The Roman Catholic Church is so ubiquitous in both presence and influence that most anything done or said, good or bad, is grabbed by the media and hung out to dry before the world. This often slanted publicity results in both praise and criticism of the events. It also presents opportunities for making illustrations about spiritual principles that many people can relate to, although presenting the example in a truly objective manner is almost impossible. The next best approach may be just "knowing where someone is coming from."
This post was written by someone who over half-a-century-ago belonged to a fundamentally conservative group with Protestant origins that was suspicious of the Catholic Church. The author still considers himself to be a Christian who is "fundamental," but the definition and application of that term has flipped about 180 degrees. As is the case involving many terms, "fundamental" in the heavenly realms is inverse to the application of "fundamental" in the earthly realms.
There is an interesting, and potentially very important, dynamic going on in the Roman Catholic Church, that began with the selection of a new Pope. Pope Francis is someone in this traditional position of the "highest protector of the church doctrine" who is looking past old wineskins to find new skins capable of receiving "new wine." He is not just breaking with tradition -- that takes too long; rather, he is bypassing tradition that is inconsistent with the foreordained plan of God. Some don't see it coming -- they only see the tails of his Pope robe as he has already passed them. From a Protestant perspective, this might seem "ho-hum," but from a Catholic perspective, and from a "body of Christ" perspective, this is huge. The nature of the internal resistance being formed to adversarially challenge Pope Francis' changes helps tell the story.
There must be more to it than this, but, from an outsider perspective, there is this logical question that can be raised. If the Pope is designated to be the single person who has the authority to speak for God (in the Roman Catholic Church), who are these other people to question what he does and says, just because they may disagree with it? So what if they are bishops or arches or cardinals or whatever? Is it only certain times he speaks for God - while wearing certain garments and holding a certain instrument in his hand while speaking in Latin? And so what is said the remainder of the time -- is that an open target for other's opinions? How "infallible" is that? In fact, that may be an undercurrent issue that Pope Francis is addressing.
This opens the main point here. All these rules of tradition - what people have said a thousand years ago or so - what someone does or says while they are in an official capacity - so designated by an organization's humanly determined rules, as marked by physical time, circumstance, location, occupation of 3-dimensional space - humanly significant garments and instruments of institutionally assigned authority, involving the senses of the human brain listening to someone who has been placed in control the interface between them and Jesus Christ -- all this stuff .... is this thinking directed in the heavenly realm or earthly realms? Even if one allows the claim to be made that these rules initially derived from the heavenly realms (as purportedly recorded in Matt. 16:16-18), into what realm has the doctrine of the church evolved and where is it now? Everything about this is "church business" in the physical realm.
This is further evidence that the institution calling itself "the church" (whatever the name or traditional derivation - Roman Catholic or otherwise) is operating in the earthly realms. Do the garments and rules and official instruments represent our seat with Christ in the heavenly realms? You mean, like the physical emblems (Heb. 9:23-24) under the Old Law -- that Law nailed to the cross with Christ so we could be in the spiritual realms with Him (Eph. 2:6)? Obviously our religious physical trappings are only earthly representations of the true heavenly realms with Christ -- the same as it was under the Old Law.
But, what is this "new wine" that Pope Francis is pouring - besides a surfacing of the inconsistency of the traditional view of "the Pope being God's voice, but only when he says what I agree with?" Well, I, for one, am recognizing God's voice within some of what Pope Francis is doing and saying, and it's not because some humanly controlled organization has said so, recently, anciently, or whenever. Pope Francis is showing the fruit of the Spirit of the mind of Christ by what he is doing and saying - just like Jesus said would be the recognizable character of His work. The Pope is showing some insight into the "unseen" heavenly realms, and some of the humans within this organization, bound to the earthly realms, are having difficulty knowing what to do with it. It's strange, different, unconventional, and threatening to a security that says salvation is through an institution that should not contradict itself and that thinks change is dangerous.
The dissonance involves several doctrines in the Roman Catholic Church - the doctrine of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, the doctrine of salvation, and the doctrine of sin and forgiveness.
The Eucharist, as practiced in the Roman Catholic Church, is one of the sacraments that must be observed according to the traditional rules in order to maintain one's salvation. Salvation of the individual is granted through the institutional church, represented by the administration of these sacraments. Only those approved by the rules of the institution can receive the sacraments of Holy Communion. So, these doctrines mesh together into a tidy package of the institution deciding who is saved based on the church rules. The priest is the local representative authorized to offer Holy Communion to the individuals, so the priest is the final "screen" that accepts or rejects the qualifications of a person to receive the sacrament based on the interpretations passed down from the "higher-ups."
Members who choose to live certain "sinful" lifestyles are precluded from receiving Communion, because they are considered not to be in good standing with God (and therefore with the church). Traditional (conservative) interpretations of the Scripture have placed people who have been divorced and remarried in this category, and these people have been forbidden from receiving Holy Communion, thereby not confirming their salvation.
In April, 2016, Pope Francis published a major document urging priests to be more accepting of divorced Catholics, gay men and lesbians, and other people in irregular family situations. The Pope has also urged priests to offer forgiveness for those having had abortions.
Four senior Catholic Cardinals have published a demand for the Pope to state plainly his intent for accepting remarried Catholics, when second marriages have been considered by the church for over a millennium to be adulterous. The Cardinals threaten a "formal act of correction" of the Pope, something never done before in the Roman Catholic Church. Hmm. If we're talking about the Pope's "breaking with tradition" -- what would that "formal act" be called, for which there is no tradition nor precedent? The Cardinals like to quote Jesus' words in Luke 16:18 for their stance on remarriage and adultery. Well, while we are quoting scriptural authority, where is a scripture in the Bible authorizing Cardinals to censure the Pope? (Don't hold your breath while trying to find that one -- might be hypoxically slain in the spirit.)
So far, Pope Francis has not responded to the critics, but has bypassed them and taken his case directly to the grass roots - the priests and therefore the people. Is this like a coronary bypass that goes around calcified obstructions in a blood vessel to supply life-giving oxygen to the tissues?
What is the will of God in His foreordained plan?
What is the focus -- are eyes being fixed on things in the seen realm or the unseen, on human opinions or on Jesus, on the temporal earthly realms or the eternal heavenly realms, on things that are below or things that are above?
Is this a contest?
So what about a 1000 year old tradition in the church; what about a 2000 year old tradition? How about an eternal tradition of the foreordained plan of God, made before creation of matter and time? It's difficult find the handle to understand that one. Maybe because the "handle" is in the heavenly realms, and people are not looking outside the earthly realms of their own history, 1000 years of tradition, and human comprehension. Maybe the answer is "hidden in Christ," so that one has to see Christ first before the answer becomes apparent. Surely "Ask and it shall be revealed to you" (Matt. 7:7) means "ask Jesus" and not "ask the traditional doctrinal thinking."
What has God predestined before creation and how does the church fit into that? What has God declared through Christ that has already happened in the heavenly realms, and what is the church supposed to be doing about that?
God foreordained before time began that the creation would start and grow into His likeness, into His character of love. The creation has evolved over 14 (more or less) billion years, and humankind is the highest form of creation, charged to lead the rest of creation (as we know it) into God. Jesus Christ came from the heavenly realms into the earthly, physical realms to finish the old covenant (of the earthly realms) and to bring in the new covenant (of the heavenly realms), under which we have been declared for all time to be without sin, blemish, or stain and perfect in the sight of God in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:3-4). God has declared that we, and collectively the church, are complete. We are like God in the heavenly realms, and created to be like God in the earthly realms - the image of God. We know in our mortal bodies that we are not yet perfected in the earthly realms, but by faith in the declaration and promise of God and by the power of His Holy Spirit, we purpose to be transformed into His likeness as we keep eyes on Jesus, who is seated by the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20). Our faith is counted to us as righteousness, as righteousness was declared to Abraham by his faith.
God loves all the world; God sent His Son to all the world so no one would perish (John 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit of God was poured out on all people (Acts 2:17, 39). Jesus did not come to those Jewish gatekeepers who had their rules from ancient traditions, which they used to screen people out of institutional (synagogue) acceptance. Jesus came to sinners, to prostitutes, to the blind, oppressed, sick, and poor. Jesus came to those who needed Him, not to those who were too elite to even recognize Him. He died for all of them, and the Spirit was poured out on all of them, and everyone who called upon the name of the Lord were saved (Acts 2:21). When did Jesus turn anyone away from the kingdom of God because they weren't good enough to qualify?
Jesus came for the sinners, not to the dignified self-righteous Jewish leaders of that day. Perhaps the Pope sees the self-righteousness of the stance that is taken when people are kept out of the church, even when those who are doing the rejection of people cannot see it, themselves. I once had this attitude - "It's just what God said." This, of course, was according to my interpretation, and I didn't have 1000's of years of tradition behind it -- but, nevertheless, I was still convinced that I was right (IMHO). Jesus came to the types of (so-labeled)
"sinners" being rejected by the conservative elements of the Catholic church, but welcomed by Pope Francis.
Let's play the matching game. On the left side of the paper, we have  Four Cardinals and  Pope Francis. On the right side there are the following statements. Match the two sides, left and right.
(1) Who have their eyes on things in the seen, physical, temporal, earthly realms, and who have their eyes on the example of Jesus, who is the Way into the unseen, eternal, heavenly realms? (2) Who is taking the scripture of Jesus' words into the context of 1000 years of human tradition, and who is taking the words in the context of the actions Jesus exemplified in His life, which was within the will of the Father? (3) Who is in unity with the declaration of God that we are perfect in His sight in the heavenly realms, and who is trying to bind people to the Law in the earthly realms?The Pope is extending grace to those types of people that Jesus said He came to save. When we reject those people who are in need of Jesus, we risk hearing the same words Jesus had for the Jewish leaders in His day. Yet, leaders in the church feel they have a responsibility to keep the church from contamination, from being spotted by the world, or from an invasion of savage wolves. But leaders who are shepherds following the Chief Shepherd into the heavenly realms leave these sorts of entanglements behind rather than making a doctrinal abode in the earthly realms and building up defenses to supposedly keep the entanglements out. "Leaving them behind" implies a rapid movement of the church toward Jesus is taking place. "Keeping them out" implies a static placement of a self-immobilized church that allows sin an opportunity to catch up.
Perhaps the Pope understands that from a church perspective, continually rejecting and punishing people retroactively is like a penal system in the earthly realms. There is a conceptual way of looking at Christ's work called "penal substitutionary atonement," which emphasizes Christ's having taken on Himself the penalty of sin that we deserve. From this perspective, what right does the church have to reattach the penalty that Christ, himself, removed? The church that claims it is the only one who represents Christ?
This is so easy to see when it's somebody else. But, come on, now! Just about every brand of church today does the same thing. The church puts itself in the sin containment, isolation, and extermination business with its own members or with those people it considers to be "outside" the church because they are "sinners" and "reject Christ." Are they really rejecting Christ or are they rejecting the church's institutional portrayal of Christ? Who is in noncompliance with the will of God as laid out in His foreordained plan? Who has been charged with the responsibility of faithfully representing the will of God to the world? Who is the steward of the talents left by the Master, and who will give account for their stewardship, or lack thereof?
Some churches will look disapprovingly at other church groups who open the doors and let all those sinners in. Hmm. The Spirit of Jesus is living in the chairperson of the welcome committee, and He is living in the person holding the door open. "Come on in - our commonality is not that 'we're all sinners;' our commonality is that we're leaving all those encumbrances behind and helping one another to run the race to Jesus."
Otherwise, it's like the church identifies with the perpetual condemnation of the Old Law. This approach leads to a dead end, a blind alley, a "no outlet." What is the answer? The answer (to borrow from Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan) is "blowing in the wind," if one considers "the wind" (pneuma) to be the Spirit.
The answer for the future of the church, using the prospective view into the heavenly realms, is  to help those people trying to get their lives together to move on toward the "high calling" with eyes on Jesus, and  to train those younger people who are coming up in age to better understand God's purpose for marriage as part of His foreordained plan. In the future of the church, more and more marriages will be stable, God-honoring, and eternity-preparing, and not ending in divorce. That's the answer - the church tears down its prisons and builds rehab centers, instead. The church involves itself in training and teaching and modeling Jesus instead of judging. Instead of pointing the finger at people of divorce, invite them to be a vital part of the reconstruction of the families within the church. They have important lessons from experiences to share.
Our traditional interpretations also do not preclude the admonition in James 2:12-13:
"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!"This skirmish between the Cardinals and the Pope is not a "local argument." It represents a spiritual battle going on all over the church - every group by any name. Are we going to keep eyes on our traditional human thinking in the earthly realms, or will we seek the truth with eyes on Jesus in the heavenly realms, where we have been declared and predestined to already be. "Look, you're already there, so act like it!"
This principle applies to everybody.
We know of this matter going on the the Catholic church because it's "in the news." There are thousands upon thousands of similar battles going on in all other churches, as well. The principle of being able to recognize the placement of what we hold big and important as being in either the earthly realms or the heavenly realms is the same, and it require great spiritual discernment from the church leadership and yielding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who searches the mind of God. No need to go on a toothpick optical exam - we all have telephone poles obscuring our vision of the heavenly realms that must be removed first.
Why this is important in the heavenly realms?
Paul said the purpose for the church in the foreordained plan of God was to show the manifold wisdom of god to the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph. 3:10).
The Pope has a preacher's pulpit like no other. Whatever he does or says is news for the world. There may not be a human on earth with a greater and wider impact of religious influence.
The Pope also has a large web of traditional entanglements to get through in order to see past the institution into the heavenly realms. What he has already done is remarkable.
Let us rise above differences in Christian tradition and background and unite in prayer for Pope Francis - that he might have the health, stamina, wisdom, discernment, and faith to see into the "unseen" and lead the Roman Catholic Church into the true will of God - even on the stage of the world, highlighted by the glare of the media, being a witness for Jesus Christ and an encouragement to His unified true church.
What about the rest of us?
How much progress has been made by the rest of us who do not have the same degree of institutional entanglements as the Catholic Church and those similar groups? We have the same battle to fight, but with different names and different human traditions. But, spiritually, they are not that different - they are all encumbrances to the heavenly Way because they bind us to things in the earthly realms.
Indeed, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12). It will take a unified church with eyes on Jesus to prevail. And let's not settle for a quasi-uniformity about some millennia of traditional human interpretations, regardless of how they came about. Let's go for the eternal tradition of the foreordained plan of God.
One of the points of this illustration is to show that the judgmental position of some concerning divorce, remarriage, and communion comes from a human interpretation maintained as a human tradition, whereas the Pope's position is much more in the context of the foreordained plan of God, out of which the creation was formed and predestined to fulfill.
This may seem like a lot of smoke from a little fire, but there aren't many examples of a public nature that can be used to illustrate the choices being made in the church that are either in the plan of God for the heavenly realms or they are not. "What does it look like" if we discern God's will according to His predestined plan? What happens if one looks into the "unseen" heavenly realms? This is an example - may we learn with all wisdom, love, grace, and humility.
Let's pray that the church can recognize the internal choice we still have to grow together in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, with eyes on Jesus and our place in the heavenly realms, before God has to make the choice more obvious by external persecution in the earthly realms.
By faith, let's set our goal to what God has already declared us to be in the heavenly realms, testifying to the manifold wisdom of God as an evangelistic witness to the world in the earthly realms.