Much to the chagrin of the liberals it seems the Catholics have chosen a standard bearer Pope in the conservative vein and should be congratulated for this move in a day when liberal leanings are attacking foundations around the world.
Since the election of Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) the old argument about apostolic succession has risen yet again like Italy’s Mount Vesuvius between the Protestant and Catholic faithful – can it be settled?
Exactly who is the Rock?
Volumes have been written on the difference between the New Testament words “Petros” and “Petra,” and another treatment of that difference in one short article, will hardly resolve the argument for all posterity.
It suffices to say that when Jesus said to Peter “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” (Mt 16: 18) that Jesus was referring to himself as the Rock of the church, not Peter.
The Apostle Paul clearly answered the argument for all time when he said “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1Cor 3: 11) Other verses of scripture are too numerous to mention here, but if the reader is inclined they are as follows, Eph. 2: 20, Mt. 21: 42, Eph 2: 20, these verses are augmented by a plethora of Old Testament references that describe the Christ or the promised Savior, alone, as the “Rock” of our salvation.
There are many people that think it was Peter’s confession, not his person, that Christ was referring to as the Rock of Salvation. In either case the idea of Peter being the Rock that would hold back the gates of hell is tainted from the start when we consider that only a few short hours after Christ spoke these words to Peter he stood and denied that he ever knew Jesus. If the gates of hell won the first round, how well will it do in the last?
When martyrs are asked to denounce their faith, even in our modern world, as in the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini, now under arrest in Iran for simply being a Christian, they are often detained and sometimes tortured and then asked to deny their faith in Christ, not the Pope.
So do the Catholics see and hold Jesus Christ as their Saviour in spite of Catholicism? For many of them the answer is unequivocally – yes. Both the scriptural truths and the theological arguments will have to be tempered at least by the following words spoken by the Lord of all the Christians.
“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part.” (Mk 9: 38-40)
It may seem over simplistic, but rarely does anyone embroiled in the argument take the shortest path between two points. It hardly needs to be said that this writer is biased by the protestant view because it is the more scripturally compliant of the two, but in the interest of understanding and with full deference to the world of 1.2 billion Catholics I will try to take the shortest path.
Which Came First – The Catholic Chicken or the Protestant Egg?
Catholics are reticent to accept the naked truths of history regarding both the beginning and the troubled history of their faith, but truthful historic accounting doesn’t require anyone’s belief and accepts no apologies from the unbelievers. History is kinetic and swallows up the past, present and future without an iota of discrimination or bias due to variant opinions. Unlike revisionist history the integrity of factual accounting is the Sargeant Joe Friday (Dragnet) of civilization and it asks for “just the facts ma’am, just the facts.
The truth is that Catholicism did not begin until the reign of Constantine who made it the state religion. Prior to that, the church met in houses and open porches for over three centuries. They gathered and conducted their worship much like modern Protestants. They had an apostolic presence at first and the original scriptural autographs and letters later, but none of them recognized Peter or any other person as the Pope or Vicar of Christ.
It does well to note that we are living in the most history challenged generation of all time. Moderns tend to disregard the influence of history and are more involved with all the abruptly changing nascency of their own techno-savvy age.
For others being history challenged is an outgrowth of being more culture conscience than influenced by more accurate educational underpinnings. Examples are everywhere such as the African American grammar school children that when asked who Martin Luther King was replied with – “He was the first President of the United States!”
The Protestant reformation has been called many things across the years, but truthful history accepts no one’s revision, the reformation was a return to what originally existed; thereby it was more of a renewal than a reformation.
A Letter from Our Father – Postmarked Eternity
The Bible especially the New Testament has been likened to a letter to mankind from our Father who has taken a trip to a distant country.
The letter tells us what he expects of us until he returns. Not every kid in the father’s house responds the same to the letter.
To some the letter is law, to others it is something they will interpret for themselves in any way that corresponds to what they want it to mean.
Yet others in the house see it as nothing to take seriously, all they know is that the Father is gone and they can do whatever they like.
How Do the Catholics Read the Letter?
In a world that is busy living one day at a time it is far easier to throw the question of who God is and what he wants into the hands of professional religionists and get on with life. Discerning the nuances of the letter might go wrong or be fraught with too many differences about what it really means.
This idea is what helped to birth the reformation when it was discovered that God meant for every man to read and appropriate the letter for themselves. Christ’s allusions to birds, nature and everyday trivialities to convey his message was never supposed to be dissected by specially initiated and ordained gateways and appointed experts.
When Catholicism began, the Word or the letter was no longer disclosed to the public, but was taken into the confines of the professionals and meted out only under their official interpretation and generally acceptable idea of its practical application.
In time patristic teachings, encyclicals and ex-cathedra became an overlay which built upon successive layers, became a construct so burgeoning that the original content was obscured by professional views, ceremony, liturgy, dogma and the endless religious trappings and icons added to it. The simplicity in the original letter was obscured and the religion employed to reveal the letter; became the substitute for the original intent of the letter.
Loading men and women up with a myriad of religious precepts and professionalized interpretations was never the intent of the letter. This fact is conveyed perfectly in the rebuke Jesus laid on the Pharisees in his day; that had done exactly that. He said “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Mt 23: 4)
How Do Protestants Read the Letter?
Norway was once considered the most Christian of all the European countries partly because of the preponderance of Protestant churches found there, but also because almost nowhere throughout the country could a crucifix be found showing Jesus hanging on it and being crucified. The emphasis in Protestant Norway was a resurrected Christ. The other prominent emphasis was the use of the bible to answer all matters concerning God.
Anywhere in the world where the bible is read and trusted the emphasis is the same. It is the reading of the letter with complete ascent to its plainest meaning and complete authority. Nothing added, nothing removed is the rule of all interpretation and exegesis.
Some doctrinal differences do occur among the Protestants, but the essentials remain. There is never a fear of a liberal leader coming to the fore and polluting the church, all leaders are scrutinized by the letter – it is never the other way around.
Because Christ has promised to be with any who endeavor to live by the letter (Joh 14:23) it turns out that obeying the letter becomes a place not just of safety, but of power.
It is this unencumbered approach that serves to streamline the path through a complicated world where religious trappings often only add to the obstacles strewn across the road of this present life.
What about Those Who Reject the Letter
If those who reject the letter are doing so because they have grabbed some idol off the table of the great religious smorgasbord, they will have to do so in the light of one amazing difference between Christianity and all other religions combined.
True Christianity is not based on the shear strength of our belief. It is based on a historical figure who preached the gospel of eternal life, died for the sins of the world and overcame death in his resurrection. Who else has done that?
Those who choose some religion because of its antiquity or for its general attractiveness or cultural connections to a region or nation are proof that man’s persistence in idolatry is second only to his proclivity to sin.
The Apostle Paul speaking prophetically of the coming rise of the antichrist said he would lift himself above God and all that is “called God.” (2 Th 2: 4) Paul was not deluded by modernity’s tendency toward religious tolerance and diversity. He knew that there was one God, one Savior and one salvation. Paul referred to other religious offerings as satanically devised devices to scoop up the souls of men and lead them to destruction – all by reaching for that stuff which is - “called God”
Paul knew that nothing including the scriptures indicated that Satan had to stop short of using anything to tempt men that had the label of “religion” attached to it. Religion is one of his best tools because the letter is ignored and supplanted with rather cheap substitutes. Religion without the sacrifice for sins is the party favor or the souvenir grabbed up in place of an enduring gift of everlasting value.
Atheists, agnostics, evolutionist and the generally disbelieving members of the human family are like people who actually mold silver bullets and carve wooden stakes to ward off or kill non-existent vampires. They erect great bulwarks against an invading army complete with intellectual defenses and fiery debates all skillfully used against an enemy that after all, they insist – doesn’t exist.
To them there is no letter to read; because there is no father to write it.
Does the Father Tell When He Plans to Return in His Letter?
Twice Jesus told stories about a man who traveled to a far country. In each case a return was promised because the man was a land owner and agriculturalist who intended to come back during the time of harvest to reap the fruit of his planting.
We try to explain it away and we refuse to read the sins of his return, but when the Pharisees heard Jesus story they knew exactly what it meant and wanted to kill him for telling it. (Lk 20: 19)
One quarter of the Bible is prophetic and a great deal of that is what is known as premillennial prophecy. It is the sure promise that our Father, the letter writer, intends to come back to the family at the close of the long day of his absence.
He gave a list of signs and signals that would herald the days just prior to his return. All but a very few of those signs have occurred in this generation.
Some who have read the letter are weary of waiting and of the long delay. “But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken.” (Lk 12: 45) This too is prophetic and is part of the great apostasy (falling away) we are told will precede his return.
Rock, Paper, Scissors – Finding the Rock is Not a Game
The result of finding the shortest path between two points is that we go from the question of who is “The Rock” to the answer that Jesus Christ is the Rock. He never directed us to stand on any man, religion or system of belief. He did tell us to stand on him as our unchanging Rock.
Christ said “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Mt 7: 24, 25)
John Lanier the editor of Christian Voice Magazine is also a seasoned award winning gospel music vocalist. He sings a beautiful piece written by Geron Davis and Rebecca Davis entitled. “What He is Will Never Change”
One verse and chorus from this song tells why we are sure Jesus Christ is our Rock.
Alpha and Omega, the Great I Am
Prince of Life and the Prince of Peace
Lily of the Valley, Bright and Morning Star
The great Creator, Lord of everything
What He is will never change
What He is will never change
He is Truth and truth remains
What He is will never change
Meadowgreen Music/Songchannel Music Co. /ASCAP
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