On this rock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 7 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.           – 2 Corinthians 12:12

papacyApostolic succession. It’s what the Catholic Church cites as the reason for her claim to supreme authority in Christendom. Based on their reading of Matthew 16, Catholics believe Jesus conferred on the apostle Peter authority over his church as the first pope. Following from that, there must always be a visible, authoritative figure over the church, which was realized in the continued line of bishops of Rome as succeeding popes.

There are a number of reasons why I reject the claim of a Christ-established papacy. The first is that it is not taught or even suggested in the Bible. In Matthew 16, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is (as if he didn’t know)?” They respond with the popular identifications…John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. Then he asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter…impulsive, loyal, outspoken Peter answers immediately (you can almost picture him jumping up and down in his seat, his hand high in the air, murmuring, “Oooh, oooh. Pick me! Pick me!). “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he replies. And since this was the exact answer Jesus was looking for, he rewarded Simon with a new name, Peter, which means rock, and told him, “On this rock I will build my church.” The Catholic Church interprets this as meaning that the church was founded on Peter as its first pope. I believe Jesus was recognizing Peter’s clear identification of him as Christ and God as that on which his church would be built.

Notice the way Jesus sets this up. He gets them to voice the opinions of the general public as to his identity, who think he’s at most a prophet risen from the dead. But prophets were chosen by God for a reason – revealing his plan, his character, his judgment, and for a season – until they died. Not to be the ever-living foundation of his “called out” ones, his church on earth. When Jesus prompts his disciples, knowing Peter would be the first to respond, to profess their faith in him as the Messiah, he is contrasting their correct apprehension of his identity and mission with that of the unbelievers. And declares that his church will be built on this true faith.

Nowhere in Scripture is there any mention of one of the apostles or bishops having supreme authority over the entire body of Christ. Jesus is the head and foundation and no one else. There were recognized leaders in Peter, John, and James. But no pope.

A second reason is that giving any man such worldwide power and authority is likely to corrupt him and his supposed divine influence, and it has. The corrupt and immoral behavior of some of the Church’s popes is well-known. I just don’t believe Jesus would have instituted such an office unless it was absolutely necessary.

And that’s the third reason. It’s not. God inspired the New Testament authors to accurately record all the truth that is needed for us to know Christ, the head of the church, and receive his Spirit who helps us know him better. I don’t need a teaching magisterium to tell me what the correct interpretation is. As the apostle John says, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” – 1 John 2:27

Now, someone will say, then why are there divisions and conflicts among non-Catholic Christians about interpretations? And I would answer, because we each have things in our lives and our flesh that interfere with a totally clear connection with the Spirit of Christ. The fact that the Catholic Church seems to stand united on Scriptural understanding is only because the faithful agree to submit to their bishops’ interpretation.

And finally, the Catholic Church’s claim to apostolic succession is what has allowed her to assert for herself power and authority far exceeding the humble roles assumed by the leaders of the New Testament church. It is what has fostered and supported the creation of a second source of supposed inspired apostolic teaching which she calls Tradition, with a capital T…and that rhymes with P…and that stands for…pope?

That will be reason number 8.