Prophets and Popes
When asked to explain the differences that exist between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches, the papacy is often immediately brought to attention. In many conversations I have had, this comes across as a point of pride for Protestants who may see their denial of the papacy as an act of faithfulness to Christ as the head of the church. But what if this is actually an example of an oversight that has led to just the opposite? Perhaps the church is actually meant to fall under some kind of earthly authority established by God.
Throughout the history of God’s people, this has been the case. From the time of Moses to Samuel, God raised up judges to deliver his people from their enemies. Following the time of the judges, God anointed kings to govern and shepherd his people. Alongside the kings were prophets who authoritatively spoke on behalf of God into the community of God’s people. In the centre of all of this there was the high priest who represented the whole congregation of Israel and led them in liturgy and worship, fulfilling the requirements of the Law on their behalf.
God’s calling of people into positions of authority did not end with the opening of the New Testament. As the author of Hebrews explains, Christ now holds the office of the high priest—our mediator, representative, and the one who fulfills the requirements of the Law. It is true that we need no other mediator before God, but it begs the question of the place of the other positions of authority within the New Testament era. The scriptures attest that God continued to place his authority in the hands of humans following the coming of Christ. After the ascension and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the reader of Acts is introduced to the apostles who have received authority over the church in a way quite similar to the prophets of the Old Testament. Within the Protestant wing of the church, we don’t often think in these terms. I would suggest that our unwillingness to recognize prophetic or apostolic authority may be a mistake.
In the midst of great distaste for submission to other humans in authority, it is important to look to our past to discern if this distaste is valid, especially when it comes to authorities within the church. If God has continually shepherded his people through the care of other people, why are we often convinced that he works differently with us today? I wonder why we are often so quick to switch churches when we hear a different perspective from the pulpit. Or, why disagreements between a congregant and a leader often go unquestioned, or even applauded? I would argue that acts such as these grieve the Spirit by whom these leaders have been gifted and established in their various positions.
Perhaps we need to rethink our level of commitment and obedience to those who shepherd us. If the present shepherds of God’s people are indeed a continuation of the Old Testament prophetic office, this would require a major shift in our attitudes towards the leaders of the church. This would also pin a significant responsibility on these shepherds to communicate and lead as if they were leading and speaking on behalf of God—a theme used both by Peter in his first epistle, and by Paul in his address in Acts 20. Maybe we even need to reconsider whether there should be a centralized form of leadership within the church. It is interesting that this was one of the first changes made by the Latter-Day Saints at their conception. It seems like having a clear leadership structure centred on prophetic authority has been a key to the rapid expansion of the Latter-Day Saints Movement over the past 200 years.
Major Prophets students, my question for you is: Am I right? Does the Old Testament prophetic office continue today? If so, what does it look like? What kind of authority should our shepherds hold over us in light of the Old Testament prophets? What should our submission in doctrine and obedience look like in response to our shepherds? Should we have a centralized authority or body of authority similar to the Roman Catholic Church? Are prophets and apostles the same thing, or are there both prophets and apostles in the New Testament era? Is it right to lump our church leaders in with the apostles, or do they fill a separate office? Is all this talk of offices too dichotomistic? Should we instead speak of authority showing up in a variety of places within the church? How does the priesthood of all believers fit into this? Engage with any of these questions that you would like to. In your responses, demonstrate that you have done some research and interact with each other rather than simply sharing your own thoughts.