ATP: Is The Pope The Leader Of All Christian Churches?
This is not a difficult question to answer, but it is a delicate one. Whenever a matter involves another religion, faith or denomination, those who are a part of that particular sect naturally become defensive if they feel another is attacking or putting down that of which they are a member. This question then involves directly if not indirectly all who are Roman Catholics. My purpose in answering this question is not to offend anyone, but to clarify what I believe the Bible makes quite clear as to who is the "leader" of the Church.
First, let's define "church." The church is always a local body of believers. The literal definition for church is "a called out people." I love the definition I once heard given by Clinton and Sarah Utterbach (Pastors of Redeeming Love Christian Center, Nanuet, NY). They said a church, a fellowship, is "fellows in the same ship." There may be many ships heading in the same direction, that is, taking people to heaven, but those on a particular ship are fellows in the same ship. Grasp it! The church is people called out from a local community, united in vision, purpose, goals and objectives -- people of one mind seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.
On the other hand, the "body of Christ' is comprised of all believers from all time who are justified by faith in Yeshua. "The just shall live by faith." (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17) Since Jesus no longer walks the earth in His own physical body, but has ascended into heaven, we the "born again" believers are the body of Christ. (1Corinthians 12:27)
Second, when the apostles went through the towns and cities where there were Christian converts, they appointed "elders" or what we would call today "pastors" to oversee the church. Each town or city had its own pastor. (Acts 14:23) When questions would arise, the questions were taken to the Counsel at Jerusalem. Here the apostles, the eleven selected eye-witnesses to the life of Christ, would convene and render a decision. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that anyone of the eleven had final authority. In fact, if there was anyone who seemed to have the most influential voice it was James the half-bother of our Lord and the Pastor of the local church at Jerusalem. Kindly, let me say, there was no "pope" who had final say over the local churches. Each local church was its own authority, subject only to the Counsel at Jerusalem.
What happened after 90 AD is not "canonized." Churches over the centuries have chosen to build "denominational structures," some with pure intention others for the sake of power. However, since God has established authority and an order of authority, if a person is in a particular denomination they are then subject to those authorities, unless of course, what is asked of them is in opposition to the word of God (The Bible). Then one's allegiance is to God regardless of the cost.
Third – with the above information in mind, the proper conclusion to the question, "Is the Pope the leader of all Christian churches?" is no. He is by structure the head or leader of the Roman Catholic Church, but he is not the leader of other churches or denominations. The truth is, the church has but one head and that is Christ. Ephes. 5:23 tells us "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body."
This verse clearly indicates that God has established an "order of things" for the home, business, government, Church, etc. The head of each local church is its Pastor. If a local church is a part of a denomination then the local church is subject to the leadership of that denomination. If a church is a part of an association such as the hundreds of Calvary Chapels, and as are we in establishing Community Churches (South Shore Community Church for example), then each church is its own entity and authority. We are bound only by association in "purpose" and "fundamental (orthodox) doctrine." If at any time a local church chooses to no longer associate, or the association chooses to disassociate it may do so. Again, the only final authority over the church is Christ. Pastors have been given final authority over the local assembly, Bishops over regions where churches are a part of a denomination, and if you are Roman Catholic your final authority is the Pope.
Having said all of that, each of us must keep in mind that our final authority for faith, life and the practice thereof is God's word, the Bible. It is to His word and The Word to which each of us must answer. So, if at anytime the denomination or local church should require of us something that is not Biblical then we must not submit. However, should the church ask something of us that is not contrary to the Word of God, then for the sake of unity and in accordance to the authority set up by God, we must obey. (Romans 13:1)
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