Yesterday marked the passing of Pope John Paul II.
As we gather this morning for worship, we do so as convinced, practicing and confessional Protestants, who do not believe that the Reformation was a tragic mistake. We are mindful of the chasm that still separates us from our neighbors in the Roman Catholic communion.
Nevertheless, even in this context, our condolences and sympathies are with our Roman Catholic family members, neighbors and friends, at the passing of this remarkable man. We are not interested in a sectarian judging of the servant of another; to his own master he stands or falls.
Having said this, we are grateful for John Paul’s role in bringing down one of the greatest instances of human wickedness in history—the practice of international communism in Eastern Europe. We are grateful for his stand against the secularist culture of death, and his unwavering opposition to the carnage of abortion. We are grateful for the good he did within his generation.
We do not say this in the grip of an ecumenical fuzziness, in a sentimentalist blur, that wants to pass over every difference, however important, in order to get to the eulogy. We are mindful of the many idols that remain in our day, and we want to be faithful in resisting them, whether they are Roman or Protestant idols. And yes, this would include the idols that John Paul did not topple.
We are gathered here in order to worship the living and triune God, through the great name of Jesus Christ. This God, the only God, governs all things, all denominations, all communions, and He does so for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose. He does not just govern those who believe the right things about His governance.
The Church of Rome has a precious possession in the letter of Paul to the Romans. In that book, St. Paul promises that even the Jews will be grafted back into the olive tree. And he warns the Roman church against the folly of thinking they could never be cut out of it. But consider the drift of his promise. If the Jews will be brought back to Christ, does it take a great imagination to believe that one day the breach between Rome, Geneva and Wittenberg will be restored? It is in that postmillennial hope, and in that ecumenical spirit, that these condolences are offered. And this worship service is part of that restoration, no doubt still centuries off. But as one historian noted, the Christian church lives in the light of eternity, and can afford to be patient.