Thursday, April 16, 2015


When a friend of mine, an accomplished Bible scholar, recently embraced Roman Catholicism and became a priest, I recalled my own attraction to what I call “that denomination.”As with all other churches, baptism or church membership is no guarantee of authentic faith. Yet only the most bigoted Protestants will deny that many of those comprising the one truly catholic (“universal”) Church of Jesus Christ are from this Roman branch of Christianity.

What attracts people to the church of Rome? By clear examples, it boasts historical length, geographic breadth, devotional height and philosophical depth. Other denominations may excel in one or more of these areas, but this concurrent, multi-faceted combination in the Roman church has significant drawing power.

Rome’s patronage of the arts is also attractive. Artistically minded souls may abandon the visually impoverished atmosphere of an evangelical service for the liturgical decor in a Roman or Orthodox setting. Zealous Protestant leaders were wrong to ban visual beauty from their churches. Worship environments rich in sacred symbolism and sacramental ritual meet a legitimate human need—a reality divinely revealed and extensively illustrated in the Old Testament.

While such features personally draw me, my greatest attraction is to Roman Catholic friends with whom I share Christian fellowship and to authors loyal to Rome from whom I continue to learn Christian truth. Henri Nouwen, G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton, and Pope John Paul II are some favorites. I’m in the midst of studying Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology, based mostly on early Catholic thinkers, and my daily devotions include the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, a compilation of writings by the Catholic church fathers.

So, if I faithfully confess the “catholic” faith succinctly stated by the ancient Catholic church in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, why haven’t I become a Roman Catholic? Frankly, some of Rome’s later creeds contain doctrines which I cannot embrace. Since my Scriptural reasons against these Roman innovations are well expounded by other Protestant pens, I needn’t rehearse them here. Instead, let me describe what I consider the kingpin doctrinal error that has allowed all the others: “Peter’s chair.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
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. 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. 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.”— Matthew 16:16-19 (ESV)
By politically interpreting these verses, successive bishops of Rome claim to preside over the entire Church by sitting in “Peter’s chair.” They insist that Jesus was establishing a perpetual pontifical office and installing the Apostle Peter as its first pope. Beyond inserting into Christ’s words the idea of “succession,” Rome goes on to confer authoritative infallibility on each man filling this papal seat. Such foreign additions—while laying the foundation for a political interpretation of this passage—have tragically obscured its confessional nature.

Protestants see Christ’s focus not on Peter but on his confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A few verses later, based on Peter’s words, Jesus calls him “Satan” (Matthew 16:23). So here, based on this creedal statement of “Simon Bar-Jonah,” Jesus calls him “Peter” (petros; literally, “a rock or stone”) and immediately says, “on this rock I will build my church.” But in this second phrase, Jesus didn’t use petros, but a different word, petra, which literally means “a rock, cliff or ledge” and is elsewhere often associated both with Christ’s teachings (Matthew7:24-25) and with Christ Himself (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4).

The Holy Spirit carefully selected the wording He ordained for Scripture. Just as a petra is much greater than a petros, so the identity of Jesus is much greater than the man confessing it. If, by this divinely inspired word-play, God meant to distinguish Peter himself from his confession, then it was “on this rock”—on this petra, a confession divinely “revealed” to Peter—that Christ was saying, “I will build my church.

Such poetic language was indeed prophetic of Peter’s Gospel role at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41), in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), and at the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), but none of these events won him a special ecclesiastical office. The emphasis of the Matthew passage, and of those cited in Acts, is on the power of Peter’s evangelistic confession, which becomes the same power in the mouth of all true followers who confess Christ. The promises given by Jesus in connection with Peter’s original confession were not political and official but creedal and spiritual, therefore transferable to the whole catholic church.

So, whose take on this Matthew passage is right, Rome’s or that of Rome’s would-be Reformers? Which group is interpreting correctly?

The Bible points toward a confessional interpretation. Peter’s initial leadership role in the early church was soon overshadowed by James in Jerusalem and by Paul in the Roman Empire. A frank reading of the New Testament shows Peter using his confessional “keys of the kingdom” to open the Gospel door for both the Jewish and the Gentile churches. Peter then fades from the scene of political activity in the church until we find Paul confronting him later in Antioch for his failure in leadership (Galatians 2:11-13).

The New Testament’s final record of Peter’s influence on the early church are his two Epistles. These letters confirmed not his political role as the church’s head bishop but his continued spiritual role of expounding the implications of his original faith confession. Only on the basis of extra-biblical stories can Rome claim that Peter sat down in a rudimentary papal “chair.” When these and other Roman stories became the criteria for creedal doctrine, Rome boldly stepped into the place of authority that God had reserved for His Word alone.

Roman persecutions provide even more clarity in evaluating the validity of Rome’s political interpretation of Matthew 16:16-19. Following the example of the Roman Empire in killing those who confessed Christ, later Roman pontiffs also initiated and orchestrated policies of harshly persecuting Christ-confessors. The detailed accounts of the Waldensian slaughter in Italy, or the bloody Huguenot massacre in France, or the well-organized extermination of Protestant believers by the Inquisition, shamefully expose the dangerous religious stand taken by bishops who ruled politically from “Peter’s chair.”

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a painfully humbling read for most Roman Catholics. Its sections that record the atrocities perpetrated by Rome’s “Dark Ages” became the critical mass behind this article and a heavy emotional burden that found mental catharsis only through writing the following poem:
From its height of papal glory,
Rome still bears a stain:
Cruelties and tortures gory
Of believers slain;
Hung or flayed to die of bleeding,
Burned alive in prayer,
Slaughtered for their Scripture-reading,
All by “Peter’s chair.” 
Had their protestation perished
Under fire and lash
Or their hope for freedoms cherished
Vanished in the ash,
We today would too be liable,
As that martyred host,
Just because we owned a Bible
Or made Christ our boast.
Roman faith, if it has merit,
Cringes at these tales.
Mass and Mary can’t repair it;
Explanation fails.
But the popes who wrote this story
Pray without refrain
That those flames be purgatory
Where their souls remain.
— David L. Hatton, 4/13/2015

Salvation is found neither by church membership nor by filling an exalted church office, but only by placing authentic faith in Christ. Countless multitudes of those who confessed Christ in this way perished in horrendously cruel ways for being designated “heretics” by papal edict. Were they unwilling to confess the Apostles and Nicene Creeds? Far from it! Instead, they were tortured to death for refusing to embrace those additions to the later creeds that Rome politically enforced as essential doctrines, and which Protestants have never stopped resisting as unbiblical errors.

According to a creedal belief in “the communion of saints,” all Roman, Orthodox and Protestant believers confessing Trinitarian faith form one “holy catholic Church.” When Rome began killing Protestants for their “heretical” loyalty to Scripture, the historical departure of “Peter’s chair” from Peter’s creed became indelibly manifested. This holocaust of Christian martyrs, lasting for hundreds of years, politically confirmed a creedally Roman church, while spiritually nullifying its boast of being creedally catholic. In fact, Roman believers today should ethically reevaluate using the name “Catholic” for self-identification. Rome’s self-concept of exclusivity precludes true catholicity. In light of those early creeds, “Roman Catholic” is a self-contradictory phrase. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because of my “born again” nature in Christ and my orthodoxy in creedal confession, I am first catholic and secondarily Protestant. Roman Catholics can think this way too, and should. But when Rome tried eradicating believers like me, it identified itself as primarily Roman and only “catholic” within the context of its own political power structure. Even today, Rome still treats me as not quite catholic—designating me as part of the “separated brethren.” That’s not the fault of my catholic faith but of the Roman politics that perpetuates this artificial separation.

Christ, however, placed in my hands, as He did in Peter’s, the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” to “bind” the powers of darkness with truth and to “loose” the powers of healing with love. While boldly confessing that Jesus Christ is “the Son of the living God” and that He is still in direct charge of building His church, I use that “key” of love to join my Lord in supporting the catholic nature of His Church and in outwitting the mistaken polity of him who sits in “Peter’s chair”:
“He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”
(from “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham)


  1. My feelings about the Roman church parallel yours. While I honor them for preserving God's written Word through the Dark Ages to our time, and I honor individual Catholics for belief and dedicated service that put many non-Catholics to shame, the Roman church has done and taught much that I cannot honor.
    *They have raised themselves up as the sole ministers of God's grace on Earth.
    *They have arrogated to their priests the title "Father," a title that Our Lord Jesus reserved for God alone.
    *They have changed the Biblical Sabbath into "the Lord's Day," the former "venerable day of the Sun," in direct contradiction to the Fourth of the Ten Commandments.
    *They have raised up Mary, the earthly mother of our Lord Jesus, to be called "the Queen of Heaven," and added the demonstrably false legend that after Jesus' Divine conception she remained a virgin until she was physically raised into Heaven in the same manner as Enoch, Elijah and Jesus.
    *They have, as you detailed, slaughtered many and many who loved and followed Jesus but did not subscribe to their heresies.
    *They continue to this day to believe and teach that theirs is the only true Church of Jesus our Lord and Anointed King.
    And they have done much more that I cannot honor, but only acknowledge as against clear Bible teaching. Like you, I feel the time is past when they can claim with any truth the title "Catholic."

    1. I think some Roman Catholics have outgrown blind faith in Rome's claims to exclusivity. Many saw authentic ecumenicity during the Charismatic Movement. Wherever two or three gathered in His name, Christ showed up, with or without the pope's approval. Catholics learned from non-Catholics about openness to the Holy Spirit. Protestant examples of dependence on Scripture led some into devoted Bible study. Finding Christ in a personal way, receiving the Holy Spirit's touch, rediscovering the authority of God's Word---all through help from their "separated brethren"---changed the thinking of many followers of Rome. They still honor their Roman bishop, but some have lost a zealous overconfidence in urging us who already confess catholic, Trinitarian faith, "Come back to Mother Church!"

      About the point of meeting on the 1st day of the week, rather than observing Old Covenant Sabbath laws, it reminds me of another blog article I want to write. Beyond historical arguments, I believe this question is theologically tied into Christ's initiation of a new "work-week," a New Covenant week begun by His resurrection and ending a "Sabbath rest" to come. But, in holding this, I keep in mind Paul's words in Romans 14:5 on the observance of days as being in the realm of devotional "opinions" (Rom 14:1).

    2. I'll be interested to read that article, Pastor David. But I would challenge you also to check out some materials from Christian Sabbath-keepers, particularly a book called "From Sabbath to Sunday" by Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, who got access to the Vatican archives to aid his research. His conclusions may startle many who sincerely believe that Jesus authorized the change of day...

  2. Well-said Brother. I wish the creeds would use "Christian" rather than "Catholic" so that there is no confusion between us and the Roman church. My wife, who was from a Pentecostal background, got her knickers in a knot when she saw the Apostle's Creed in our order of worship. Even though I explained that my church is totally-unrelated to the Roman church, she really didn't want much to do with it.

    1. History shouldn't be neglected because misunderstood. Early church fathers used the term "catholic" to describe the oneness of the Church in faith and communion. New Testament doctrine supports this univerality, and so should we. I'm thrilled how those early leaders preserved the essentials of Trinitarian faith in their wording of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. If all Christian congregations regularly repeated those foundational creeds in their worship services, maybe our confessional differences over less crucial doctrinal interpretations would cause less political division.

  3. The petros-petra argument does not wash linguistically, for petros is just the masculine form of petra, created to designate Peter. And in Aramaic, which Jesus probably spoke, there would be no difference - you are cephas and on this cephas I will build my church. Of course, the other apostles are included in Matt 18, which is why the idea of papal infallibility is quite nuanced, as one sees in the Vatican II documents.

    One does not doubt there was violence done by Catholics - both Reformation and theCatholic Church were hijacked by the political forces of their time. But remember, there were plenty of Catholics martyred by the various reformers. No one's hands are historically free from blood.

    I guess for me when the various Protestant churches stop splitting I will be impressed that they have a point - an when they stop slipping into moral compromise. I was drawn to the deeply biblical and Theologicsl unity of the Catholic Church - it was Eucharistic centrality, deep be fierce to Jesus, and the like that got to me. But then it was John Michael Talbot and the Brothers and Sisters of Charity that were the vehicle.

    1. Since my Bible study finds support from those with higher academic expertise, I depend greatly on scholars like yourself, Peter. So, before revising my "petros-petra word-play" argument, I did some research among your peers.

      Using JSTOR and Google Books, I found an old article by Episcopal Bishop William Croswell Doane, who quoted many church fathers on this issue:

      I found another article ("The Authorization of Peter" by Hans Kvalbein in The Formation of the Early Church, edited by Jostein Ådna) which outlined these patristic viewpoints under three headings after explaining the lateness of the present Roman Catholic interpretation of this passage (i.e., the Reformation and Counter-Reformation period) and its divergence from the early fathers: "The rock is not Peter as the coming bishop of Rome or the starting point of an apostolic succession, but either 1) Peter as a representative of all the disciples and thereby of the church as a whole, or 2) Peter as a believer or Peter's faith as it was expressed in his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, or 3) the rock is Christ himself, the content of Peter's confession and of the belief of the church."

      Finally (from "Building the Church on Bedrock" in Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel by David E. Garland), I learned of a prominent Greek scholar, Chrys C. Caragounis, whose reasoning supports the "petros-petra" argument. This link ( is to an extensive quote from Garland's summary of Caragounis's thought. I also found a short letter Caragounis wrote ( answering a student who asked him the same question that came to me when I read your comment: "The petros-petra argument does not wash linguistically, for petros is just the masculine form of petra, created to designate Peter."

      So, I'll let my "petros-petra" argument stand. And as far as how human corruption politically hijacked both Catholic and Protestant churches to kill dissenting believers, it only adds support to a confessional rather than political interpretation of the Matthew passage. Jesus before Pilate confirmed the spiritual, non-violent nature His "kingdom" (John 18:36). And Paul, scolding those who divided by basing their status on various men, even Peter (1 Cor 1:12), confirmed the exclusive confessional nature of "the foundation" (1 Cor 3:11), which is Christ Himself, "the Son of the living God."

      I praise God for Vatican II---a giant step spiritually. But it still leaves the Roman church divided from the Church universal by politically defining cathlocity in terms of allegiance to Rome. This is why, recognizing the political nature of church organizations, I am first creedally a catholic, embracing the whole Church using Edwin Markham's tactic, and only secondarily a Wesleyan, as long as the Wesleyan denomination upholds the early catholic creeds.