Determining which, if any,
is the "true" Christian church?
Using Jesus' statements and his
teaching about outcasts as a guide
Not much. Although the word "church" appears in the New Testament of
the King James Version of the Bible 72 times, only two are found in statements
attributed to Jesus. Both verses are in the gospel of Matthew:
Matthew 16:18: "...thou art Peter, and upon this
rock I will build my church..."
This passage has been considered a play on words by some Bible commentators. In Jesus'
native tongue, Aramaic, the word for Peter is Kepha. The word for a stone or
fragment of a rock is also kepha. In Greek, these words Petros and Petra.
Some consider the verse to be a pun, a simple bit of humor, without any serious
significance. An analogous statement today might be: "You are Rocky; and upon
this rock I will build my church."
The Roman Catholic Church interprets this passage literally. They teach that Peter later
went to Rome, founded the Catholic church, and became its first pope. Some theologians
believe that there is no historical evidence of this relocation. Peter was
located in the city of Jerusalem in Judea as part of the Jewish Christian movement, according to
Some conservative Protestant commentators believe that the passage implies that Peter is
to be considered a fragment of the rock - the rock itself being Jesus. 1
That is: the true Christian Church is to be built upon Jesus. Peter is to be
considered as one contributor - one piece of the rock.
Most liberal theologians do not regard the passage as being the authentic words of Jesus. They
believe that the passage was generated in the mind of the author of Matthew circa 90 CE, some 6 decades
after Jesus' execution, and the words attributed to Jesus. The author's motivation was to
reinforce the legitimacy of the Christian church. According to theologian R.W.
Funk: "All of this is Christian
language and reflects conditions in the budding institution,"
It would not have formed part of Jesus' ministry. The word translated here as
"church" is ekklesia in Greek. At the time that the Gospel of
Matthew was written, it meant a community of
believers (something like a house church), not an organized
church with clergy and a hierarchy. 3
Matt 18:15-17: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass
against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee,
thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two
more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he
shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church,
let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
||Jesus is instructing his followers how to resolve intra-group conflicts, via a graduated
series of responses. It starts with a meeting between the two persons who are directly
affected; they attempt to resolve the problem. If necessary, it escalates to the level of
a type of excommunication of the responsible individual from the Christian movement.
Most conservative theologians regard the reference to church as pertaining to the local
Most liberal theologians believe that "It seems certain that such advanced
regulations did not come from Jesus but from the early church itself..."
Rather, the words were composed by the anonymous author of the gospel, and were not actually
said by Jesus. According to R.W. Funk: "The regulations are relevant to a time when the Christian
community had to develop procedures for dealing with deviant behavior;"
These thoughts would not have formed part of Jesus'' ministry; they would
have arisen many decades later.
And so, we have the usual split among many conservative
Protestants, liberal Protestants, and the Catholic church about Jesus' teachings.
These derive from their very different beliefs about the nature of
Roman Catholics believe that Jesus selected Peter to organize the Catholic church,
centered in Rome, and to be its first pope.
Matthew 16:18 implies that Roman Catholicism is the true church.
||Many other conservative Protestantss believe that it was Jesus' intention to found a
formal religious organization, a church much like today's Evangelical denominations.
||Many very liberal Christians believe that Jesus had no desire to form a
church organization, but was trying to convert individual Jews to his belief
system via his own example, and by teaching. Thus, there is no "true"
Christian church today, in the sense that no denomination matches Jesus'
How did Jesus behave towards social outcasts?
Jesus' main religious opponents, the Pharisees, Scribes, continually criticized him for
being in the company of publicans and sinners:
||Mark 2:15-16: "...as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners
sat also together with Jesus and his disciples..."
||Matthew 9:10-11: "...many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and
his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth
your Master with publicans and sinners?"
||Matthew 11:19 "...Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of
publicans and sinners..."
||Luke 5:30: "But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples,
saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?"
||Luke 7:34: "Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans
||Luke 15:1-2: "Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear
him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and
eateth with them."
The term publican is translated in most other versions of the New Testament as
tax collectors - perhaps the most despised persons in the community. Some
theologians believe that the sinners "would have included women of questionable
reputation." 2 One Bible commentary remarks that
the Pharisees and scribes observed "that Jesus formed relationships with people
they considered to be social outcasts." 1 Such
individuals were "considered ceremonially unclean by Jewish standards."
Many groups have been considered social outcasts in North American society during
the past two centuries: Roman Catholics, Irish and other large groups of immigrants, Jews,
African-Americans, etc. But by the end of the 20th century, all of these groups have become
more or less fully integrated into society. Rejection of groups because of their race,
nationality, religion, gender, etc. are no longer allowed in polite company in
many areas of North America. The only main
exceptions today are gays and lesbians. Homosexuals are still considered social outcasts
by a large proportion of older North Americans. If Jesus returned to earth
tomorrow, one might speculate that he might well be seen celebrating by eating and drinking with gays and lesbians.
present-day denominations follow Jesus' lead by welcoming gays and lesbians as full
members. The principal one is the Metropolitan Community Church, which
has a special ministry to homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals. Other inclusive faith
groups are a number of liberal denominations: Unitarian
Universalist Association, United Church of Christ,
United Church of Canada,
Church, and some others.
J.D.Douglas, Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament
Volume" Tyndale House, (1990)
R.W. Funk, et. al., "The five gospels: the search for the authentic
words of Jesus," Macmillan, (1993)
C.M. Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's one volume commentary on the Bible, Albingdon,
Joseph McCabe, "A Rationalist Encyclopaedia: A book of reference
on religion, philosophy, ethics and science," Gryphon Books (1971).
Excerpts appear at: http://www.christianism.com/articles/18.html
Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 1999-JAN-13
Latest update: 2007-JUL-27
Author: B.A. Robinson