Strong Drink and Papal Privilege

We have a new pope, and with him a mixed message. The Catholic Church may or may not change direction on significant social issues, especially the use of contraceptives to prevent sexually transmitted disease. Not too mixed, however. The consensus is probably not. Let's face it, if you're at risk of catching STDs, you probably not having sex with your lawfully married reproductive partner, so I can't see the Pope or the moral majority expressing much sympathy for you.

I was thinking how the entire papacy is based on a single verse in the Gospels, Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter (literally rock) and upon this rock I will build my church.” Even though there are no examples of a single human church leader in the entire New Testament (rather elders and deacons), even though Jesus has become our priest in the scripture and even though God warned the Old Testament Jews of the dangers of transferring power from a group of judges (e.g. elders) to one man, this verse has become the cornerstone of the justification for an absolute dictator ruling church policy.

A dictator whose power is so absolute that only a succeeding dictator can amend his policy.

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), the idea of a church dictator was about as far from divinity or democracy as you could get without being a Godless Commie. That idea remained paramount in our assessment of the Catholic Church until Roe v. Wade convinced good evangelicals and fundamentalist that politics trumped theology.

But it still remains a single verse, one of thousands that say nothing of the sort, that has created a situation in which change within the Church is next to impossible because one man dictates the beliefs of Catholics worldwide. Disagree too publicly and you're out of there. Even Vatican II, which many considered a cornerstone for possible reform, was significantly undone by Pope Benedict during his short tenure.

As I mentioned earlier, in the New Testament, decisions regarding belief in the early church were made collectively, by apostles and (locally) elders and even then open dissent did not lead to excommunication. In fact, most of our New Testament theology was written by an Apostle, Paul, who openly challenged the man whom Catholics believe to be the original Pope.

Selective theology, the practice of building an entire doctrine around a snippet, can lead believers to read scripture with blinders, and even ignore the true intent of the authors (or, as my Baptist family would insist, God). Many families were convinced to give away their life savings to charlatans with Prosperity doctrines derived from the verse “out of the words of your mouth you will be condemned,” which, in context, was a reference to judicial proceedings.

Generations of Baptists were told to avoid liquor because “strong drink is not for kings,” neglecting the remainder of the passage which said strong drink is for the dying and wine for those in misery so they can forget their poverty. Poverty and injustice brought about, according to that passage, by those very kings who chose to party rather than administer justice.

I don't see the church getting rid of the Pope anytime in the next millennium, so it may seem like a moot point. But I think we should hold the example of the entrenched doctrines of a single religious ruler to mind before we take a single verse as a guidepost for our lives.

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