The Evangelical Herald
THE MAKING OF MINI POPES
One of the major differences between the evangelical church and Roman Catholicism is the issue of church authority and leadership. The Catholic Church maintains that by virtue of apostolic succession, the bishop of Rome, being a successor of the Apostle Peter, carries the mantle of authority given to him by Christ until this day. The extend of this authority was defined in 1870 when it was degreed that the teachings of the Pope were infallible. The evangelical church, on the other hand, teaches that the only infallible and authoritative revelation from heaven is the Word of God.
Historical Papal Development
Papal authority and infallibility developed over the centuries because of the perceived need of an authoritative voice in the church to clarify church doctrine and practice. In the first century church, any clarification of doctrine was decided by the original apostles themselves -- as evidence to this we see the Jerusalem Council deciding the issue of whether to keep the law of Moses (see Acts 15:1-31). Towards the end of the second century AD, the beginnings of papal authority arose when Stephen I, bishop of Rome, went on record attempting to exert authority over other churches on the basis of succession from Peter. The bishop (pastor) of Rome, by virtue of Peter being the first bishop of Rome, claimed to be head of the Christian Church (The Catholic Encyclopedia, The Pope). Emperor Constantine gave acceptance to this claim in the Council of Nicea in the year 325 AD.
It was in the latter half of the eighth century that there appeared a document purported to be a legal title granted by Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, to Sylvester bishop of Rome. It granted to the Roman bishop, among other things, "…supremacy... over the four chief seats Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in the whole world". Before this document, the papacy could not effectively assert itself, because the Church had only the Scriptures and the documents of the various councils-none of which established or supported any such office as the papacy. But here emerged a questionable document by a political entity, that was received everywhere as genuine, that exalted the Roman See not only above the other four principal Sees, but also over the entire Church (On Line, jmgainor.homestead.com, Origins of the Papacy).
The issues involved in the making of the pope were divine appointment, supreme leadership of the church, and final authority. Concurrently with the rise of the Pope and the power of the church came the development of the priest class -- men called of God to be supposedly intercessors between the "laity" and God. As the purported divinely appointed class, priests were the ones who would be used as channels of the Catholic Church to intercede between men and God and to teach the doctrines of the Church to the masses. The "laity", in the Catholic system, had no direct access to God, had no authority to teach and no gifts to be used for God's service.
Mini Popes in the Evangelical Church?
However repugnant these doctrines are to the evangelical church, many an evangelical church is contributing to the making of mini popes in their congregations. How can we make such a bold statement? When the mindset of the local pastors and their congregations mimic the mindset of the fourth century, the conditions are ripe for the making of the mini popes. Given the emergence of the mega-church and the business model church, the danger that the evangelical church will fall into this erroneous practice is very real.
Certain conditions in the local church need to be present in the making of local popes. A major issue is the understanding of God's spiritual gifts to the church for the accomplishment of its mission. If a church does not believe that God gives these gifts to whomever He chooses, a condition is ripe for the making of a mini pope. Another issue is the understanding of the universal priesthood of all believers. When believers do not believe that they have direct access to God for their spiritual growth, a condition is ripe for the making of a mini pope. Another issue involves the understanding of who has been called to proclaim reconciliation to the world. When a church believes that the pastor is the only servant called to proclaim reconciliation, then a condition is ripe for the making of a mini pope.
Some pastors, abusing their position, teach that any that are not in agreement with them one hundred percent of the time in all issues are in danger of God's judgement. This teaching smells akin to the doctrine of infallibility which gives way to lack of individual Bible study due to reliance on the pastor to feed and explain to them the Word. Instilling fear in the masses was definitely a factor in the making of the priestly class and of the Pope.
Whereas Jesus established His Church so that all could work together in love to fulfill its mission, many pastors have come to believe that by virtue of their education and full time service that they are the church. Many a pastor has felt threatened by members in their congregation that display leadership qualities. Rather than working together in the common task of the church, these pastors eventually cool the spirit of these leaders, if not outright chase them out of the church.
Pastors, you who teach against the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope, do you really want to be mini Popes? Do you mistake the power of the Spirit of God as your right to rule with your own power over God's people? Do you feel threatened if God anoints a "lay person" with a spiritual gift and displays leadership qualities? Do you consistently call yourself the servant of God -- implying that others can not be servants of God? Do you believe that all the spiritual gifts that the Lord has given to lead His Church lie with you? Do you bind yourselves with other pastors to form the elite of the church and in essence form a priestly class? Do you feel that a person is not a true believer unless he commits to your leadership and never questions you -- a true loyal subject? Do you teach that a believer is in danger of God's wrath if he is not in agreement with you in all things? Be careful, these were the attitudes and mindsets of the Roman priests that gave opportunity for the development of the Papacy.
The First Century Church Model
The questions may arise at this point -- If the pastor is not a mini Pope, where then is the unity of the Church? Who then will lead the church in all its ministries? What position does a pastor really have? Does not the Bible teach to submit to the higher authorities?
To get a better understanding of these questions (objections), we must go to the divine record and instructions of our Lord. Bible based churches cite Ephesians chapter four, verses eleven to thirteen, as their model of leadership:
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
From this passage, we can clearly see that the church was to achieve its goal of having "all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:" not by only one man's leadership, but by the exercising of all the God given gifts deemed necessary. God is the one who chooses who will receive the gift. One gift in a person is not above the other - all are working in unity for the same goal. Each gift was important to the health of the church -- the overlying principle of each recipient of the gifts was that they received these gifts to be used as servants. No one possessor of one gift was above or more important than the other. No one was to use these gifts for their own grandiose, success, or power. All worked together in unity to accomplish the mission of the church to the glory of the Father. Pastors, elders, evangelists, deacons, and teachers all working together, serving one another, and supporting one another for the building up of the church.
Unity in the body of Christ is not the result of an infallible pope or mini-pope. A careful reading of the book of Acts, clearly shows that unity was accomplished through the supernatural leading of the Spirit working through love in each believer. Unity was and is the result of each member of the body working together to fulfill his or her God given purpose and mission: to proclaim salvation to the lost and to built each other unto the image of Christ -- all to the glory of God.
The Local Pastor's Duties
What is a pastor's job then? We believe that a pastor ought to pastor God's flock. We believe that, foremost, he should be involved in ministries common to all believers: proclaiming and witnessing of the love of God in reconciling the world to Himself, building each other in the faith, serving each other, being a lamp of truth and righteousness, and praying for all believers. In addition, among other duties, his special position calls for: a) equipping the believers for ministry, b) identifying spiritual gifts in the congregation, c) encouraging the believers to exercise their gifts, and d) caring for the flock that they not be lost eternally. Surely, a great task. He, like all believers, can not rely on his personal or man taught skills. He must rely on the Spirit of God to do this work through him and this, foremost, means he must follow the model that our Lord has given us.
The Bible does teach to submit to the higher authorities (see Heb 13:17). A true believer in Christ is one who has died to all his/her self-interests and submits to God's authority and leadership. Humility leads us to submit. When the Bible says "higher authorities", it is understood that the supreme authority is God Himself as manifested in the Father (Jehweh), His son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Fundamental to these teachings is our understanding that these manifestations came through His revealed Word. All who claim to be in the chain of authority must humbly accept the authority of this revelation. Church leaders can only claim authority as they manifest the fruits of heaven's revealed will in their lives and submit to the divine model of leadership which is servanthood. When all believers have a mindset of servanthood, then the Bible's admonition for believers to "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph 5:21 NIV) becomes a reality. A Christian is not to submit to the office, but to the manifested works and testimony of the office. Any other "authority" is not of God, but man-given.
A Call to Restoration of True Church Leadership
Leadership in the church was not a result of fulfilling a curriculum of studies set by men. It was not a result of a person deciding upon a career. Leaders in the early church were men who had been born again and had seen the heavenly vision of the eternal kingdom. They knew and experienced the power of the resurrection. Without the eternal perspective, there was no reason to lead and die for the cause of Christ. Clearly we see in the New Testament church that leaders had an eternal perspective -- willing to die with the confidence that they would be resurrected unto the heavenly kingdom. They were not made, but were chosen of God and confirmed by the congregations because they were filled with the Spirit as seen by the fruits of love for God, the brethren, and for the lost.
In today's world, titles and offices are conferred on persons that meet human standards of education. In the primitive church, these titles were given to persons who had received the spiritual gifts to fulfill that title's responsibilities. That is not to say the education of leaders is not important, but it does say that the utmost criterion is that God does the selecting by His Spirit. Since all born-again Christians have been selected by God to fulfill the mission of the church, in a sense, all are gifted or empowered to do this work according to the gift they receive. Since it is the Spirit of God that is leading the church through the anointing of spiritual gifts on those He selects, every member of the body of Christ is contributing to the fulfillment of the mission of the church.
We call upon the Christian church not to fall prey to the mindset of the early Roman church, but to hold fast to the beliefs and doctrines of the founder of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ and His revealed Word. We call upon the Christian church not be led by human interpretations of leadership and modern business models to accomplish the mission of the church. God is the one who gives the necessary tools and supernatural anointing to those whom He chooses to lead His church in unity of purpose and work. Let us rely on the Spirit by working together with those whom the Lord has given talents and spiritual gifts. Let us all encourage one another to become truly priests -- to study, pray and serve for the welfare of others. Let no one obstruct God's ways. Let no one believe that he is the church. Let the Spirit of God work through His chosen vessels by means of the different gifts He endues upon them.