Will the “Francis Effect” bring Roman Catholicism out of its tailspin?

Is kindly looking “Papa Jorge” as harmless as he looks?

After his whirlwind visit to the United States, Jorge “pope Francis” Bergoglio returned to the Vatican on Sunday night. Phew! For five days the nation witnessed a media feeding frenzy that won’t be seen again any time soon, if ever. Terms like “rock star” were bandied about to describe Francis but there’s not a rock star alive who draws the amount of attention and admiration afforded to this pope.

Francis’ warm and inviting persona and “apparent” theological laxity are in sharp contrast to the previous, cold and doctrinaire pope. Off the record, conservative Catholics are wary of Francis but other Catholics welcome the noticeable liberality. Many are labeling the percolating enthusiasm for the new pope, both inside and outside the church, as the “Francis Effect.”

But last week’s frenzy aside, the Catholic church in America is in serious trouble. Only 24 percent of Catholics attend mass on Sunday. Between 2007 and 2014 the number of professing American Catholics dropped from 24 million to 21 million (-13%). The big question is, will the enthusiasm over last week’s papal visit translate into lapsed Catholics returning to the pews this coming Sunday?

As an Evangelical Christian I don’t get excited about any man. My Lord is Jesus Christ. If one were to take a step back and look at the pope’s visit objectively, one would notice a LOT of hubbub for Francis and very little for Jesus. The pope didn’t refer to Jesus once in his 45-minute speech to the joint session of Congress or in his address to the United Nations General Assembly. But coming between the people and Jesus has always been the Catholic church’s modus operandi.

“They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” – Romans 1:25

There’s no doubt that Francis has a welcoming, “Uncle Jorge” persona but the bottom line is he oversees a religious system which requires all of its members to ultimately merit their way into Heaven. But God’s Word says there are none who are righteous and only by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior by faith and receiving His imputed righteousness can anyone be saved.

“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” – Galatians 2:16

As someone who left the chains of Catholicism and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, I urge all Catholics to forsake their religious system with its man-made traditions, rituals, and legal laundry list and turn to Christ. Seek out a Bible-believing, Evangelical church where the Gospel of God’s grace is proclaimed and Jesus is exalted, not men.

As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” – Acts 10:25-26

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