We have just moved to a new location and have neighbors who are Roman Catholic. They seem to put a lot of confidence in the pope and claim that he is the vicar of Christ on the earth. Was Peter the first pope?
I do not think Peter was the first pope. Peter never saw himself as the first pope, but rather identifies himself with the “elders” of the church (1 Peter 5:3). Christ never gave Peter any special authority that He did not give to the other apostles.
Yes, Roman Catholics put much emphasis on the pope. The Handbook for Today’s Catholics, p. 30, refers to Vatican II and states: “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office. … The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme teaching office.”
A study of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” is revealing. A serious doctrinal disagreement had arisen. If Peter had any special authority above the other apostles, he would have called the Council together, officiated at the meeting, and given his “infallible” judgment in the matter. But none of this happened. James was the central figure, and his appeal was to the Word of God (Acts 15:13–21).
In speaking to Peter, Jesus said, “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Was Peter the “rock” that the church was to be built on?
There are plenty of “rocks” in the Bible, but Peter is not one of them. In fact, Peter writes of Jesus and states: “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded” (1 Peter 2:6). Peter affirms that Christ is the “chief cornerstone.” To this the words of the Apostle Paul agree. The church is built upon “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).
The Roman Catholic Church puts Peter in the place of Christ. Scripture warns men not to stumble over Christ, but no similar warning is given with regard to Peter. The real question must always be: “What will you do with Jesus?” It is never: “What will you do with Peter?”
We certainly must affirm that all Catholics who are trusting in Christ alone for their salvation are brothers and sisters in Christ. They can, and ought, to have complete assurance of their salvation. We must gladly embrace them as fellow believers and look forward to spending eternity with them in Heaven. But those Roman Catholics who are trusting in their good works, their church affiliation, their baptism, or anything else other than Christ alone, have misplaced their confidence. In fact, those Protestants who are trusting in their good works, their church affiliation, their baptism, or anything else other than Christ alone, have misplaced their confidence.