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  • Chad Werkhoven

Matthew 16:13-20 - Are We Really Catholics?

Why do Protestants confess to believing in a holy catholic church?

Read / Listen

Read Matthew 16:13-20

Listen to passage & devotional:


Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 54

Q. What do you believe concerning

“the holy catholic church”?

A. I believe that the Son of God

through his Spirit and Word,

out of the entire human race,

from the beginning of the world to its end,

gathers, protects, and preserves for himself

a community chosen for eternal life

and united in true faith.

And of this community

I am

and always will be

a living member.



Put yourself in the place of the disciples. Everything you've heard Jesus teach on has been mind blowing and has shattered nearly every preconceived notion that they had prior to meeting Him. So every time Jesus asked a question, they probably sweat bullets hoping that Jesus wouldn't pick them to answer, because chances are they'd get it wrong.

But here Jesus asks a question that's easy to answer: "who do others say that I am?" It's always easy to report what others say, so the disciples are quick to give an answer to this first question.

It's the second question that gets them. "Who do you say that I am?" You can imagine the awkward silence that followed the question. Finally the boldest of the group spoke up, and I don't think it was with a wavering voice. Peter finally gets it. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Jesus rewards Peter's bravery and correct answer with a new name: Petros - the Rock. What comes next has been the subject of oceans of ink: "on this rock - petra - I will build my church." You can see the slight difference in the Greek words. Does this mean that Simon Peter is the rock that the church is built on, or is 'this rock' that Jesus refers to a different rock - perhaps Himself?

But focusing on the slight variation in wording misses the point of this passage. Don't miss Jesus' huge promise here: "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Peter plays an important role for sure in church history, but clearly the foundation, architect, builder and finisher of the Church is our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Dig Deeper

The doctrine of the Church (known as ecclesiology) is one of the primary differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) understands Jesus here to be appointing Peter as the head of the Church, and they then extrapolate from this other doctrines like apostolic succession and the papacy. Since those concepts lack Biblical support, the Reformers turned away from them.

So it often seems odd to us in Protestant churches to recite the line from the Apostles' Creed stating that we "believe a holy catholic church." After all, the reason we're called protestants is because we're protesting the Catholic Church!

But understand the Apostles' Creed far predates the formal RCC, so it's referring to something different when it uses the word catholic (small c). The Latin word it originally used is catholicus, a word that simply means 'universal.'

So when you confess to "believe in the holy catholic church" you are confessing that Jesus Christ has been and still continues to build His church over all times and places and among every language, tribe, and people. He's making His Church holy, that is, He's separating you and every other member of His Church from the sinful world we live in. Praise God that the gates of hell will never overcome it!

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who revealed to His elect that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for making you a member of His Church, and pray that it will be the biggest priority in your life.



Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - Romans 5


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