Monday, October 18, 2010

Primancy of Rome

For centuries, the Roman church has made the claim that all Christians shall submit to Rome's authority. Calvin takes some time to examine and refute this claim. The Roman church was so currputed by the 16th century, that it was a church in name only. In reference to his earlier evidence of the corruption of the Roman church, Calvin writes, "This we have done that the godly reader might judge from comparison what sort of church the Romanists have, for the sake of which they make us guilty of schism, since we have separated from it." This claim of the primacy of Rome is not biblical, not commanded by Christ, nor was it in practice in the early church.

The Romanists point to the Old Covenant as proof of the hierarchy that they have established. Even though there was a type of hierarchy in Israel, Christ did not establish this type of government in the church. In the Old Covenant, the primacy of Jerusalem was established because the Jewish people were surrounded by pagan nations. This provided unity and structure. This was useful since it was one nation, not the entire world. As far as one person being at the top of this hierarchy, Calvin writes, "No one is ignorant of the fact that the high priest was a type of Christ; with the priesthood transferred, the right should be transferred... not to the pope (as he dare shamelessly boast) when he takes the title unto himself, but to Christ, who, as he alone keeps that office without vicar or successor, consequently resigns that honor to no one else." Christ himself reigns eternally, not humans in his place.

There are two sentences which Christ spoke that Rome uses as prooftexts for their claim of authority. Matthew 16:18 reads, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." The other is John 21:15 where Christ asks Peter if he loves Him and then tells Peter to "Feed my sheep." Peter was not given any more authority by Christ in these verses than the other apostles. Christ did not place him in a leadership position in these texts. Even Peter tells the entire church to feed Christ's sheep in I Peter 5:2, "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly."

In Matthew 16:19, Christ said to Peter, "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In John 20:23, Christ explains that binding and loosing is about the forgiveness of sins. Calvin explains about these "keys" that Christ speaks of here by saying, "Since heaven is opened to us by the doctrine of the gospel, the word "keys" affords an appropriate metaphor. Now men are bound and loosed in no other way that when faith reconciles some to God, while their own unbelief constrains others the more." These keys are a common gift, given to all the apostles because the preaching of the gospel was assigned to all the apostles. Even though Christ is speaking to Peter, this gift was given to them all. Cyprian said, "In the person of one man the Lord gave the keys to all, to signify the unity of all." Augustine said, "If the mystery of the church had not been in Peter, the Lord would not have said to him, 'I shall give you the keys'; for if this was said to Peter alone, the church does not have them. But if the church has them, Peter, when he received the keys, was a symbol of the whole church.'"

Calvin concedes that it is not recorded that Christ ever told anyone else directly, "on this rock I will build my church." But at the same time Calvin states that Christ would not say anything more about Peter than Peter and Paul say about all Christians. Even though chronologically Peter may have been first in believing or the first to start building the church, he still does not hold power above any other Christians. There is only one foundation of the church. Paul says it best in I Corinthians 3:11, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Peter is equal to the rest of the apostles. He was their companion, not their master. Acts 15 is proof of this. Calvin writes, "He indeed refers to a council anything that is to be done, and advises what needs to be done. But at the same time he listens to others, and he not only lets them express their views, but leaves the decision to them; when they have decreed, he follows and obeys." By submitting to the authority of the council, Peter does not show dominance over anyone or claiming more power than anyone else. Instead, he humbles himself to being equal with them all. According to Calvin, Paul uses almost two chapters of Galatians to speak to the fact that he and Peter are equals and that neither holds authority over the other.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.6.8-4.6.17

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