The Papacy: Answering Common Objections (#3-5)

Answering some more of the Reymond Questions on the papacy today. His questions are available here, and you can find all of my answers by using the Reymond Question tag at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

Question 3. Why can the disciples after the Caesarea Philippi incident still dispute among themselves concerning who was the greatest (Matthew 18:1; 20:20-28; Luke 22:24)? Apparently they did not understand that Jesus’ statement had given Peter any priority over them. And if Christ had in fact intended by his Caesarea Philippi pronouncement that Peter was to be his vicar and the leader of all Christendom, why did he not clear up the disciples’ confusion once and for all by telling them so straightforwardly?

This one’s simple. Leader doesn’t equal “greatest.” Pope doesn’t equal “greatest.” St. Catherine of Genoa lived at the same time of the notorious Borgia Pope Alexander VI. The latter was pope, the former is a canonized Saint in Heaven. The Catholic Church flats rejects the notion that all popes are automatically saved. When the disciples argue amongst themselves who is the greatest, they don’t mean on Earth, as can be seen from the accounts provided. John, one of those sons of Zebedee who were always vying for that #1 spot (see Mark 10:35-45 and Matthew 20:20-21), is the youngest of the Twelve, and is deferent to Peter, even at the Empty Tomb (John 10:3-6). He knows that he’s not the lead Apostle.

I mean, seriously. Look at the dialogue in Matthew 18:1-5:

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

They’re talking about the eternal order, and He tells them to model themselves off of children, and their humility. They’re obviously not talking about the earthly order. Pointing to a child as the earthly leader of the Church would be insane.

Question 4. Why was Peter, if he was the head of the church, dispatched by the leaders of the Jerusalem church to investigate what was going on in Samaria (Acts 8:14) instead of sending other apostles to investigate the Samaritan revival?

This question could have been asked in either direction. If Peter hadn’t gone, he would have asked, “If Peter was head of the church, why didn’t he investigate what was going on in Samariain Acts 8, if it was so important?” If Benedict is the pope, why did he visit America?

More fundamentally, one of the things which Protestants don’t seem to get about the papacy is that it’s grown. My dad runs his own pool maintenence business out of the family home. He runs things, and if pressed, anyone in the business would say that he does. But if someone were to write Acts of the Heschmeyer Pool Business Workers book, it’d include a lot of things which could leave an outsider scratching their heads. If he owns his own business, why doesn’t he act like a Fortune 500 CEO? Why is he out working with his hands? Why does my mom handle almost all of the correspondence, if he’s the boss? Etc., etc., etc. The truth is that a small Church looks different than a large Church. There’s more need for central planning in a large Church, because without central planning, a large Church will split or go in a thousand directions. And that need for centralized leadership means that there’s less time out in the field amongst the people. The mayor of Eudora, Kansas, gets to go out and meet and greet the people of Eudora much more than the President of the United States gets to go out and meet and greet the people of the United States (unless there are TVs or cameras around, of course).

So once again, the question isn’t really, “Why isn’t Peter acting like a pope?” It’s, “Why isn’t Peter acting like an aloof CEO who doesn’t care about the people, and runs the Church with an iron fist?” And that question says more about the Protestant misunderstanding of the papacy than about the papacy, or Peter.

Question 5. Why did the other apostles and the brotherhood in general feel they could challenge Peter’s involvement in the Cornelius incident if he was in fact the undisputed and infallible head of the church (Acts 11:1-18)?

Because they thought he was sinning, and because it was a hot-button issue, as I discussed in example #8 to Question 2 here. Popes can sin, Peter seemed to be sinning, so they called him on it. He explained that it was of God, and they believed him, because he was the Chief Apostle. The Chief Apostle isn’t above sinning, but he’s above proclaiming a false Gospel as pope to justify his sins. Perhaps the better question is, why in Acts 11, when Peter says that it’s so, do the people so quickly change their minds?

For more recent examples of people calling popes on their misdeeds, St. Catherine of Siena dressed down Pope Gregory XI in the late 14th Century. The last of the Avignon popes, he was afraid to restore the papacy to Rome, for fear that he would be poisoned by the French. St. Catherine wrote to him to “Be not a timorous child, but manly…” and Gregory complied (which is why he was the last Avignon pope, obviously). So just because someone’s a pope, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be called out. Has anyone read Dante’s trilogy? It’s rather blunt in its assessment of the popes Dante considered sinners.

But besides all of that, the people calling Peter on his alleged sin are the ones who are wrong in Acts 11. They’re worried about “race-mixing,” more or less. In this regard, they’re not much different than Judge Leander Perez, Jackson Ricau, and Una Gaillot, the three segregationists that Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans had to excommunicate because of the dissension they were creating in the Church (Abp. Rummel was trying to desegregate the Church schools, and these three were organizing rallies against the effort). The papacy sided with Rummel, of course. Yet even with the pope siding with their Archbishop, only one of the three of these previously faithful Catholics ever reconciled with the Church, so far as we know – the issue was just too big for them to accept. It was a hot button issue in the 1st century, and in the 20th. It’s these people who Peter gets so scared of that he eats at the Jewish-only table in Galatians 2, an action of moral cowardice which Paul rightly calls him on.

It seems to me to be a bit unfair to say, “Peter ate with the Gentiles and people complained, so that disproves infallibility” and “Peter ate without the Gentiles and people complained, so that disproves infallibility,” particularly since choice-of-dinner-partners isn’t even remotely covered by papal infallibility. Finally, remember that people complained that Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collecters. And He wasn’t just infallible, He was perfect. The existence of gossip doesn’t disprove that.

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