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 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?