george hancockstefanThe current pope is not as masterful as Pope John Paul in using the international media, but they are nonetheless giving him sufficient space to air his positions. The media loves his inclusivity and his positivity and they are trying to see if there has been the slightest departure from the traditional Catholic dogma. The answer is that he has not disagreed with Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul – it is not the content, but the presentation that he addresses.

The journalistic discussion reminded me of a discussion of many years ago when a friend who was extremely positive, found fault even with the Ten Commandments because they were written as negative commandments.  I liked many of his ideas, but when he started to talk against the Ten Commandments, I felt we needed a longer discussion. 

In the course of our discussion, we found that we had more common ground than disagreements.  Both of us were familiar with the summary of the Ten Commandments by the Lord Jesus Christ when he gives his answer to the Pharisee, “’Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love you neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). We came to the conclusion that indeed if the first commandment of each tablet of the law is kept, there is no necessity for the ones that follow.  If one loves the Lord God with one’s complete being, there will be no other gods, there will be no misuse of the name of God and there will be joyful celebration in the Sabbath Day.  If honoring one’s mother and father takes place, if there is this deep parental/filial/sibling love, then the household will send sons and daughters in the world who will abstain from murder, adultery, stealing, lying and coveting.  James in his epistle picks up on this concept when he tells us that if we love God, we cannot hate our neighbor nor do evil against him.  The love of God that flows from a close relationship with Him will not allow for things that are antagonistic to the nature of this relationship.

I agree with Pope Francis that in all of our churches we should welcome everyone with our arms wide open.  It is Jesus who proclaimed, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest”. But that is only half of the verse. Jesus continued to say, “Take my yoke upon you…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  I hear people say over and over again that we should accept everyone as Jesus accepted the woman caught in adultery.  It is true that He did not condemn her, but Jesus concluded that episode by saying to her, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). 

I hear people saying all we need to do is teach the world about the love of God and I agree that no one loves us as Jesus does.  Yet, it is this Jesus who loves us so much who tells us, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15).


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I pray that the Lord God will bless Pope Francis and give him many years as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.  I pray that he will speak and challenge Christianity to be more inclusive and more loving.  At the same time, he cannot say anything that is not in the Scripture, but be a faithful witness to Him who called him to lead His people.

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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...