Ecclesiology, Part 2. The Church of Christ Is Built on Rock

widpicMembers of the Protestant Church of Christ, was Jesus attempting to confuse people when He used a word rich with paternal authority when He named Simon Bar-Jona “Rock”? For Abraham too was called a “rock”:

Hearken to me, you who pursue deliverance, you who seek the LORD; look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you (Isaiah 51:1-2).

St. Matthew’s Gospel account, most likely written first in Aramaic and undoubtedly initially written for a Jewish audience, quotes Jesus as saying, I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (v. 16:18). The English New Testament book of Matthew is not a translation of Jesus’ Greek words into English, but a translation of what began as Aramaic, translated into Greek, and then into English; and the walk through three languages often confuses the Protestant Church of Christ. And even if, by a long shot, the autograph was written in Greek and not Aramaic, the walk through three languages is still a necessity because Jesus spoke Aramaic. But when the words of God are read without linguistic gymnastics and modern lenses designed to delete Jesus’ calling of the first pope, it becomes clear that Jesus said, You are Cephas (Rock), and on this cephas (rock), I will build my church.

For God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), so it makes sense to recognize a pattern: Abraham was called, is a father to his progeny in the Faith, whose name was changed by God Himself from Abram (father) to Abraham (father of nations), is a rock; and St. Peter too was called, is a father to the sons of Mary, and was named a most fitting name: Cephas—in which the Church looks to seek the Lord. Through salvation history, God changes specific people’s names to mark important and meaningful occasions. Abram became Abraham because he would be the father of many nations. Sar’ai became Sarah (Lady) because she became the lady of her offspring, who of course, is a foreshadow of our Lady, mother of Jesus, quarry of Christ’s brothers, who are spiritual sons and daughters of the one Church from which we were digged. Simon Bar-Jona became the rock that Jesus would build His Church upon, and Saul became St. Paul.

St. Paul’s call to ministry was not ordinary; it was extraordinary. “Extraordinary” does not mean “more magnificent”, but rather, “not ordinary”. Its extraordinary elements, which included a change of name, marked its legitimacy and indicated to the Church leadership (the Apostles) that St. Paul was not a zealous grabber of spiritual authority. In His wisdom, God granted the Apostles a means of knowing that St. Paul’s call was not self-induced. The pattern raises a few questions that Protestant Church of Christ ministers and laypeople work to avoid, which I now ask of you: Did God change your restorers’ names? Have any of your ministers seen Jesus in person? Did God change Alexander Campbell’s name to one of majesty, ancient permanence, or authority? Why do you believe anyone should have any reason to entertain your message when you cannot provide any ordinary nor extraordinary credentials? Why have you broken the pattern?

Most Christians are aware that Jesus was a carpenter, and anyone who has toured the holy lands knows the sparse landscape. One natural resource, however, is abundant: rock. The word for “carpenter” in New Testament Greek is tekton (tecton), which means “craftsman”. Today’s use of the word refers to “stone”, as in “tectonic plates”, and hints of a rooted kind of craft. So it is reasonable to believe Jesus was a craftsman, indeed, but was most likely a stonemason. Use of metaphorical language becomes more meaningful when a Master Craftsman speaks of building a structure with raw materials of which He is most familiar. As such, the Master gave Simon the most important name for the most immovable component of a structure: rock, and therefore, foundation.

The other Apostles were not called rock. I tell you, you are Peter communicates that St. Peter was superior, in some way, to the other Apostles. For if St. Paul is the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9), then clearly, a different Apostle is not the least. While presenting his own status, St. Paul sets Cephas (Rock) apart from the twelve, and even himself: He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve . . . last of all, he appeared to me (15:3-8). In this passage, as he would within his letter to the Galatians when he appealed to his communion with the head of the Church in order to convey his authority (1:18), he called St. Peter Cephas (Rock), which proves a most important fact that the Protestant Church of Christ is obstinate to acknowledge: the rock that Jesus built His Church upon was a person—not merely a “confession of faith”.

 

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