Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Baptist Pope?

For over a month, from Benedict's announced resignation to Francis' inauguration, the name "Pope" has been worldwide news. No end appears in sight. At this point some proud Baptist may be tempted to rear back on his heels, hitch up his galluses, puff out his chest and declare, "We don't have no pope!" And he would be right, if we are looking for someone wearing that title around a Baptist church. But, do we? There is no office in any Baptist church or denomination called "the pope". In Roman Catholic domain, the Pope is the head of their church, the representative of Christ on earth who has supreme and universal power over the whole Church -- or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."* The term "pope" in the English language also applies to any person who has or assumes authority in such a way that it resembles that of the Roman Catholic Pope.

In the Baptist sphere, each local congregation is an autonomous body under Christ rather than worldwide as the Catholic Church. Within Baptist definitions of the church, any person in a local congregation who has or assumes authority to run the church has become a Baptist pope. And, yes, though it violates their ecclesiological precepts, Baptists are no strangers to giving (or having usurped) supreme authority to one person in a local church, whether that person be a pastor, head deacon or chief matriarch. In principle, a Baptist pope is no better than a Catholic one!

1. A pastor is not the head of the church. I cringe every time I hear some person refer to their pastor as the head of their church. Away with such! A church with the pastor as head becomes a two-headed monstrosity, for there is already one biblically denominated Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, Master and Redeemer. Paul Tripp succinctly writes, "If Christ is the head of his body, then everything else is just body, including the pastor." Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the church. He is eternal, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. He in all things in the church must have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).

2. The pastor is not the mediator for his members. Baptists have no confessionals on the Catholic order, but some feel they must reconcile the church to God. He becomes their pope, confessor, confidant, and advisor. All things between the church member and God must go through him first for approval. There is one God, and one mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5), and the pastor isn't him!

3. A pastor is not the guide into all truth. This is the Holy Spirit's office. "...when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Yes, pastors should -- yea, must -- preach and teach, but the church, guided by the Spirit must interpret what is spoken. When a Catholic Pope speaks from his office, his church is obliged to receive it as if God has spoken. When a Baptist elder speaks from his office, his church is obliged to search the scriptures whether these things are so (Acts 17:11). (Notably, unlike some popish Baptist preachers, the Spirit of truth does "not speak of himself.")

4. A pastor is not God's anointed, God's king or God's priest in any way over and above his flock -- all of whom are God's anointed, God's kings and God's priests. Some ministers think they are the Lord's Anointed, and somehow above reproach (Cf. Psalm 105:15). Rather all the Lord's people in that pastor's church are the Lord's anointed (See 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and 1 John 2:20,27). The Lord's people are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), who have been made kings and priests unto God and his Father (Revelation 1:6). Thomas Williamson writes, "The effect...of the new emphasis on the exalted rights of ordained ministers, is to create a new class of 'Untouchables' the top of Christian society, taking advantage of their sheepish followers at will, clobbering them anytime they want to, while they themselves cannot be touched. They will reign like kings, living the life of Riley while their riled subjects have no choice but to bow down and obey."

5. A pastor is not a titled individual of rank. He is not a Doctor, Master, Reverend or Father. Jesus taught against such elevation (Matthew 23:8-10). I work in the education industry. Within that context I do not object to addressing a degreed individual as "Doctor". But in the church it should not be so (Mark 10:42-44). One is our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of us are all brethren. Even those of us who reject unscriptural religious titles such as Doctor and Reverend must be careful to not get caught up playing the title game. Often the scriptural office is converted into an unscriptural title! Instead of referring to John Doe, a lower-case "e" elder in XYZ Church, we speak of Capital "E" Elder John Doe. The New Testament teaching on religious titles condemns the practices of most denominations of Christians, and, regrettably, many Baptists are no exception.

A Baptist pope? May it never be! 

* Paragraph 937 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
** In this post, I have consistently referred to a pastor, but the warnings apply to any person or persons who would attempt to be a Diotrephes dominating and domineering the church.

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