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FROM THE ARCHIVES

As we look to the future here at St Giles, it does us no harm to also reflect on the past, so here is another of our series of extracts from parish newsletters of the past. This letter was written by The Revd. Gordon Taylor for Saint Peter's Day, July 1997

Perhaps the most important event in Peter's life was when Jesus said to him: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" ( Matt.16;18-19). We should particularly note that this was said in re ply to Peter's earlier confession at Caesarea Philippi: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". In that statement Peter is recognising Jesus as the Messiah, and in fact according him Divinity.


Such epoch-making words, and the things the commentators have said about them, make a fascinating study. Plenty of contradictory views have been offered, and we can validly ask what the words really mean.


One of the strongest points which has been made is that the words are not referred to at all by the Fathers in the Second Century despite their importance in Church history. Moreover, Mark's Gospel, the earliest of the four and dating probably from the year 65, know nothing of this strong commendation of Peter, despite its being one of the main proof-texts for the R.C. doctrine of the Papacy. This omission is very difficult to explain, especially as Mark was probably Peter's secretary, and the Gospel which bears his name could well be Peter's.


Some have doubted Christ 's use of the words "my church", and thought them on his lips to be an anachronism. The word "church" occurs only twice in the Gospels, and as used here in Matthew 's in about 80-90 seems to reflect the conditions of a later era than Christ's (about 30). Further, Luke, who wrote both his Gospel and the Acts, knows the word "church" and what it signifies very well, using it a score of times in the Acts but never in his Gospel, either in speech or narrative. The word as used in Matthew's Gospel can hardly mean more than a local community, whereas as used by Christ it clearly means the whole Church a great Church whose constituent members are smaller communities but that state of affairs belongs to the period of the Acts. In the Gospels we have a body of disciples with Jesus at their head expecting the coming of the Kingdom of God, who is its sole ruler. By the terms of Christ 's great commission Peter should have enjoyed an authoritative position as ruler of the primitive Church, yet its earliest documents show no such absolute status being accorded to him. At Antioch, for instance, Paul "withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed" (Gal.2 ;11) . Is it possible Paul (died 64) did not know of the commission to Peter which Matthew records in 80-90? There is no satisfactory answer to this problem.


We may add that the idea of one of the twelve being accorded primacy is not consistent with other sayings of Jesus, where he gives primacy to no apostle. In Matthew 19 verse 28, there are "twelve thrones", apparently of equal importance, and in Mark 10 verses 35-45 the request of the sons of Zebedee for leading places is rejected by Jesus, and not on the ground of any primacy already belonging to Peter, but because Jesus says it is not in his power to confer such rank. Above all, the description "rock" does not accord with the unstable character of Peter, who was to "curse and swear" as he denied Christ in the high priest's house (Mark 14;71). However this can be countered by saying it is not the earlier character of Peter that is the foundation, but, rather, Peter as the recipient of Divine revelation and as proclaiming that revelation utterly fearlessly after the Resurrection when he certainly answers to the "rock" description. The "rock" aspect lies in what he said in his famous confession: "Thou art the Chris t, the Son of the living God", confessing the Divinity of Christ. Without that there is no Christian Church.


There is a sense in which it can be said the Church was built on Peter, and it depends on the fact that Peter was the first witness to the Resurrection, when he saw the Empty Tomb. In this sense he was the first member of the Church, the first witness to the fact that Jesus is both Lord and Christ, and declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. This would explain why the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. It is the Church of a Messiah who has already triumphed over death.

G.C. TAYLOR

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