I’ve made no efforts to hide the fact that I’d love to convert to Catholicism. I love many things about the Catholic Church. The problem is that I will not pretend to believe things I don’t actually believe. I have a hard time with the importance given to Mary. I cannot accept the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Scripture indicates that Baptism is NOT necessary for salvation, but Catholic belief is that it is. Catholics also believe that we are justified by works, whereas I’m convinced that scripture shows that we are justified by faith, that our justification has nothing to do with what WE DO, but everything to do with what JESUS DID.
And then there is the Catholic belief that it is THE Church Jesus built. This claim is made in the following way: Jesus told Peter that he (Peter) was the rock upon which He’d build His church (and Catholics believe Peter was the first Pope – perhaps I’ll get to that claim another time, because it’s not necessarily true). The verse used to back up this claim is from Matthew 16:18:
Matthew 16:18: And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
But wait… let’s read more of that passage starting back at verse 13 and going to verse 20:
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
There are a few things that indicate Jesus is not calling Peter the rock upon which He will build His church, but instead calling Himself that rock. First of all, it should be known that Simon Bar-Jonah was called Peter long before this. When Jesus first met Simon-Peter, He said he would be called Cephas, which is Aramaic for “rock” or Peter, which is Greek for “rock.” Back to the passage in Matthew 16:
- In the original language, the word Petros was used when Jesus called Peter by name (“you are Peter”), but petras (notice the change) was used when He mentioned the rock upon which He would build His church. In other words, Jesus seemed to be telling Peter he was strong like a rock, and congratulating him on recognizing who Jesus was, then going on to say that He would be building a church on Himself.
- Ephesians 2:19-22 sheds some light on how Paul understood things: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF BEING THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE (rock), in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
#2, along with the change in Greek words in the Matthew 16 passage, make it pretty clear who the rock is upon which Jesus will build His church.
1st Corinthians 3:11 also makes it clear that Jesus is the foundation (it reads, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”). Also, David tells us about Jesus being the rock upon which the church will be built, back in Psalm 118:22 where he wrote, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (rock).”
We also need to consider this: in the Matthew 16 passage, building His church was a yet-future work of Jesus, for He had not yet started the process. He said, I will build (future tense) My church, but His mission for the nation Israel had to be concluded before another mission could be set in motion. This is probably why Jesus said not even the gates of hades would overcome this mission. Jews would understand hades’ gates to refer to physical death. When He stated that the gates of hades would not prevail against it, Jesus was therefore telling the disciples that His death would not prevent His work of building the church. On Himself. The Cornerstone. He knew He would be crucified and resurrected, but that would not stop Him from building His church on the rock (Himself).
But what about that part where Jesus gives Peter The Keys to the Kingdom? Peter was told he would possess the keys and be able to bind and loose, forgive sins, etc. However, those same keys were given to all the Apostles. John 20:20-23 says, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’“
One very common thing that Catholics seem to believe, at least when I’m discussing things like this with them, is that the early church was uniform in belief and tradition right up until the splits around 1000AD. The truth is that the early church was NOT uniform. It was quite diverse right up until Constantine became a Christian. After that, those he favored were given more power and possessions. Those he didn’t faded away, and many of their writings were destroyed. That’s an historical fact. The church was-not-uniform despite what Catholic teaching wishes to be true. There were disagreements right from the very beginning.
Even when the disciples walked with Jesus, their understandings varied. That didn’t magically change after He ascended. In fact, the Gospel of John is believed to have been inspired by John’s need to correct some of the things Thomas believed. Other early Christians argued all the time, which is why you see people being labeled heretics in the first century. That doesn’t mean they necessarily WERE heretics, mind you… it just means that one person or group held a position or positions that was at odds with the beliefs of another group.
In conclusion, scripture seems to make it clear that the rock upon which Jesus built His church is… HIMSELF.