Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Rock and the Gates of Hell

Matthew 16:18 (KJV)

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.

Roman Catholics maintain that this verse is the locus for the ordination of Peter at the first pope and the reason that all popes from thence to the return of Christ shall be known as the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Lutherans, and presumably other "prods" (as my colorful Catholic former co-worker Randy used to call us), maintain that the rock, the foundation of all Christ followers, is not Peter but the confession of faith that comes before in Mt. 16:16:
Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Let me tell you, Catholics and prods ain't gonna resolve that one before the cows come home. Or before the chickens come home to roost.

Mostly I try to look away when I see pictures of the pope in royal vestments standing on a high perch before the sea of humanity inside the oval collonade of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Don't ever take me there. Don't ever force me to go there. Keep me out of jail.

If I went there, my conscience and my faith would compel me to commit a crime of some sort. I would do what I could with my bare hands and maybe a crowbar to tear down a few stones. I would be promptly stopped and arrested by the security guards of the Holy See. "Why," you ask?

Because St. Peter's Basilica was built on contributions extracted from the sweat and toil of the poor, from terrorized consciences of people deliberately kept in the dark, from whom the Scriptures and the good news of the gospel were systematically and deliberately withheld, from people led to believe that the church held unyielding power over their immortal souls that could only be kept from the eternal flames of hell by paying, paying more, and pre-paying for the forgiveness of sins by the purchase of indulgences and paying the ransom of the souls of departed loved ones who were in the limbo of purgatory until the unrepented sin in their lives at the time of their death should have been properly purged by sufficient penitential giving by the living--as determined by their priest, bishop, cardinal or the pope himself if they were people of great earthly power and means.

No wonder Martin Luther could not contain himself. Just read a few of his 95 Theses nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517. Luther wanted to shed the light of day on these practices by subjecting them to open discussion where he could expose them for what they were: elaborate and diabolical hoaxes with no biblical basis whatsoever.

Does it surprise you that the debate never happened, at least not on the 95 Theses? A debate on a toned down list of 20 topics did take place in Heidelberg several years later, but the true confrontation Luther sought never came about. He was excommunicated, condemened to death and became a fugitive. Thank God he survived and lived.

I know Catholics today who are dear and sincere people of faith, followers of Christ, workers of compassion and love moved and motivated by the gospel of the kingdom of God and the saving work of Christ. This ain't about being anti-Catholic or anti-church. It's about Christ.

Luther's simple one-question standard for judging what the church believes, teaches, does, builds and hangs onto has proven to be timeless and should be implemented today everywhere:


So I say today in the fashion of President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall,

Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Mr. Ratzinger-flesh-and-blood-sinful-human-being-just-like-the-rest-of-us:


Sell the the broken chunks of stone as souvenirs. Sell the artwork. Use the money to build housing, to restore the land and create employment in Haiti. Fund soil conservation projects, water conservation projects, health clinics, sustainable energy for the globe, education and employment for the poor, the waging of peace and the demilitarization of the planet.

Uncircle the wagons. Repent. For Christ's sake do the right thing. And that ain't taking Christ's name in vain. It's taking it seriously.
And the same goes for every other segment and enclave of what has ever been built on the foundation laid in Matthew 16. We must never ask anyone else to do what we have not first already done ourselves. Repent.

Let's prevail against the gates of hell.



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