Update: As you may notice in the comments, this post was included in a Patristic Carnival at another blog. To those who have found your way here via that link, welcome.
I had some great comments and discussion on the first post about what the Church should look like. But one of them spurred some serious thinking. I was discussing this with GregF in that comment thread and he asked a very good question:
The question then is: After the close of the apostolic age, who did have the authority to speak for God in any given city where the Church existed?
By my reading of the available literature, commonly called the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I think the person with that authority is the senior Christian in that city (the bishop).
I answered with a couple of musings in the comments, but this set off a deeper look. If Peter was indeed given preference by the rest of the Apostles, there are a couple of things that must be dealt with. Firstly, why was James the one who stated the final solution in Acts 15? Shouldn’t this have been Peter? If Peter was in the room and was the ultimate authority(Papal infallibility and ex cathedra are asserted to have always existed as far as I know); he should have been the one to do this. I have always been taught that James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but that would have made him the leader while Peter was there as well. I have never thought to ask the question before and haven’t found a ready answer, so I would be willing to hear some other points of view on this one.
The second question comes from Peter’s own attitude of his status. As you read his epistles, you don’t see any special claim of authority or “primacy” to use the Catholic term. Quite the contrary. In 1 Peter 5:1 it says this:
1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
This doesn’t have any hint of authority in it. Phrases like “a fellow elder” and “share in the glory” don’t lend themselves to a view of being “Prince of the Apostles”. If Peter was seen as this original papal figure, why did he have to defend his own actions in Acts 11? There are more questions like this, but no answers that satisfy. It strikes at the heart of the authority question that was raised in the earlier dialog. I say that Christ is the authority and no man on earth can usurp His place.