Keep trying to figure out how to start this one off, and I think I need to start in an odd place in order to get where I’m going: the basis theological premise for Roman Catholic church.
There is a deep root of Western thought which comes from the Roman Catholic premise of the institutional church. I, annoyingly (to many Catholics – sorry, guys) will break it down to a baser level of the fundamental thought than I have ever heard it described by any Catholic.
I had been having a discussion with a Roman Catholic friend of mine when it occurred to me that the lynchpin of Catholic theology – and systematically the point at which we disagreed – was the doctrine of he Papacy. I realized that even if I could convince my Catholic friend of various points of theology based on the clear statements of scripture (we were discussing Mariology), that the Catholic would still hold to Catholic tradition for one reason: the Papacy.
The whole of the theocratic structure of Roman Catholicism is held and bound together by the doctrine of the papacy. Because my Catholic friend believes in the Papacy (he despises the current Pope, by the way), he is convinced that the church of Rome is the only earthly organization with the stamp of God’s approval as: ‘The Church.” He, therefore believes that the earthly, temporal organization known as the Roman Catholic church AS AN ORGANIZATION is Christ’s body on earth. Even if he deviates in theology or preference, he would submit to a system he personally believed to be wrong because Jesus said to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…”
Many Protestants wouldn’t even take issue with the thought of a church ORGANIZATION being the hands and feet of Christ (which is because intrinsic in our Christian philosophy is a predisposition toward theocratic thinking). In fact most ‘Protestant’ churches are exactly that: Protest-ant i.e. in protest of some certain point of Roman Catholicism. The only reason they are not Catholic is because they disagreed with something thus, we’re still deriving our identity from our relation to the church of Rome (I accept the label, as I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I really don’t consider myself a ‘Protestant’ as my faith is derived from my relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, not through any relation to an organization), but the theocratic philosophy at the root of the Roman church still exists in Protestantism. Why do protestant churches eventually develop into an earthly organization which claims to be God’s hands and feet in the earth? We make different organizations and set up little empires with little popes – that’s the way Western Christianity exists.
Christians make up the body of Jesus Christ on earth. No organization can, people do. The True church on earth is organized by the Bishop and high priest of our profession: Jesus Christ. It is no earthly organization. Now Christians can plant, run and organize operational structures in order to do ministry, but those structures are NOT the church. You could call them ministries, but being a part, or not being a part of an organization has no bearing on your salvation, or your personal ability to unit with Christ. IT’S JUST AN ORGANIZATION.
That’s my round-about way of blaming Roman Catholicism for planting the fundamental concepts of theocracy into the psyche of Christian philosophy (hey, at least I didn’t call the pope the antichrist like the early protestants (many of whom were burned at the stake for things like not believing bread literally turns into Jesus, and translating the bible into the common languages, and rejecting the papacy… just sayin’.)
But here’s the question: Are Catholics right about their imperial perspective of Christianity? I don’t want to beat a dead horse on our Roman Catholic brethren… but as most of them are probably checked out of the conversation by now, let’s look at their claim on the papacy. Fact of the matter is: if they’re right, we should all join the church of Rome, if they’re wrong we can learn not to fall into the same error. Either way, we’ll learn some fundamental things about theocracy.
First I point out something that seems rather self-evident once it is stated: the culture of the Roman Catholic church is based on Roman Imperialism. Many have not thought of that, but once you do it is quite evident, no? From the church government right down to the toga-like gowns worn by clergy, one can clearly see Christianity taken in the form (in likeness) of the Roman Empire. The church has an emperor (pope), kings which rule under him (bishops who sit on literal, earthly, thrones), why it even established the position of office Cardinal (based on the Roman Emperors cardinal senators – which came first? The Roman version on all these points came first. The Roman Empire existed some time before Jesus, and the culture of Roman Imperialism was based on paganism.
Now, that’s not to say that the church of Rome is automatically disqualified from being a church, neither does that in itself mean the church culture or doctrines are wrong. I can see the similar culture assimilation in our culture. Lots of Evangelical churches look like corporate America to me with a president instead of an emperor, and board members instead of Cardinals (and why not? its a non-profit organization).
All this phenomenon demonstrates is the outward form of Christianity as developed inside of certain cultures. the Italian-ness of the church of Rome ought to be expected in a church structure that developed in that culture. But seeing the Imperial nature of the papacy, and the familial-ity with the ancient political system does beg the question: should Christianity really have an emperor, or is that merely your interpretation of God’s kingdom based on the culture your organization developed in?
Does the Bible Establish a Church Monarch?
Now we get to the biblical. My Roman Catholic friends tell me that the Monarchal church structure was instituted by Jesus; it is, therefore His plan for the church. Let me first point out that here are no biblical teachings about a monarchal bishopric. In fact, to the contrary Jesus declared to His apostles:
Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Rather exhorting them to duplicate an hierarchal structure from the world, Jesus declared that quite contrarily the greatest of His ministers would be servant of all. This passage does not confirm any teaching of a monarchal bishopric. I would say to the contrary, this passage seems to revoke such a notion.
Peter, who is taken by the church of Rome to be the first pope did not presume the stature of a monarchy when he wrote his letters to the churches. Rather, when he meant to give greater credence to his words to his audience referred to himself as merely an elder, and one who beheld the sufferings of Christ ((1 Peter 5:1) he does not seem to assume that Jesus had conferred on him a monarchal position over the church of God). Furthermore, in Peter’s epistles he expressly charges the other elders not to lord over the heritage of God (1 Peter 5:3). That’s interesting – lording over the heritage of God is precisely the Pope’s job (If not before, then certainly after the first Vatican council)!
No, there is no specific biblical teaching which prescribes a monarchal bishopric.
But then, as I mentioned, the papacy is the lynchpin of the Roman Catholic system – and the biblical lynchpin for making it so is found in Matthew 16 (as anyone who has ever had this discussion with a Catholic pretty much knows).
In the passage Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus declares to Peter that flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but the Father in heaven; he then made the famous declaration:
…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt 16:18-19)
Now before we analyze what these statements might mean, first contemplate the question: do these words intrinsically imply the establishment of a monarch?
No, they don’t, however, they MAY (if taken out of context) to someone who grew up on a monarchal culture. If someone was already preconditioned to see the word of Christ through a monarchal lens, they may easily see the conferring of spiritual authority as similar to monarchal.
Furthermore, how about this question: even if the statement DID imply the establishment of Peter as a monarch, does it also imply that even after Peter’s death there would forever be a permanent monarchal position in the church?
Now, not to just go into arguing all the points and details of the Papacy, Catholics mingle this passage with another doctrine called ‘Apostolic Succession,’ which essentially means that Christ’s original commission of the twelve can be conferred, or passed down from generation to generation just like positions of royalty were conferred or passed down from generation to generation.
Many protestants groups also accept the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, just as they (essentially) accept the theocratic premise that they are said to be in ‘protest’ of.
However, Jesus’ declaration does not appear to intrinsically be an instatement of a permanent position in the church, rather, if He was speaking this expressly to Peter personally (and every Roman Catholic I know affirms that He was), then it was to Peter, and Peter alone that He spoke it. To presume that someone else can somehow attain the gift that Jesus expressly gave to Peter is to do presumptuously.
Apostleship is not something that any man can confer – only the man Jesus Christ: it is HE, and He alone who gave some apostles (Eph. 4:5-12). Indeed, the very word Apostle means ‘sent one’ only those who have been PERSONALY sent by Jesus Christ (whether in modern times, or in the early church) have actually been… well personally sent by Jesus Christ.
The issue with the entire system is that it mingles the natural with the spiritual. A man made organization as though it were the Kingdom of God on earth – but remember the True Kingdom of God is the stone not made by hands (Dan 2:34 & 35).
But, I am running a bit long, so I shall digress, and continue under a different tack in a later post. God bless!