“Viva el Papa Francisco”
With all the buzz surrounding Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, I thought I would offer a former Protestant’s view on the Pope and the authority that the Catholic Church claims he has. Is the Pope perfect? Does he micromanage the everyday lives of believers? Do Catholics worship the Pope? All these questions, and many others, were on the forefront of my mind as I began to traverse the Tiber river towards the eternal city.
I can remember watching Pope Francis as he was being escorted through the crowds at a special event in Rome a few years back. Throngs of people, yelling and reaching out to the Pontif, desperately clammered to see and possibly touch their spiritual leader. At one point, someone nearly knocked the Pope over with their clamoring. “Who on earth do they think this man is? God himself?” I, as a souther Baptist boy, had no reference point against which to compare this new found frenzy. Though I sincerely wanted to believe otherwise, I could not help but to think these people were committing the sin of idolatry. God would not be pleased with their disordered affection for a mere man. I could not see it then, but just as children display a loving affection for their physical fathers, the sobing Catholics I saw on my screen were showing affection for their spiritual leader on earth.
I know that some of my readers, namely non-Catholics, may balk at the idea of a spiritual head of the church manifesting itself in the Pope of Rome. If you are anything like I was, the Bible is the first place you want to see evidence. Where does the Bible say we have a Pope, or any leader besides our Lord Jesus Christ? Let me offer one argument from scripture that moved me to become convinced that the Pope truly is our leader on earth:
In Isaiah 22:22 we read:
“I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.”
We see in this passage a description of the duties surrounding the prime minister in the Israelite monarchy. It was the prime minister who wielded authority, symbolized by the key, when the king left his kingdom. As the fulfillment of the Israelite monarchy, Jesus, the King of Kings, also fulfilled other roles in his kingdom, including that of the prime minister…
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatever you lose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” – Matthew 16
The parallelism of these two scripture passages should not be overlooked. Simon, now Peter, was chosen by Christ to fulfill the prime ministerial roll in the new kingdom that he was establishing. It would be Peter who had the final say on matters concerning the church when Jesus returned to Heaven to “prepare a place for us” (John 14:3).
As the successors of St. Peter, the Popes continue to serve the church as the Vicars of Christ. Currently, Pope Francis is our servant leader who, on occasion, must make definitive statements to guide the faithful and keep the mighty ship, which is the Church, on its course towards Heaven. Without this authority, division would deteriorate the Church’s integrity. As can be seen in the aftermath of the Protetant “reformation,” the absence of the authority of the Catholic Church and the Bishop Rome wreaked havoc on the unity of Christian believers. In essence, each individual became his or her own Pope, interpreting God’s word as they saw fit. This phenomenon continues today and is the cause of great unrest and instability within Protestantism.
The last “nail in the coffin” of my conversion came when I discovered that Christ left the church with a visible, living office of authority on earth. As a Protestant, I could never make sense of the fact that Jesus must have left his church as an orphan, without a clear voice to settle the skirmishes and disputes that our sinful nature often generates. Indeed, if Jesus truly was God then such an error in judgement simply could not have been possible. No, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he put Peter at the helm of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church and I am blessed to be a part of it.
Peace be with you!