Image of Pope Francis courtesy of Creative Commons.

Is this the face of “the first Protestant Pope?” Image of Pope Francis courtesy of Creative Commons.

In the 16th century, with the help of radicals like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, a horde of Christians waved goodbye to the Catholic Church. Today, there are almost as many Protestants in the world as there are Catholics.

Relations between the two factions hasn’t always been friendly, especially in the so-called melting pot of the New World. In the 19th century, the advent of Irish Catholics created a backlash of anti-Catholic prejudice. As late as the mid-20th Century, a marriage between an American Protestant and an American Catholic was considered inter-religious.

But the dynamic began to shift in the 1980s with the emergence of the Religious Right. Though the movement was spearheaded by evangelical leaders, they opened their arms to Catholics and even Mormons, who were seen as valuable allies in the fight against our nation’s “moral decline.” Animosity between the groups began giving way to cooperation. The election of Pope Francis may be the next step in bridging the divide between Catholics and Protestants. He has been called “a Pope for all Christians,” but could the growing popularity among non-Catholics make him “the first Protestant Pope?”

Francis has already met with Nikolaus Schneider, the head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Dr. Schneider, who is ironically a Lutheran minister, said that Pope Benedict “offended” Protestants when he insisted in 2000 that Protestant communities were not “churches in the proper sense,” but he is hopeful for future Christian unity as a result of his meeting with Francis. This newfound common ground between the two groups, it seems, stems largely from the current Pope’s concern for the poor and marginalized.

“I hope a Pope who shows himself so close to the poor and the suffering also shows his understanding of couples who share everything except Communion,” Schneider told reporters after their meeting.

The Argentine Jesuit is known for simple living, engages in personal evangelism, and has been clear that he wants his papal legacy to be marked by a greater concern for have-nots. He’s already leading by example. He received praise from some for spending Holy Thursday washing the feet of inmates in Casal Del Marmo Jail, and he moved a Rhode Island couple to tears after he stopped the “Popemobile” to embrace, kiss, and bless their handicapped son.

American Protestants–particularly younger ones and evangelicals–have experienced a renewal of concern for social justice issues over the last decade or more. Members of the religious group are now leading conversations on ending human trafficking, providing clean water for those who lack it, and addressing the AIDS/HIV crisis. The combination of the new Pope’s concern for justice issues and his conservative theology seems to be appealing to many of these socially-conscious Protestants.

“There’s been a lot of talk [in America] about the middle class and the rich, but little about the poor,” Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Christianity Today. “Perhaps Pope Francis can bring us back to the biblical and Christian care for the poor and vulnerable.”

“I pray that [Francis’s] example spurs evangelicals like me to remember our mandate to love the least of these, the hurting and the vulnerable, the brothers and sisters of our Lord,” said Russell Moore, President-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

American evangelist Luis Palau says he calls Pope Francis a personal friend who he has prayed with and an ally of charismatic evangelicals. When reporting on Palau’s comments, Charisma News said Francis is being heralded “the evangelical pope.”

“I like Pope Francis,” wrote Taylor Brown of The Daily O’Collegian. “I may even consider myself a fan, and I’m not even Catholic, I’m a Protestant of Baptist decent.”

In the past, some Protestants questioned whether Catholics should even be considered Christians, but if Jesus was right that the litmus test for evaluating another’s faith is “fruit,” then this objection to at least Francis’s faith may become obsolete. Yet one Catholic’s good works will not likely bridge all the theological differences between the two Christian bodies, and we should not expect that Catholics and Protestants will theologically kiss-and-make-up any time in the near future.

At the same time, this newfound affection for the Roman Catholic Pope is going a long way toward mending fences. If Protestants in America and abroad begin seeing Pope Francis as a trusted Christian leader and voice, it could revolutionize relations between two spiritual entities who’ve been estranged for nearly half a millennia.

22 Comments

  1. Cindy and I are proud of your sucess. You may enjoy reading ” A Worker’s Writebook” now available on Ebook. This is a textbook written by Cindy’s father, Jack Matthews. Jack taught English and Creative Writing at Ohio University for 40+ years and has published 20+ books. He is still writing at 87 years old. We are fine. Jed a Captain, Casey is responsible for 39 State Farm Agencies in SW Ga and Ala. Catherine has her Masters and teaches Special Needs Kids in Gwinnett County. Cindy and I are retired and having fun!

  2. Balthasar Lewis

    I find it a little frustrating that it seems to be always up to the Pope to mend fences. You do not hear anybody ask: what can the Dalai Lama or the Archbishop of Canterbury or Moscow or the Patriarch of Constantinople do for me? There is no unifying Jewish or Muslim leader, so that question conveniently never comes up. The day after the election of Pope Francis, there were messages from Protestants, Jews, Muslims and other groups about what the Pope should do on this or that issue and how he can better improve relations with the various faith communities. It is completely one-sided. As regards Nikolaus Schneider, before Pope Benedict XVI visited Germany in late 2011, Schneider along with a few other Protestant leaders rather pointedly encouraged the Pope to make changes to Catholic teaching, just a few modifications here and there. I suppose all the fuss they make should be taken as a back-handed compliment.

  3. “Today, there are almost as many Protestants in the world as there are Catholics.”

    There are an estimated 800 million Protestants in the world and approximately 1.1 billion Catholics. It seems a stretch to call that almost as many.

    • “Today there are almost as many Protestants in the world as there are Catholics.”

      I think Jonathan meant there are almost as many non-Roman/Eastern Catholics as there are Orthodox/Protestants. However, lumping together the Orthodox (12% of global Christianity) with all Protestant traditions (37% of global Christianity) would not please the Orthodox. They don’t regard themselves as Protestant. Thus Pew Report and all other collectors of data always make distinctions between the Orthodox and Protestant traditions.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      As I note below, the estimates vary wildly. Particularly, on the number of Protestants. But your numbers seem pretty good…

      If you have 11 beans and I have 8 beans, it would be totally fair to say, “I have almost as many beans as you do.”

      Jm

  4. When he appoints women Cardinals I will consider him a reformist Jesuit, as Jesuits have often been. Jesuits have also often been popular with Protestants. For instance, the only reason the order survived when the pope issued a decree dissolving the Jesuits was that the Protestant king of Prussia refused to allow the decree to have any force in his realm and continued to employ the Jesuits to reform and run his schools. Same for the Orthodox czar of Russia. The Jesuits were, however, suppressed in all Catholic countries and most others such as the US, which didn’t care what the Catholic church did internally.

    It would be kewl but not expected that he appoint the Dalai Lama a cardinal as well. That would be reform.

    Consistories to elect the Pope would be so much better with women cardinals. And the Dali Lama’s input would be uplifting.

    The official/government Chinese Bishop in Shanghai was a Jesuit, and may still be so. His position is that the Vatican simply does not understand China and its desire that the Catholic church not be directly run from the Vatican, given the Vatican’s record as a tool of the CIA, and the role of the Catholic church in undermining communist governments.

  5. The Lord is like the center of a wheel. The closer we get to him, the closer we are to each other.

    Once we learn to love each other as Christ prayed at the Last Supper, I believe the theology will take care of itself.

    In any event with affection to all those who try to be disciples of Jesus!

    Ron

  6. “…there almost as many Protestants in the world as there are Catholics….”

    Nice article. However, I suggest you “factcheck” Pew Report/Data on global Christianity: Orthodox, 12%; Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal, 37%; Catholic 51%. Also Barrett’s ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIANITY. Both have same data.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      William,

      You’ll note that the data varies wildly–and I mean wildly–depending on who is counting. The best estimates I can find on the population of Roman Catholics globally is about 1.2 billion. This comes from the World Christian Database and can be viewed as an info graphic from the BBC here: (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21443313). The number of Protestants varies more than than the number of Catholics because the tendency is to lump the general moniker “Christian” into Protestant. Those estimates are somewhere between 800 million and 1 billion. Ergo, “almost as many.”

      Thanks for your comment.

      Best,

      Jm

  7. Ciaran McDermott

    Regarding your misguided views on the difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

    As Catholics it is our duty to always point out the true apostolic faith and to condemn the heresy of all protestant sects.

    All protestant sects are based on heresy history proves this to be correct. Jesus didn`t establish thousands of different sects and different churches he founded one holy Church as clearly stated in the book of Mathew.

    Protestantism twists truth and changes the nature of the truths based on personal interpretation instead of divine apostolic teaching.

    There is and can be no salvation outside the Catholic Church.

    As Catholics our duty is to save souls and bring people to the true faith and to Christ himself via his church the church he established 2000 years ago.

    Catholics and protestants are very different we have different beliefs different views different practices.

    Roman Catholics are the first and the last and go back 2000 years, protestant sects only date back to the days of the Protestant reformation in the 1500s.

    The German protestant Martin Luther who triggered the reformation in the 1500s removed 7 books from the Bible.

    In the Catholic Bible there are 73 holy books, in the protestant bible there are only 66 books.

    The books removed by Martin Luther were as follows

    Tobit
    Judith
    1 Maccabees
    2 Maccabees
    Wisdom
    Sirach
    Baruch

    as well as parts of Esther and parts of Daniel.

    Removing sacred books from the bible is heresy which is why all protestant denominations are based on heresy and why there are now so many different denominations with different views and interpretations all of the protestant sects in a sense trace their roots back to Martin Luther in the 1500s.

    Lutheran Church was founded by Martin Luther around the year 1517.

    The Anglican Church and Church of England was founded in the year 1534 by King Henry VIII because he wanted to divorce and remarry and the pope would not allow it.

    The Presbyterian Church was founded around the year 1560 by John Knox

    The Methodist Church was founded by John and Charles Wesley between 1739-1744.

    The Unitarian Church was founded in 1774 by Theophilus Lindley.

    The Mormon Church of latter day saints was founded by Joseph Smith around 1830.

    The Church of Christ was founded by Warren Stone and Alexander Campbell around the year 1836.

    The Seventh Day Adventist Church was founded by Ellen G White around the year 1844.

    The Jehovahs witness movement was founded by Charles T Russel 1874.

    The Baptist Church was founded by John Smyth sometime between the year 1605-1609.

    The Salvation Army was founded around the year 1865.

    Assyrian Church was created after it spilt with the Roman Catholic Church in the year 431 AD.

    The Oriental Orthodox Church was created after a spilt with the Roman Catholic Church in the year 451 AD.

    The Eastern Orthodox Church was created around 1054 AD after a spilt with the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Calvinist Church was founded by John Calvin in or around 1555.

    The Pentecostal Church was founded by Charles F Parkham around the year 1901.

    Other various Protestant offshoots and Evangelical Born again Churches were founded within the last 100 years.

    The Roman Catholic Church was founded 2000 years ago with a long history and record to back this up with its first head St Peter, the Catholic church is the first and the last the original Church of Christ and despite the reformation and all the of the attacks of the secular media and militant atheists and radical protestants and Jews 2000 years later the Catholic Church is still here with 1.2 billion followers the largest single denomination of Christianity in the world.

    The Catholic church has a central and living teaching authority as well as the bible and a code of canon law which all Catholics adhere to, protestant churches do not protestants make their own rules based on their own personal interpretation.

    Protestants do not obey or adhere to the full sacraments of the faith which are required.

    Catholics observe the full liturgical calendar, feasts fasts and seasons Protestants do not, Protestants claim you can be saved by faith “alone” a word added to the book of Romans by the heretic Martin Luther in the 1500s the very same person who also claimed that if one is to sin they should sin as boldly as possible

    As Catholics we are apostolic tracing our roots back to St peter who is the first Pope and who is buried under the Vatican, The book of Matthew 16:18 says “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”

    For Catholics we do not tolerate abortion nor birth control of any form be that condoms or otherwise most Protestants do like they tolerate many other evils in society divorce being another one when Jesus himself and the bible clearly says divorce is wrong, proper traditional Catholics stand firm with the teachings we do not bend the truth to suit one self, or to fit in with secular societies view.

    As Catholics we are prepared to die for Christ and for his holy Catholic Church and we`ll fight to bitter end to the point of death and martyrdom if we have to, to defend the Catholic faith.

    There is no salvation outside the Catholic church everyone outside the Catholic church is the Anti Christ that goes for even protestants included as they have fallen from grace and into heresy which is a grave sin.

    As Catholics we embrace sufferings if we have to for there is a greater reward for those who suffer and die for Christ.

    Since the days of Vatican II in the 1960s some people within the Catholic Church have also fallen into heresy by following Protestant styles of worship and teachings, lets hope and pray the Pope himself doesn`t become or turn out to be manifest heretic it has happened before with other Anti Popes.

    The only unity there can be between Protestants and Catholics is just mutual respect nothing more as Catholics we cannot and will not support faiths based on heresy nor will we become more Protestant because to do so would again be heresy.

    The Pope is a Pope for everyone who follows the truth he is not for those who continue to practice heresy.

    • There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church? What an insult to the cross of Christ and His self sacrifice. Salvation belongs to God and Him alone, it is not the property of any church. Please lead people to Christ not to a man made institution.

  8. The Orthodox Church is the first Christian Church. Peter was bishop of Antioch before becoming bishop of Rome. Rome left when the idea of the imperial papacy took hold and they rejected the “first among equals” status and replaced that with the imperial papacy, a secular idea inherited from Charmalegne. Rome also changed everything, from the way Christians crossed themselves, to the Filoque, to ideas about the priesthood, the eucharist, etc, Today the Catholic Church is almost a Protestant church with its low church liturgy, lay ministers, communion in hand, nuns without habits, and modern church architecture. Not so with the Orthodox Church, which has remained true to ancient tradition!

    • “Peter was bishop of Antioch before becoming bishop of Rome.”

      The Melkite Catholic Church (not the Antiochian Orthodox) has the unbroken apostolic succession of the See of Antioch amongst Byzantine Rite Christians. When the Patriarch of Antioch re-entered communion with Rome in the 1500′s Constantinople sent another bishop to set us a rival Orthodox Church, but it does not share unbroken apostolic succession in the See of Antioch.

      Also keep in mind that Byzantine Rite came to Antioch over 300 years after St. Peter left, so it might be more appropriate to look at Antiochene Rite Christians, of which the Marionites have unbroken apostolic succession to the See of Antioch and unbroken communion with Rome. Sorry, but Catholic faith is the faith of St. Peter and the Apostles no matter how you cut it.

  9. well being in india , christianity is an umbrella term for all 3 branches of it, catholic , protestant & orthodox
    we all suffered persecution & as a protestant evangelical i can hint that india has 90 million christians & not 24 million as its falsely said ,

    protestant now number equal to catholics

    all the coastal areas & a much of southern india is catholic ,
    north & east & central india is protestant

    Muslim have close ties with most christians & we all as Abrahamic family reach to 160 million ( muslim ) 90 to 92 million ( christians ) = 250 million

    & honestly we don’t refer each other as catholic or protestant , instead we are ” brothers in christ ”

    shame on anyone who is differentiating on christianity , rather save millions of christians torchered in middle east

    leran to unite than break

  10. Ciaran McDermott , my friend u are not alone in this , a lot of protestants & catholics are like you

    blaming others , only jesus is the judge , not you ,blaming is a game you are playing

    Please follow the first commandment of not “Even worshipping or keeping idols of anything from heaven or from earth
    & tell how much u understand the bible … lol

    btw even science approves it as nothing can move until Force is applied , how can a stone move then ? as god discourages it & so does science !

    instead focus on bringing every brother of christ together & not classifying or labelling them

    Christians are beheaded in Syria daily , iraqi christians are disappearing , egyptian christians are burnt to death , saudi beheading christians , iran killing them , pakistan stoning them , tunisia sliting throats , indonesia chopping girls ,nigeria bombarding churches

    where are u ? look what christians are are been going thru than proclaiming ur righteousness , help them ,than classify their breed as heretics or justified

    learn jesus & love , & if u behave like this u are no less than a sunni killing a shia & vice versa

    we are christians ultimately ,so be united than broken up like them

    thank god I learnt it in india , & westerns still confuzed

    china is gonna be the largest protestant nation in coming years & India the third in the coming decade
    its a win for christ not just protestantism

    china has 120 million christians & India around 92 million , these are the real stats don’t trust the government analysis coz they’re FAKE

    love to all – Catholic , orthodox , protestant & even any muslim if ya reading this

    - Samuél

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