Militant Humility


There’s been a rather strange thing going throughout the church recently.

Protestants have come out in droves to express there admiration and even love for a pope.

Now, if you know anything about church history, you know this sort of thing just isn’t supposed to happen. After all, the rejection of papal authority was a central issue for Martin Luther and his fellow reformers. And it wasn’t just an ideological disagreement.

They branded the pope the antichrist.

And they meant it.

That same sort of anti-Catholic vitriol is still blindly spewed by many protestants today as if hating the pope was required for church membership.

Which is what makes the outpouring of support for Pope Francis so strange.

And beautiful.

And hopeful.

It’s almost as if Pope Francis is pressing the reset button, not just on the formality of the papacy, but the church itself and what it means to really be a follower of Jesus.

From his decision not to wear the papal cape at his unveiling, to holding a Holy Thursday service in a prison rather than a basilica, to paying his own hotel bill and avoiding the luxury of the papal apartment, to his most audacious act so far – washing the feet of two girls, one of whom was Muslim – this pope seems to be doing everything he can to, well, be like Jesus.

Not surprisingly, just like Jesus, there are plenty of naysayers and critics who value tradition nearly as much as they do God who are quite upset about this new pope’s actions.

They’ve accused him, among other things, of having a “militant humility.”

Let that phrase wash over you for a moment.

Militant humility.

It sounds at first like an oxymoron. Maybe it is. After all, being militant and being humble seem juxtaposed to one another.

But if we understand “militant”in the sense of being “aggressively active” then “militant humility” is the perfect description not only of Pope Francis’ actions so far, but the sort of life all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus should living.

It was Jesus’ militant humility that put him between would be executioners and a woman caught in adultery. It was Jesus’ militant humility that found him eating alongside sinners and embracing lepers. And it was Jesus’ militant humility that led him to the cross.

Imagine what would happen if we were as aggressively active in our pursuit of God as we are our pursuit of success. Imagine if as a church we were as aggressively active in our attempts to serve our community as we are to grow our churches. Or imagine if we as individuals were as aggressively active in meeting the needs of the poor, taking care of the sick, defending the oppressed, and loving our enemies as we are in meeting our own needs and taking care of ourselves.

If we could find the militant humility to do those sorts of things, I think we would find the world around us transformed into nothing short of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe this papal honeymoon period will last forever or that it will cure the Roman Catholic Church of all the ills she’s been struggling to overcome in recent years.

But Pope Francis’ actions so far have been a beautiful example of what the church and should be.

Moreover, Pope Francis’ example gives me hope for the future of the church, both Catholic and otherwise.

If we Protestants can find the humility to learn from the humbleness of a pope, the possibilities for what the church could be and what she could accomplish are limitless.

For if, if we can learn to have the sort of militant humility that refuses to be held back by needless tradition, that courageously steps across manmade boundaries, and which loves and embraces regardless of who that person may be, what they’ve done, or what they believe, then maybe, just maybe we can become the people of God we have been called to be in and for the world.


Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • Matt Appling
    April 3, 2013

    Zack, I love that “militant humility” phrase. And I’m just blown away by this pope, and I’m not Catholic either.

    It seems to me that our communities – both IRL and online are becoming less understanding of this kind of extreme humility and service. Submission, service and humility are less understood as something that is given by someone, and only understood in the context of something that is taken from someone.

    Maybe that’s why such humility must be “militant,” to counter the militant pride and power grabs that the rest of us are so often guilty of.

  • Ben Irwin
    April 3, 2013

    Sign me up for Pope Francis’ Protestant fan club.

    It’s worth noting the Reformers (Luther in particular) didn’t go around branding the pope as the antichrist right from the start. Initially Luther imagined himself as trying to protect the pope from corruption around him. From what I remember, it wasn’t until the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers parted ways that he began questioning the notion of the papacy itself.

    Also, I kinda love the phrase “militant humility.” Pretty much what the whole Sermon on the Mount was about…

  • Robert Martin
    April 3, 2013

    As an Anabaptist who, frankly, has a history of branding both Protestants and Catholics as devils… this Pope looks more Mennonite than most Mennonites I know… As Anabaptists, I think we need to take a look at this guy and really consider whether or not we’re as faithful to our stream of tradition as we say we are… We’re supposed to be about following Jesus, living a Christ-oriented life 24/7… and we’re just as stuck in our church culture as the catholic “traditionalists”.

  • Jennwith2ns
    April 3, 2013

    Right on.

  • Seth
    April 3, 2013

    I’m a fan of Francis, but I still think the Reformers were right to equate the Papacy (not the particular pope, but the institution) with the Beast.

  • D Lowrey
    April 3, 2013

    Sounds like those who are most concerned about that “militant humility” phrase have never read Matthew 25:31-46 and fully understand what it really says.

  • Jon
    April 3, 2013

    I am very impressed with this pope and his Christian humility. I think Protestants need to ask what they are protesting? If the reformation was about reforming the Catholic Church of the 16th century, and over the last 500 years immense reforms have occurred, then Is the Reformation Over?

    American Evangelical, Mark Knoll, does a great job analyzing that question in his book “Is the Reformation Over?” I highly recommend it. I believe today we are closer to unification then ever, of course, Protestants and evangelical’s would need to step back from their own traditions that have developed over the last few hundred years that are not compatible with historic Christianity of the first 1500 years, but if everyone has the Christian humility of Pope Francis than I think there is a chance!

  • Jenn Baerg
    April 6, 2013

    I am a fan of Francis – and I shared the sentiments expressed by my fellow Anabaptists. I will say though that my Catholic peers are not fans of Francis, they see his militant humility as an afront to the work of Benedict and the recent movements to change the liturgy of the RCC back to Latin. I don’t understand it but they’re even angry that he’s not wearing the traditional vestments or living in the apartment. Maybe their discomfort with him is a good thing but it does have me worried because I wonder how much long term change will arise from this mini-radical reformation happening within the RCC.

  • Benedict
    September 11, 2013

    It is a time to focus.

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