He is called by many Vicar of Jesus Christ, Pontiff, Servant of the Servants of God, Patriarch of the West, His Holiness, and Apostolic Lord. At his “coronation” it is declared, “thou art the Father of Princes and Kings, Ruler of the World, the Vicar of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” And he’s just resigned!
Most people in the Western world woke up this morning to find out that Joseph Ratzinger or, Pope Benedict XVI, renounced the ministry of Bishop of Rome–the most coveted position in the history of the church. It’s a particularly historic move because no Pope since Gregory XII has stepped down, and he did so in order to bring an end to the Great Schism (a Pope in France and a Pope in Rome!). It will be interesting in coming weeks and months to see what ramifications this may or may not have on the credibility of Rome’s seat of power. After all, the Pope isn’t a CEO of a company, but is believed by Roman Catholics to be the defender of the faith. How one “resigns” from that raises questions.
Joseph Ratzinger cited his reasons for resignation because his advanced age is no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the “Petrine ministry.” Of course, this shouldn’t shock us. There is no mortal man alive who can be expected to meet the lofty expectations of the Papacy. Who is worthy to be the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all? Well, any Bible believing person can answer that question–Jesus Christ alone.
In Numbers 20:22-29 Moses has recorded for us the death of Aaron the High Priest. In this text, God commands Moses to go with Aaron and Aaron’s son, Eleazar, to Mount Hor. Aaron was to be stripped of his priestly garments which were then to be placed on Eleazar signifying a transfer of the priesthood. Aaron then died upon the mountain and with him his priestly office. And so it continued generation to generation, the priesthood was passed from father to son down through the years. The author of Hebrews, reflecting on this, wrote, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (Hebrews 7:23-24). His point is, the priesthood of Aaron’s line was imperfect and insufficient because death ended the continuation of their office, but Christ’s Priesthood far exceeds the old one, because being resurrected to life eternal he holds his priesthood forever. In Christ’s Priesthood there is no line of succession, there is no transfer of the garments, there is no handing off the office to another, there is no resignation–he remains a priest forever.
As Protestants we should pray to the end that the Pope of Rome would repent of usurping the rights of Jesus Christ, that Roman Catholics everywhere would be convinced by the Word that they don’t need a mortal mediator–a vicar of Jesus Christ–to order and govern their affairs when we have been given a Heavenly High Priest, and that this “church” would renounce its false and damnable teachings and submit to the one God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if they fail to do this, Protestants should pray to the end that God would rise in his anger and see to it that Roman Catholicism would fade into the eternal night.