The Pope’s Capital Punishment Declaration Shows Why the Church Needed Reformation
October 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis demonstrates why it was needed. Yesterday, the Pope declared that “condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out. And [it] is, of itself, contrary to the Gospel, because it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor.”
While it is true that human life is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, it is also true, based on the Bible, that God laid the foundations of capital punishment exactly because life is sacred to Him. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” This was part of a series of God’s commands to Noah and his descendants establishing the foundations of human government.
Later, Israel also applied the death penalty to sins other than murder, which nations are free to do and we are now free to debate. The big picture shows that God often showed mercy when capital punishment was due, and ultimately we all deserve death as those are the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). The Gospel is in fact based on this premise, and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romand 5:8).
It’s important to know that God’s “eye for an eye” authority has been given to government, not individuals. From Rome, we read this: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For qthere is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for she is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:1-4)
The Pope didn’t expressly say that God did not institute capital punishment. But to say that it is now wrong in every case is a contradiction to God’s word, and even conflicts with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church up until yesterday. Even the latest 1997 catechism on the subject morally permitted the death penalty in “cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity.”
Clearly it wasn’t God’s word that changed over the millennia, but our own. Mankind established his own authority alongside God’s revealed word, and inevitably the two will not agree. This was the root of the problem Luther saw 500 years ago and the reason he saw fit to remind the Roman Catholic authorities that by Scripture Alone (“Sola Scriptura”) we know God’s infallible and unchanging rule of faith and practice.