An important element of thinking among our Catholic friends involves the idea of papal succession. In this concept, Catholic scholars attempt to look all the way back to Peter and trace a line of papacy. This elaborate effort to defend the idea of a universal pope goes back to fairly ancient times. The further back they go, however, the more difficult this effort to find Peter’s successors.
A case in point of this involves the so-called third successor of Peter as bishop of Rome. Everett Ferguson points out that Irenaeus looks at Clement as this bishop. However, as Ferguson points out, “As many Protestant and some Roman Catholic historians have observed, the difficulty arises because there was a plurality of presbyter-bishops at this time in the church at Rome, and Irenaeus and others read back into this time the later organization of only one bishop in a church” (Church History, 53).
Though the New Testament does not say where, Peter served as an elder in a first-century congregation (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Yet, as he indicates in that very passage, the divine model was for a plurality of men to be among their respective flocks. Those who met Paul from Ephesus were elders (Acts 20:28). Paul urges Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-8) and Titus (1:5-11) in their work of identifying a plurality of men who were qualified to serve as elders. Ferguson later gives theological, organizational, geographical, and political reasons for why Rome was elevated above other cities and Peter was elevated above other men in the whole papal discussion (ibid., 301ff), but the important point is that this “progression” was without New Testament foundation. In fact, it is generally agreed that the first, officially recognized pope, Leo I, did not emerge until 440 AD (or over 400 years after the Lord’s church was established). Even if one were to point to Marcellinus, this innovation of recognizing an earthly head over all the church would still be over 250 years after the first generation of the church and without the sanction of Scripture.
It is important that the authority of Scripture not be shared with any other source. The Bible alone is sufficient to lead, guide, and govern (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Gal. 1:6-9). Let the Bible be the measuring rod by which every practice, every doctrine, and every name is measured. What cannot be supported as true to God’s Word must be dismissed as of human rather than divine origin (cf. Matt. 7:24-27; 15:13).