What if I told you that all the splintering mess of disagreement over interpretation of the bible could be put to an end? What if there were some way to recover what it means to be Christian without trying to reinvent the faith every 30 years? What if Christianity has far more power than you ever thought it did? It does.
Christianity’s ancient faith has been retained. If you’re looking for secrets, the untold wisdom of Christians throughout the ages and the power and conviction of the gospel taking form on earth, look no further than the lives of the saints. Ancient faith with living proof. There are still people being sainted today, and the radical dedication of their lives has given us a testament. “God’s generals” was a book I read as a young Charismatic, trying to learn how to reproduce Azusa without the failures of men and women of the past. But these were not saints, they were ordinary people, who often were seduced by pride or weakness. Without the structure to channel the energy they had into the proper forms for worship, they sometimes became destructive to themselves or others.
They accused each other of heresies, they argued over interpretations of scripture, and each was their own pope it seemed, because they had the Holy Spirit. It seemed to me that they often proposed their interpretation as the legitimate one, without any appeal to anyone or anything but themselves.
Now, things have changed. But often within the Protestant movements the local pastor is a new mini-pope. I’d rather attend a Church where dogma is dogma than a church where I can be excommunicated because I disagree with pastor’s dedication of an Easter service to a special type of offering based on his interpretation of seed-faith. I’d rather attend a Church where the pastor is governed by a rule of faith, than a church where the pastor is the rule of faith. I’d like to attend a church where Truth is affirmed, despite the pastor’s reservations, fears, angers, or failures. I’d like to attend a church where the board of directors are as faithful as the most dedicated members and have made visible signs of that dedication. I’d like to attend a Church that prioritizes the gospel’s message of Jesus and Him Crucified over against what culture tells me is worth listening to.
If there is anyone that can truly affirm what Christians have believed and should believe in the age they find themselves in, no one has more authority or capacity to do so than the visible head of all Christian unity, the Pontiff of Rome and all who adhere to apostolic witness. Not because all Christian denominations respect him, but because to the world, he stands as the head of what Christians believe in matters of doctrine and dogma, at the very least in the public sphere.
Whether we like it or not, the Shepherd of Rome is our representation to the world, and in matters of social activism as well as the retention of Christian witness against heretics and dissenters, all Christians can trust in the Church for these matters at the very least. We may have disagreements about certain interpretations of scriptures and doctrines, but we must stand together, united. I have found that the Protestant rejection of the office of the pontiff stems not so much from careful consideration of the benefits and limitations such an office provides as much as from deep seated prejudice inspired by ignorance.
We need some sort of authority to turn to, and the lay leaders who accrue titles to themselves, calling themselves bishop, and apostle and prophet in charismatic and liberal evangelical movements are not to be trusted in matters of doctrine. Some of the biggest names in Evangelical leadership have become shameless propagators of greed, idolatry, adultery and violence. I’d rather trust in someone who has sacrificed their lives to the gospel unto the point of fasting daily and corporal punishment, than trust a self-indulgent person building their own kingdom.
The papacy is not a breaking away from the apostolic tradition, it’s a manifestation of that tradition. The apostles were clearly the authorities, and they didn’t do away with Hierarchy, because of Christ, they were the keepers of the tradition of Israel. The re-centered that tradition in and around Christ, as is evidenced by the prayers of the early church and the work of St. Paul. St. Paul’s own work often appeals to his apostolic authority and that authority was handed down to the leaders of the Church through all generations. They too became priests to the Most High God after the order of Melchizedek, it’s a priesthood that embraces us all as the people of God but manifests in the specific gifts of office and vocation. The Shepherd at Rome is Christ to us, as are our pastors, and the scandal is that we must act accordingly. Popes like John Paul II spent their entires lives safeguarding the tradition, keeping the church, and working unto God for His joy and our own.
Heb 13.17 – Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
This doesn’t mean, obey them sometimes, or submit to them when you feel like it. The teachers must give an account, but that is their burden, and it is unimaginably heavy. We can lighten the load and share in it when we are graciously mindful to respect our leaders. To obey the Shepherd, who is God’s gift to us, that we might retain contact with the apostolic witness.
The Shepherd has the burden of acting as though he is Christ to us, which we know he is not. However, he is tasked with the responsibility of acting as though he were, in all things. The miracles of the apostles and the charismatic witness of the Church Fathers and saints is part of this responsibility. The offices of the Church are a stumbling block, because they require that we obey as a dimension of our obedience to Christ. It is a scandal to have to trust God to work through men and women to convey unto us the message of the gospel in their lives and witness. But if we’re going to do it, we may as well trust those who have most fully emptied themselves to the Christ-form.
We can trust the Shepherd because it will be his responsibility to answer to God, and it will be our task to affirm that we were faithful.