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The Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and the Church

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    The Foundation of the Church

    The church of God is built upon a solid foundation. It could not be otherwise. The church is the church of God, and if it is God’s church, it is His property; it surely would have a foundation as enduring as He Himself. One could not conceive of anything but this. Nothing earthly, nothing sinful, nothing ephemeral, could provide a foundation for the church of the living God; only God Himself could provide and be such a foundation. This was clearly emphasized by Christ Jesus in His talk with Peter and the apostles when He was here on earth.BSPC 143.6

    “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.” Matthew 16:18.BSPC 144.1

    It is upon the Rock that the church of Christ is to be founded. The people of God in the days of Jesus were well acquainted with this expression as it applied to Jehovah. It is to be found repeatedly in the Scriptures of truth. “He is the Rock” (Deuteronomy 32:4); He is “the Rock of his salvation” (verse 15); He is “the Rock of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:3); He is “the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2); He is the “rock of ages” (Isaiah 26:4, margin). He is the Rock that was with Israel in all their wanderings (Psalm 78:35). As God the Father is designated the “Rock,” so also is God the Son. He was the Angel of the covenant, the Angel of the presence of God; He was the Angel of the Lord in all His relationships with Israel. God’s name was in His Son (Exodus 23:21), and so Christ the Lord is called the Rock, just as is the eternal God. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul, in reviewing some of the experiences of God’s ancient people, remarks, “And that Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4.)BSPC 144.2

    Note the following from the Testimonies:BSPC 144.3

    “The apostles built upon a sure foundation, even the Rock of Ages.”—The Acts of the Apostles, 596.BSPC 144.4

    “Christ, the true foundation, is a living stone.”—Mount of Blessing, p. 216,BSPC 144.5

    “Christ, the Word, the revelation of God, the manifestation of His character, His law, His love, His life, is the only foundation upon which we can build a character that will endure.”—Ibid. pp. 213, 214.BSPC 144.6

    But we read also that the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church:BSPC 144.7

    “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” Ephesians 2:20.BSPC 144.8

    This, of course, can hardly mean that the apostles and prophets constituted the foundation of the church. They could, however, and did lay the foundation. Paul makes reference to this in his letter to the church at Corinth in the following words:BSPC 144.9

    “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation.” 1 Corinthians 3:10.BSPC 145.1

    A sacred responsibility was entrusted to the apostles of Christ. God certainly made a wonderful revelation to them. He revealed to them His eternal purpose, for the apostle Paul mentions concerning the gospel he preached:BSPC 145.2

    “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Ephesians 3:5.BSPC 145.3

    Their work was of such an enduring character that it will be remembered throughout eternity. Their names actually appear in the foundations of the New Jerusalem. In describing it the apostle John mentions:BSPC 145.4

    “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Revelation 21:14.BSPC 145.5

    The writings of the Spirit of prophecy also comment on this as follows:BSPC 145.6

    “Upon the foundation that Christ Himself had laid, the apostles built the church of God.”—The Acts of the Apostles, 595.BSPC 145.7

    “The apostles built upon a sure foundation, even the Rock of Ages. To this foundation they brought the stones they quarried from the world.”—The Acts of the Apostles, 596.BSPC 145.8

    Some undoubtedly will raise a question about the words that Jesus addressed to Peter. The words as we find them in our Bible are: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Matthew 16:18.BSPC 145.9

    Some have maintained that inasmuch as the name Peter means “rock,” then Peter must be the rock upon which the church is built. This, however, would present rather poor prospects for the Christian church. In the Old Testament church, Jehovah, the infallible God, was the foundation; now, in the New Testament church a poor fallible man is to be the foundation. One could hardly conceive that our God would ordain such a plan. If the infinite and mighty God was the Rock of Israel, and Peter is the rock of Christendom, then the gospel period has surely sunk unspeakably and miserably below the period that preceded it. No, such a thing could never be. This gospel age is glorious; now we are in the full blaze of the revelation of God’s purpose. Things that in other ages were not made known to man, are now revealed in the full light of the glorious gospel of the Son of God.BSPC 145.10

    How, then, are we to understand the words of Jesus? What does He mean when He addresses Peter and says, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Is it on “Peter” that the church is built? Is he the rock? It is true his name means “stone,” but in the Greek language it is a different word from what Jesus used when He said, “Upon this rock.” This will be apparent when the wording of the text is given, and the Greek words for Peter and rock are introduced. Notice the following: “And I [Jesus] say also unto thee, that thou art Peter [petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church.”BSPC 146.1

    Here are two Greek words: petros meaning “a stone,” this word being in the masculine gender; and petra, meaning the “solid rock,” this word being in the feminine gender. In other words, we have a small stone and a mighty Gibraltar.BSPC 146.2

    A number of the early fathers of the Christian church, including St. John Chrysostom (AD. 345-407), who was archbishop of Constantinople for many years, maintained in their commentaries on this particular text, that it was Christ and not Peter who was the rock (petra) on which Christ built His church. Furthermore, they maintain that Simon was named petros (a small stone) because of his faith in Christ as the Son of the living God.BSPC 146.3

    Barnes, in his commentary, calls attention to another thing, and that is the form of Christ’s words to Peter when He said, “Thou art Peter.” Note his comments:BSPC 146.4

    “Thou, in saying that I am the Son of God, has called me by a name expressive of my true character. 1, also, have given to thee a name expressive of your character. I have called you Peter, a rock, denoting firmness, solidity, stability, and your confession has shown that the name is appropriate.”—On Matthew 16:18.BSPC 146.5

    The use of the word “this” in reference to the Rock “this Rock” is significant, and is one of the places in the New Testament where it stands for the speaker. There are two other instances worthy of note, and both of them are used in connection with our relation to our Lord and Master. When Jesus said, “This is that bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:58); and when He said, “Destroy this temple” (John 2:19), He was certainly making reference to Himself. In the expression in Matthew 16, when He said, “Upon this rock,” He made reference to Himself. As to the attitude of the early church fathers to this expression, note the following excerpt:BSPC 146.6

    “Launoi, the eminent Gallican, found but seventeen of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church (among whom he reckons ‘Fathers’ down to the twelfth century) who understand St. Peter to be ‘the rock,’ and he cites forty of the contrary opinion. Yet of the ‘seventeen,’ most of them speak only rhetorically, and with justifiable freedom. I have often done the same myself, on the principle which the same apostle applies to all Christians: ‘You also as lively stones,’ etc. But it is quite noteworthy that the Council of Trent itself momentarily adopts the prevailing patristic and therefore the Catholic interpretation, speaking of the Nicene Creed.... Thus, the faith of Peter is confessed the only foundation, in a direct exposition of the text so often quoted with another intent. In spite of all this, the Creed of Pius IV was enjoined as soon as that council closed; and every member of the late Vatican Council was made to profess the same verbally before any other business was undertaken. Now, even this spurious creed forced them to swear concerning the Holy Scriptures, ‘I will never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.’ Obviously, according to this rule, there is no Catholic doctrine on the subject; much less any Catholic teaching to the effect that the modern bishops of Rome are ‘the rock,’ as really as St. Peter himself.”—Editorial “Elucidations,” No. 7, on The Treatises of Cyprian. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, p. 561.BSPC 147.1

    Furthermore, a significant fact is that this idea that the rock refers to Peter’s confession is actually found in one of the prayers in the Roman Missal. It appears in Latin in Missale Romanum, published in Rome, 1898; but in a translation as given by C. S. Isaacson in his book entitled Our Brief against Rome, the following is observed:BSPC 147.2

    “Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that thou would not suffer us, whom thou has established on the rock of the apostolic confession, to be shaken by any disturbances.”—page 21.BSPC 147.3

    If Jesus had meant us to understand that He was building His church on Peter, He could have said, “Thou art Petros, and upon this petros I will build My church.” That at least would have been consistent, and no one could have misunderstood it. But He did not say that; neither did He say, “Thou art Peter, and upon thee will I build My church.” But He said what He meant to say, and His words were quite natural. Peter had said concerning Him, “Thou art the Christ”; now Christ says to Peter, “Thou art Peter.” Peter had made a unique and remarkable confession, that Christ was the Son of the living God. That was the truth, and He is the rock of our salvation, the rock upon which the church is founded. Mrs. E. G. White in her writings has given some helpful paragraphs concerning this.BSPC 147.4

    “Jesus continued: ‘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.’ The word Peter signifies a stone,—a rolling stone. Peter was not the rock upon which the church was founded.”—The Desire of Ages, 412, 413.BSPC 148.1

    “God has never given a hint in His word that He has appointed any man to be the head of the church.”—The Great Controversy, 51.BSPC 148.2

    “Human power and human might did not establish the church of God, and neither can they destroy it. Not on the rock of human strength, but on Christ Jesus, the Rock of Ages, was the church founded, ‘and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”—Prophets and Kings, 595, 596.BSPC 148.3

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