Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Election of a Pope: Is it just me?

So another pope is about to be installed. What to make of it all? First, some disclaimers. I am not saying that the Roman Catholic Church is not Christian—after all, for some 1500 years, it was one only a few  institutional churches on the planet. It remains the largest denomination in Christianity. Without doubt, among its people are many priests, nuns and people of faith; Christian people who love God and serve him faithfully. People like my wife Emma’s late mum, Brenda Jenkins. What a saint! Not to mention the Mother Theresa’s of this world—I stand humbled by such a wonderful women of God and a prophetess[1] to the world in her service in India. I would never deign to suggest I am anything like this women in terms of fidelity to God. There are many many clergy, nuns and monks who I am sure have given great service as leaders in God’s church. I am not saying that my church is any better. I am a Presbyterian at present and we have had a swag of problems over the years! As a biblical scholar, I also greatly respect the Catholic biblical scholarship. Some of the greatest NT scholars are Roman Catholics—think Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer for example, what superstars. I also greatly admire the united voice and stand of the Catholic Church on many social issues where the rest of the church is weak. Although I think in rejecting all birth control beyond abortion and abortifacients they go rather too far.

That said; I have so many questions about the Catholic Church and the election of a pope. 

First, the notion of a Pope and even priests seems to me to be antithetical to a gospel that says humanity needs no intermediary between God and man/woman aside from Jesus Christ. We have a helper from God, the Spirit, who walks with us, and God is a prayer away. We can read his word. We have access to the holy of holies as does the Pope and any priest, vicar, minister or pastor. Matthew 23 also explicitly tells us we are to call no one “father,” for we have one—God. Why a Christian leader would want to be entitled “Father” or “Pope” baffles me. Mind you, I need to read that passage carefully myself as a lecturer—we are also not to call anyone teacher—for Christ is our teacher. I am at best a guide who shares my wisdom and perspective, helping people know the true Teacher, Jesus Christ our Lord. The notion of a Pope is also historically flawed as has often been noted. Even if Peter is the rock on which Jesus established his church (Matt 16:18), which of course is disputed, Peter was not a “Pope” let alone the first of a string of popes. The text and the wider Scriptures says nothing about papal succession or apostolic succession. He was one of the first called apostles, a pivotal figure in the early church, but not a pope. The idea of papal succession is a human tradition that is lacking in biblical warrant. The appointment of Matthias in Acts 1 hardly constitutes papal succession. 

I also don’t get the idea of saints as special Christians; the NT use of hagios is unambiguous, we who believe all are saints—holy, consecrated, set apart for God! We definitely should not pray to saints; this violates the uniqueness of God. Nor should we pray to Mary in any sense. Mary is clearly very special; after all, she was chosen by God to mother his Son, to bear him and raise him, as she did so faithfully and well. She also clearly had other children as Mark 6 tells us despite claims to the contrary. She is a wonderful women of faith who is a role model to all God’s people and should be treated as such. I also don’t get that popes and priests have to be men. Mind you, the Catholics are not alone in this one. Where is this enshrined that it is so for all time? Why not a female Pope? The word "Pope" doesn’t work for that I suppose.

I don’t understand that priests are not permitted to marry. The first commandment in Scripture is, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth …” Seems all Catholics can obey this one, except their leaders! Strange! Peter was clearly married as Mark 2:30 and parallels make clear. Likely most of the other Apostles were also married and their wives accompanied them when they traveled (1 Cor 9:5)! It is also likely Paul was originally married, if we take agamos of 1 Cor 7:8 literally as widower, which seems probable when we consider the parallelism of the passage (widower and widow), and that Paul was Pharisee and likely married for this role. The many sexual controversies in the Catholic Church of recent times can arguably be linked to this. (Again, every church I am sure has its issues in this regard, and being married does not stop it happening—but the extent of the problem raises the question).

So, I don’t quite get the Roman Catholic Church. Mind you, I love its people of faith as brothers and sisters in Christ—after all, every church is flawed and God by his grace calls us his people! I also don’t quite get the Pope election. It is intriguing to watch and I can see its importance for the witness of the church and the Catholic Church. I do pray however, that the man chosen is a great man of God who gives good and humble leadership to the many faithful Catholics in the world. I pray he is a man of faith and wisdom and provides a great example and voice to a world that needs Christ more than ever. So I ask this question, is it just me who thinks like this at a time like this?

[1] In that, by her example, she called a world to social justice.


Frank Ritchie said...

No, Mark, you're not the only one who thinks like this at a time like this.

I adore the RCC immensely and the rich history it provides the Christian story even in the face of its excesses and very obvious violence - us Protestants aren't free of that either.

It's spiritual traditions and the practices born out of them can enrich the lives of the faithful.

Us of the evangelical part of the Christian family owe much of our own history and story to the RCC as much as some would like to spurn it as some sort of evil entity.

Whilst I theologically disagree with the RCC on many points I can understand how they get to where they do and I think John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been worthy representatives of the best of it. The election of the Pope is a big deal and the Papal office still forms one of the most looked at representations of the Christian faith - through it many people form their definitions of what it is to be Christian, both inside and outside of the faith. For that reason, Christians of all stripes should pray (whether we agree with the position or not) that a person after God's own heart would be appointed - someone who can faithfully represent a life lived closely to Jesus.

Mark Keown said...

Good comments Frank. Agree with you.

Tim said...

Yeah, thought provoking Mark. I too was quite fond of John Paul II. I thought he brought the RCs ahead a very long way in terms of corporate worship. Was it he or Paul XVI who instigated hearing mass in one's own tongue? I guess that must've been Paul as he closed Vat II didn't he?

I think my biggest beef is the infallibility thing. It just gets under my collar. Why can't they just point out that the pope is like every other poor lost soul on this planet and is prone to a sinful nature and still fights it after salvation till the day he dies. They've gone back and forward on this issue, is it when he is in a official Papal role or all the time or what?

What I am glad to see is that Benedict stepped down before he died. That is a remarkable event and, I believe one that should be applauded. Poor old JPII suffered away till the end. Maybe they should introduce a term in office. Wow the Vatican may even outshine the Americans in the election media circus, Nah, you're right. Not likely!

Frank Ritchie said...

Thus far I am happy with the result and what it signals. The first Latin American Pope, the first Jesuit (vows of humility and poverty that he seemed to take very seriously in his ministry up to this point) and the first to use the name Francis.

Tim said...

Gotta agree with you Frank. A Latin American. I'm sure he is not pushing an agenda with that background but I hope his influence filters through and the people of South America gain a bit more recognition than they are use to.

That said, I'm guessing he is a fair minded man who wouldn't neglect duties elsewhere. Funny but I am actually kind of exited for some new beginnings in the RC world.

Jeremiah Duomai said...

I think I once heard a Catholic say that requesting Mary to pray for him is like requesting a friend/pastor/bishop to pray for him. Just that here Mary is no longer with him... So it's like requesting a dead apostle to pray for me. But I'm not sure about the theological soundness of the practice...