Over the past thousand years, the Anglo-American culture has struggled over the question of central authority—who should rule. Today marks the anniversary when Americans rebuked central authority. Along the theme of centralized authority, I wanted to explore a question of centralized religious authority that I encountered.
Crowder and Voris
Stephen Crowder debated Catholic apologist Michael Voris in response to a Twitter movement to convert Crowder to Catholicism. Voris described the Catholic position as the one true church because it has the unbroken succession from Christ through Peter and the Papacy. To create this unbroken succession, Voris dismissed various rival popes, different sects of Christianity, and heretical statements and actions by various Popes in history. He simultaneously discussed how various clergy through history led the people astray, referring to Martin Luther. He asserted only the Church had authority to interpret Scripture, and any interpretation outside the Church’s doctrine is heresy.1
While Voris generally failed in his arguments due to an over-reliance on logical fallacy, at one point he posited a rhetorical question: “having recently risen, would Christ subject his church to 1500 years of idolatry?” Voris’ point was that Christ would not do such a thing, therefore the 1500 years before Protestantism were not idolatry, and the Pope is legitimate.
God Permits Idolatry
Voris’ question fails to take into consideration Biblical history. After the Flood, the people sought a way to remain united (rather than disburse as God commanded), leading to the Tower of Babel. After 400 years of bondage, God freed his people from Egyptian captivity. Because they were unwilling to rely on his promise, he subjected them to two generations of wandering. They demanded a king only a few generations after attaining the promised land. God warned them of the despotism that would befall an autocrat. They persisted and he relented. One thousand years before Christ, the Israelites got their king. As a result, they suffered for centuries.
However, God always kept a few loyal followers to restore his people. From the Old Testament, we see God expects a direct relationship with his people without an intermediary. We also see that humans fail to follow God directly as a rule, not as an exception. Through the book of Acts, we see instances of Christians in disagreement—so this is not a matter of the Old Testament alone.
Catholics assert that Jesus gave Peter unique authority in Matthew. If true, they fail to establish that this authority was heritable or that Peter conveyed it before his death. Yet from this authority they assert being the one true church. We see in the Papal history characteristics of the Jewish kings in their despotism, not the imbued authority of Christ. Even Voris implied that the current Pope engaged in heresy (though because of his acceptance of a contradiction, he could not bring himself to admit it). However, we see in the New Testament God’s statement against human spiritual leaders.
God on Human Leaders
First Corinthians was written in around 57 AD, two decades before Peter’s martyrdom. Paul spends the first three chapters of his letter addressing whether Christians should follow a human spiritual leader. He does so because, not 15 years after Christ’s ascension, we were dividing over whom to follow.
10I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 11For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. 12Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” 13Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! 1 Cor 1:10-13
Paul observes in 1 Corinthans 1:18-31 that no human leader can compare to God in wisdom and power, and that we should boast alone in God, not in a human leader. He then emphasizes God’s message: “The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:31, citing Jer 9:24)
Through Chapter 2, Paul explores wisdom and power. He observes no human can speak for God, (1 Cor 2:11) and that any Christian can understand God’s wisdom through God alone, observing that “[Christians] have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2:14–16)
In Chapter 3, he asserts that those who follow a human spiritual leader are nonspiritual people. (1 Cor 3:4) He observes that he, Peter, Apollos and others are servants who each serve a specific role, but that Christ is the leader. (1 Cor 3:5–11) He capstones God’s pronouncement against following human spiritual leaders by saying:
18Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,
“He traps the wise
in the snare of their own cleverness.”
20 And again,
“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
he knows they are worthless.”[e]
21So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—22whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. 1 Cor 3:18-23 (emphasis mine)
Within two decades of Christ’s ascension, the church was splitting over whom to follow. They did this because they lacked wisdom and understanding. They wanted a shepherd they could see, rather than the one they could not; just as the Israelites did after the Judges. We see God (through Paul) commanding that we should instead turn to God for wisdom and understanding, and boast in Christ as leader & shepherd. We see God stating that those who focus on any human leader for spiritual guidance, including Peter, are wrong in doing so.
Someone may point out that Matthew was written a decade after Paul’s Corinthian letter, and therefore was written to refute Paul’s letter. The Bible is the full word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16–17) He does not contradict himself. (Numbers 23:19) Even between the Testaments we see harmony. When we believe something is contradicted in the Bible, then our understanding of that contradiction is due to our wisdom and not God’s. Matthew would not have been written to refute another part of the Bible. The interpretation in Matthew making Peter Christ’s spiritual representative on earth—and all those who followed him—is contradicted by Paul’s letter. Therefore, it is outside of God’s will.
God told us to look to him as our spiritual leader. He gave us his Word to guide us in conjunction with the Holy Spirit who dwells in every Believer. Each of us is empowered to read and understand God’s wisdom. “The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything.” (1 Cor 2:15) When your church tells you that only its leaders can evaluate God’s word, then they attempt to hide God from you. When there are churches that claim to know God’s will absent the Scripture, they deny God. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
When Voris admitted that the Pope engaged in what would otherwise by heresy, he exposed the fallacy inherent in following any human spiritual leader. Beyond Catholicism, there are Protestant denominations that follow a human spiritual leader. There are entire religions based in following a human spiritual leader. Humans contradict ourselves. We are petty. When our leaders contradict themselves or our beliefs, we have to make excuses. But, we needn’t excuse God. He should be our leader.
God sent Jesus to save all mankind. Jesus removed barriers between us and Him. Throughout the Bible we see God seeking for us to rely only on him. The priesthood was abolished. None of the Catholic hierarchy needs to exist for a Christian to have a full and meaningful relationship with God. It serves as an impediment for good Catholic Christians to come to rely on God alone. We don’t need kings or popes, but the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
He also stated that one can be saved without Christ through good works only to later state that one could only be saved through Christ and taking of the Sacrament. ↩