I’ll probably find out who the next pope is by the time I finish this. I am literally writing it close to a television as the news cover the development of “white smoke.”
Why did the Catholic Church go with “popes”?
The “Catholic Church” itself did not exist as an organization in anything close to its modern form until the fourth century, AD. Yes, they claim that Peter was the first “pope.” They do so because Jesus says “And I tell you, you are Peter [which means "a rock"], and on this rock I will build My Church” (Matthew 16:19). Catholics argue that Jesus established Peter as the first pope and that “the rock upon which Christ built His Church” was Peter himself and NOT on Peter’s testimony, which is simply incorrect. I would submit that God literally did give Peter a unique opportunity to have the Church built on his testimony and even on his preaching as he preached the Gospel that won the first Jewish converts AND the first Gentile converts. It was Peter who preached the very first Gospel message at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 It was Peter who preached the gospel to the very first Gentile converts at Caesarea in Acts chapter 10. And Billy Graham and every single evangelist who has ever lived to this very day preach on that same “rock” upon which Christ built His Church that Peter preached. Christ fulfilled His prophecy of Peter in Peter’s life. There is no reason to believe that Christ additionally established a permanent political office through Peter that would be otherwise known as “the Catholic Church.” And Catholics also claim Jesus appointed Peter as the first pope because of Peter’s authority over the early Church. But it was clearly not Peter alone, but Jesus’ half brother James, who TOGETHER were the leaders of the early Church. It is impossible to argue that one was clearly superior to the other in authority when you examine the authority of both men – and I point to a Catholic article to document that fact.
I would submit that there is no reason to believe that neither Matchew 16:9 or John 21:15-19 created a temoral political organization that would uniquely represent Christ on earth. And I would submit that the life of Peter itself bears that out. Peter was without question AN early leader of the Church. But he was never “THE” leader of the Church. Peter allowed James to lead the Church that began in Jerusalem through HIS preaching at Pentecost. And it wasn’t long before Peter handed off much of the leadership of the early Church in the Gentile world off to Paul even though it had been Peter’s preaching that had started the Gentile Church. In fact I would submit that Peter’s experience of personal moral collapse in denying Jesus was the reason that he was such a pivotal figure: he had the humility to share leadership with James, and he had the humility to hand over his ministry to the Gentiles to Paul. Peter was a man who handed power over to others and empowering them; the Catholic Church is the very opposite in that it constantly seeks to aquire more power over all others. That has been its central failing through the centuries to this day as they covered up the sex scandal of homosexual priests in order to save the organization.
Who was the second pope? Well, Catholics say it was St. Linus:
Pope St. Linus was the second pope of the Holy Catholic Church from c. 68 – c. 79 AD. St. Irenaeus says, “After the Holy Apostles founded and set the Church in order (in Rome) they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy [II Tim 4:21]. His successor was Anacletus.”
And I completely agree with the historical facts presented in that paragraph. What I don’t agree with is the fact that being the bishop of Rome was in any way, shape or form the same thing as being a modern “pope” who rules over all Christendom.
The early Church was centered in JERUSALEM, not in Rome. That is why James was such an important early figure; it was James who led the Church in Jerusalem. The half brother of Jesus led the Church in Jerusalem. And when St. Paul sought to confirm his ministry, he did not see Peter, but JAMES (see Galatians 1:18). And it was JAMES who confirmed Paul.
There is no historical evidence whatsoever to believe that St. Linus assumed any office in which he assumed the title “the Vicar of Christ on earth.” The above article clearly states that very little is known about the man (and let me directly quote the Catholic source: “Not much is known as certain concerning his life” in the same boldface type the article says it in) whom Catholics rather strangely claim assumed the full power and station and literal authority over the gates of hell of St. Peter himself. Do you see how self-refuting that ends up being? All we really have is a statement by St. Irenaeus, writing in the latter second century, stating that a man named Linus had been the episcopal office over the Christian Church in Rome. That certainly didn’t make him “pope” except by a later act of historical revisionism on the part of the Catholic Church. It amounts to an orgnization centuries later asking, “Who was the next bishop of Rome after Peter? Yeah, THAT GUY nobody otherwise remembers was the next man to hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Apparently he dropped them somewhere and spent the remainder of his life futilely searching for them. I know the feeling with some of the things I’ve misplaced, so I don’t judge too harshly here. And apparently the next guy misplaced the keys to the kingdom of heaven soon after he had them in his hands, too, because what was the name of the third pope who was “the Vicar of Christ on earth”? Yeah, I don’t remember either – and I just looked at the list of names a few minutes ago.
Instead, Peter held the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He opened the gates at Pentecost for Jews with the rock of his testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And then he opened the gates again for the Gentiles at Caesarea with the rock of the same testimony. And Jesus declared that once opened, no one on earth would be able to close those gates. That’s what Jesus declared in John 21, and it is what happened in history. Peter didn’t hand his set of keys off to anybody else because he’d already opened the gates that could never be closed again.
My point is that if Peter was the first Pope, and these guys actually held the same divine office that Peter held, we’d know who the heck they were, wouldn’t we? But what we find is that these first men who came to be called “popes” and thus unique bearers of the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the role of Mediator between man and Christ were not those things; they were just bishops over the Church of Rome. They weren’t popes. And none of the popes who followed true successors of Peter, either.
I find it fascinating how history shapes the world and how the world in term shapes history. Events, i.e. “history” shape those who take power, and then those who took power get to write the history. History certainly shaped the Catholic Church even as the Catholic Church shaped history, I submit. How did we get to popes and to papal succession and to Rome emerging as the centerpiece of Christianity and ordaining itself as the centerpiece for all time? I believe that the Catholic Church was a victim of history in that the Roman Empire was beginning to collapse (primarily due to the effects of global cooling that forced massive migrations of wave after wave of barbarians into their realm). As an example of this history:
The Roman Empire was crumbling into ruins. Invasion succeeded invasion, defeat followed defeat. In 378 the German people known as Visigoths overwhelmed an imperial army at Adrianople; and in 408 they invaded Italy and marched south upon Rome under their leader Alaric, a nobleman by birth who had once commanded the Gothic troops in the Roman army. When the Visigoths first appeared before the Aurelian walls, which had recently been strengthened and raised to almost twice their original height, they were kept at bay with payments of monies. But in 410 when they reappeared, the gates were opened by traitors within the city, and for the first time in eight hundred years a foreign force occupied Rome.
Rome politically collapsed as the generals constantly schemed to become emperor, weakening the office of emperor to the point that you held the office by killing somebody until somebody else killed you and seized the crown for himself.
And the ONLY other institution in the West capable of stepping in and just running the cities and governing was the Catholic Church. Herein is the danger of the Catholic practice of elevating “tradition” above the Word of God. The Catholic Church began to transform from a religious institution to a very political one from which popes ruled like kings in the absence of any other strong leader in the realm. And flawed understandings of flawed traditions became inflexibly entrenched because the Catholic dogma revered them as beyond question.
The Catholic Church began to reinterpret itself as a political entity accordingly. And that massively shaped their theology of themselves. Which is why they looked back in history and interpreted themselves into early Church history that actually had litle to do with what the Catholic Church had become entering the fourth and fifth centuries.
There is no place in Scripture where God tells me that He appointed some human being to stand between myself and Christ. There is no place in Scripture where a human office is described that has ANYTHING to do with a “Supreme Pontiff” representing “the Vicar of Christ on earth.” Jesus needs no one to stand between Himself and His people, and neither do His people - as indwelt by the Holy Spirit – need to have any pope stand between them and their Savior. There is no place in Scripture where God tells me that some infallible human being speaking “ex Cathedra” can literally pronounce the words of Christ and theoretically even supersede the Bible with his own personal authority to declare the will of God.
As the organization of the Catholic Church flows down the organizatonal chart, the Catholic doctrine of the priesthood flies in the face of the priesthood of all believers found repeatedly in the Bible and continues a fundamental error. That error is basing themselves on being the successors to the authority of St. Peter rather than basing themselves on the testimony OF St. Peter that was at the heart of Jesus’ statement in John 21. They are thus quintessentially an organization with a human being and an entire human hierarchy at its head when the real Body of Christ is an organism that is sustained and led directly by Christ. And thus Catholics will go to any lengths to protect the organization.
Do you know how the Catholic priesthood started in terms of the modern theology of celibacy? It was because in the Middle Ages priests were essentially assuming enormous Church wealth for themselves and passing that wealth on to their children by the nepotistic practice of having their sons succeed them. The Church ordained that all priests be celibate in order to keep its wealth.
It hasn’t worked out well. Because now it’s all those “celibate” priests who are costing the Catholic Church BILLIONS in wealth. The deeply flawed Catholic understanding of the priesthood has borne bad and bitter fruit, indeed.
Because of that doctrine, the Bible itself has historically been deprived from rank and file Catholics. The Protestant Reformation was born out of Christians reading the Word of God and realizing that many of the traditions that were being presented by the Catholic Church were in direct contradiction of Scripture. And even to this day, most Catholics have little to do with the Bible.
The concept of prayer to the saints stems from this: it was almost as if Catholics said, “Jesus is GOD! Wow! I need somebody I trust to stand between me and Jesus and intercede for me.” And so they chose Mary, mother of Jesus. But then it was like, “Mary is the Mother of God! Wow! That’s scary! I need somebody to stand between me and Mary and intercede for me. And now they have thousands of saints that they can pray to lest they directly pray to Christ – which Scripture tells us that we are able to do.
We don’t need priests to magically transform the elements into the actual body and blood of Christ. We are each of us priests as true believers in Jesus. And we don’t need to pray to saints to intercede to us before God. God hears our prayers as our Father and Jesus hears our prayers as our Savior Redeemer.
And, yes, the Catholic Church seized the ordinances that the Lord commanded – such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper and priesthood - and ritualizing them into things that had power in and of themselves (but only if administered by the Catholic Church). Tom McMahon explains this (unfortunate) development:
I was always fascinated by that after I became an evangelical, because I just figured the Catholic Church was all there was and ever was. But as an evangelical, you know, I tried to read some things with regard to the early church and how certain things developed into the Roman Catholic Church, and from my understanding, it really had to do with taking the ordinances that Jesus commanded us to do: baptism, celebration of the Lord’s Table, or the Lord’s Supper, and turning those into something more than He intended—ritualizing them, making them efficacious—and over a period of time, the first couple of centuries, until, what would it be—the fourth century—those things developed to the point where there needed to be a priesthood, there needed to be a certain group of people who could, through their power or through their position, whatever it might be, these would be the only individuals who could preside over these events, but far and away removed from what we find in the Scriptures.
Please note that the usurpation of the ordinances into “Catholic rituals” developed at the same time as the Roman Empire had weakened to the point of complete collapse without the Catholic Church to step in.
What is sad is that tradition is held on the same level as the Word of God. That’s fine, as long as the traditions COME FROM the Word of God. But they often haven’t.
The result is a pope who was given more power than ANY other Christian leader of any other Christian sect who has so little real power and influence even over his own flock that 98% of Catholic women use birth control even though pope after pope after pope have declared it to be not only sinful but grounds for excommunication.
I won’t go on. The Catholic Church has many flaws and has failed many times. But the same Lord who restored Peter will restore the Catholic Church if it comes to Him in the appropriate spirit of humility. Ours is a God who rejoices at restoring the broken and blessing the humble.
I’m sure that more than a few Catholics are rather angry at me by now. But before you go away angry or say something too harsh, I hope you stick around long enough the following:
We just heard the announcement of the next Pope. His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. From what little I know of him, he is a good man. He opposed liberation theology just as did Benedict before him. He seems to be in the conservative tradition rather than the liberal one that is destroying the world like cancer all around us.
I hear that this man, Bergoglio, is a humble and simple man who seeks to meekly bring others together and who once kissed the feet of AIDS patients. He took the bus to his job as Cardinal and was known to carry his own baggage. He chose as his papal name the name “Francis” in signification that humility will be the hallmark of his ministry. He came out without all the vestments and asked the people to bless him as he assumes this duty, rather than thinking that he was a man who had the power to bless others. And he got on his hands and knees to receive those prayers. I will pray for such a man who seeks prayer, whether I agree with all of his theological positions or not. Jesus said we should pray even for our enemies; and we should pray even MORE for my friends.
I think all Christians need to pray for the Catholic Church and for the Pope. There are 1.2 billion Catholic souls – and they can do a great deal of good if they are properly shepherded. Pray that the Lord work through the Catholic Church and the Pope in these last days with the same spirit we pray for our own churches.
All who rejoice in the salvation of Jesus Christ can have many things in common, even be we Catholics versus Protestants.
As a Christian, I will join those who pray for this pope and for his ministry in these last days before the beast.