August 2008 • Volume XII, Issue 4
Christ Will Build His
Matthew 16 is one of the most famous passages in
all the Bible. Here we have Peter’s great confession: "Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God" (16), and Christ’s great promise: "I
will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against
it" (18). We also have here a controversy with Rome which identifies the
person of Peter as the rock on which the church is built. Then, after
claiming that the pope is the true successor of Peter, they argue for
papal primacy (that he is Christ’s vicar and representative), papal
authority (that he wields the two swords of church and state) and papal
infallibility (that he cannot err when speaking ex cathedra on
matters of faith and morals). Since they claim that Christ promised to
build the church of Rome with the pope at its head, then everyone (you
included!) ought to join the Roman church.
In Matthew 16, Jesus and His disciples enter the
region of Caesarea Philippi (13). He asks a short question: "Whom do men
say that I the Son of man am?" (13). The disciples reply that not
everyone agrees. Some reckon that He is John the Baptist risen from the
dead (as Herod thought; 14:2). Others say He is Elijah (wrongly
interpreting Malachi 4:5) or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. All of
these views are wrong. Moreover, the Pharisees claimed that Jesus was
empowered by Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24), but the disciples were not asked
what these false teachers thought.
Then Jesus asked a more personal and penetrating
question of the twelve: "But whom say ye that I am?" (16:15).
Simon Peter answered for himself and for his companions, "Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God" (16). This is an amazing confession
from several perspectives. First, there is the content of the
confession. Consider the titles Peter ascribes to Jesus: "the Christ"
and "the Son of the living God" (16)! Second, there is the timing of
this confession. Peter is here speaking during the days of Christ’s
humiliation and before His resurrection, ascension and pouring out of
the Holy Spirit, and when, as verse 14 makes clear, most of the people
sinfully misunderstood Him. Yet Peter rightly confesses, "Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God" (16)! Third, there is the origin of
this confession. Peter was a mere man, the son of Jonah, and the true
identity of Jesus could only be grasped by divine grace: "Blessed art
thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee,
but my Father which is in heaven" (17). In other words, Peter only
understood who Jesus was by a divine and spiritual light (as Jonathan
Edwards once put it). Through Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the Father
sovereignly and effectually illumined Peter’s heart by the Holy Spirit.
Blessed is Peter to be chosen to have such wonderful knowledge, when
most remain in darkness! Fourth, this confession is also remarkable
because of its location: Caesarea Philippi. This city was named after
Caesar Augustus (a Roman emperor) and Philip (the tetrarch). It was
situated north of Galilee in Gentile lands. This great, divinely-wrought
confession of who Jesus was would later spread from the Jews to the
Gentiles, throughout the Roman empire and into all the world, including
Christ utters these marvellous words: "thou art
Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it" (18). Contrary to Rome, the rock on which
Christ builds His church is not the person of Peter. Rome would need to
prove that Peter was in Rome; that the apostle was a bishop in Rome
(though the Bible knows of no such office of bishop as understood by
Rome, and the office of an apostle includes an itinerant ministry); that
Peter appointed a successor as bishop of Rome, giving him papal
authority; and that this succession has been maintained unbroken for
2,000 years (despite papal schisms involving two or three rivals
claiming the see of Rome at the same time). Even if all these things
could be proved (which they cannot), Rome would still have to prove that
papal doctrine is scriptural—man’s free will; human merit; justification
by faith and works; universal, ineffectual atonement;
transubstantiation; idol worship; Mariolatry; purgatory; and all the
rest of her "damnable heresies" (II Peter 2:1).
Think also of the idea of the "rock" on which Christ
builds His church. A rock on which you erect a building is its
foundation. The foundation determines the shape and strength of the
building. Now consider a building which has as its foundation: man,
sinful man, heretical men (like the popes), monsters of impiety (as many
of the popes are, even according to Roman Catholic historians and
theologians). Such a foundation means that the church that is built upon
it is man-centred. Thus Rome teaches salvation by man’s free will, man’s
merit, man’s obtaining indulgences and man’s temporal sufferings in the
fires of purgatory. Roman Catholicism teaches bowing down to man-made
idols, especially the virgin Mary (who is portrayed as a goddess, being
immaculately conceived and assumed bodily into heaven), as well as the
worship of a man, the pope (for he is given more than a merely human
honour). The mass is thoroughly man-centred too: a mere man makes bread
into Christ (transubstantiation) and a fallen man offers Christ as an
unbloody sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. There is
also Rome’s man-made tradition and her man-made hierarchy, with the pope
at the head of the church as the "Holy Father" and "Vicar of Christ."
While the reader does not quote a specific text, he
asks, "Why does the church seem virtually silent in preaching and
teaching on the subject of gluttony? I have seen it said that in the
past the church preached on it while today we practice it!"
Scripture mentions the sin of gluttony more than
once, although not frequently. In Deuteronomy 21:20, Israel’s fathers
are commanded to take a rebellious and stubborn son to the elders and to
say to them, "This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey
our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard." This command to take a
rebellious son to the elders is still in force! In Proverbs 23:20-21,
Solomon admonishes God’s people, "Be not among winebibbers; among
riotous eaters of flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to
poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags." The Jews
considered gluttony to be a serious sin, for they charged our Lord with
being "a gluttonous man and a winebibber" (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34).
Although gluttony is not mentioned by name in Proverbs 23:1-3, the
admonition is important: "When thou sittest to eat with a ruler,
consider diligently what is before thee: and put a knife to thy throat,
if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for
they are deceitful meat." And it would not hurt to read also verses 4-8.
The reader assumes in his question that gluttony is a
sin, but asks specifically why ministers never preach on it. I do not
know the answer; there may be many answers: The minister himself eats
too much; when a minister condemns gluttony from the pulpit the people
greet such an admonition with hilarity (as happened once to me); too
many in the congregation are gluttonous and the minister does not want
to offend; gluttony is generally considered a rather insignificant sin,
not worth our attention.
One reason, however, why ministers rarely, if ever,
preach on the sin may be that gluttony is hard to define. I suspect that
a thin man who eats all he wants and never puts on a pound will define
gluttony somewhat differently from a person who eats sparingly and yet
finds that everything he eats turns to fat.
A man who eats voraciously and never puts on weight
may be guilty of the sin of gluttony, while an overweight person may not
be. Not all obese people are gluttons, and not all thin people are free
from this sin. The elders in the church do not discover those who are
gluttonous by entering each home and weighing the members of the family
on a scale they carry with them.
A further problem of no little significance is: How
much may a person eat before falling into the sin of gluttony? Or, along
the same line, What foods may he eat and what foods may he not eat to
keep himself from the sin of gluttony?
There are few gluttons in third-world countries where
the problem is not over-eating, but keeping one’s self alive. We who
live in affluence must consider that the sin belongs especially to our
times and in our circumstances.
However, I do sincerely believe that conscientious
ministers who are intent on preaching the whole counsel of God and who
seek to apply that Word of God to the congregation do preach on
gluttony, but do so without specifically mentioning the sin. How so?
The amount of what we eat and drink and the kinds of
food and drink are all matters of Christian liberty. They belong to that
area where no laws ought to be made, where the Christian, anointed by
Christ to be king in God’s house, rules his life by the principles of
Scripture, and where his own conscience is his guide—a conscience bound
by the Word of God. And so a conscientious minister preaches the
principles underlying this sin. What are some of them?
We are not to be concerned about what we shall eat
and what we shall drink, because God, who takes care of the sparrows,
has promised to take care of us (Matt. 6:25-34). Much gluttony begins by
failing to heed these words of Jesus. With full refrigerators, we worry
We are not to be ascetics who, in the interests of
staying thin, shun God’s gifts. We are to receive them with gratitude,
sanctify them with the Word of God and prayer, and enjoy them as good
gifts of God (I Tim. 4:1-5).
We must never think of food and drink as ends in
themselves, to be enjoyed for their own sakes, but we are to remember
that our calling is to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness
(Matt. 6:33). That is, food and drink are given us by our Father in
heaven so that we may have the strength to continue our pilgrim’s
journey to heaven, and, while we are still on earth, to do the work of
the kingdom given us as our assignments by Christ.
If we indulge in food and drink of the most costly
kind and give not to the poor, the food we eat will not only make us
fat, but it will turn to bile within us under God’s curse. God is very
concerned about the poor.
So important is the kingdom of God’s righteousness
that its obligations supersede food and drink. If it is necessary, as it
is for many people, to choose between Christian school tuition and meat,
between the preaching and potatoes, between missions and peaches, the
causes of God’s kingdom must come first.
When, in our affluence, we eat delicacies and exotic
foods that are not good for us, we become gluttons. When we eat any food
that does harm to our health, we sin. This does not mean that we have to
listen to doctors all the time or to take a small scale to the dinner
table or to count calories constantly, but it does mean that the
scriptural rule, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is
at hand" (Phil. 4:5) is a word much needed in our day. In eating and
drinking as well as in all other things, let us do all to God’s glory (I
Cor. 10:31). Prof. Hanko
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