The past couple of posts, I have really looked to emphasise the Lordship of Jesus for the church. He is the Head and Master of the ekklesia of God, and thus, we should look to submit every part of our lives to Him. This is not the most exciting aspect for many of us in the western world, but it is something we must embrace if we are to move forward in all that God has for His people.
In this post, I want to look at a very highly debated passage of Scripture in regards to ecclesiology. The passage is Matthew 16:13-20:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The debate usually centres around this question: Who or what is ‘the rock’ in verse 18 of this passage? There are two main views:
- Peter is the rock on which Christ would build His church – the typical Roman Catholic view
- Peter’s confession in vs16 is the rock on which Christ would build His church – the typical Protestant evangelical view
In his book The Church, Edmund Clowney looks in detail at the usual Protestant objection to the Roman Catholic teaching that Peter was the rock on which Christ would build his church:
‘Petros is masculine in Greek and the common word for rock that was used in Matthew 16:18 is petra, which is feminine. Thus, Protestants use this minute difference to teach that Jesus must have been claiming that Peter’s confession was the rock on which He would build His church, not Peter himself.’ (pp39-40)
Yet, if we read the text carefully and plainly, it seems much more likely that Peter is the rock on which Jesus said He would build His church, the ekklesia of God. Clowney exclaims:
‘This normal difference in the gender of the nouns carries no weight, however, in the face of the emphatic connection that Jesus made between the name he had given Peter and the position he assigned him.’ (The Church, p40)
When an evangelical ponders the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, it can be a bit daunting to consider that Peter is the rock in Christ’s statement. It is much easier to do some exegetical gymnastics with the text and make Peter’s confession the rock. Yet, recognising Peter as the rock of Jesus’ statement should not make one fearful, for it does not give us license to build an infallible hierarchy of leadership. That also takes exegetical gymnastics with Matthew 16 and other Bible passages.
Matter of fact, in the context, Jesus’ question in 16:15 was posed to the whole group of twelve – ‘He said to them…’ Thus, we can see that Peter was answering on their behalf, they being part of Jesus’ first foundational apostles. In one sense, Jesus was speaking to Peter as a sort of representative of the entire group of the twelve.
In his book, Clowney goes on to note:
‘Peter and his confession stand together. But if Peter cannot be separated from his confession, neither can he be separated from the eleven. In Matthew 16:18, Peter is given the authority of the keys of the kingdom. In Matthew 18:18, the disciples receive that same authority. Jesus had addressed his question in 16:15 to the disciples, and Peter’s answer was given on their behalf as well as his own.’ (p40)
Peter was an apostle, and, along with prophets, apostles are to be the foundation on which the church is built (see also Ephesians 2:20-22; see also Paul’s foundation laying role described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Therefore, Peter was a beginning rock for the foundation of the church, along with the other eleven. We could possibly even say that Peter’s status as rock pointed to what the whole church should be in Christ. And, when all is said and done, we must remember that the church was to ultimately be built by Christ Himself – ‘I will build my church…’ He is the great ekklesia builder as I mentioned in the last article and the greater rock of the church (Matthew 7:24-27).
Thus, Protestant evangelicals should not be scared to recognise that Jesus is most likely referring to Peter as ‘the rock’ in Matthew 16:18. But we must also not see this as a passage giving precedence to the building of a hierarchical leadership structure. Leadership within the church is both good and Biblical, but leaders are to be relationally accountable with other leaders and they are to be in relationship with the people they serve. Oh yeah, as a side note, leaders are to be servants.
Church leaders are in no way called to form a pyramid-shaped hierarchy, for leadership is to be carried out first and foremost through relationship, not an administrative structure. How do I know this? I simply take a look at the how the Trinity functions. But, even more, if we take time to read the Gospels and consider the divine Son of God who took on flesh, we will see this is how He led as the great leader. Though He was the great King, He led through close relationship with the twelve, washing their feet and laying down His life for mankind. That, my friends, is leadership par excellence. So, if one wants to be a rock and leader, as Peter, one must also be ready to embrace relationship, servant-heartedness and a sacrificial laying down of one’s life. I am glad Jesus showed us what it meant to be a rock.
The next article I post will consider a topic that is tied into discussion revolving around the church – The Sabbath Rest.