On September 26–27, 2015, the pope attended a great gathering in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The news media predicted that two million people would come together for the Mass on Sunday, the 27th. Not all those that met with the pope were Roman Catholic. The Catholic Herald quoted Archbishop Chaput as stating, “Underlining the ecumenical and interfaith element of the meeting, 30 percent of the speakers would be non-Catholic.”
One of the more famous non-Catholic speakers was Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Even though Warren pastors one of the largest churches in America, yet when he met with the pope, Rome did view him as an equal, but as an inferior.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered. The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head” (882–83). A little later in the same catechism we read, “The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, ‘supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls’” (937).
The supremacy of the pope over all religious leaders, including Protestant leaders, is taught throughout Roman Catholic literature. We can quickly list a number of examples of words or phrases that they use that would refer to the superiority of the pope. First, the pope’s title of Holy Father signifies his unique authority over Christendom. While other religious men in Rome are called father, the pope is set apart from them by the term Holy Father. It is not because he has physical or spiritual children that he is given the title of father. Instead, the followers of the pope use the title Holy Father to express his authority over all churches or congregations. This is contrary to scripture, however, for Jesus Christ condemns the use of the word Father to refer to any religious leader in this fashion: “And call no man your father upon earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).
A second title showing the pope’s false claim of supremacy is that of Pontifex Maximus. This Latin phrase means “the chief of the high priests.” In the days of the Apostle Paul, Caesar was Pontifex Maximus. The king of Rome was the ruler and leader in their worship. But in Scripture every believer is a priest unto God. True Protestant preachers have stressed throughout the centuries the priesthood of the believer. This stress follows the New Testament designations of God’s people as “an holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5), “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), as well as, “kings and priests unto God” (Revelation 1:6).
Over all of God’s priests there is but one glorious high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a “merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17), and again, Jesus is “made an high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:20). These verses indicate that Christ is the king and high priest who alone has made atonement and intercession for the salvation of His people. For anyone else to make the claim that he is Pontifex Maximus would be to not only assert supremacy over every priest but over Christ Himself. In truth, Christ is the only high priest for His people and every pope is a blasphemous usurper.
A third title of supremacy that the pope claims is the Vicar of Christ. In the noun vicar is the idea of substitution. In Rome’s theology the pope is the only substitute or vicar on earth for Christ.
The authority and prerogatives of Christ in heaven are ascribed to the pope on earth. Christ is the head of the church. If the pope is vicar as Rome teaches, then he must also be head of the church and have the authority over the whole church as Christ does.
In contrast to such evil assertions, true believers recognize that the real vicar for Christ is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has come to be a comforter in the stead of Christ: “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16).
Bible believers also recognize only one head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. “And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). It should go without saying that the church is not a two-headed monster, but she swears allegiance only to her glorious husband and head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:20–23; 5:23–32).
Instead of submitting to the papal claims of supremacy over the whole church, Bible-believing Protestants have emphatically rejected the pope as a false teacher. The Westminster Confession states, “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God” (25.6).
We should cease “from man, whose breath is in His nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted?” (Isaiah 2:22). Instead, we must submit to the only king and head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those ecumenical evangelicals, such as Rick Warren, who meet with the pope in Philadelphia, do so from a position of subservience to the pope’s preposterous assertions of authority. They will never be treated as equals by Rome.
All ecumenism with the Roman Catholic institution ends with every religious leader placed beneath the pope’s authority. These compromised professing believers should take seriously Jehu’s rebuke of old to the king: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD” (2 Chronicles 19:2).
Dr. Mark Allison is minister of Malvern Free Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania and interim president of Geneva Reformed Seminary.