Volume. XXXiii, No. 12
Sunday, 16 September 2018

From the Pastor’s Heart: Pope Francis

On August 2, Pope Francis changed the Catholic Church’s stance on the death penalty in a new policy, by saying that it is inadmissible because it attacks the inherent dignity of all humans. According to his beliefs, he approved a change to the catechism. In the past, the catechism did not exclude capital punishment: “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” He will make this change possible in October. The new words were brought into Catechism No. 2267 that “Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good… Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption… Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.” According to the Catholic Herald, this new text in Catechism is taken from Francis’ address to a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization that took place on October 11 last year.

Popes are fallible beings.
This change obviously has irked many people both inside and outside of the Catholic Church. The more conservative wing inside of Rome is not very happy with it, and many people outside the Catholic Church raise a legitimate question over his decision. Rome has claimed the infallibility of the pope, and now the current pope changes the teachings of the Catholic Church, which could be a sign of the rejection of the teachings of previous popes! Then, who is right, the old popes or the new one? Therefore, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, came up with a statement to mitigate the challenging forces against the Catholic Church’s contradictory positions over the issue. He said, “If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding is that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes.” Whatever he says, the fact that there is a contradiction between the current pope’s belief and his predecessors cannot be ignored. Therefore, after all, popes are not infallible! Rex Butler, professor of Church history and patristics at New Orleans Seminary, said the change runs contrary to at least 1,600 years of Catholic teaching on capital punishment. Augustine endorsed it in the fifth century, Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Again, we must notice that popes are fallible. Otherwise, how could it be possible that popes in the past declared that capital punishment was admissible but a new pope declares that it is inadmissible. It only proves that popes are fallible. This very point leads us to consider the next critical point.

Which authority should we follow?
Christians are divided over the death penalty, and we often find differences according to denominational lines. The USA Today (August 8) quotes Graham Reside, an ethics and society professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, saying, “it is a question of authority.” “Where do you place your authority?” In other words, “those perspectives are shaped by how they view scripture and how much weight they give to Church leadership.” The same news article says, “Evangelical Christians, for example, tend to place theirs in the Bible instead of denominational leaders. Roman Catholics put theirs in scripture as well as Church teachings.” It is quite an objective observation of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This particular concern is found in many other areas, as well. Elizabeth Povoledo, Laurie Goodstein, and Alan Cowell reported for the New York Times on December 8, 2017 that Pope Francis said that one line in the Lord’s prayer should be changed. It is, “lead us not into temptation.” He said that it was “not a good translation.” Therefore, it should be changed to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The same new article reported, ‘I was shocked and appalled,’ R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a phone interview. ‘This is the Lord’s Prayer. It is not, and has never been, the pope’s prayer, and we have the very words of Jesus in the New Testament. It is those very words that the pope proposes to change. It is not only deeply problematic, it’s almost breathtaking.’”  Again, the issue here is of authority. 


Evangelicals’ view of Francis

The USA Today (August 8) continues, “After the Vatican announced the recent change, prominent Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore (president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) republished his 2016 response to Pope Francis.  At the time, the pope had cited one of the Ten Commandments, thou shall not kill, in his opposition to the death penalty.  While the death penalty is not without its serious flaws, Moore argued it is wrong to apply the commandment to every application of capital punishment. “Christians can debate whether a state should declare a moratorium on capital punishment while reforming unjust sentencing practices,” Moore wrote.  “Christians can debate whether the death penalty is effective as a deterrent or whether the death penalty is meaningful at all in a world in which legal systems delay for years the application of the penalty.  These are prudential debates about how best to order our political systems, not debates about whether every act of state killing is murder and thus immoral and unjust.”  “The Pope is here making more than just a prudential argument.  He is applying the commandment against murder to every application of capital punishment.  On that, I believe he is wrong.  We may disagree, with good arguments on both sides, about the death penalty.  But as we do so, we must not lose the distinction the Bible makes between the innocent and the guilty.  The gospel shows us forgiveness for the guilty through the sin-absorbing atonement of Christ, not through the state's refusal to carry out temporal justice.”  “We must not lose the distinction the Bible makes between the innocent and the guilty.”  “The gospel shows us forgiveness for the guilty through the sin-absorbing atonement of Christ, not through the state's refusal to carry out temporal justice.”  Marvin Padgett, an ordained Presbyterian Church in America minister, personally supports the death penalty and believes the Bible permits it as well.  But it should not be taken lightly nor celebrated, he said.  ‘It is something to be approached with gravity,’ Padgett said.  ‘Are there instances where the crime is so heinous that the perpetrator of the crime should be put to death?  And I think, reluctantly, that is the case.’”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also defended capital punishment on biblical grounds, and he said the Catholic Church's claim that doctrine can develop over the years contradicts the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. “The reformers came to understand that they must define the development of doctrine in terms and in terms alone of fidelity to Scripture,” Mohler said August 3, 2018 in his podcast, The Briefing. “The issue is what do the Scriptures teach, and the reformers came with an understanding that right doctrine would always be right doctrine and false doctrine would always be false doctrine.  It is not the right or the stewardship of the Church or of any authority in the Church to change what was right to wrong or wrong to right.”


Again, it goes back to the issue of authority. 




Your Pastor



More Lively Hope



  • Holiday Bible Club flyers & registration forms are available in the foyer. More volunteers needed. If able to help, please notify Dn John Wong ASAP.
  • Missions Fair debriefing following service @ Sanctuary today.
  • Hospitality Roster for Rev & Mrs Mathews Abraham is available in the foyer.
  • Visitation to Alwyndor Aged Care, Hove on 14 Oct, 2.30pm. If you wish to participate, please inform Sis Sally Teng or Bro Zach Liang.
  • For Communal Fellowship Lunch after the worship service, please bring a dish or two for sharing.
  • New Basic Bible Knowledge Class (in English) will commence in Oct. Please inform Elder Michael D Lee of your interest by next Lord’s Day so we know the number of booklets to print.
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  • Lunch Duty: This week: YAF. Next week: Neighbourhood BS Groups.


Praise & Thanksgiving

  • Visitors & church activities in the past week.
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  • Speakers: IF Retreat - Rev Edward Paauwe; Holiday Bible Club & Seminar - Rev & Mrs Mathews Abraham.
  • Missions: Bro Jose Mangco & family; ministry in House of Hope (Cebu).
  • Year 12 students: Exam preparation.
  • God’s provision of funds for our church missions, piano & building extensions.






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