The Roman Catholic Pope, Francis, is in America this week. It is important to remember that, while Francis has a winning smile, a nice personality, and many admirable personal qualities, he occupies an office that is simply unscriptural. God never intended for there to be any such thing as a pope.
The media is portraying the current pope as being very humble (e.g., CNN, “How the Humble Pope Rolls”). Is any pope actually humble? Here are the official titles he wears:
Bishop of Rome. Vicar of Jesus Christ. Successor of the Prince of the Apostles. Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. Primate of Italy. Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province. Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City. Servant of the Servants of God (Ross, “New Pope Takes on 8 Official Titles”).
If a person really believed he had the authority denoted in those majestic titles, how could he be humble? (see Albert Mohler, “The Briefing 09-24-15.”) And that’s not all. The pope allegedly speaks infallibly on matters of church doctrine, i.e., he can make no mistakes (see Pinedo, What the Bible Says About the Catholic Church, 52ff.). And yet, popes over the centuries have conflicted in their doctrinal positions (see Pinedo, 52ff.)
Recall that one of the pope’s titles is “Vicar of Christ.” The Catholic Catechism says: “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” (§882, emp. added). That is, Francis supposes that he is the Vicar (“stand-in,” or “representative”) for Christ on Earth. This is the height of arrogance. The papacy claims authority to unilaterally forgive sins (Catechism, §1441-1445, 1461, 1483). No wonder that people want to get close to Pope Francis when he visits America!
Catholics argue that the right to grant God’s forgiveness was passed from Christ through His apostles to subsequent Christians down to the present day (Brom, “The Forgiveness of Sins,” Catholic Answers). The truth is that human beings don’t decide for God when He forgives sin. While Christians certainly must have a forgiving spirit toward one another (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), it is a wholly other matter to presume to grant God’s forgiveness to another. Peter and the other apostles did not have the right to decide for God whether He forgives sins. Rather, they followed the authority of God in teaching and applying Christ’s principles. People in the first century learned from the inspired apostles the terms according to which their sins could be forgiven. It has always been the case that, ultimately, only God can forgive sins (see Psalms 130:4; Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9; Micah 7:18). Therefore no apostle, not even Peter, could personally forgive sins that were against God (see Acts 8:22). When Christians forgive sins today, they are applying biblical principles and not making decisions for God.