Wilhelmus à Brakel
The Christian’s Reasonable Service
vol. 2, pp. 107-113.
The Pope: Neither the Head of the Church, nor the Successor of Peter.
Popery insists that Christ governs His entire church by means of a vice-regent, that is, the pope, and that this viceregent governs all matters. Popery maintains that the Lord Jesus had appointed Peter to be the general head of the church upon earth; that Peter established his chair in Rome; and that he has been general bishop there for twenty-five years. They also maintain that the pope is his successor; that is, he has taken the place of Peter in the papal chair, and likewise as the general head of the church. They also consider him to have the authority to appoint vice-regents, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, abbots, prelates, priests, etc. These ranks have been arranged in a hierarchical order, all being inferior to the pope’s rank. All of this is a subtle fabrication which is extra-biblical and contrary to the Word of God.
1. Silence of Scripture.
First, there is not one text in Scripture which states that the supreme authority in the church has been or would be vested in one person. The various offices are mentioned, but never as if the one were inferior to the other, nor that all offices would be subordinate to one person. We thus reject this entire construction.
2. Ecclesiastical Tyranny, Forbidden.
Secondly, Scripture expressly forbids all lording of one office over the other. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. … But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:25-26). “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3). Even the high priest of the Old Testament had no dominion whatsoever over the other priests (even though one may not draw a parallel from this to the New Testament, since they were types of Christ). His rank was the highest, but this did not pertain to jurisdiction. Thus, there must be no head in the church other than Christ.
3. Baseless Fables.
Thirdly, whatever has been said concerning Peter in the above is both outside of and contrary to Scripture. Where is it written that Peter was appointed to be the head of the church and all the other apostles, and that he gave them any commands and ordinances? Where do we read that the apostles acknowledged him as such and have subordinated themselves under him? This is obviously nowhere to be found. Neither in the Bible nor in true accounts of the history of early times do we find any reference that Peter has ever been in Rome, has been bishop there, or that he functioned as general bishop over all the churches founded by the other apostles. We thus reject all this as belonging to the realm of fables.
4. All Apostles were of Equal Rank.
Fourthly, it is evident from God’s Word that all the apostles were of equal rank with Peter and vice versa.
(1) The Lord Jesus sent them forth with the very same words, giving them all the very same commission. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them” (Matt 28:19); “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. … Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).
(2) All apostles were equally and in like manner qualified for their office on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
(3) They all conducted themselves in identical fashion in their ministry, as for instance, in the election of another apostle (Acts 1:23). Paul was not sent to Peter, but to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, to inquire about a certain question (Acts 15:2). The apostles sent Peter to Samaria (Acts 8:14), and at the ecclesiastical assembly the opinion of James rather than of Peter was followed (Acts 15:7-29). Paul declared that he “was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Cor 11:5), and James is mentioned ahead of Peter in Gal 2:9. The apostles divided their tasks among each other, and Peter was entrusted with the ministry of the circumcision and Paul with the ministry of uncircumcision, that is, the Gentiles (Gal 2:11. Paul rebuked Peter concerning his error (Gal 2:11), and Peter did not esteem himself higher than the others, calling himself a fellow elder (1 Pet 5:1).
5. The Pope is not Peter’s Successor.
Fifthly, we deny that the pope is a successor to Peter. Let this be proven, for where is this written? Even if Peter had been the head of the church (which he was not), this would only have pertained to himself. Where is it written that he had authority to transfer this position to another person? Where is it written that he transferred this office to the bishop of Rome rather than to the bishop of Antioch, who was one of the primary bishops prior to the year 606 A.D. Peter did visit Antioch (Gal 2:11), but we read nowhere that he had been in Rome. Furthermore, even if Peter had been in Rome and had been bishop there, the one who followed him was nevertheless not the head of the church, which is the point in question.
It is known from history that every locality initially had its own bishop. Subsequent to this, however, ambition crept in whereby one locality brought other localities within its sphere of influence. There were nevertheless many bishops who neither had submitted nor were willing to submit to each other. Subsequently, the church was divided among four bishops, one not being superior to the other, even though envy prompted the one to accuse the other of being the antichrist. Finally, after the Western empire had been destroyed, and the power of the bishop of Rome increased, the Eastern emperors flattered the patriarch or bishop of Rome in order to include the Western empire again under their jurisdiction. This culminated in the Eastern emperor Phocas appointing the bishop of Rome as general bishop in the year 606, ordering the patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria to be subordinate to him. Where is the reference here to succession? These matters neither pertain to Peter nor to any other bishop of Rome prior to the year 606!
Furthermore, even if the first bishops of Rome succeeded Peter, such is not the case with the pope. A good ancestor can have a heretic as one of his descendants, and wherever truth ceases to be present, succession likewise terminates. The pope dos not adhere to the doctrine of Peter, but opposes it, as we have demonstrated in nearly every chapter of this book. The pope’s lifestyle is also not identical to Peter’s. Where do we read of Peter having a triple crown beset with diamonds? He said, “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6). Where do we read of Peter having a purple robe, chariots and horses, a gestatorial chair for vain show, and purple-robed cardinals who carried him? When did he ever allow his feet to be kissed? Which kings did Peter either appoint or depose? To which kings did Peter grant the proprietorship of certain countries? There is therefore no resemblance with Peter at all, unless it would be pertaining to his confession, “I know not the man.” Finally, since the pope is the antichrist, as we have demonstrated, it is evident that the pope is not Peter’s successor.
Even though we have sufficiently exposed the entire system of popery for what it is in regard to its authority over the clergy and its hierarchal structure, all being subject to one pope, we nevertheless shall respond to three objections by which popery seeks to prove the headship of Peter. However, these will be of no avail to them.
Objection #1: “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). They say that Christ here makes an extraordinary promise to Peter upon his glorious confession, this promise being that Christ would build His church upon him. Peter therefore of necessity must be the chief of all the apostles and the head of the church.
Answer (1) The promise here made to Peter by Christ is that He indeed was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that He would therefore not build his church upon a sandy foundation, but rather upon Himself as the immovable Petra, that is, rock. He would make this foundation so solid and immovable, that all the subtlety and power of Satan would not be able to prevail against her, and that therefore Peter also had no reason to fear, but would also certainly be kept and established. Upon this he could reflect with comfort after he had denied Him thrice; and not only he, but also all the other apostles who were present, as well as all who cherish the preservation of themselves and of the church. He should therefore not be offended when he would observe that Christ died on the cross, and when he would encounter many adversities in his office as apostle. This is the literal meaning of these words. It is thus evident that there is no reference whatsoever to the supreme headship of Peter.
(2) Petros (Peter) and Petra are clearly distinguished here, just as these two words are distinct in their original meaning. Petros refers to a stone, a pebble, or a brick. Petra refers to rock layer, or a rocky mountain formation upon which one would build a house. Such houses are so immovable and strong that they can withstand storms, torrential rains, and floods, which is not true of those which are merely built upon sand (cf. Matt 7:24-27). The Lord Jesus here refers to Peter as Petra, making an allusion to his name as the Lord Jesus generally did in His parables which are recorded in the gospels. From Petros He proceeds to Himself, calling Himself Petra, having previously been promised by that name. “I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa 28:16). “The stone which the builders refused” (Ps 118:22).
In the New Testament these texts are applied to Christ. It is therefore also stated concerning Christ in 1 Cor 10:4, “For they drank of that spiritual Rock (Petra) that followed them: and that Rock (Petra) was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). Christ is likewise called Petra in Rom 9:33, where we read, “… rock (Petra) of offence” (cf. 1 Pet 2:7).
(a) Christ is called Petra in God’s Word, however, and this name Petra is never attributed to Peter.
(b) The endings of the words petros and petra are different. The one noun is masculine, and the other feminine.
(c) The conjunction which is placed between the two words indicates that the subsequent word petra has a different meaning from the previous word petros. It is therefore not stated that the church will be built upon Peter, an apostle, but upon Christ, the spiritual Petra.
(3) What is stated concerning this petra cannot be said of Peter; namely, that the church would be built upon him, and that therefore, being built upon this petra, the gates of hell would not prevail against her. Is the church built upon a man? Is she immovable because of a man? Is everyone called to put his trust in a man, and to make flesh his arm and strength? A curse is pronounced upon such in Jer 17:5. Those who, having hearts of stone, wish to put their trust in a pope—in a man whose heart is as hard as a rock—will with him not escape the curse. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord” (Jer 17:7). Christ is the foundation, the only foundation upon which the church is built. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11). This was the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. They were not the foundation themselves, but they laid this foundation by preaching Christ, “Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:20-21). The apostles, and thus also James, Cephas, and John, were eminent supporters of this congregation which was built upon Christ. For this reason they are called “pillars” (Gal 2:9). Therefore Peter is not the petra, that is, the foundation upon which the church is built, but it is the Lord Jesus Christ who endures forever, is omnipotent, and preserves Peter and the church from apostasy, causing her to remain unmovable against all the attacks of the devil. The name “Cephas,” as Peter is called in Gal 2:9, is not a derivative of the Greek Word (kephale = head), but rather of the Syrian word (kepha = stone), which was the language Christ and the apostles used, as was generally true of all the Jews at that time. 
Objection #2: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19).
Answer (1) The word “key” does not refer to sovereign power, for it is undeniably true that Christ alone possesses such power. “I … have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev 1:18). Rather, it refers to ministerial authority, whereby a servant of God is thus authorized to open the door to those whom Christ has commanded to give entrance, and to close the door for those whom Christ has commanded to keep out or cast out. This means to proclaim the forgiveness of sin to repentant sinners in Christ’s Name, and to declare to the unrepentant, in Christ’s Name and on Christ’s behalf, that they still are and remain in their sins. It is this authority with which Peter is here vested by Christ. Who can even produce a semblance of evidence that Peter had supreme authority over the apostles and was the head of the church? He who is said to be servant, is by the same declaration said not to be a lord, master, and head.
(2) The other apostles were vested with the same authority: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18); “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). It cannot be refuted that in both of these texts the Lord Jesus addresses all the apostles, vesting them all with this authority. Their position is therefore identical to that of Peter, and it is thus evident that the authority with which Peter is vested is no different from the authority with which all the apostles were vested, and thus the claim of Peter‟s supremacy has no validity.
Objection #3: In John 21:15-17 Christ commands Peter three times to feed His sheep. What else is to be concluded but that Peter is the shepherd par excellence, and thus the shepherd of all shepherds?
Answer (1) Such a conclusion must be entirely denied, for there is not the least connection between that which precedes and the conclusion drawn from this.
(2) The divine commission here given to Peter is the commission given to all other apostles—yes, to all ministers—in Acts 20:28 to “… feed the church.” This is the necessary consequence of being a shepherd.
(3) Christ is the “chief Shepherd” (1 Pet 5:4), and the “great Shepherd” (Heb 13:20). This honor Christ reserves for Himself and consequently He did not appoint Peter as chief shepherd.
Additional Objection: It must be of special significance that Christ commanded Peter three times to feed the sheep.
Answer: Since the word “feed” is not indicative of supremacy but of ministry and does not prove the supremacy of Peter, this is likewise not the thrust of this threefold repetition. It merely points to Peter’s backsliding or regression due to his threefold denial. It was meant as an encouragement for his apostleship of which he had made himself unworthy, so that he would neither be inhibited in the exercise of his office nor abstain from doing so entirely, deeming himself unworthy of this task. In response to his threefold denial there was a threefold restoration.
All of this makes it very evident that Peter neither was a general bishop of the entire church nor had a position of supremacy over the other apostles and over the church. Thus, the pope of Rome is neither a successor of Peter nor the head of the church.
 Moreover, the idea of “the rock” from Mat. 16:18 indicating a primacy of the Roman papacy from the person of Peter would have been a novelty in the early church. Rather, most of them held that it was either about Christ himself, or the faith and confession which Peter held. cf. The Church Fathers’ Interpretation of the Rock of Matthew 16:18: An Historical Refutation of the Claims of Roman Catholicism by William Webster.