Wednesday, July 11, 2007

John Gerstner, Church History, and Matthew 16

I recently was given some video tapes from the video tape library of a dear departed friend, Rev. Norman Jones. I had a few spare moments and had been intrigued by the John Gerstner Church History series that was made by Ligoner ministries. I only watched one full lecture and parts of two others, and I thought I would make a comment on one or two things that struck me, specifically the third point.

First, I did skip straight to the Middle Ages. I have a peculiar interest in Charlemagne and the church as a whole during the 8th and 9th century. It is very hard to find good material on them. In fact, it is almost impossible to find a church history book that actually covers them at all. John Gerstner mentioned Charlemagne one time in a sentence about the power of the pope to crown emperors. Never mind that this was a highly debatable historical point (there is some evidence to suggest that the pope crowned Charlemagne during a prayer to give the appearance of papal authority). That was the only time Charlemagne or anyone from the 8th century was mentioned. That was it. Gerstner did just what everyone else does and that is skip from the 5th Century to the 13th. That is a large gap. I found it frustrating.

Second, the whole course seemed to be history as an apologetic against the abuses of Rome. There is nothing wrong with using that as a unifying theme, and it did provide for some interesting comments and discussion. Gerstner was excellent at pointing out paradoxes in Roman papal history and thought. He was particularly good at ridiculing the Unam Sanctum, which proclaimed all have to be in submission to the pope to receive salvation. This of course was given by Pope Boniface VIII who was in captivity and complete submission to King Philip the Fair of France. The Unam Sanctum is still the law of the Roman church.

Third, Gerstner made some interesting comments on Matthew 16:18. Of course Rome reads this as Peter being the rock, and upon Peter the church is built. Traditional Protestants read this as the Confession of Faith (as exemplified by Peter) is the rock upon which the church is built. Now there are several alternate readings that I am familiar with. Edmond Clowney read the passage as Peter and ALL the Apostles are the rock upon which the church is built. Augustine (the reading I favor) held that Christ is the rock and he builds the church upon himself. Dr. Gerstner introduced me to a new alternate reading. Gerstner claimed Peter was the rock upon which the church is built, but that did not imply authority rather we are all rocks upon which the church is built. He did make some caveats about it was faithful Peter, not Peter regardless of faithfulness. Still, Gerstner claimed that this passage was virtually the same as I Peter 2:5 where he calls all believers living stones. That Jesus was really only referring to Peter as a stone that builds the church, and that all believers are stones that build the church. Gerstner referenced Matthew 18 (I assume verse 18) and John (no reference was given) to support his view. Gerstner did not explain how ‘building upon the rock’ fits into his view more than to say we are all living stones being built into the church. I wish he would have gone into greater depth of this view, but alas it was a church history tape. If anyone out there knows more about this position, let me know. I am also interested to hear what anyone has to say about this verse in general.