Pope Francis
Pope Francis (Reuters file photo)

Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing his reflections and practical insights as a ministry leader on Greenelines, a new podcast. Listen at charismapodcastnetwork.com.

This appears to be Pope Francis’ time. In only eight months, he has captured the attention of much of the world.

Recently, the Pope said, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” Statements like this one may indicate that there is a great shift coming in the Catholic Church, the effect of which will impact far beyond its own walls.

Pope Francis’ comment leads me back to the words of Jesus. Matthew 23:13 records a lengthy condemnation by Jesus of the practices and attitudes of the religious leaders.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

Jesus never criticized ordinary people, struggling with life; but He had very little tolerance for those who set up religious standards by which to measure the performance of others. Stressing external standards of behavior and performance always creates an exclusive environment, where “us” and “them” are clearly delineated.

But Jesus turns such religion on its head:

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You give to God one-tenth of everything you earn—even your mint, dill, and cumin. But you don’t obey the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and being loyal. (Matthew 23:23)

Justice, mercy and loyalty: these come from hearts of compassion. More than anything else, Jesus came to reveal the love and compassion of God.

The Pope recently said to reporters, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Predictably, his words created an uproar; especially among many Evangelicals. For more than 30 years, the issue of homosexuality has been a primary focus of division and, sadly, hostility. The longer and more vehemently the conservative church has concentrated on this issue, the more marginalized the church has become.

Homosexuality is simply not a major issue in the scriptures. Jesus never once addresses it, and Paul only refers to it, at most, three times. His most explicit reference to homosexuals is in 1 Cor. 6:9-10, where Paul states that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God––along with all the sexually immoral (and Jesus already broadened that category to those who just look lustfully on another), those who steal, are greedy, have a drinking problem, and gossip.

So why has the issue of homosexuality grown over the past 30 years to become such a point of contention? I think there are two main reasons. First, external standards are easy. We can measure how others are doing according to what we say is acceptable. All over the world I encounter Christians who define holiness according to external standards­­­­. We find our security in knowing the rules, then checking our performance against that of others.

It is interesting that the measurements that are fought the hardest over are rarely found in the scriptures. In some nations, dancing is forbidden; in others it is smoking. Drinking alcohol is an obvious sin in Africa, but is part of being a good host in much of the British church. The issues may vary, but we will doggedly hold onto our measuring lines.

Secondly, homosexuality is an easy target. Statistically, practicing homosexuals are in a minority; therefore, most Christians feel secure to point a finger at gay men and women since this is something with which they themselves don’t struggle––so if homosexuality is the field of battle, they are safe.

But Jesus, who never changes, confronts our external religion as passionately in our day as He did twenty centuries earlier. His standard demands a re-alignment on our part: justice, mercy and loyal faithfulness are what really matter. These are the “weightier matters.”

The Bible speaks of justice over 2,000 times, enjoining us to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, the hungry, the alien and the sick. Over 610 times we are called to live lives of mercy, loyalty, faithfulness, love and compassion.

There are 2 billion people living on less than $2 a day; one billion live on less than $1. Nearly a billion still do not have access to clean water. Today, 28 million people are living in slavery. Over a billion people have never heard the gospel.

Isn’t it time for all of us who are following Jesus to move from the margins (where we may feel safe to point our fingers at others’ sin) to the center of what He says really matters (where certainly we will be confronted with our own weakness, sin and failure)?

Steve Stewart is the founder of Impact Nations, a Christian organization that brings hope and restoration to the poor and vulnerable in the developing world through both supernatural and practical expressions of the Kingdom of God. Follow Steve on Twitter at @impactnations  or learn more at impactnations.com.

Leaders are readers! Subscribe now and get 3 magazines for the price of 1. Get Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman all for $24. YES - I'm a leader!

Ministry Today Subscription Special - Subscribe to Ministry Today magazine today and get 12 issues (2 full years) plus Amplified Leadership, a free leadership book for only $24.

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
  • Lyndon Johnson

    63-Year-Old Law Still 'Threatens' Churches, Pastors

    Read why this law is so dangerous to the kingdom culture.

  • Explorers require significant input.

    How to Receive Clarity When Torn Between Choices

    Decision making is risky without guidance from the Holy Spirit.

  • Churches with less than 100 members possess a sense of potential that is alluring.

    The Great Value of Churches With Under 100 Members

    God can and does use small churches in significant ways to advance His Kingdom.

  • A dark cloud hangs over the 61 "deplorables" in Congress.

    Inauguration Day and the True Deplorables in Congress

    "To opt out of participation in this festival of the democratic process is to say publicly that ...

  • Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Watch how God can take one spark and turn it into a wildfire that impacts your ministry, your community and even future generations.

  • A new path is opening now.

    Prophecy: The Lord Is Opening Doors for Kingdom-Minded Businesses

    Find out how to activate this prophetic word of increase in your company.

  • The future of your ministry could depend on how you answer these questions.

    5 Questions You Will Answer in 2017

    The future of your life, ministry and church will be determined by the way you address these.

  • Local congregations are called to become Christ-like in their methodology, mission and essence.

    10 Traits of the Jesus-Driven Church

    If we attempt to walk in these, we will leave a powerful imprint on the world around us.

  • Do you have the proper training to be a soldier in God's army?

    The Training You Need as a Soldier in God's Army

    We are in already in a war. Let us enter the fight as fully trained soldiers with the full armor ...

Use Desktop Layout
Ministry Today Magazine — Serving and empowering church leaders