Dan Popp
Call no man "Pope"
By Dan Popp
September 14, 2015

And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves: and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king. (1 Samuel 8:18, DRV)

Conservative Americans suffering under the capricious thumb of Barack Obama can certainly empathize with conservative Roman Catholics who feel that their leader has "gone rogue." Almost every week Francis reveals a new and eccentric position. He seems to be disturbingly comfortable with Marx' anti-Christ philosophy; he has embraced the voodoo science of manmade "climate change" (the proposed remedies for which could impoverish and kill an unimaginable number of people); he may have blurred the line between sin and sinner regarding the "gay" issue; and his support of illegal immigration seems to promote anarchy rather than godly government.

The intractable problem here is that humans are so...well, human.

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, and if no one is good except God (Matthew 19:17), then putting one unaccountable man in charge of anything will eventually produce a King Ahab, a President Obama, a Pope Francis.

But didn't Jesus tell us how to prevent this situation?
    Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not. For they say, and do not. For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens and lay them on men's shoulders: but with a finger of their own they will not move them. And all their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad and enlarge their fringes. And they love the first places at feasts and the first chairs in the synagogues, And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi. But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master: and all you are brethren. And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ. He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12, Douay-Rheims Version)
How do Roman Catholics explain what seems to be their blatant violation of this teaching of Christ? Perhaps the most common response is that Jesus didn't mean this literally; He was using hyperbole. See here for an example of this defense. If we may not actually call anyone "Father," so the argument goes, then we couldn't call our dads "father," and clearly Jesus didn't mean that. Therefore Jesus didn't mean much of anything. [!] This argument is incoherent. I think we could fairly restate it as, "Jesus didn't mean what He obviously didn't mean; therefore He also didn't mean what He clearly did mean."

In context, Jesus was talking about religious leaders like the Pharisees, not family leaders. He castigated them for their love of honors, places and titles.

To read "call no man 'Father'" in the literal way doesn't prevent Paul from calling Timothy his metaphorical "son." That's a canard. A literal reading forbids us to turn the descriptive word "Father" into an honorific. We aren't to be like pagans who bow to a Sage, an Oracle, an Enlightened Master. We give honor to whom honor is due, but we're careful not to give excess honor. My religious instructor is my teacher, but not The Teacher. My dad is my father, but not The Father – and under no circumstances, "Holy Father!"

Such designations usurp the titles of God. In fact, this was the explanation Jesus gave for His restriction: "...for one is your father, who is in heaven." The Father of the Church is Jesus, by His Spirit, as He said: I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you." (John 14:18)

The Lord left the second-tier, visible leadership in the hands of not one man, but a group: the Apostles. This group appointed in every local church not one man only, but a group of leaders. Not a priest [hiereus], but an Overseer [bishop] among Elders [presbuteros]. When a weighty and controversial decision had to be made, it was made by consensus, not by decree. The shining example of this process is preserved for us in Acts 15, with its resolution in verse 22: Then it pleased the apostles and ancients [elders], with the whole church.... It looks like they took literally Jesus' words, and all you are brethren.

In the Old Testament God gave His people Judges, and they demanded a king. In the New Testament Jesus gave His church Overseers and Elders, and some ended up with a king. The thing about kings is that sometimes you get a good one, like David, and sometimes you get a bad one, like Saul. God knows us too well and loves us too much to put us under the hand of a single weak, corruptible human shepherd.

The practice of giving some men grand titles, and the power to go with those titles, has led to the upside-down situation where a church does not control and discipline a man; a man controls a church. But those who call a mere man Abba, Father, papa, Pope, have washed away the ground on which they could have criticized him. Jesus told us not to do that. What happened next was inevitable.

© Dan Popp


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