For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?
To the Protestant, the above verse is taken very literally. When the Bible talks about the Rock in the Bible, it always refer to God. However, what would look like a simple exegesis is the core of the split between the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church (commonly called the Greek orthodox) and the Protestant Church.
All three answer the question "what is the Rock" in very different fashions.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
To the Roman Catholic, this is often is quoted as the proof text of who the rock was. To the Catholic, the Rock was Peter. From here they call out that Peter was the first Pope. They then draw the line from Peter to the present Pope. There will always be a Pope in this world, who is the person who is the ultimate head of the church on earth.
The Orthodox Church has made some attempts to reconciling with the Roman Catholic Church. Some would claim they were only "a filioque" clause away. But this is a story for another post. Regardless, the Orthodox Church has had a less powerful reach than the Roman Catholic church. In fact, the Orthodox Church has approximately 14 to 15 independent Bishops, all in communion with the first among equals Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. He does not hold the same sway as the Pope. In the Catholic church, the pope is the final authority figure, with a God given right to power over the body of believers.
In this light, the central figure in Christianity is the Roman Catholic Church, which is the chosen vessel to deliver the work of God upon this earth. While virtually all branches of the Roman Catholic Church would say there is salvation beyond the Catholic Church (mind you, there are a few "hard liners" that say that salvation apart from the church is impossible), it is still very hard to be saved outside of the church.
In this viewpoint, salvation is achieve through the working of the Church and the relationship of the laity to the Church. The Church is a physical, tangible being with the leadership coming out of Roman. Thus it is only inside of the church that you can have the sacraments. It is only inside of the church, can you get last rites. In a very literal way, the Roman church is considered to have power in and of itself, because that power was handed to it by God as an institution. And the most holy of all books, the scriptures, cannot be interpreted outside of the confines of the tradition of the church.
In contrast to the Roman Catholic faith, all of the Protestant Church is built on "Sola Scriptura," and the church tends to be much less tangible. It is a common thread among among Protestants to see the Church as floating between denominations. It is a common thread that ties all believers together with the leadership communicating with God directly through separate authority structures. Not all roads lead to Roman.
As already stated, the Catholic church ties itself back to the authority of Peter. There is little to no doubt that the Protestant church ties itself back to the authority of Paul. You need to only spend a little time in a Protestant church, and you will hear, "Paul said this, and Paul said that." The whole of the conversation is all about Paul. With out his writings, we would have no Protestant church.
The authority of the scriptures is again directly tied to the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Bible of the historical Catholic church was the Latin Vulgate. My father, an razor sharp and antagonistic Arminianist (as some Calvinist in the family would attest to), recently was talking to a Catholic that had married into the family. When she asked him "do you ever read the Catholic Bible?" He looked at her and stated, "You mean the Latin Vulgate?"
She hadn't a clue about what he said, but in his own indomitable fashion, he had cut to the heart of the historic conflict between the reformation and the Catholic faith. The Latin Vulgate is the official Bible of the Catholic Church, and it is only rather recently that this has been given up for the mainstream catholic community.
What is the Latin Vulgate? Saint Jerome was asked by Pope Damasus to translate the Bible into the language of Roman in the late 300s AD. Even though the Bible was written in Hebrew and Koine Greek, after the Bible was translated into Latin, Latin was the only proper language for the Bible.
As Christianity spread, the common language was not Latin. However, it was strictly forbidden to represent the Bible in any language but Latin. This barrier to reading the word of God appeared to be a direct affront to God for the reformers. To them, any institution that prevent the reading of the scripture was not only a hindrance, but quite possibly the work of Devil! Needless to say, this type of attitude was devastating in the scope of the conflict. One has only to read the conflicts and the hate that came from this mismatch in mindset to realize how much of a mark it left upon Europe.
The chief end of many of the reformers were to become subversive translators, Bible smugglers of translated versions, or printers of translated versions. To them, the main thing was to spread the Word Of God in the common tongue, and they believed that this would pretty much bring down the Roman Catholic Church.
However, this wild mix of rebellion against the mother church, and the free thinking genesis seems to plague the Protestant church to this very day.
This is why the Protestant churches are so likely to fracture and separate into a thousand different pieces. If you don't like somebody's reading of the scripture, then you can simply start your own Church. Out of the Protestant church has fallen so many cultic splinters that it is truly impossible to keep track of them all. There is the Latter Day Saints, who believe that Lucifer and Jesus started off as brothers, and we can evolve to Gods. There are Jehovah Witnesses who state that Jesus Christ is Michael the Angel. There are the TV preachers that have said that they would be killed if the donations didn't start flowing in.
Let's be clear, most of the really wacky stuff in the world comes from the offshoots of the Protestant Church, not the Catholic church.
Does this provide a proof point of the superiority of the Catholic faith? I would say that it only suggests the freedom of the Protestant faith. I rock climbed for a number of years, and I religiously roped up. However, the best of the best climbers would simply climb without a rope. It allowed them to get to place that a roped climber could never get with speed only a roped climber could dream of.
It also made any mistake a deadly mistake.
The Protestant faith is certainly not safe, but it is remarkable in its clarity. I have unbelievable pride in being unabashedly protestant. We are the men that are free to observe for ourselves the core of our faith.
Now the final ironic turn? The Catholic Church no longer withholds the scriptures from its followers, but ironically, nobody reads the scriptures any more. So, when the gate were final swung open, nobody left the pen. In the discontinuities between the roman church and scripture, we find little debate. Quite frankly, most people simply don't know what the Bible says.
Do I think my Catholic friends are saved? In reality, I believe that many Protestants are not saved, and many Catholics are saved. Which group has more that will receive a reward in heaven?
I'll let you know when I get there.