Between the Rock and a hard place

Here is my personal dilemma as regards the Roman church:

As one who holds that God, through his spoken word (Jesus Christ) and his written word, the Bible, is my ultimate authority, I must submit to Christ’s teachings. Not only are they authoritative because they are in the Bible but if anything they are especially authoritative because they are “words in red”–direct quotes from the mouth of Jesus Christ, my Lord.

In Matthew 16:13-20, whatever the passage means, Jesus Christ is obviously doing something extremely significant. In Greek, Jesus seems to be saying that Peter is a small rock and on this boulder or ledge, He would build His church. In other words, the church was not to be founded on Peter at all–as we Protestants think the Catholic Church claims it was.

I used to discuss these things with my Roman Catholic friend Carol Bishop, but she followed my first husband to heaven in 2003. I miss her so much. But since then I have had some good, enlightening conversations with her grown daughter Julie.

When Julie and I studied this passage sometime ago, she did not try to thrust a Catholic interpretation on me. She only pointed out that Jesus’ words would have been in Aramaic and that Aramaic, unlike Greek, has only one word for “rock.” There is no distinction between the name Peter, which means “rock,” and the rock on which Jesus was at that moment building his church. No “rock” (masculine) and “rock” (feminine) distinction. No “little pebble, big foundation stone” distinction.

I have heard maybe one Protestant sermon preached on this passage although I know from our commentaries that we understand Christ’s words, “On this rock, I will build my kingdom” to apply not to Peter himself but to Peter’s confession. But get this: according to the Catholic Catechism, THAT IS EXACTLY HOW CATHOLICS ALSO UNDERSTAND THESE WORDS. Christ was building his kingdom on himself, the son of the living God.

Okay, we have reconciled one difference between us, one misunderstanding.

But what are the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and in what unique sense has Christ given them to Peter? We Protestants hold not only that all believers are authorized equally with the Twelve to use whatever keys were given to Peter but that every one of us has equal authority to “bind and loose on earth whatever has been bound in heaven” (whatever that may mean).

We do not recognize a hierarchy–but in Matthew 16:19 Jesus seems to be establishing a hierarchy. Frankly, I had hoped the “you” Jesus used in speaking to Peter here was the Greek equivalent of “you all” but it isn’t. It’s the singular.

In some sense, Peter is uniquely charged with responsibility over the church. Not only does the Roman Catholic magisterium say so, THE LIVING WORD OF GOD SAYS SO IN THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD. The authority I am bound by and must in obedience submit to says so.

I have to tell you that when this hit me, my first thought was, Oh, NO, I have to come under the authority of Rome! And I could truly identify with C.S. Lewis when he called himself “the most reluctant convert” (to Christianity) in England. I thought, I’ll have to take classes and join and attend the Catholic Church, confess my sins to a human being during his office hours, rather than taking them directly to God as soon as He makes me aware of them. According to the Catechism, I would need to do this if, without adequate cause, I missed Mass for even one week.

I resolved, if that was what Jesus Christ would have me do, I would do it.


About Jessica Renshaw
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One Response to Between the Rock and a hard place

  1. No, you don’t have to come under the authority of Rome. As you write, Jesus is referring to Peter’s confession, not to Peter himself. Peter, as Peter, is not uniquely charged with responsibility over the church. This is what Rome would like you to think, however. The Bible nowhere says that Peter is some kind of church honcho – much less the first Pope!

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