Paulianity, Part 5
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18
As is recorded in the book of Acts, Peter served as the de facto leader of the early followers of Jesus after the crucifixion. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is quoted as designating Peter the rock, or foundation upon which he would build his church, meaning to continue his work. Within the elaborate St. Peter’s Basilica, which is inside the walls of the Vatican (the heart of the Roman Catholic Church), which is also inside the old city walls of Rome, there are portraits of every Pope of the Catholic church. The first portrait is a rendering of Peter, who was named (posthumously) as the first Pope of the Church. St. Peter’s Basilica holds what are believed to be the remains of Peter, along with the remains of numerous other Popes.
St. Paul’s Basilica, which is somewhat more modest, is built upon the rumored burial place of Paul. It is not only outside the walls of the Vatican, but also outside the city walls of Rome. This is interesting since (1) Paul was a Roman citizen, and (2) Church doctrine relies much more on the teachings of Paul than on any recorded teachings of Peter. Once Christianity was designated as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, the Roman Catholic Church prospered, and a mutually enabling link was created between the Church and the State. That marriage also led to the construction of beautiful, ornate churches and cathedrals to replace the homes, tents, and other humbler places of worship that had served for gatherings of the faithful since Jesus’ time. While helping to end the persecution of Christians, the marriage of Church and State also compromised the Church’s role as a prophetic watchdog and critic of the State. This sanctioning by the State catapulted certain Christian sects, those agreeing to cooperate with the Roman government, into a position where they could grow and prosper.
Early Christianity sprouted many separate and disparate applications of the life and teachings of Jesus stemming from the disciples who went out into the world after his resurrection to spread the gospel, only two of whom were Peter and Paul. It also inspired many religious writings, only some of which are included in today’s Bible. It is interesting that the Roman Catholic church named Peter as its initial leader, but the Protestant church, formed some 1600 years later, in reaction to and protest against certain Church practices and doctrines, seemed more to follow the intellectually-focused teachings of Paul. Other veins of Christianity remain today that trace their origins to other early disciples of Jesus, including the Coptic Church (founded by Mark), the Celtic Church (founded by Joseph of Arimathea), and others who refused participation in the marriage of Christianity to the Roman Empire. All Christian churches retain one common thread despite their differing doctrines and practices: they claim Jesus’ life and teachings as the foundation of their existence. It amazes me how differently even the early disciples – those who personally knew Jesus – apparently applied his teachings to the various cultures they evangelized. It is also interesting that the religion naming Peter as its founder, Roman Catholicism, and the counter movement against that religion, Protestantism, have grown in vastly larger numbers than the other early Christian sects. No doubt, the association with the Roman Empire had a significant impact on their growth that has lingered long beyond the Empire.
It is also interesting that a large and vocal portion of the Protestant church today has seemingly and passionately aligned itself with parts of the conservative wing of the United States political landscape. This group uses scripture, including some of Paul’s writings, to infer that certain political posturing is consistent with God’s will, even commanded by God. Never mind that other passionate, educated Christians disagree fervently with their interpretation of scripture. Also, never mind that while the various sides line up in opposition to each other, immigrants languish at the border, the numbers of homeless people climb, and food insecurity is a chronic issue in the richest country in the world. These were issues of prime and unarguable importance to our namesake.
Personally, the thought that God’s will would be focused against any of God’s children or against any part of God’s creation requires gross misunderstandings and dangerous assumptions, even though both have occurred regularly throughout history. Paul’s writings provide much fodder for this type of misguided application, probably because they were written by a man of privilege with a bold and authoritative-sounding writing style. Regardless, even Paul’s writings must be taken out of their over-arching and concluding context to be used in such destructive ways.
This is the 44th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.