This is one of my favorite URC stories.
Back in our old building - which is on a busy street and right across from MSU - people would park in our lot without a permit. Although we tried to be forgiving and as slow as possible, we sometimes had to tow vehicles that were parked on our property. Once, a young man entered our building looking for his car. Our caretaker kindly and patiently informed him that, according to signs in the parking lot, his car had been towed. The man was not happy. Our property manager calmly explained the situation, but this man was of no avail. Even seeing the sign that clearly said his car would be towed, he just couldn't believe a church would do that. Eventually he came out of our building and told our manager exactly what he was thinking: "You are not very good Catholics!"
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By definition, Protestants are not good Catholics. (Or, more accurately, we're not goodRomanCatholics (although I like to think that a resistant Protestant is a minor Catholic in the best sense of the word). As much as Protestants and Catholics can work together on social issues, as much as we can share an early faith tradition, there is stillmany important questionsthat separate us. One of the most important questions is how we understand the government that Christ has given to his church. In your mighty band of fourReformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) cites six reasons why Protestants reject the primacy of the pope and the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession.
1. The distinction between clergy and laity that underpins the Roman Catholic hierarchy is not taught in the New Testament or shown in first-century church organization.Certainly the Bible distinguishes between shepherds and flock. Church offices are obviously biblical, but in Catholic theology "clergy" and "lay" refer to more than just "minister" and "member of the congregation." As Bavinck explains: “In the Roman Catholic Church, 'clergy' became the word for a special class of ecclesiastical persons, separated from all others by tonsure and ordination, constituting a unique class of 'clergy' in a very special sense of the Church. possession of the Lord” (4:358). In contrast, Scripture teaches that human beings as a whole areKleros, the Lord's possession and inheritance (Exodus 19:5-6). There is no special class of priests in the New Testament, for all true believers are Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, partakers of the Spirit's anointing, royal priesthood, and God's prized possession. Pastors and elders are shepherds who serve the flock, not priests who make sacrifices or hierarchical bishops who govern the people. "The ministry in the church of Christ is not a teaching office, but a ministry" (4:359).
2. The New Testament knows of no episcopate other than the presbytery.Acts 20 is the classic text because there we see Paul using the Greek words for overseer (episcopoi) and older (presbyter) interchangeably (Acts 20:17, 28). Peter even calls himself an elder (1 Peter 5:1). “Besides the extraordinary offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist, there are only two ordinary offices, that of deacon and that of deacon.presbyter(Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 8): Pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:17), those with administrative skills (1 Cor. 12:28), those in positions of authority (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12) and leaders (Heb. 13:7, 17)” (4:360).
3. The apostleship was an exceptional and temporary office in the New Testament church.Granted, there must be an apostolic successionTrue, and there is a sense in which the overseers/elders care for the churches as the apostles did. But in the strictest sense the apostles have no successors. They are part of the unique and unrepeatable foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). “The apostles had heard and seen the words and actions of Jesus. Called to their office directly by Christ himself, they received a special measure of the Holy Spirit and were called to a unique task of laying the foundation of the church and offering in their message the lasting means of communion between Christ and his church. In all these things they are distinguished from all others, far superior to all their successors and occupying an inalienable and non-renewable office” (4:362).
4. There is no biblical evidence that Peter had a unique authority different from or superior to the other eleven apostles.While we understand Matthew 16:18 to mean that Jesus promised to build his church on Peter (and not just on his confession), the fact is that Jesus makes such a promise only with reference to Peter's confession. Peter would be central to the early church, but so would the rest of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20), for they too confessed Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:15-16). Furthermore, the power of the keys was extended to all the apostles in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 (4:363). The image of Peter in the rest of the New Testament is never that of a man who has been given (or believes he has been given) authority over the entire Church. He is rebuked by Paul (Galatians 2:11) and had no jurisdiction over Paul (Galatians 2:6, 9). He is sent to Samaria with John by the other apostles (Acts 8:14). He is never mentioned as the prince of the apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11; Rev. 21:14) and humbly describes himself as a co-elder (1 Peter 5:1, 3).
5. Even if Peter had been given exclusive authority over the Church (which he is not), this would still not establish the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.For the Catholic understanding of the papacy to be true, it would have to be (1) that Peter spent over twenty years in Rome, (2) that he was Bishop and Primate of the entire Church there, and (3) that he consciously and intentionally transferred authority in these two offices (bishop and primate) to his successor Linus. Paul's letter to Rome and his various letters from Rome make no mention of Peter's ministry there, let alone the papal ministry. According to early Church documents, the Church in Rome was governed by a college of priests, not a monarchical episcopate (4:365). It was not until the middle of the second century that the legend of Peter's long service in Rome began to circulate, a legend that Eusebius and Jerome would later form part of the definitive Roman tradition (4:365-66).
6. The premise of the Catholic Church, guided by a Pope in Rome, rests on a history filled with unfounded assumptions at best.As Bavinck repeatedly emphasizes, if the primacy of the Roman bishop is true, we must show that Peter spent decades in Rome, that he held the office of bishop and primate, and that he knowingly delegated that office to his successor in Rome. But later church tradition says that Peter appointed overseers in cities other than Rome. How do we know that if he intended to confer supreme authority on a bishopric, he intended to pass that primacy over to Rome? And if he conferred such power, where is the historical evidence of such a succession? And by what authority did he do this? "There must be some divine law underlying this episcopal papal structure," notes Bavinck. “But this is where the shoe pinched: it doesn't exist. Christ never said a word about Peter's episcopate in Rome or his successor. Neither Scripture nor tradition ever indicated that Peter would appoint the Bishop of Rome to be his only true successor. The connection between primacy and the Roman episcopate rests only on the fact that Peter was in Rome and on the unhistorical assumption that he held the offices of bishop and primate there” (4:367). authority ofRomanCatholic Church patched together by such a dubious history, it is little wonder that Bavinck observes, "Eternity hangs here by a spider's web" (4:366).
So that angry college student was right: I am not a good Catholic. The most important point to consider is whether the biblical and historical evidence indicates that I should be.
Kevin DeYoung(PhD, University of Leicester) is Senior Pastor ofCovenant Church of Christin Matthews, North Carolina, Counselor of the Gospel Coalition and Associate Professor of Systematic TheologyReformed Theological Seminary(Carlotta). He wrote several books, includingjust do something. Kevin and his wife Trisha have nine children: Ian, Jacob, Elizabeth, Paul, Mary, Benjamin, Tabitha, Andrew and Susannah.
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