There is no question that Peter was one of the foremost among the apostles. When the gospel was proclaimed on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection, Peter was the chief spokesman. His words are the ones we read in the record of this event in Acts 2. He was also the first to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. In addition to this, he is the primary character in the first half of the book of Acts. This prominence in the record of the early church as led some to give Peter special status in the history of the church.
The leader of a large religious body today believes himself to be the direct descendant of Peter as the head of the church on earth. This man is accorded special honor and reverence by members of this body, and is addressed in terms that signify his exalted status. It is customary to see even high-ranking officials of this church bowing before him and kissing his ring of office. He is called “The Vicar of Christ”, and is considered to be above all others in this church.
While it is claimed that Peter is the origination point for this office, Peter’s life belies that claim. In Acts 10:25-26 when Peter entered the home of the Gentile Cornelius, the scripture says, “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.'” The last words in this statement are powerful. Peter refused to accept Cornelius’ worship and declared that he was just a man. In other words, it was not appropriate for Cornelius to worship him, or for Peter to accept such worship.
This, of course, is a fundamental truth of scripture. We are not to worship any man, no matter how great, or important, or dear to us he may be. Jesus declared this truth during His temptation by Satan. When Satan offered to give the Lord all the kingdoms of the world if He would fall down and worship him, the Lord replied, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'”
This same truth was declared when John received the revelation from the Lord on the island of Patmos. Twice during this revelation an angel spoke directly to John. Both times John fell down at the angel’s feet to worship him, and both times the angel told John not to do that. In both cases the angel said, “Worship God” (Rev. 19:9-10; 22:8-9). Angels are important beings as special messengers of God. But it is clear that not even they are to be worshiped.
If angelic beings will not accept worship, then how much less so should humans? Peter was indeed one of the greatest of the apostles, but by his own admission he was just a man. Who among us today can claim to be anything more? In point of fact, we cannot. Peter could not accept worship, no matter how innocently or sincerely it was offered. This is something reserved only for deity.
The veneration that Roman Catholics offer to the Pope is perhaps the most extreme example of humans accepting worship, but it is not the only example. Many religious people accord special status to their preachers, addressing them as “reverend”. While they may suggest that this is a term of respect rather than of worship, the fact is that this word is reserved in scripture only for God. In Psa. 111:9 in the King James Version, the scripture says of God, “Holy and reverend is His name.” No apostle, not even Peter, used such a title, or accepted the use of such a title to refer to himself. They were just men. They were servants of God, and were unworthy of such veneration. So it must be still today. Even the greatest among us is just a man. Therefore, worship God and serve Him only.