Pope Peter, Part I: Strengthen Thy Brethren

This is my birthday week, and my confirmation saint is St. Peter.  So to celebrate, I’ve decided to try and do a post a day demonstrating Peter’s primacy from different parts of the Gospel.

I. What Scripture Says

Today’s is one of the simplest.  In Luke 22:24-32, Jesus tells the Apostles which of them is the greatest, and what it means to be the greatest:

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

There are four things to draw from that:

  1. The Church is run by God and men.  Look at how Christ describes the role of the Twelve in Heaven: enthroned, with a Kingdom, sharing in Communion with Christ, and sitting in Judgment.  If a Catholic were the first to call St. Peter (or any of the Apostles) a king in Heaven, and declare him a Heavenly judge, people would call us idolaters.  Don’t we know that only Christ is Judge, and is King?  Yet Christ Himself says so of the Twelve, because His Kingship and Might is something He lovingly shares, drawing these mere mortals into His eternal plans, both on Earth and in Heaven.  Many Protestants speak of the Church as a fleeting institution, describing “the Church age,” for example.  Jesus Christ, on the other hand, depicts the Church as an Institution even in Heaven!

  2. Leaders in the Church are called to serve.  As laity, we love this message. Hurrah, someone is going to serve us!  But note this well.  Jesus is telling those in charge how they should act.  But He doesn’t condition their power on it.  He doesn’t say, ‘Whoever serves is in charge,’ but ‘Whoever is in charge should serve.’  Sometimes, leaders in the Church fail — or at least, we would do things differently.  That doesn’t mean they’re somehow not leaders now (pardon the double negative).  Christ is the One who chooses the leaders.  He chose the Twelve, including the radically unqualified traitor Judas, and the so-often incompetent other Eleven.  And yet to these Eleven (and Matthias), He promises eternal kingship in Heaven in Luke 22:29-30.
  3. Peter is called to serve the other Apostles, just as they are called to serve us.  In other words, the question arises who the greatest of the Disciples is. Jesus says that the greatest is the one who will serve the others, and then tells Peter that his job is to serve the others.  Just as the Twelve are called to serve us, Peter is called to serve the Twelve.  For this reason, the pope is called Servus Servorum Dei, or Servant of the Servants of God.
  4. Jesus is calling Peter individually.  In v. 31, Jesus says that Satan has desired to sift all of the Apostles like wheat. He’s after them all!  And Jesus says, “But I have prayed for you, Simon.”  To protect all of the Apostles (and by extension, the entire Church), Jesus is specially protecting one of them, Simon Peter.  He says this to Peter, publicly, by name.  And of course, Jesus knows that Peter will still fall, because Peter has a free will (it’s worth noting that all of the Apostles, not just Peter, fled).  But Jesus makes it clear that the fall doesn’t get rid of the graces He just prayed for, by saying “When you have turned back, strengthen thy brethren.

There’s nothing anywhere in Scripture remotely like this for any of the other Apostles.  Jesus never tells one of the others that their mission is to strengthen the rest; He never tells one of the others that of the Twelve, it’s this one that He’s praying for, etc.   The point is just abundantly clear.  Christ describes ideal Church governance as service, calls all the Twelve to that, and then calls Peter to do for the Twelve what the Twelve do for the laity.

II. The Protestant Response

Protestant apologist Keith Mathison, in Shape of Sola Scriptura, fails to form any real response to this point.  In looking at the passage, Mathison focuses on the prayer that Peter’s faith not fail (the “I have prayed for you, Simon” part), and says it was because of Peter’s “special arrogance” (p. 192).  That point is utter nonsense. Luke 22:24 begins with the other Disciples comparing how great they are.  All of the Twelve at this point are quite sure of themselves. All Twelve will undergo challenges and temptations.  Satan has desired to sift all of them like wheat.  And he largely succeeds: while Peter denies Christ, the others run away scared. We often forget, in condemning Peter’s denials, that the only reason that only Peter denied is that the rest ran away (Matthew 26:56-58).

In any case, whatever the merits of Mathison’s argument here, it doesn’t refute the fact that Jesus instructs that when Peter has turned back, he’s got a special job.  To this, Mathison just folds, and pretends that this doesn’t help the Catholic argument:

Ray also observes that Peter was the leader of the twelve.  However, since this is not disputed no response is necessary.  What neither Ray nor any Roman Catholic has demonstrated is that this text which involves a specific prayer for one specific man in one specific historical circumstance has anything to do with the modern Roman Catholic papacy. (p. 193).

This admission is huge, even if he pretends it’s not. If the original structure of the Church was one man (besides Christ) leading and supporting the Twelve, who lead and support the rest of the Church, well, that looks very much like the modern papacy.  
Put another way, if Jesus Christ wanted the Church to look like the modern non-denominational churches, we’d expect the Church He established in the New Testament to look like a non-denominational church.  If He wanted a basic Presbyterian structure, we’d expect to see that. What we see is Jesus investing the power in the Twelve, and then centralizing it in a single man, Peter.  And if Christ set up an organized, multi-tiered Church with Peter in charge while He was still on Earth, why in the world would we expect anything else once He’s in Heaven?  And when you consider the fact that only one Church, the Catholic Church, makes a serious claim to be that Church, it makes the Catholic claim quite clear.


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