Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is "this rock" that Jesus will build His Church on?

What is "this rock" that Jesus will build His Church on?

By guest blogger, Letitia Wong from TALITHA, KOUM!

One of the main Mormon claims to divine authority is in interpreting Matthew 16:13-18 to refer to their concept of "continuing revelation." By basing the organization of the LDS church on "continuing revelation," as "the rock" on which Jesus builds His church, the LDS church claims legitimacy for its founder Joseph Smith and the entire line of its prophets "continuing" through today.  It is widely known that Mormon leaders routinely misread, mangle, and misapply the Bible in order to fabricate legitimacy for Mormonism, so how has this been done to Matt. 16:13-18?

"13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 

18 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."

According to Mormon teaching, "the rock", or foundation, of Jesus' Church is the act of God revealing new information or new revelation to Peter.  It infers, therefore, that it is the act of new revelation or continuing revelation that is to be the basis on which Jesus builds His Church.  The Mormon Church, as Joseph Smith claimed, is that church that receives God's continuing revelation through the Mormon prophets.

Even if true, this is a curious position for the LDS church to adopt.  The concept of "continuing revelation" is believed on the basis of necessary change.  The idea that God can give "new" revelation has weak limitations in Mormonism, forcing most Mormons to contradict either themselves or the doctrine itself whenever called on to explain it.  On the one hand, the LDS church's main proposition is that it is a 'restoration' of the lost faith in God, yet on the other hand, it accepts that beliefs can and do change based on the next revelation from God.  

If the former is true, then "continuing revelation" is a danger to the very nature of Mormonism, for it would suppose that the restoration is complete and there would be no need for "continuing revelations."  If the latter is true, then Mormonism should not need any validation from the Bible; it does not need to 'restore' anything but only live out what is "new," which is a door flung open to any and all possibilities, even ones that contradict former revelations and all in the name of necessity (God does, because God *must).  This has forced Mormons to place weak limitations on just how far a theoretical new revelation can lead them, but of course, there is no such limitation within Mormon doctrines or the Four Standard Works themselves.  

The late Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson himself headed off this question of consistency by discouraging Mormons from comparing the words of previous prophets to any current one.  “Beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets," he said.  Indeed, Mormon Prophet Harold B. Lee said, "Sometimes we get the notion that if it is written in a book, it makes it more true than if it is spoken in the last General Conference. Just because it is written in a book does not make it more of an authority to guide us. President Taylor goes on with this same idea and explains why the **scriptures of the past are not sufficient for us today.**" [emphasis mine]

But I digress.  Back to the topic, which is the Bible passage from which the LDS church draws its legitimacy and divine authority, unnecessary as that is by its own standards.  Does it exegete the passage correctly?
The "rock" which Jesus calls Peter is masculine (petros), but the "rock" that Jesus says He will build His church on is feminine (petra). Looking at the syntax, "revealed" is a verb and cannot be 'petra', so neither can be the concept of "continuing revelation" which is further removed from the context of the passage. The one question that is almost never asked of this passage is "What is the subject matter?"   'Petra' can only point to the next closest idea, the subject, which in this case is Peter's confession that "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus' Church, therefore, is built on the divine *identity* of Jesus Christ, which leads necessarily to the believer's confession of His divinity. What Jesus is + our confession of Him = the foundation of the Church, which will continue to build and defeat evil to the point that not even the gates of Hell will be able to hold the Church back.
If the identity and confession of Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God is the foundation of His Church, then no religious body, sect, or denomination can claim to be the "One True Church" anywhere on earth.  Jesus did not build and is not building His Church on the outer trappings of religious practices or principles, of names or lineages.  The Church is built on Himself and is made of the people (the 'petros'-es) who believe on Him.  As it is, all institutions with bylaws, constitutions, hierarchies, and religious rituals are NOT the Church, even as those who are in them ARE the Church.  Those who believe and follow Jesus are not simply 'in the Church,' they are the Church as temples of the Holy Spirit.  
The confession of Peter can only be made in earnest at God the Father's revelation into the heart of the individual, as Jesus said.  For Mormons, this confession is not the foundation to faith and church, as the Mormon prophets have so clearly declared.  I should hope that every Mormon who places that high value in sincerety looks at the Peter's confession and the confession of all Christians throughout the history of the Church wonders why the Mormon prophets substitute themselves over "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" for the foundation of Jesus' Church.