Impersonating a rock
If you’ll look right now at the title of my blog (made you look 🙂 ), you’ll see I’ve subtitled it, “making a defense for the hope that we have,” which is a reference to 1 Peter 3:15 – “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” But what is that hope and what does hope itself mean?
When the apostles Peter and Paul talk about hope, they don’t understand it as most of us today do, as in, maybe this will happen but maybe it won’t. It is an assurance that is not yet realized or experienced. As Paul says in Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” We wait for it…we expect it. Our expectation as Christians, the hope that we have, is that by God’s grace in response to our faith, we will spend eternity with him in Heaven.
But for most Roman Catholics, hope is uncertain. It is maybe…maybe not. If you ask the average Catholic if he believes he’ll go to Heaven he’ll say something like, “Well, I hope so.” Their doctrine of salvation by faith plus works leaves their eternal destiny ever uncertain. But the Bible teaches that our hope of Heaven is a sure one when we believe and trust in Jesus (see here for some of the evidence). Why do Catholics reject the assurance of salvation that non-Catholic Christians find clearly taught in the Scriptures that we all regard as authoritative?
For many if not most the simple answer is, because the Church claims ultimate authority even over the Scriptures and she teaches that faith alone is not sufficient. As I mentioned last time, the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be Christ’s visible authority on earth is the defining doctrine that sets her apart from the rest of Christendom and that which emboldens and empowers her to make truth claims that compromise clear biblical teaching. As a Christian I reject her authority and in this and following posts I will explain why.
The first question that I think needs to be asked is, did Jesus intend to establish a visible institution known as “the church” with a human authority over it? I want to begin to look at the biblical evidence today and then following that the evidence from church history.
On this rock
Catholics point to Jesus’ response to the apostle Peter’s confession of faith in Matthew 16 as evidence that Jesus was conferring on him supreme authority over his church on earth. Please read here for my argument that the “rock” that would be the foundation of Christ’s church was the faith in himself as Savior and Lord and not Peter as the first pope. This is also evidence that one becomes a member of Christ’s church through faith alone, as that which distinguishes belonging from not belonging.
And why a rock? Why did Jesus metaphorically compare the foundation of his church to a rock? Probably for the same reason that he contrasted real faith that is demonstrated by obedience with fake faith that is all about words by comparing them to the foundation of a house. You know the metaphor – build on rock and the house will stand; build on sand and the house will fall. Rock is sturdy, dependable, and signifies eternality and indestructibility. Sand is shifting and unstable. So here in Matthew 7 it’s quite clear that the rock foundation is true, surrendered faith in Jesus as Lord.
Doesn’t it make more sense then that in Matthew 16 Jesus is making the same analogy? The Catholic Church would have us believe that the rock foundation of Christ’s church is an impetuous, fallible fisherman. Yes, Peter would go on to do bold and brave things as one of Jesus’ chief apostles, and was (again) one of the church’s earliest leaders. But nowhere in the New Testament is Peter commissioned as or considered to be the supreme leader of the church.
Instead, Jesus simply confers on him a name that reflects Peter’s solid, foundational faith. In calling him “rock” (or “stone” as the Greek “petros” translates) Jesus was honoring and affirming Peter’s confident and sure declaration of faith in him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And then, in reference to the faith that is solid and foundational, Jesus declares that this is the rock (“petra” – a mass of rock) on which he will build his church.
I’ll continue with the biblical evidence next time. I hope you’ll stay with me.