It was surreal for me the morning last February that I found out that Pope Benedict was resigning. I thought there was a type-o in my internet source. At the time I was in the process of entering into the Catholic Church after thirty years of calling myself a Protestant. Soon when Pope Francis was shown to the world, I was encouraged to consider myself as always an evangelical in the sense of bringing the whole gospel to the whole person in the whole world.
If you click on this link you will see at the thirty minute mark a plea from a simple man with an immense role calling for reconciliation.
It is fitting that he reflect humility and grace as a pope. I say this with total conviction knowing that in a context of people that say they are in unity with the Church Jesus started there should be some awe in what he says. In almost a weird timing for this season and with the historical event shown in the link (only by seeing that link will help explain what I referred to above) I write today that there is a role from Peter to Francis that uniquely lays down the final word on earth.
When there was a controversy in the early church a council happened. One such council was in Jerusalem 20 years into the life of the Church. Human people attempted to reason together about the idea of gentiles being required or not to be circumcised to be in the kingdom. This included apostles and prophets. But the shepherding was on one, barely literate former fisherman
Acts 15:7 “After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8 And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9 and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’ 12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.”
The first objection I would have to this being a proof text about the papacy is that the silence was for Barnabas and Saul. That does not work because the text does not say, “kept silence as they listened to Barnabas” but “kept silence, and”.
Hair splitting? Let’s compare scripture with scripture.
Acts 11:18 “When they heard this, they were silenced [after hearing Peter]. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
21:40 “When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:”
Aha! Paul got silence too and he was not a pope! True, but he motioned for it and the crowd were unbelievers that were curious to see what all the ruckus was about. Curiosity is not reverence.
In contrast we see this following example with Peter and not Paul or any other apostle, Acts 12:17 “He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, ‘Tell this to James and to the believers.’ Then he left and went to another place.” This is the only case of a Christian other than the Lord silencing believers to absorb what was being said. If it seems like he is more special in his role than any others it is because he is.
The other argument about Acts 15 being proof for the papacy is the role of James. After this passage, James gives directions about the gentiles not being bothered any more about the controversy and what specific other things to do. Aha! He is really the head of the church and Peter was lower!
First, this is a misunderstanding about delegated authority. If you are serving on a submarine and the captain says you are sailing to Japan, the executive officer (XO) walking around the deck giving complimentary aspects does not diminish the captain.
Also, by looking at the words of Jesus to Peter, we see that Peter was able to “bind and loose.” In other words Peter could define dogma, that which is foundational and unchanging, as well as discipline which is a temporal rule to deal with managing the church and open to change. Peter’s XO being James, he was basically being a manager under delegated authority of the leader and could manage with discipline consistent with the binding and loosing authority of the pope. If that is not enough, you can look at many first and second century quotes collected in The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin or Upon This Rock by Steven Ray.
Another verse that points to Peter being chief of the apostles is form Jesus, Luke 22:32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Okay, so he would be in charge of the goosebumps, right?
Not quite. The word for “strengthen” is in context of confirming as in installing in authority. When I graduate this May, will I be handed my diploma by a janitor? The janitor may be a noble person, but it takes someone of higher academic authority to confirm be as a social worker in academic credentials.
So in summary, Pope Francis could be doctrinally correct and sound less ecumenical to Protestants in calling them to be in full communion with the visible, apostolic church that Jesus founded on an impulsive fisherman (I would never say popes are impeccable, just infallible in a specific context). However, I hope that we can meet in the middle as Catholics (like me now) and Protestants and remember that in the midst of divisions we seek God with true meekness: our personal power and even God-given identity yielded to humility in Christ.