Friday, January 23, 2009

The Power and Primacy of the Pope and the Office of the Holy Ministry

The Roman Catholic claim on Papal authority is argued from Matthew 16:8 - “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is held by the Rome to be the unassailable proof-text for Papal infallibility. Even today, though the Vatican employs a slightly more evangelical tone asserts, “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.” When the Pope speaks ex cathedra, he speaks with equal authority as the Holy Scriptures and Christ Himself. Furthermore, Rome asserts it is necessary for salvation to believe these things about papal authority.

In the Treatise, Lutherans vehemently reject that the Roman pontiff is supreme above all bishops and pastors by divine right. The “rock” on which the church is built is not the person of Peter and his papal lineage, but rather the confession that Peter makes – proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. The Treatise cites many church fathers who also stand by this historical and correct hearing of the words of Jesus, “The Father revealed this to Peter so that he might declare: ‘You are the Son of the living God.’ Upon this rock of confession, therefore, the church is built. Christ addresses Peter as a minister – as apostle – as representative of the missiological imperative of the ministry. “On this rock,” precisely is the ministry of which Peter and the apostles are to carry out to all nations – spoken in Jesus’ Great Commission. Christ’s Holy Office given to Peter and the apostles is for the sake of baptizing, teaching, administration of the sacraments, and forgiveness of sins.

Lutherans understand that the Pope has set himself over and against Christ’s Gospel, for he tyrannizes the church by denying that Christians are saved apart from his personal authority. The sacrifice of the mass, purgatory, masses for the dead, monastic life, and indulgences attempt to rob Christ of his glory and work and set human institutions and lies over and against Christ’s institution – the forgiveness of sins as categorical “free gift.” The Lutheran reformer, Melanchthon writes, “When the regular bishops become enemies of the gospel or are unwilling to ordain, the churches retain their right to do so. For wherever the church exists, there also is the right to administer the gospel. Therefore, it is necessary for the church to retain the right to call, choose, and ordain ministers.” The words of Christ proclaim that his office is given to the church, not particular persons or human institutions like the Pope and his cardinals. The church has the right to ordain ministers so that they might preach the Holy Gospel and serve the church and build up the body of Christ.

Christ clearly rejects the hoarding of power among the apostles, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, but it is not so with you. Rather whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant” (Lk. 22:25). Apostles are sent as equals who share in the same ministry of Jesus’ word and sacrament. Through pastors people hear the same Christ who speaks as the true Shepherd to his sheep. The final interpreter therefore, is not the Pope, prefects, councils, or scholars but only the risen Christ who uses men to breathe God’s forgiveness into a broken world.

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