Pope Francis, the current pope of the Catholic Church, has frequently made the news since his appointment in March 2013 because of his humble character and particular concern for the poor. In his Apostolic Exhoratation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the pope encourages and inspires clergy and all believers to be more missional in thinking and practice, to be accompanied with joy. The 223 page document, which can be downloaded from the Vatican’s web site, contains five chapters: The Church’s Missionary Transformation, Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment, The Proclamation of the Gospel, The Social Dimension of Evangelization, and Spirit-Filled Evangelizers. The main thrust of the letter is to exhort ministers of the Gospel to be more joyful in their work and service, to be more missionary in their outlook, to have a greater concern for people and for the poor, to maintain a higher level of spiritual life and holiness, and to promote the Gospel with greater zeal.
Having been raised Dutch Reformed, Catholicism is very unfamiliar to me. It was the first time reading a document published by a pope. In the process I felt so encouraged that I read it as an evening devotional at bed time. It felt like the Pope Francis was writing to me and that the Lord was speaking through his words. As an evangelical pastor, I did not feel that the pope was writing just for Catholic priests, but to all who minister the Gospel through word and deed around the world. It truly is a global epistle for this day and hour. I ended up highlighting on almost every page.
Pope Francis casts a missional vision for pastors and Christians alike. In many ways, he verbalizes what we at the Missional International Church Network would aspire to as church leaders. He encourages pastors to be less concerned with forms and formalities and more concerned about people and the poor. It is better to get hands, feet and church facilities dirty from helping people than trying to keep order and tidiness. The pope also exhorts pastors to be more joyful while they minister the Gospel and serve people. It is, after all, joyful news we are proclaiming. This must be seen and felt. At the same time, Francis holds up a higher standard of accountability between ministers of the Gospel. We must keep each other above reproach.
Now I understand why Pope Francis has become so popular among evangelical leaders. He emphasizes evangelism as well as missional vision, ministry and lifestyle. There was very little I could agree with and would endorse perhaps 98% of the document. Only one referral to Mary and the prayer at the end to Mary made me uncomfortable, placing Mary as mediator between man and Christ. It is my hope that the Catholic Church in Vietnam also reads and adopts the pope’s exhortations. The next time I have a chance to meet the Bishop of Hanoi and Archbishop of Vietnam I would love to discuss this document with them—it may be a good reason to make the appointment. Within the framework that Pope Francis puts out, there is much room for collaboration between the Evangelical Church and the Catholic Church in Hanoi and throughout Vietnam.
By Jacob Bloemberg