On September 11, 2013, Pope Francis wrote an open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences. He said, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience . . . Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.” Keep in mind that this was an open letter written by the Pope. Therefore, these words were consciously crafted.
If the Pope has Biblical conviction about what he said, then I have a few questions that are begged by his positions. If atheists don’t need Jesus, then who needs Jesus? If you can get to heaven without believing then why was Jesus crucified? If Jesus took the punishment for all of our sin, but we can circumvent His sacrifice, then what is the point of His sacrifice? If we can circumvent punishment then who needs a sacrifice? When Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” was He lying? This is an attempt, intentional or not, by a fallen man to diminish the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I even go as far as to say that this is an abject denial of scripture. There is no revelation by man that supersedes scripture. Notice how the Pope did not even offer one verse to back up his claims. That is because there is none.
On a side note, he even got the definition of sin wrong. Sin is not when you disobey your conscience. Sin is when you disobey God. Our conscience is not our God. Conscience is what our fallen flesh received when we ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our flesh was still fallen even after receiving a conscience. In fact, our conscience is far from perfect. Our conscience can be seared (1Timothy 4:2). Therefore, while our conscience is helpful, it is not failsafe. It is possible to obey your conscience and still sin. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So to give anyone hope based upon obeying their conscience is woefully false hope.
The Pope would be well served by taking heed of Galatians 1:6-10 where Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Let’s apply this passage to the Pope’s assertions in the form of some pointed questions:
- Isn’t the Pope “deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel”?
- Isn’t the Pope acting as “some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”?
- Isn’t the Pope preaching here “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you”?
- Isn’t Paul declaring for someone who does that, “let him be accursed”? For emphasis, Paul went out of his way to repeat this warning, which Paul rarely does in his many writings.
- Isn’t the Pope “seeking the approval of man”?
- Isn’t the Pope “trying to please man”?
- When the Pope does that, in doing so isn’t he “not [being] a servant of Christ”?
When anyone claims to be speaking for God, but attempts to diminish the Gospel of Jesus, he has lied to himself and to those he seeks to influence. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what we as followers of Christ are called to defend. That is the sole thing that we are to risk our lives for. The Gospel is what we are supposed to represent and proclaim. And, by us the Gospel must never be diminished. The Pope is a man and he has shown himself to be fallible and to misrepresent the Gospel of Jesus. Therefore, what if my conscience is screaming at me to denounce the Pope’s words? Well, I’m just obeying my conscience, so he should have no problem with it.