If you have watched the news in the past week, you’ve likely seen the media attention that has been given to the death of the “pope”; it’s virtually inescapable. (I offer my personal condolences to our Catholic friends on their loss.) During this time, many in the media have been speculating on who the next “pope” will be. However, the Catholic church has, by and large, been only concerned with the funeral and burial arrangements. But now that those matters have been completed, the time has come for them to select a new “pope.” Here is why I hope that they don’t do that.
First, Jesus is the only head of the church and God only acknowledges Him as mediator between God and man. In Ephesians 5:23 Paul writes, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.” Colossians 1:18 states, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” 1 Timothy 2:5 states, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” It is nothing more than crass arrogance to appoint a man to a position that only Jesus himself can occupy. It is my prayer that no one would so exalt himself before God as God will no doubt deal with them severely for so acting.
Second, there is no authority in the Bible to have earthly church organization or structure of leadership personnel beyond what is done at the congregational level. There were elders over the congregation at Jerusalem (Acts 11:30, 15:4). Paul and Barnabas carried out God’s pattern for earthly organization of leadership personnel in Acts 14:23 when they appointed elders in the congregations that they planted. We learn in the letters to Timothy and Titus that they also were directed to appoint elders in the congregations with whom they were working (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). These congregations also had deacons who were special servants appointed over particular matters (Acts 6:1-7, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Peter (who the Catholic Church claims to be the first “pope”) makes it clear that there are no intervening organizations between the local eldership and the Chief Shepherd, Jesus (1 Peter 5:1-4). Never do we find in the New Testament any ongoing organization of leadership personal in the church beyond the local level. Hence, there is no New Testament authority for such an organized structure of personnel leadership beyond the local church.
Third, even at the local level, there is no one man who has a right to be the sole leader of the church. What we read in the New Testament regarding God’s desire for local leadership is that there should be a plural number of leaders, not a single. Paul told Titus to appoint “elders” in every city in which there was a church. Paul and Barnabas appointed “elders” in all the churches that they planted (Acts 14:23). There were “elders” at the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30, 15:4). No where in the New Testament do we ever see a single man in leadership position over a church or group of churches. Some argue that the “bishop” of 1 Timothy 3 is in fact a single man, but Paul makes it clear that the “bishop” is no different than an elder by using the two terms interchangeably in Titus 1:5, 7. Hence, there is no authority for anything less than a plural number of local church leaders, much less for a single leader over all churches worldwide.
If the Catholic Church desires to do what the Bible teaches regarding personnel leadership in the church, then they will make this crucial first step back toward the Bible pattern and not select a new pope. However, I don’t believe for a moment that they will do this and we’ll discuss why in next week’s bulletin article, “Why the Catholic Church Will Select a New Pope.”