The Papacy: Answering Common Objections (#1)

This list comes from Robert L. Reymond of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, from a long article entitled “Why Does Rome Teach What It Does About Justification and Salvation?” available here. I think that these question are pretty standard, and expose a lot of confusion that some Protestants have both towards Catholicism, and regarding their own views on the early Church. Hopefully, I’ll find the time to answer them one at a time — I’ve created a tag (Reymond Questions) to . In either case, question 1 is up today:

Question 1. Why do Mark (8:27-30) and Luke (9:18-21), while they also recount the Caesarea Philippi conversation between Jesus and Peter, omit all reference to that part of Jesus’ conversation which grants to Peter his alleged priority over the other apostles, the point which for Rome is the very heart and central point of our Lord’s teaching ministry?

I.
The claim that “Rome” thinks that the establishment of the papacy is at “the very heart and central point of our Lord’s teaching ministry” is absurd. Christ didn’t come to make straight the road for Peter, and the fact that Reymond thinks this, and uses it to advance his position, is very telling. He’s arguing against a funhouse mirror perversion of the papacy, where the pope is some cruel tyrant sitting in Rome and sending out minions to subvert the Gospel: that’s the standard Church history a number of even well-meaning Protestants believe, and it’s the view that all too many impute to Catholics. Juxtaposed with authentic Catholicism, and the real-life papacy, these arguments are easily dispelled.

Ecclesiology (study of the Church) flows out of Christology. If the central message of the Gospel is that Christ died and was resurrected for us, that we might believe in Him and follow Him, it raises a number of questions. Not least among these is why? Why would an all-powerful God willingly do this for a bunch of sinners? Ephesians 5:25-27 gives part of the answer when it says:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her to make Her holy, cleansing Her by the washing with water through the word, and to present Her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

So Christ died for the Church: She is the other party in the New Covenant. If that’s true, the Church is at the center of the Gospel message, married to Christ Himself. But the Church’s importance doesn’t replace Christ’s: it flows from it, like a prominent First Lady, perhaps. Of course, if it’s true that the Church is at the center of the Gospel message, as Ephesians 5:25-27 (and numerous other Biblical passages) suggests, then the next question is, “What does this Church look like, and how can I ensure I’m a part of it?” And then questions like the papacy and the visibilty of the Church become rather important.

II.
More to the heart of things, this “if it’s so important, why isn’t it mentioned more often” game is a dangerous one, and is premised off of a lot of faulty assumptions. You can use it to try and discredit the Virgin Birth (mentioned in only two Gospels), the Beatitudes (2 Gospels), and so on. The shorter version of Mark’s Gospel doesn’t explicit include the Resurrection, just an empty tomb and an angel telling them He is risen. Obviously, the Virgin Birth, Beatitudes, and Resurrection are critically important. But the Gospel writers didn’t intend to include every detail about Christ and Christianity because they didn’t believe in sola Scriptura! The written accounts were a starting point for many people. People might come to the cryptic end of Mark’s Gospel (presuming that the shorter version is the original), and say, “What happened next?” And that opens up a space to evangelize. All of that said:

  1. Most scholars think that Mark’s Gospel was earliest. There’s at least a decent case that that’s true, because his Gospel is short and sweet, and Matthew and Luke seem to build off of it in their own. If this is so, perhaps the more important question is, “Why did Matthew take care to add this dialogue to the Gospel?”
  2. Matthew in particular focuses on ecclesiology more directly than the other Synoptics. So, for example, in Matthew 23:1-2 we hear Jesus say that “the teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” This passage is pretty critically important, since it’s Christ recognizing the authentic authority of the scribes and Pharisees, and binding His own disciples to follow their teachings. And why? Because they sit in Moses’ “seat” (cathedra). Even though the scribes Pharisees were lousy (as the rest of Matthew 23 makes clear), they had inherited a binded authority. Moreover, the authority of “Moses’ chair” isn’t found in the Old Testament – Jesus is referring to a binding non-Scriptural belief about the Old Testament Church, and declares it binding. Only Matthew includes this important passage. So an obvious and logical reason Matthew included the establishment of the papact in Matthew 16:17-19 is it’s Church-related, and he focuses more on this area.
  3. An interesting theory I’ve heard advanced is that Mark, a student of Peter, omits it either because of Peter’s own humility (not wanting his student to publish a Gospel that might seem to exalt him) or a sense of discretion. An “Isn’t Peter Great?” Gospel isn’t the best way to put the focus where it belongs, on Christ.

Whatever the reason, we know that (a) plenty of important Christian doctrines are left out of one or more Gospels, (b) the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include this information for a reason, and (c) the Holy Spirit knew that perhaps billions of Catholics throughout history would believe that this verse established Petrine Primacy and the Papacy, beliefs held from an extremely early age.

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