In electing the Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), the Roman cardinals signaled that they were not one whit impressed or cowed by modern (read: American and northern European) Catholics. Francis, a philosophical theologian anchored in the conservative wing of the church, is pro-life, anti-homosexual, anti-liberation (i.e., Marxist) theology and reliably conservative on every other hot-button social issue that animates modernist Catholics and their allies in elitist academia and the mainstream press. It is comforting to know that one massive church body (in painful contrast to almost all major Protestant denominations) has the will to stand against the prevailing winds — more like cyclones — of socially apostate modernity.
Francis’ conservatism (he is the first Jesuit Pope) also means he is unlikely to be on the vanguard of Catholic-Protestant ecumenism. Traditional Catholics believe — wrongly and presumptuously — that there is ordinarily no salvation outside the Roman communion. But we theologically and culturally conservative (that is to say, Biblical) Protestants are not especially troubled by this intransigence. After all, we were not eager to join Rome in the first place. Such serious disagreements stand in the way of any thought of either organizational or organic unity (the locus of authority, the appropriation of salvation, the nature of the church) that only squishy lowest-common-denominator religionists on either side of the Catholic-Protestant divide would seriously consider serious ecumenism. We orthodox Protestants have too much respect for Catholics like Francis than to expect them to pretend the differences are bridgeable. For there to be a huge union, there must be huge changes. Papering over differences under the guise of Christian charity is a slap in the face to doctrinal orthodoxies on either side.
But doctrinal orthodoxies do not forbid cultural orthodoxies — nay, they produce them — and those cultural orthodoxies in turn generate cultural ecumenism. Which is to say, we Protestants stand as cobelligerents with Francis and his cohorts in championing a culture of life (and against aborticide and euthanasia and cloning and human egg harvesting), a culture of the family (and against homosexuality and all other extramarital sexual license), and a culture of liberty (and against political tyranny). You cannot stand for truth in culture without standing against evil in culture. And in standing for truth and against evil, we orthodox Protestants stand shoulder to shoulder with orthodox Roman Catholics in the culture wars.
The squishy ecumenists on both sides will likely find the traditionally sectarian Francis a less than stellar champion.
But we Protestant culture warriors much prefer a sectarian culture warrior to an ecumenical culture wimp. We can live (and have lived for nearly 500 years) with theological sectarianism.
But enduring both theologically and culturally apostate Protestants and Catholics is a burden we are not prepared to bear.