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The primary authority in the Church

By Scott Tibbs, July 22, 2008

In Matthew 16:15-18, Scripture eternally records the following exchange:

15. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

What is Christ referring to when he says "this rock"? Some Catholics claim that "this rock" refers to Peter and establishes the structure of the Catholic Church (which recognizes Peter as the first Pope) as the primary authority for Christians. But is that what Christ is really saying? Did He mean to establish an earthly authority with that statement, or did He mean something else?

It is more likely that Jesus was saying that Peter's confession that He is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" is the foundation upon which Christ will build the Church. In fact, in Acts 4:11, Peter follows up on this claim by stating that Christ was "the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner." The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:11 that "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ", further strengthening the argument that it is the confession of Jesus as the Christ which is the foundation of the Church.

Furthermore, if Peter was established by Christ as the Church's primary authority, why would Scripture record for us that Peter was rebuked by Paul for refusing to eat with the Gentiles "fearing them which were of the circumcision"? (See Galatians 2:11-14.) Clearly, Peter's decision to bow to works-based salvation was wrong and he needed to be corrected. God used another Apostle to do that. If Peter was the Church's primary authority, what right does Paul have to rebuke him?

It is worth pointing out, in a culture that hates the authority of the Church over believers, that Scripture does establish a structure for church authority, including church discipline and qualifications to hold office. This authority resides in pastors and elders. Church discipline is barely recognized today, which we see in rebellious actions such as the decision of a local family to take a fairly minor intra-church disagreement and make a public spectacle out of it last year. (See previous articles February 19, 2007, March 20, 2007 and April 27, 2007.) What Scripture does not establish is a single line of authority stemming from the Apostle Peter.