Why We Cannot Call The Pope ‘our Pope’
By Pastor Tedd Mathis
We live in an age that urges us to set aside doctrinal convictions for the sake of religious or social unity. Sometimes the source of that urging catches us off guard. Like when well-known Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren enthusiastically endorses Pope Francis as “our Pope” saying he is “the perfect example of humility and is doing everything right.” Last month when Pope Francis was in the U.S., Warren made certain he was at the White House to welcome him. *
But some of the doctrines we are urged to set aside determine people’s eternal destiny. To set aside what the Bible teaches as to who Jesus Christ is, and what He alone can do for sinners, is to be indifferent to whether or not people go to hell. I can’t do that and I assume you can’t either.
That’s what this essay is about. This is a plea for us to examine the Scriptures and confirm that Jesus Christ alone is head of His Church, that Christ alone has fully satisfied God in the place of sinners, and that Scripture alone is our source of authority for all matters of faith and practice.
That’s not what the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) teaches. When one studies the RCC’s official statements – canons, councils, catechism — you will see they go far beyond what the Bible clearly states. In this essay I am going to focus on what the RCC states about the pope and compare it to the Bible.
According to the Vatican website, the pope is to be considered Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.
First, let’s focus on the title ‘Vicar;’ it means to ‘to act in the place of with authority’ The RCC catechism says the following: The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.” – The Catechism, Article 9, para. 4, #882
Second, let’s consider what ‘Supreme Pontiff’ means. According to the RCC, the man serving as pope serves as a high priest for the universal church. He is everyone’s mediator before God. Cardinal James Gibbons, in his book The Faith of Our Fathers, explains: “We must therefore find in the Church of Christ a spiritual judge, exercising the same supreme authority as the High Priest wielded in the Old Law [i.e. Old Testament]. For if a supreme Pontiff was necessary, in the Mosaic dispensation, to maintain purity and uniformity of worship, the same dignitary is equally necessary now to preserve unity of faith.”**
Compare that to what the writer of Hebrews says: The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself (7:23-27. See also 9:23-28; 10:10-18).
I write this tenderly but firmly to those who may think the differences between what we at PW Baptist believe and what Roman Catholicism teaches has to do more with style than substance. By claiming the pope to be Christ’s vicar, Roman Catholicism diminishes, even denies, what the Bible says Christ alone accomplishes. Roman Catholicism teaches their priestly system (the pope as supreme or high priest) as being an absolute necessity for a person’s salvation. The pope and priests and their sacramental activities (e.g., the mass) are necessary mediators between others and God and thus contribute to a sinner’s salvation. Further, for anyone to say different is anathema – cursed.
Here’s the RCC’s canon statement: “If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is one only of praise and thanksgiving; or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one; or that it profits him only who receives, and ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA” (Canons on the Sacrifice of the Mass, Canon 3, from the Council of Trent, 1545-1563).
That is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus alone (in and of Himself) “is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). He needs no man or ceremony to act in His place. Rather, all men need Him to act in their place. “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5). We draw near to God through faith in Christ, not ours or anyone else’s religious acts (Eph. 2:8,9; Rom. 3:21-30). We’re told that Christ alone is to have first place in all things because He alone reconciled all things to Himself having made peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:15-23).
So even if a world-famous Southern Baptist calls Pope Francis ‘our pope,’ we cannot. We must honor Christ alone, in our own hearts and minds and in our witness to others, including Roman Catholic friends and family.
Here are four specific reasons the Bible gives why the pope can’t be our pope:
Because Christ alone is Head of the Church. The Bible says Christ alone is in authority over all things. The reason He is in authority over all things and His name is above all names and is head of the Church is because He was given that position by the Father after He suffered and died in the place of sinners. His being in authority now over all things was His reward — because He remained obedient to the point of death on a cross, therefore, God highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:8,9). See Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Eph. 1:18-23; 4:4-6; I Tim 2:5; Heb. 7:23-27; 9:15; 10:10-14; Jude 24,25.
As you examine the above texts; you will see there is no need for a pope. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Bergoglio, who is the present pope, nor individual Roman Catholics by saying that. But the Bible tells us that God was fully satisfied (appeased/propitiated) by what Jesus did on the cross; the proof is He raised Jesus from the dead and then exalted Him (Romans 3:21-30; 4:25-5:1).
To teach the existence and necessity of an earthly ‘supreme pontiff (pontiff literally means bridge-builder – a go between, a mediator) is to deny God is satisfied with His only begotten Son. Further, it is to deny the explicit words of Christ Himself: “No man comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). The role of high priest from the Old Covenant was fulfilled in heaven by Jesus Christ. Right now we have “a great high priest who has (already) passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:25). Popes resign. They die, they have to be replaced. Jesus can’t. Jesus won’t. God is fully satisfied with what Jesus did on behalf of sinners. God doesn’t need a vicar.
Because all believers are priests. All true believers are a royal priesthood, all have the Holy Spirit, all are led by the Spirit, all share in the Spirit’s anointing. Christ’s spirit indwells all His own, glorifying Him alone (Rom 8; I John 2:18-22; I Pet 2:9; John 16:14). All in Christ are considered saints (holy ones) with a high and holy calling (I Cor. 1:2-3; Phil 1:1; I Pet. 1:14-19).
Under the Old Covenant, there was a unique tribe, the Levites, who were to serve as priests. But under the New Covenant, all believers are priests. If we are all priests, that means there is no special class of priest. Every believer in Christ has the means and privilege to speak the truths of the Bible. Every believer can tell other sinners, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Every believer has the capacity to pray on behalf of others. Those privileges are not reserved for a special category of Christ’s church.
Yes, there are pastors or elders who shepherd local congregations, and they are given as gifts to Christ’s church (Eph. 4:7-16; I Peter 5:1-5; Acts 14:23; 20:17-32). But they are not priests; there is no special priestly/pontiff class in the New Testament. The role of pastor is primarily one of instruction and administration and in that role they teach their flock to depend on the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20). As the Apostle Paul states, pastors help ‘equip the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:11-16).
Nowhere does the Bible teach that pastors carry out some sacerdotal activity in a priest/laity relationship. Yet that is exactly what Roman Catholicism teaches about the pope and the bishops and priests under him. The pope is “pastor of the entire Church having full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” The Catechism, Article 9, para. 4, #882.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that believers care for one another, love another, instruct one another according to the Scriptures, etc. But we rest our salvation, our standing before God and our eternal state, wholly on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul says it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Those who have Christ need no vicar. Why? Because we have Christ!
Because Christ’s Apostles Served Temporally, Not Permanently. Today we are instructed by the Apostles through the inspired words they wrote or had written, which Jesus said they would (Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:17-21; John 14:26; 16:13). Their words along with the Old Testament are fully sufficient to give us the ‘wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ and instruct us such that we can be godly people equipped to serve Him (II Tim. 3:16,17).
As you saw above Roman Catholicism teaches that the pope is successor to the apostles, in particular Peter (I’ll say more about that in a minute). I can’t find anywhere in the New Testament stating the office of apostle would be an ongoing role to be filled. Rather, there is very good evidence to conclude it was temporal. According to Ephesians 2:19-22, the church is being built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets (See also Eph. 3:5; Rev. 21:14). Paul indicates he was the last apostle (I Cor. 15:5-8). One of the qualifications for apostleship was having seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:21,22; I Cor. 15:5-8).
At the end of his life Paul commissioned Timothy and Titus to train up future elders (I, II Tim; Titus) for the very reason he knew his time was coming to an end (II Tim. 4:6). He did so fully confident in the Scriptures. Nowhere do we see the Apostles expressing concern about who would fill their office. Rather they showed great confidence their words would be fully adequate to accomplish what Christ intended to do through them. Their words, spoken and written under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, and according to the promise from Jesus, would be fully adequate to bring people to faith in Christ and equip them to serve Him (John 14:25,26; 16:13-15; 17:17-20; I Thes. 2:13; II Thes. 2:13-15; II Tim 3:14-18; Heb. 4:12,13; I Peter 1:22-25; II Pet. 1:12-21; 3:16; I John 1:4; 4:6; 5:13; Jude 1-25).
Because Christ alone is the apostle and high priest of our confession (Heb. 3:1). The RCC claims the pope is ‘Successor of the Prince of the Apostles,’ that prince being Peter. But that is man’s tradition, not what Christ taught to or through His apostles.
While Peter would be used by Christ to build His church so would other men whom Christ appointed and who confessed Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:15-16; Eph. 2:20). In the end, there is no biblical basis to see a unique promise or office given to Peter. The power of the keys Jesus promised in Matthew 16, where Peter is representing the rest of the disciples, was extended to all the apostles (Matt18:18; John 20:23).
As one reads through the Acts of the Apostles and reads Peter’s own letters, nowhere are we encouraged to think Peter himself or the other apostles believed he had a unique role that would be perpetually filled. Consider Gal. 2 where he had to be rebuked by the Apostle Paul. He is sent by other apostles (Acts 8:14). He is never once called ‘prince of the apostles’ by the others, or himself – and he could have been (see I Cor. 12:28; 15:1-11; Eph. 4:11; I Peter 5:1-3; Rev. 21:14).
Peter was graced with the role of being with Jesus in his three years of earthly ministry and afterward, equipped to herald forth the precious and magnificent promises of Christ (II Pet. 1:1-4). Shortly before he died, Peter made certain that the words he had written, along with the Apostle Paul’s be regarded as Scripture, having been written by men ‘moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’ (II Pet. 1:12-21).
To conclude, I trust you will rejoice and rest in all that we have in Christ Jesus and depend on Him and Him alone, according to the Scriptures! I trust we will not take the easy way out, being deluded by the spirit of the age that is so indifferent to truth. May we be found, eagerly awaiting Christ’s return, loving the truth, neither adding to nor taking away from the fully sufficient word of God (II Thess. 2:8-12; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 22:18,19).
Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation… How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God!
— Psalm 146:3,5
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
— Galatians 1:6-10
Here’s a shorter clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3&v=igNCUw1adIw