The simple answer is that Jesus Christ founded the church which began at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and continued in the lives of those who truly belonged to Him and put their faith in Him, no matter what their relationship was to any particular leaders in the visible church structure.
Sadly, institutional church leaders transformed the expression of Christianity from what it was in the days of the apostles – a family of royal priests who knew God personally, to a kind of hierarchical religious institution which came to dominate the people of God and wrote the history books of the church their way.
A concerned Roman Catholic wrote to me, “…we cannot only look at the Bible without looking at the tradition of the
Church. It says in scripture (1 Thess 2:15) “Stand firm in the teachings passed on to you by WORD and in letters.” So
we must also look at the teaching of the Catholic church which Jesus began. In the purity of the faith, is there any other christian church, group or otherwise that has had the same teachings since the time of Jesus? The Traditions (foundational teachings of the church) of the Catholic Church have been the same since the days of the apostles and nothing has been changed since then. The traditions (small t – or in other words the way things are done) have changed and can continue to change (married priesthood, the language the Holy Mass is celebrated in, etc.).”
And later he writes: “If Peter is not the Rock than why did Jesus call him such, and then say on this rock I will build my church?”
I believe it is really important to address these issues, because the question of religious authority is fundamentally
important. Who or what truly speaks for Christ? Many claim to represent Christ today, and the contradictory claims have caused a great deal of confusion in the world.
The Roman Catholic church does not claim to be merely one valid expression of the Church which Christ founded. It claims to be the church which Christ founded. It claims that it has faithfully preserved the Traditions given to us by
Christ and the apostles, which, although not written in the Scriptures of the New Testament, have equally binding authority upon all who wish to enjoy God’s favor.
The biblical foundation for these ideas is derived from the Roman Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:16-19.
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered
and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (NASB).
Roman Catholics understand this as follows: When Jesus said, “this rock” he meant Peter. Therefore Peter is the rock
upon which the true church of Christ is built. Peter was to receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, giving him the
authority to make authoritative decrees concerning doctrinal truth, tradition, practice, and to exclude or include people from the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter was therefore the first pope and as bishop of Rome he passed these keys onto a successor, Linus (the second pope). The keys were passed in this way from pope to pope and the full authority of Christ Himself has always been invested in the pope. It follows therefore that anyone not submitting to the pope is in rebellion against God.
Roman Catholics are taught that the Catholic church headquartered at the Vatican in Rome is the only true church.
Many believe that salvation is only to be found in the Catholic church. In the Roman Catholic worldview, the Bible derives its authority from the Church, not the other way around. The Bible is seen as a revelation which must be interpreted in the light of the the Traditions and Dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. Church Traditions are seen as being oral revelations of equal authority. From this viewpoint, any attempt to use the Bible to show the errors of Catholic tradition is a misuse of the Bible – because it is only really the official living teaching organ of the Church which correctly interprets the true meaning of the Bible.
Roman Catholics argue on the basis of history and Christ’s words that the Catholic Church must be the church of which Jesus spoke, since he promised that “the gates of hell would not prevail against (or overpower) it”. It is clear enough that the view of the Reformers was not the general view of the church during the dark and middle ages. This is seen as proof enough that Jesus was in favor of the views of the Church at this time. To deny this would be to imply that somehow the gates of hell did prevail against the church, which would be a contradiction of Jesus’ own words on the subject.
I invite any Roman Catholics who feel I have misrepresented the Catholic viewpoint in the above paragraphs to e-mail me on this, because it would not be fair on my part to attack a “straw-man” – a misrepresentation of the official Roman Catholic position.
The devil knows that a big lie can sometimes be far more convincing than a small one. Its my conviction that the above doctrine is a Big Lie, and is responsible indirectly for the eternal damnation of millions of souls. This teaching has done more to undermine the authority of the Holy Scriptures than any other I know of. The practical result is that even now the majority of Roman Catholics never bother to read their Bibles. This is because they feel that all they’ll ever need to know and receive from God will come through the teaching and ministry of their church, and not through personal study and consideration of the Scriptures.
Things change in the Roman Catholic Church. In times past, the Bible was forbidden to be translated into languages people could understand. The idea was to have power over people by keeping them ignorant of the Truth. Now many Roman Catholics are actually encouraged to also read their Bibles. So the Roman Catholic church changes over time. Many other examples of how it changes could be given. A lot of conservative Catholics are outraged at some of the statements of the current pope, Francis and there are entire Catholic websites devoted to the idea that the current Roman Catholic Church is apostate. Things keep changing, and most people’s memories are very short. Most people also do not care too much about what the truth is.
Let’s now get down to the issues.
What is the True Identity of the Rock upon which the church
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered
and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter [Gk: petros – a boulder or stone], and upon this rock [Gk: petra – a large mass of rock] I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (NASB).
I have heard of two major alternatives to the Roman Catholic identification of the Rock upon which Jesus would build his church. One is that Peter’s confession of Christ is the rock upon which the church is built. That is to say, by “this rock” Jesus meant the foundational revelation that Peter was the first man to confess, that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The second alternative is that the Rock was Jesus himself, while Peter was the first stone to be built upon the rock of Christ in the church which Christ Himself is buliding. This latter interpretation makes more sense to me, because it is in perfect harmony with the tradition which the Scripture itself establishes concerning the spiritual meaning of the word “Rock”.
Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture
An important principle in evangelical thinking is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Since “All Scripture is
inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” it follows that every interpretation of Scripture should be in harmony with the rest of Scripture. The Scriptures have a lot to say about who the rock is. For example:
1 Corinthians 10:4 “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which
followed them; and the rock was Christ”.
Romans 9:33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Habakkuk 1:12 Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. Thou, O Lord, hast appointed them to judge; And Thou, O Rock , hast established them to correct.
Isaiah 26:4 “Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, [we have] an everlasting Rock .
Psalm 144:1 (of David.) Blessed be the Lord, my rock , Who trains my hands for war, [And] my fingers for battle;
Psalm 94:22 But the Lord has been my stronghold, And my God the rock of my refuge.
Not only is the Lord God Himself consistently portrayed as the rock throughout both the Old and New Testaments, but the Scriptures go so far as to say that only the Lord God is our rock.
Psalm 62:2 He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Isaiah 44:8 ‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any [other] Rock ? I know of none.’ ”
2 Samuel 22:32 “For who is God, besides the Lord? And who is a rock , besides our God?
The interpretation of the Lord God being our only true rock ties in nicely with the words of the apostle Paul, “For no
other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Truly then, Jesus is the foundation upon which the true church is built, not Peter.
Peter therefore, cannot be the primary rock on which Jesus will build his church. As we will see, Peter himself did not have the stability or the stature to be the foundation rock upon which the eternal church of Christ was to be built. Peter denied the Lord during the trial of Christ. And a few verses later in the Matthew 16 passage Jesus identifies Peter as being inspired by Satan (Matthew 16:23), while in Galatians 2:11 Paul reports an incident which revealed Peter’s ongoing tendency to weakness. According to Paul, Peter was in the wrong and stood condemned, and was not being straight forward about the truth of the gospel! This is hardly the image of a solid infallible rock upon which
all future generations of Christ church were to be built. Only Jesus Himself can carry that weight, and thank God, He does.
It seems to me that Roman Catholics have taken their conception of Peter as the rock upon which they build their
entire system. Church history reveals the moral depths to which these so-called vicars of Christ have fallen. I’m not sure it is edifying to go into a full list of these things, but if it turns out to be important to some of my readers I may make the effort to document this on another web-page. In any case, it seems that common sense as well as the Bible itself would indicate that Jesus was not meaning that Peter was the rock upon which he would build his church. We can all freely acknowledge that Peter had a key role in the development of the early church and that he did have a great deal of spiritual authority from Christ. This is beyond dispute. But the Roman Catholic position goes far
beyond this, and in so doing, gets our eyes of Christ and onto men, something which is never advisable for those wishing to build a solid and enduring relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
It is also interesting to note that Peter certainly did not fit into the current conception of a pope, since he had a mother-in-law, meaning he was married. Read Mark 1:30, which speaks of “Simon’s wife’s mother”. The topic of celibate priesthood is outside the scope of the current discussion, but it is another aberration from the plain teaching of Scripture (1 Timothy 3:2-4; 1 Timothy 4:2).
Incidentally, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were not given exclusively to Peter. The same authority of binding and loosing were given to all Jesus’ disciples in Matthew 18:18. All Jesus’ disciples have the authority to use his Name, and the truth is, Jesus never gave anyone the authority to abrogate (nullify) His own plain words and teachings.
Did the Gates of Hell Prevail Against the Church Christ Built?
The reasoning of the Roman Catholic church is circular on this point, because they assume and do not prove from Scripture that Jesus was describing their system as “His church”. Their point would be powerful if they could prove that at some point in history there were no disciples of Christ who did not acknowledge the bishop of Rome as their supreme pontiff. However, history just doesn’t support this view. The supremacy of the roman bishop indeed rose because of the political power of Rome as the capital of the empire, but there were always groups of Christian disciples who did not hold to the doctrine of the papacy. The doctrine of the papacy wasn’t really spelled out
until the time of Gregory the Great in any case, in the 6th century.
The Eastern Orthodox church, for all its weaknesses, doubtless did include many true believers in Christ, and the schism which was formalised in the 11th century between Rome and the Orthodox church based principally at Constantinople reflected a major difference in opinion concerning the authority of roman bishops that had been going on already for centuries. At that time the pope and the Patriarch at Constantinople basically excommunicated
each other because of their differences – a natural outcome of their common rejection of the Word of God as their highest and supreme authority. For their man-made traditions had evolved in different directions and because of this neither could accept the other as truly being of God.
Apart from this, I’m sure there were many Christian churches, such as the Celtic churches in the British Isles and many nameless faceless Christian groups with no political power who enjoyed the life of Christ without seeing the pope as their spiritual Father. (Incidentally Jesus himself taught against the use of the word “father” as a spiritual title for men (Matthew 23:9). I have never heard any reasonable Roman Catholic explanation on why this verse has been apparently abrogated in the favor of popes and priests!). In the middle ages various groups such as the Waldeneses, the followers of John Huss, Wycliffe and others were faithful believers in Christ and suffered cruel persecution for their stand against the roman catholic tyrants of the day.
Furthermore there were obviously people in the Roman Catholic system itself who, for all their loyalty to the pope, had a revelation of the true Christ and were truly the Lord’s children. A shining example of Christian discipleship was St. Francis of Assissi. Whichever way we look at it, the church was not utterly defeated by Satan at any time although obviously there were some pretty dark moments.
God has always had a faithful remnant, and today they number in the hundreds of millions – a fact for which we may praise God. Truly the gates of hell have not overcome the true church of Christ. Believers in Christ are more than ever on the increase today and with the increase of knowledge that is upon us today there is no way that we will ever return to the Dark Ages where men just simply did not have access to the Bible in their own language to check out things for themselves.
I hope it is noticed that I am not arguing that all believers who identified with Rome were not real Christians. I am sure than many Roman Catholics today are true born again Christians. But this is true in spite of, not because of the teaching of the Roman Catholic church.
If Matthew 16:16-19 does not mean what the Roman Catholic church says it means, then what does it mean? We can get plenty of valuable truth out of Matthew 16:16-19. Firstly, God the Father Himself revealed to Peter the true identity of Jesus as being the promised Messiah, or Christ – the one whom God sent to save the people from their sins. Secondly, this had nothing to do with the fact that Peter saw Jesus physically as a man. This makes this kind of revelation available to us also. It is timeless. Thirdly, Peter confessed with his mouth the revelation which he received from God the Father. Fourthly, Jesus pronounced a blessing on Peter on account of this revelation of who Jesus was.
We too will be blessed if we received from God a true revelation of who Christ is and then confess Him before others.
The surest way to open yourself up for such a revelation is to read the Bible for yourself with an open heart and mind. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). If you have not done this I urge you to believe the teaching of this Scripture here and begin to openly confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master in all you say and do.