"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Thursday, September 29, 2011

IRreconcilable Differences - 8 Between a rock and a hard place

     Now 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 in Matthew 16. 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. When Jesus established baptism and the Lord's supper, demonstrating to his disciples and by extension to us, what he wanted us to do and then commanding us to do it, we must obey. (Our small denomination, Grace Brethren, out of Winona Lake, Indiana, even practices foot-washing because Jesus, in John 13, demonstrated and then commanded us to do so. I am not wed to the Brethren or any other denomination. I am wed to Jesus Christ and the written Word of God.)

     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 to do.
     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 everyone 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 here 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. The Roman Catholic magisterium doesn't just 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 told Carol once that her Catholic faith seemed so rich and fulfilling that for her to convert to Protestantism would be to lose something, to be more impoverished. When my daughter converted to Greek Orthodoxy and I asked why, she said she wanted to worship God not just with her mind, as evangelicals do, but with her whole being, down to her bodily posture and gestures, all the "bells and smells," as some say.
     When Jerry and I were at Oxbridge with the C.S. Lewis Foundation, worshiping in Anglican churches, our experience was rich with meaning. What to those raised in a  higher church tradition might be only formality and rote repetition was expressing our common faith as the saints had expressed down through the centuries.
     Living by the liturgical calendar, meditating on Jesus' life through it and through the stations of the cross, publicly affirming all the truths of our faith every week--I like that! If someone dropped into one of our evangelical services some Sunday, he might learn about tithing or some aspect of the Exodus or the possible interpretations of the word "vessel" in I Thessalonians 4:4 but would he hear God's whole grand scheme from the foundation of the world in the past to its corruption through sin to its ultimate restoration under His eternal reign in the future? Rehearsing our common creeds would do that.
     To be honest, I really want to come under the authority of the true church, the original church, the church  which Jesus Christ planted. The idea of being part of that tradition flowing from Matthew 16 through Peter is very attractive to me. I don't want to be part of a splinter group or a resistance movement, even one that intended only to bring the true church back into alignment with its roots.
     BUT the irreconcilable differences prevent it! I cannot in good faith believe doctrines which are not only not in the Bible (that I could accommodate) but those which are actually contrary to Scripture, those which are heretical. The biggest one of course is the sinlessness of Mary--and the growing minority of Catholic leaders who claim she is co-redemptrix with Christ, that together the two of them save us, is utter anathema, undermining the uniqueness of the blood of Christ as our only remedy for sin.
     So here I stand, wanting to be reunited with Mother Church and prevented by its own truths from doing so.

"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me." Martin Luther

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