As Pope Francis began his first full day as leader of the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday, Desiring God founder, John Piper, attempted to clarify a controversial statement he made in 2009 about heresy in Roman Catholic theology.
During the reign of Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, Piper was asked on video if he had two minutes to question the Pope on an issue, what would he ask, and he chose the subject of justification.
"I think Rome and Protestantism are not yet ready – I don't think the Reformation is over. I don't think that enough change has happened in Roman understanding of justification, and a bunch of other things," he said in the video.
He then proceeded to detail the question he would ask the Pope. "'Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100 percent for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?'" he said in the clip.
"And if he said, 'No, we don't,' then I'd say, 'I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy,' or something like that," he added.
In a new post on Thursday, however, Piper conceded that 'heresy' is a strong word and attempted a more nuanced explanation of what he meant by his comments.
"I meant that the rejection of 1) the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential part of the basis of our justification, and 2) the doctrine that good works necessarily follow justification but are not part of its ground – the rejection of those truths is a biblical error so close to the heart of the gospel that, when consistently worked out, will undermine saving faith in the gospel," he wrote.
"I am thankful that God is willing to save us even when our grasp of the gospel may be partial or defective. None of us has a comprehensive or perfect grasp of it," he added. Pointing out that the teachers of the church, notably the Pope, will be "held more responsible than others for teaching what is fully biblical," he warned against Christian leaders misguiding people about how to get right with God.
"…Any church whose teaching rejects the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential ground for our justification would be a church whose error is so close to the heart of the gospel as to be involved in undermining the faith of its members," he said.
There are more than 1 billion Roman Catholics around the world, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and more than 75 million of them live in the United States. Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to be the new pope during the conclave on Wednesday evening, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas.