The reticence of Jesus on organization and creed

Jesus used twice the word "church" is his sayings of his which were remembered. The one of these two sayings on which greatest stress has since been placed is that in which after Peter's declaration that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus is reported as saying: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Whatever else this passage may mean, it does not so much as hint that there was to be a series of successors to whom Peter was to have authority to transmit the "power of the keys." In the final chapter of The Gospel according to John we have the command of Jesus to Peter to tend and feed his sheep, but there is no indication that he meant this exclusively for Peter or that he gave Peter the authority to transmit the responsibility to others.

In still another passage, also in The Gospel according to John, the risen Christ is recorded as saying to "the disciples," presumably although not explicitly the eleven who survived the betrayal and suicide of Judas: "As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you . . . Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." Yet here again there is not the slightest suggestion that the disciples to whom these words were uttered were given the right to hand on that dread power to successors. Here was no clear word of an organization which was to continue across the centuries. To be sure, on the night of his betrayal Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one and that all those who were to believe in him through their word might be one, as the Father was in him and he in the Father. This certainly implied a close and continuing fellowship, but it did not specify what visible structure, if any, that fellowship was to take. In choosing precisely twelve disciples for his intimates Jesus seems to have had in mind a community not unlike that of Israel, with its twelve tribes, a divinely chosen people. For this, however, he outlined no detailed structure nor did he sketch even its general outlines.

Still less did Jesus put the gist of his teachings into a compact statement which was to be remembered and repeated as final. The one set of words which he is recorded as giving to his disciples is what has been traditionally called the Lord's Prayer. That is a prayer and not a creed, and even it was not phrased as something which was to be held to with slavish accuracy, but as a suggested outline — "after this manner ... pray," not "using these precise words pray."

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