I was brought up in an Evangelical, fundamentalist home. Those are my roots, and my coming into full communion with the Catholic Church is a fulfillment, not a negation of my devout, Bible based heritage.
Therefore, what do I look for in a new pope? What are the foundational principles of my Christian perception which affect how I view the papacy? I don’t offer these thoughts because they are in any way authoritative, but because they reveal one Catholic’s unique perspective on this week’s election.
First of all, the Evangelicals are a missionary people. They regard the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of souls as the church’s primary purpose and their own individual primary purpose. Their great heroes are the missionaries, evangelists and preachers. Therefore, I assume that a pope’s primary purpose is to be a global evangelist. He must “preach the Word in season and out of season”. Like St Peter and St Paul, he must be willing to embark on apostolic journeys and be a man of action. After all, the book in the New Testament is Acts of the Apostles–not “thoughts” of the Apostles or “teachings” of the Apostles or “Quotable quotes” of the Apostles.
Secondly, I greatly value the truth that the Pope is the successor of Peter. In Sunday School I learned about Peter the ordinary fisherman who was impetuous and brave, foolhardy and hopeful, but also weak and confused. As a Catholic I love the idea that the new Pope will show us his humanity and vulnerability while also leading us with courage and faith. I want him to be like Peter–an ordinary man who is made extraordinary by God’s grace.
Thirdly, Evangelicals are Bible people. The new pope need not be a world class Bible scholar like Benedict XVI, but he does need to use the Scriptures daily, breathe the Scriptures and preach the Scriptures. He needs to uphold the sacredness of Scripture and remind us that it is the inspired Word of God–not just an ancient, interesting, but ultimately irrelevant religious text.
Fourth, Evangelicals are very good at communicating the gospel to the modern world. They go to extremes sometimes in being too “cool” and relevant, but the new Pope, if he is going to be an evangelist, must not be afraid to preach the gospel in a way and with methods that are modern and up to date. This does not mean that he has to compromise the message of the gospel or the teachings of the Catholic Church. Instead he must motivate those who use the new media and himself use every means to proclaim the gospel in a way that is accessible, vital and real.
Finally, Evangelicals sit lightly to church structures. They regard churches as “human institutions”. While their view is incorrect when it comes to the Catholic Church, at the same time, I hope the new pope does not get too caught up in the problems of the institutional church. We need maintenance, but we need mission more. I hope the new pope will delegate the governance of the Vatican and the church to able administrators. Why not be really radical and return to the early church tradition of handing over the administrative duties to an army of deacons?
To put it simply, I hope and pray that the electors choose a missionary pope–a man who is a global evangelist and a true successor of St Peter the fisherman who Christ called first and foremost to be a fisher of men.