hugh’s news & Views
THE RESIGNATION OF THE POPE
Monday morning, February 11, the world awoke to the startling news that Pope Benedict XVI would resign the papacy effective February 28, 2013. At dusk last Thursday he flew off into the sunset to the Castel Gandolfo, some fifteen miles southeast of Rome, for an extended period of recuperation before returning to a monastery in Rome where he will live out his remaining days in mediation and prayer (and with a very nice retirement package to which, of course, he is entitled). This is only the fourth time in history that a pope has resigned and the first time it has happened in almost six centuries! Benedict’s reason for resigning was failing health and the lack of strength to lead the more than one billion members of the Roman Catholic Church. The College of the Cardinals will soon enter a conclave (the word is derived from a Latin term meaning “room locked with a key”) in Rome to elect a new pope.
Back on November 13 of last year I made a “wild” proposal that the pope should resign and that every local Catholic church in the world should become an independent, autonomous congregation governed solely by the Scriptures under the oversight of biblically qualified local church elders/pastors/bishops (in the New Testament all three terms refer to the same persons). I also proposed that every protestant church of every stripe and kind should abandon its denominational structure, name, creed, and practice and become an independent, self-governing congregation of Christians only (Christians without denominational affiliation) under the headship of Christ alone. The pope has resigned (though my “wild” proposal had nothing to do with it) and the Cardinals will soon have a new pope in place. I am not so naïve as to think that either the Catholic Church or the protestant denominations will actually dismantle their man-made organizational structures and go back to the New Testament alone for their way of being governed, for their doctrine, and for their practice. I will, however, continue to make the plea that such is what all churches should do!
The New Testament knows nothing of popes. While the Catholic Church maintains a list of popes from the apostle Peter to the papacy of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the recently resigned pope), the New Testament is silent about such an office. For several hundreds of years following the close of the New Testament, there was a gradual (and sometimes not so gradual) departure from the simplicity of the New Testament way. Bishops, Archbishops, and Patriarchs strove for power. In A.D. 588, the Bishop of Constantinople, known as John the Faster because of his extraordinary abstinence and austerity, assumed the title of ecumenical or universal bishop of the church. He was promptly condemned by Gregory (later called “the Great”), Bishop of Rome. Phillip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church (Volume III, page 220) says that Gregory “was provoked and irritated beyond measure by the assumption” of John the Faster. Gregory wrote: “Whoever calls himself universal priest, or desires to be called so, was the forerunner of Antichrist.” Yet less than twenty years later, in A.D. 606, Gregory’s successor as the Bishop of Rome, Boniface III, was appointed Universal Bishop of the church by Phocas, the Roman Emperor. John Lawrence Mosheim in his Ecclesiastical History (Volume I, page 160) describes Phocas as “that abominable tyrant,” and goes on to say, “thus was the papal supremacy first introduced” (emphasis mine, hf). Therefore, A.D. 606 is the actual date for the beginning of the papacy. It was not characteristic of the church of which we read in the New Testament! (None of the above is intended as disrespectful of my Catholic friends, but simply to set forth the facts of church history.)
The New Testament church was established by Christ upon the foundation of His being the Son of God (Matthew 16:13-20; I Corinthians 3:11). The church was purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28), and is composed of every person who has been washed in that blood by obeying the gospel of Christ and being saved from his/her sins (Matthew 26:28; Revelation 1:5b; Acts 2:37-47). Christ is the one and only head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). He never resigns, but “ever lives to make intercession” for His people (Hebrews 7:25). He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8).
March 10: Stuart Church of Christ, Stuart, Florida (p.m.)
March 5, 2013