Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Prophecies of the Church

      It is commonly held by many Protestants, both denominationally and by their leading theologians, that the ancient Church established by the Apostles fell into darkness and apostasy, over a period of 1200 years or more, under the corrupt leadership of the Papacy, which many Protestants proclaim as an article of faith to be the Anti-Christ: "here is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God." (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch XXV, Art 6). As a Protestant website dedicated to the conversion of Catholics sums it up: "The Roman Catholic institution is not the only apostate church--but she does have a special status. She is the mother of them all--Revelation 17:5 calls her MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH". As I discussed in a previous post, the usual Protestant view of history demands the principle that the Church Jesus established fell away into apostasy, while a small, invisible remnant of faithful people remained virtually unknown and in hiding. Besides the historical problem of a complete lack of evidence of such a group or alternative orthodoxy existing within the larger Church, it takes a very dim view of the nature of the Church and the promises and prophecies in Scripture. Let us examine some of these prophecies:

1. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Is. 2:2-3)

2. "The stone cleaved from the mountain without the help of hands… became a great mountain and filled the whole earth…And in the days of these kings [Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan 2:34, 44)

3. "Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, and everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." (Dan 7:13-14)

These prophecies refer to the Church, comparing it to a Rock, a Mountain, a Kingdom that will cover the whole earth and never pass away. These words are echoed and fulfilled in the New Testament: 

1. "And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Lk 22:29-30)

2. "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." (Matt 16:18)

3. "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb 12:28)

It is a Kingdom from which truth will go forth unadulterated, spoken and preserved by the Holy Spirit:

1."And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Eze. 36:24-27).

2. "And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them” (Eze. 37:24)

3. "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever." (Is 59:21)

This outpouring of the Spirit, accomplished at Pentecost, rests on the Church and on those leaders who guide it (2 Tim 1:14), and by Christ's own words will  preserve the Church in all truth for all time:

1. "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth…" (Jn 16:13)

2. "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (Jn 14:26)

3. "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--" (Jn 14:16)

That is why the inspired writers of Scripture, speaking the Words of the Holy Spirit, called the Church the "pillar and foundation of Truth" (1 Tim 3:15), and the authority by which all disputes among Christians are to be settled (Matt 18:17). It is truly the heavenly Jerusalem, Mt Zion, the Body and Bride of Christ, the Unshakeable Kingdom, and being purchased at the dear price of Christ's blood, it can never pass away or fall from the Truth. "And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Rev 5:10)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Overview of Church History

        Catholics and Protestants necessarily have very different perceptions of Church history. To the Catholic, the timeline of the Church Jesus founded would look much like a solid tree trunk, with one large branch halfway up representing the Eastern Schism of 1054 AD, then a host of tiny twigs and branches at the top, representing the Protestants from Martin Luther in 1517AD to the tens of thousands of modern sects. Yet the main trunk grow strait and true the whole time, and all the branches are strongest wherever they are closest to the trunk, which is Catholicism. 
To the Protestant, though, the pure Church of the first centuries was corrupted by Rome and became an abomination that has been labeled as "the Whore of Babylon", or in the case of the Popes, "the Anti-Christ". After centuries of paganism and dark superstition, the Church in exile was led forth into the light once again like Israel out of Egypt by the holy Reformer Martin Luther, who "discovered" the gospel that Rome had been suppressing for 1200 years. As one Protestant minister describes it: "Then Emperor Theodosius (A.D. 378-398) made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and made church membership compulsory. Here we see the beginning of Roman Catholicism.  All unconverted people attended church. We see the great apostasy of the church as the Roman Empire had conquered the church. " (Pastor Nick Bibile of So according to this view of history Roman Catholicism, the great apostasy, was created and promulgated by corrupt emperors and priests, starting with Constantine and Theodosius in the 4th century. 
Fortunately, this claim is empirically verifiable. We have extensive writings and documentation from the centuries preceding the Great Apostasy of Constantine, so we can simply look and see if this view of history is indeed correct. If you are a Protestant, you surely believe your system of doctrine is what the apostles taught to the early Church, so read carefully and see if the saints of the early years were actually Catholics or _____________ (fill in the blank with Lutheran, Calvinist, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc…)

1. The Bible: Catholic or Protestant?
A. Actually, the Bible did not exist as a book before Constantine. It was not canonized until after. So tough luck folks, the Church was already "apostate" when it declared the canon of Scripture. The first universal canon, decided in Carthage in 394-397, listed the books of the Catholic canon. See here (canon 24). So the first Bibles used by the Church were Catholic Bibles, not Protestant ones, which did not come into being until 1300 years after the Church canonized the Scriptures. 

2. Baptism: Catholic or Protestant?
A. 1. "Baptism is given for the remission of sins; and according to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants." - Origen, Homily on Leviticus, 8:3, 244 AD
    2. "And they shall Baptize the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family." - Hippolytus of Rome, Apostolic Tradition, 21, 215 AD
  3. "This means that we go down into the water full of sins and foulness, and we come up bearing fruit in our hearts, fear and hope in Jesus and in the Spirit." - Epistle of Barnabas,  ch 11, 130 AD (Baptismal regeneration)

3. Church Hierarchy: Catholic or Protestant?
A.  1. "Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" - Pope Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, 44:1–3, 80 AD
    2. "The true knowledge is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere" - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:33:8, 189 AD

4. Eucharist: Catholic or Protestant?
A.  1. "They (heretics) abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead." - Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, para 6, 90-100 AD
      2. "…so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus." - Justin Martyr, First Apology, 150 AD
      3. "...That coming, by His holy and good and glorious appearing, He may sanctify this bread, and make it the holy body of Thy Christ… And this cup the precious blood of Thy Christ." - Prayer of Consecration, Liturgy of St James, circa 60-100 AD

5. Mary: Catholic or Protestant?
A.  1. "Beneath your compassion we take refuge, O Mother of God: do not despise our petitions in time of trouble: but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one." - Sub tuum presidium hymn, 250 AD
      2. "Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:22:24, 189 AD
      3. "Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a virgin not only undefiled, but a virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin" - St Ambrose, Commentary on Psalm 118, 387 AD

6. Saints: Catholic or Protestant?
A.  1. "As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honors." - Tertullian, The Crown, 3, 211 AD
    2. "Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition." -  St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 23:9, 350 AD
    3. "It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs." - St Augustine, Against Faustus, 20:21, 400 AD

7. Other Things:
A. The Sign of the Cross: "In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross." - Tertullian, De Corona Militis, 200 AD
B. The Primacy of Rome: 1. "For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church (Rome), on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 180 AD
    2. "If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?" - Cyprian,The Unity of the Church, 250 AD

So by the writings of the early Christians, of which I have provided only the merest snapshot, we see that if we were to be somehow transported back to the 2nd or 3rd century, we could expect to find the Christians of the time attending Mass on Sunday, where the body and blood of Jesus was venerated, crossing themselves, being baptized and anointed by bishops ordained by successors of the Apostles, in union with the Bishop of Rome, singing hymns to Mary, praying to the saints for intercession, making offerings and prayers for the dead, etc. And all this without ever having a Bible! Does this sound like your church? If it doesn't, you need to stop deceiving yourself and read the early Church fathers and documents. Read what the Bible says about these doctrines, and read what the Church fathers wrote about these doctrines and how they interpreted the Scriptures, and most importantly, what was their criteria of judgment about true doctrine? Your perception of church history may be correct or it may be a lie; you can find out which it is. The evidence is there; will you seek out the truth?

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Errors of Calvin

The five points of traditional Calvinism, although mainly directed against Arminians, form the foundational basis of their (Calvinist's) entire concept of justification and the answer to the ancient question: "what must I do to be saved?". Their answer, though, besides being a new doctrine developed 1500 years after Jesus' Revelation to his Church, also directly contradicts much of what is written in Scripture. 

Article 1. First of all, Calvin believed in Total Depravity (the T of TULIP). What does this mean? "There never yet was any work of a religious man which, examined by God's severe standard would not be condemnable" (Inst. III, 14,11). In other words, everything we do, even righteous works, is sin, and God commanded impossibilities when He commanded us not to sin. Our free will is not free, for it cannot desire good. Again, “Man, by his fall Into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation…" (Westminster Confession IX, 3). These three words, wholly, all, and any, in this statement leave absolutely no room for any movement of our will toward life or goodness. But is this what the Bible teaches?

     "Consider that I have set before thee this day life and good, and on the other hand death and evil." - Deut 30:15

     "If you be willing, and will hearken to me, you shall eat the good things from the land." - Is 1:19

     "And to this people thou shalt say: Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of            death." - Jer 21:8

    "I will shew thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requireth of thee: Verily, to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to walk solicitous with thy God." - Micah 6:8

    "Who said: Cornelius, a centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God , and having good testimony from all the nations of the Jews…" - Acts 10:22  (A just, God fearing man, who was neither Jewish, nor had heard of Jesus)

    "For when the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature those things that are of the Law; these having not    the Law are a law to themselves: who shew the work of the Law written in their hearts." - Ro 2 14-15

    "The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the Gospel." - Mar 1:15

The entire Revelation of God is utterly worthless if we are without any power of our will to hear, receive, or assent to Truth. It is a waste of time. Preaching is worthless, for we cannot repent. Repentance is worthless, for we cannot will anything good. Futility.

What is true about original sin? 
"Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 405
Article 2: Unconditional Election - In a nutshell, everyone is either elect from all eternity, based on nothing more than a decree of God, or doomed from all eternity, brought into existence by God for the sole purpose of being punished forever. Nothing we can do can effect this in any way. So what are we arguing about? Let's all just go home and shoot ourselves.
"All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted  time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ…" - Westminster Confession Ch X, par 1
"This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein…" WC, Ch X, par 2
"Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore can not be saved…" WC, Ch X par 4
The key takeaway from this phrasing is that the unelect "CAN NOT BE SAVED". Everything depends entirely on God's eternal decree, and nothing else. Preaching does not effect this, our own will does not effect this, nothing. We do not cooperate whatsoever with God. We are "altogether passive".
This point is rather clearly false biblically:
1. God takes no pleasure in the death or damnation of anyone, even the wicked.
     "Is it my will that a sinner should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live?" - Ezek 18:23
     "As surely as I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live." - Ezek 33:11 (God here swears by Himself, the greatest of all oaths)
     "…God our Savior, who will have that all men should be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the Truth." - 1   Tim 2:4
     "The Lord delayeth not his promise, as some imagine, but dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance." - 2 Pt 3:9
2. Unconditional Reprobation means that God predestines the reprobate to Hell unconditionally, that is, for no other reason than His own pleasure.
3. For God to do this would be contrary to His nature as He revealed it (see point 1).
     "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor as a son of man, that he should change…" - Num 23:19
     "For I am the Lord, and I change not…" - Mal 3:6
Article 3: Limited Atonement. It was meditating on this article that really prompted me to write against Calvin's errors today, because this one especially makes a lie out of the Gospel. This article claims that Christ died only for the sins of the eternally elect and no one else. "Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation.Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only." WC, Ch III, par 6. In other words, if you are not among the elect Christ did not die for your sins. That is the core of why this doctrine is offense to the Gospel. We are commanded to proclaim the good news! We are to proclaim to all that Jesus loves them and died for their sins. For a Calvinist, such a proclamation is a lie, at least some of the time. Coupled with the previous doctrine of Unconditional Election, it becomes a futile lie. This the Calvinist Gospel: "Hey, Jesus might have died for your sins! If he did, that's great, because it means you're elect! You are already saved from all eternity no matter what you do! If not, too bad. You cannot receive grace, and you are doomed. Have a nice day!" All italics are mine:
    "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world." - Jn 1:29
     "For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting." - Jn 3:16
     "And God indeed having winked at the times of this ignorance, now declareth unto men, that all should everywhere do penance." - Acts 17:30
     "And Christ died for all; that they also who live, may not now live to themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again." - 2 Cor 5:15
     "For therefore we labor and are reviled, because we hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful." - 1 Tim 4:10
     "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be among you lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought them: bringing upon themselves swift destruction." 2 Pt 2:1
     "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." - 1 Jn 2:2

On account of the length of this post, I will save Irresistible Grace and Perserverence of the Saints for another day. The main point is that if just one of these articles are false, then all of them are false. And all of them are clearly innovations, being introduced 1500 years too late to be God-given, and clearly contradict Scripture at many points, besides demeaning the nature of God. Yet Calvin, the inventor of these novelties, had the audacity to burn 58 people to death at the stake in a four year period for "being heretics", i.e. disagreeing with his made-up doctrines that were themselves heresy. This is in a town of 16,000 people. By contrast, if the Catholic Church had executed a comparable percentage of their Church (estimating an approximate European population of 50 million), that would be 170,000 people burned for heresy in four years, to say nothing of torture, imprisonment, flogging, public humiliation and other Genevan punishments for infractions such as playing cards or not attending public sermons or singing lewd songs. Way to go, Calvin...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Foundation Stone

When Christ said to St Peter, "You are Rock, and on this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it", he was not merely referring to something strong and unshakeable as a foundation. It is that, but it is much more. He was making reference to the Foundation Rock on which the old Temple was built. Just as the old Temple was built on a special Rock, so the new Church will be established forever on a better Rock foundation. Just what was the old Foundation Rock?
    If you have ever heard of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, you have heard of the Foundation Rock. It is the same Rock. The Moslems built a shrine over it in the 7th century. It is actually a huge slab of exposed bedrock, upon which the Temple of Solomon was originally built. There is a great deal of Jewish tradition about this Rock, though, that is very pertinent to the words of Jesus. The Apostles were certainly familiar with these traditions, although the significance is mostly lost on Christians nowadays.
    In Hebrew tradition, the Temple was built on this bedrock slab, called Even ha-shetiya in Hebrew. This Foundation Stone, which is what the Hebrew words mean, was the floor of the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant stood upon it. Before it was the Temple, though, it was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which King David purchased from him and built an altar upon it. It was on this altar where he made the sacrifice that stemmed the slaughter of Jerusalem by the Angel of the Lord (2 Sam 24:16-24). It is also the site of the altar where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:1-19). According to Jewish rabbis and the Zohar, this Foundation Stone was originally part of Yahweh's throne, which He detached and hurled to earth when He had finished Creation, where it plugged up the abyss of chaos and the realm of the underworld. Underneath the Rock, there is a cave with a shaft cut into it, which is called the Well of the Souls, or Bir el Arweh in Arabic. According to ancient Hebrew legend, this shaft leads to the underworld and the abode of the dead, and the Foundation Stone on which the Temple was built acts as a plug or capstone, to prevent the chaos of the abyss from welling out into this world. Echoes of this theme may be found in several places in the Old Testament, such as Job 38:4-11. It is this shaft to the Abyss, the chaos of the underworld, that is referenced in Rev 9:1. 
     In this light, the words of Christ to the Jewish Apostles in Matt 16, take on fuller meaning. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it". Christ's promise to his Church echoes the familiar legend of the ancient Foundation Rock. Yet his words are no legend; they are Truth itself, and they speak of a better Rock, a more sure foundation, which will keep the forces of evil and chaos at bay until the end of time. It is his holy Church, unshakeable, founded on Peter and preserved by his successors as solid Rock, which Christ, the true Wise Man, built his house upon.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mary the Mother of God

One of the four Catholic dogmas concerning Mary is that she is the "Theotokos", the Mother of God. This dogma was solemnly defined by the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. Many Protestants resist or dispute this dogma because they think that it is somehow blasphemous to refer to Mary, a creature, as the mother of God, the Creator. This is, however, exactly as "blasphemous" as the Incarnation of God; indeed, it is inseparable from the doctrine of the Incarnation. In a simple syllogism it is irrefutable:

Jesus is God
Mary is the Mother of Jesus
Mary is the Mother of God

To deny this dogma you must do one of the following:

1. Deny that Christ is God, which is heresy
2. Deny that Christ is fully human and fully God and the natures cannot be divided, which is heresy
3. Deny that Jesus was the son of Mary, which is heresy

This dogma is explicitly biblical, as Elizabeth venerated Mary under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in these words: "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" - Luke 1:43. The Lord is a title of God. She was not saying that Mary was the mother of God the Father, nor the mother of the Holy Spirit. However, since Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is God the Son incarnate, it is impossible to deny this dogma without denying the dogma of the hypostatic union or the Incarnation itself.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Role of Peter Part 3: The Shepherd

The third role and title of Christ that he delegated to St Peter was the role of Shepherd. Not just any shepherd, but the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt 5:4). I'm sure Protestants and Catholics would agree that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of the flock, or the people of God. He calls Himself "the Good Shepherd" (Jn 10:11), which is a divine title, in the sense of supreme Good which is an attribute of God alone (Mk 10:18). It is important, however, to read John 10:1-6 carefully and realize that it is a self contained parable, in which Jesus identified Himself not as the shepherd, but the gate: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate." (Jn 10:1-9) Here we see that Jesus will call a shepherd to lead His whole flock, and he will open the gate for him. A few verses later He gives himself as the example for the shepherds to follow, since He is the Good Shepherd.
       The nature of this ministry was described and foretold in the Old Testament. We learn that Moses was the great shepherd of the nation of Israel (Is 63:11). When Moses died, he passed on this ministry to Joshua, his successor, through the laying on of hands: "May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, set over the community a man who shall act as their leader in all things, to guide them in all their actions; that the Lord's community may not be like sheep without a shepherd.' And the Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hands upon him." (Num 27:15-18). By this act, Joshua received Moses' own authority and dignity. This authority passed down even into the time of Christ: "The scribes and Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice." (Matt 23:2-3). The chair of Moses represents the seat of his authority, which was the guiding authority until the new Israel, when it was given to Peter and the Apostles. It is significant to realize that from Jesus' own mouth comes the command to submit to the appointed religious authority regardless of their personal sanctity. Their own hypocrisy as leaders does not negate the duty of obedience owed to them.
        God promised he would give new and better shepherds to His flock: "I will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently." (Jer 3:15). We find this prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament, when Jesus appoints the Apostles and their successors as the shepherds of the expanded People of God: "From Miletus had the presbyters of the church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him he addressed them,…'Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you shepherd the Church of God that he acquired with His own blood." (Acts 20:17, 28). Christ Himself is identified as a Shepherd and a Bishop: "For you were as sheep going astray, but now are returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." (1 Pt 2:25). We see clearly in Scripture that the Bishop exercises the role of shepherd over his particular flock.
       But what of Peter? Christ gave Bishops as shepherds for His churches, but what of the Church as a whole? Jesus promised, "There will be one flock, one shepherd." (Jn 10:16). Who will exercise the ministry of shepherd over the whole flock in Jesus' absence? The answer to that we find at then end of John's Gospel, right before Jesus' ascension: "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' He then said to him a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' He said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' He said to him a third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, 'Do you love me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep'." (Jn 21:15-17). There are a number of key things to take from this. First, Jesus is giving to Peter His own identity as the one who feeds the lambs, tends the sheep, i.e. the Shepherd of the Flock. Second, it is specific to Peter: Jesus addressed these word to Peter alone, calling him by his proper name and family name. Third, it is something more significant than the ministry of the other Apostles - "do you love me more than these?" He tells Peter this in the presence of the other Apostles, specifically singling Peter out and telling him that he must give more than the others. Jesus is here very explicitly commissioning Peter to be the Chief Shepherd of the people of God after His ascension.
      Just as Moses' authority did not die with him, but was passed down through the ages, neither does Peter's authority or ministry pass away after his death. Christ would not leave His people without a shepherd to guide them. Peter even alludes to his ministry being ongoing, ever present in the Church: "I shall also make every effort to enable you always to remember these things after my death." (2 Pt 1:15). We can be assured, then, that the successor of Peter, who is the Rock, the Key-holder, and the Shepherd, will always be with the One Flock on earth to guide them; the Holy Spirit will preserve him from teaching error by the promised Spirit of Truth (Jn 16:12-13) so that the people of God will never be like sheep without a shepherd. As St Cyprian summed it up:

"On him he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep (John 21:17), and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair (cathedra), and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was (i.e., apostles), but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he should desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" - On The Unity of The Catholic Church, 251 AD

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Role of Peter Part 2: The Key-Holder

In the verse following Simon's renaming as "Kepha", the Rock, Simon is given a very unique gift from Christ. Remember, Jesus just promised to build his Church on the "Kepha", the Rock, and promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against that Church. Then he says, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19) So Simon Peter received from Jesus Himself the keys to the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean, exactly? Protestants believe that unclear verses of the Bible should be read in relation to other verses that speak more clearly about the same subject (see Westminster Confession, ch 1, par IX). So, we will apply their own principle and see what we can find out about the meaning of this verse.
     First, we read in Rev 3:7 that Jesus is the one who holds the key to the house of David in heaven. "The Holy One, the True, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open…" Sounds nearly identical to the verse in Matt 16, doesn't it? Once again, just as Jesus delegated his position as the rock and foundation of the Church to Peter, he also delegated his position as the key-holder and the one who opens and closes or binds and loosens in heaven and on earth. By this we can see that Peter alone among the disciples possesses a unique role and authority, which is from Christ, and is the earthly counterpart ordained by Christ to exercise on earth what Christ exercises in heaven. While it is true that all the disciples collectively received the power of binding and loosing in Matt 18, it is to Peter alone that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were entrusted, and to him first and primarily the power of binding and loosing were given.
     What exactly does the position of key-holder mean, though? Scripture tells us: "Up go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace…I will clothe him with your robe and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens no one shall shut, when he shuts no one shall open." (Isaiah 22:15, 21-22) In these verses God removes an unfaithful steward, Shebna, and appoints a new Steward over the House of David. This Steward of the Kingdom is the holder of the key. He is the master of the palace, or High Steward, whose job it was to administer the house and wield the king's authority in his absence. Although this verse was written about the earthly Davidic kingdom, it is this verse that Jesus quoted when he appointed Peter as the key-holder, the master over the heavenly Kingdom. From the various elements of the verse of Isaiah, we see that this position includes:

1. Administering the king's household, which is the Church in the New Covenant.

2. Wielding the king's ruling authority in his absence, as Peter did when Christ ascended to heaven.

3. Fatherhood over all of Jerusalem and Judah in the old kingdom, and thus in the New Covenant fatherhood to all the Heavenly Jerusalem and New Israel, which is the Church. This is why the whole Church calls Peter's successor "the Holy Father". In fact, the word Pope means "Father".
     So we see that Jesus' words, very clear and well-known to 1st century Jews because of their familiarity with Isaiah, unmistakably made Peter the first Steward of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the Church, and also the first "father" over the the people of God. It could hardly be more clearly expressed. Thus we see the second way in which Peter fulfilled a unique role of Christ, the Master of the Household of God.