So often, especially in a day in which there is no-fault divorce, people go through divorces that they don’t want. Why excommunicate them if that happens?)
Perhaps the pope should change a lot of the church’s teaching to be a bit more biblical instead of basing it on history, councils, and previous popes.
But if the Bible were the driving belief-system of the RCC, then he would not have made the statement above, which is a wink-and-a-nod toward universalism. Universalism is the idea that all mankind are eventually saved. Is the pope channeling Rob Bell? Are men like the pope and Bell working together to end up with worthless Christianity, one that does not speak of sin, the need of a real Savior, and one that champions consequence-free lifestyles?
We should not be surprised. Anytime someone starts developing their theology based on their own reasoning power, neglecting God’s word on the matter, they will come up with a god that is nothing more than an ancient Santa Claus, looking for us to be good and nice, and ignoring the reality that we are not.
This is always the case when you see those drifting from true Christianity. They place human reason above biblical teaching and the door to hypocrisy and heresy flings wide open, bringing destruction for all who pass through it.
In this case, the pope is wrong on his above proclamation in three ways. The first is that he ignores what Christ tells us about hell, secondly, he ignores the doctrine of election, and third, he ignores God’s glory in dealing with those who are sent to hell.
Christ Declares The Eternal Nature of Hell
I don’t think we should be surprised about the pope saying that there will be those who are let out of hell after a time. This is very close to the old teaching on purgatory, so it’s not a logical leap. Where the problem lies is that it is not a biblical stance. There is nothing in Scripture that supports the pope’s view. Just reading Scripture at all, during personal devotions and Bible reading, you will find plenty of instances where the idea of eternal punishment is mentioned. This makes me wonder if the pope actually reads the Bible before he makes such statements. But then again, if Rob Bell is his mentor, probably not.
Scripture has plenty to say about the eternality of hell. We learn the most about hell from Christ Himself. Listen to His words found in Mark 9:43-45:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.‘ 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—
Three times our Savior indicates that the punishment of hell is eternal. He says that the fire is not quenched, not quenched, and shall never be quenched. The punishment of those consigned to hell is continuous and will not come to an end. This is why preaching the gospel is so important. Men face either eternal life with Christ, or eternal damnation alone.
Jesus also indicates this stark reality when He speaks about the day when He judges the nations. Those who are His sheep go to eternal reward while those who are goats “will go away into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46).” You would think that the pope, who claims to speak for Christ, and supposedly represents Him here on earth, would actually know what Jesus said during His earthly ministry. Again I wonder, does the pope ever actually read the Bible?
The eternal nature of hell is not because the gospel fails in any way, shape, or form. The gospel is the power unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17), and will save all of those whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world to be saved (Ephesians 1:3ff).
Yet, those who are not in Christ will experience the second death and eternal damnation (Revelation 21:8). Again, the fault is not the gospel, but the wickedness of those who refuse to believe. In their unbelief, they have sinned against an eternal/everlasting Being, therefore the punishment is eternal/everlasting in nature. The punishment fits the crime, so to speak. Since the wicked refused to believe in the One who could bring about eternal salvation, they will face eternal judgment, rendered to them by an eternal God.
It seems that the pope has forgotten these basic truths of Christianity. Never mind that what he says, contradicts Scripture, he is trying to be more inclusive. We can’t blame him can we? Half of evangelicalism is doing the same thing. Why should evangellyfish be the only ones working towards inclusivism?
Pope Fails on Doctrine of Election
In the pope’s statement above, he also fails on the doctrine of election. It is through the doctrine of election that we find God’s eternal purpose in saving some (and not others). He never intended to save all of mankind. The simple fact that there is election of some for salvation, and not all, screams this reality.
…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4).
The letter is written to those who are believers, those known as saints. It is not written to those specifically and only to those in Ephesus, but to anyone who has trusted in Christ as Savior. That is what makes a person a saint, not the Roman Catholic Church or their councils.
The point is that this passage, and many others, confirm that God elected some to salvation, but not all to salvation. To say that God did, is to ignore the teaching of Scripture. This truth counters the above statement by the pope because it shows that any who spend even a moment in hell are not of God’s elect. If they are not God’s elect before the foundations of the world, they will not become God’s elect after they are sent to hell to endure God’s holy and just wrath. The decision of election comes from the council of God’s will, not the council of the theological-lite like the pope and Bell. The apostle Paul writes:
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).
Paul is showing us God’s eternal decree in election. So many Christians falsely believe they are Christians because of the counsel of their own wills, but if we are truly saved, it is because of the grace of God’s eternal decree that we are. Our salvation is truly a gift from God, even our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), so that God gets all the glory in redeeming some to Himself.
Remember the doctrine of sin shows us that left to ourselves, we would never choose to become Christians, never seek after God, never want anything to do with Him (see Romans 1-3). It is only by God’s grace that we are saved at all.
The Pope’s Statement Ignores God’s Glory on the Matter
Now someone might ask, but isn’t what the pope is saying above, that it is by God’s grace that after a time, that the rest of humanity will be ushered into the heavenly realms?
We can say that, if, and only if, we ignore the clear teaching of Scripture, and the doctrine of election, as I have pointed out. But the pope’s statement also shows that God’s glory is not at the forefront of his thoughts. God does everything for His glory, including sending those to everlasting punishment. In other words, God is glorified by those whom He saves, and by those who are condemned eternally. One of the most clear passages on this reality is Romans 9. Paul is dealing with the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, and shows that God is still righteous, even though the Jews were not among the elect.
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (Romans 9:14-16).
Paul is showing that when it comes to the elect, be they Israel or not Israel, they are chosen because of God’s decision, not man’s decision. It is God’s choice in showing mercy, not our choice in making a decision. Of course, this just confirms the doctrine of election even more. It is when you read further in Romans 9 that subject of God’s glory is raised.
Paul will say that we have no right to question God on this issue, because the Triune God is the potter, we are merely the clay.
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (Romans 9:19-21)
God is using the same clay to make all of us, but some of that clay is used for honor, while the rest is dishonor (again, showing God’s election in salvation). The point that Paul goes on to make is that God is glorified in that He saves some from destruction and demonstrated the riches of His mercy.
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24)
We see that God is making His wrath known, which also glorifies Him, in preparing vessels of wrath for destruction. This not only magnifies His wrath (something most people don’t believe that the living and true God actually has), but it also magnifies His mercy even more so. Why? For His glory! He is glorified in His dealings with all of mankind, both the elect and non-elect alike because we see His glory in both His wrath and His mercy.
Yet, you never hear of the pope mentioning anything about God’s decrees, or His mercy, or His glory, or anything of any significant weight, just social twaddlings meant to misguide the masses into following him instead of Christ.
Finally, the Pope Is Being Irresponsible
Finally, I know that there will be many who will come along and say that what was said above was taken out of context, or misreported, or misquoted. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the pope. He should know by now that he is one of the most influential people in the world and it is his responsibility to be crystal clear on what he is saying and not saying. However, as Roth Douthat pointed out in his article about this recent paper, the pope is being purposely ambiguous.
As for the gospel, when was the last time the pope issued a paper on what the gospel actually means to modern Catholics? If he is going to make statements like the one above, then he needs to state clearly what it means. He is being quite deceptive when he remains ambiguous.
That is what I expect from a false teacher, a real lack of clarity. False teachers never say what they really mean and use the language of the faith to sound like they are genuine articles of the faith, when in reality, they are merely charlatans. And yes, let me be abundantly clear, the pope, all popes before him and all to come after, is a charlatan, someone passing themselves off as one thing when they something quite different.