Beware of the Protestant Popes

PopeLast week my iPhone could not hold a charge, and I’m pretty sure the constant FoxNews and CNN alerts were to blame … “The Pope arrives at Ground Zero” … “The Pope is driving to Central Park” … “The Pope takes a nap” … You know. You got the same alerts. Forget the presidential candidates and forget the surprise political developments, last week was non-stop coverage on the Pope.

Pope-mania is hard to understand for a Protestant (Southern Baptist) like myself. Many of my non-Catholic friends struggle to understand the amount of spiritual authority Catholics grant to this man (or they would say, God grants and they recognize). In fact, the most interesting news coverage I saw last week was a Catholic Bishop criticizing many of the Pope’s political views while defending his spiritual authority as the “Vicar of Christ.”

While I think Catholics deserve critique on multiple levels … I think Protestants should be slow to make fun of Catholics for their blind allegiance to the Pope. In my opinion, there are a number of Protestant “popes” who enjoy the unthinking, uncritical, unwavering allegiance of many Protestants.

  1. Celebrities who talk about Jesus. I’m always amazed at how fast Christians latch on to any famous person willing to talk about Jesus in public. Whether it’s Justin Bieber or the Duggars, we feel an odd need for popular validation, so we stake our claim with any celebrity who claims the name of Jesus.
  2. People who have after-death experiences. Books and movies abound. The names change, but the basic story is the same. I died or had an out of body experience, I visited heaven or hell, and God sent me back. Each time a new story hits the market, many accept the experience without hesitation.
  3. Spiritual movies and music. I hear the same thing from teenagers and senior citizens … While referencing a movie or song that vaguely mentions God and touches on spiritual themes, I’m told the art form is “Christian” and has a great message. No Jesus, no gospel, but undeniable authority.
  4. Celebrity prosperity pastors. Many errors of Rome seem so obvious in light of Scripture (hence the reformation theme, sola scriptura). But the same could be said the masses who sit under the teaching of their favorite celebrity prosperity pastor. Clearly these people accept what they hear as the truth without digging into the scriptures to check their pastor against the authority of God’s Word.
  5. Conference speakers and authors. This one hits home for me and many of my theology-loving, non-prosperity friends. Whether it’s Piper or MacArthur or Keller or whoever, many pastors like myself make the mistake of listening to our favorite pastor-scholar like they speak ex cathedra.

My point is simple. While I firmly believe Protestants have good reason to be uneasy about the level of spiritual authority the Catholic church invests in one man, we have our own Protestant “popes” we need to dethrone. We need to stop looking to celebrities, experiences, spiritual art, celebrity pastors, or famous authors as our ultimate spiritual authority. We need a return to a widespread belief in and practice of sola scriptura, and we need it quick.

Originally published September 29, 2015 on