The background to this book of the Bible is that it was written by the Apostle Peter. Now Peter is a super interesting figure. You know, Peter, the disciple who was the spokesperson of the disciples and the one that Jesus relied upon to teach others and the one who was the leader of the early church. Peter is a huge figure in the church and especially in the early church and in the modern day church as well. This is Peter below as depicted over history.
Throughout history Peter has been depicted as holding the keys to the kingdom of God. This is because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18-19 where Jesus calls Peter, Peter and says that upon this rock (Peter) he would build his church and that he would hold the keys to the kingdom. Throughout church history there has been a tradition of apostolic succession where men have been given the ability to be ordained into clergy roles and women not so much. Presbyterians believe in the priesthood of all believers which means not only does every person have a viable and important call, but we also believe that men and women can be called into the ministry. It may not seem important, but it is.
So Peter wrote this letter while he was in Rome (he calls it Babylon much like the author of Revelation calls Rome Babylon) and probably was writing to the early church in Rome. That makes sense since he was a leader of the entire Christian Church which found its center in Jerusalem. Remember that Peter was also a very flawed figure. He was the one to whom Jesus said: Get behind me Satan. Not a stellar moment in Peter’s life.
Now on to the first chapter of this letter. It is obvious that this letter is written by someone who understood and probably had undergone intense suffering. I want to focus on how he speaks about our faith which has been refined through our trials. I am currently in Pittsburgh at the Presbyterian Russian Mission Network. I know, that is a mouthful, but it is a gathering of Presbyterian Churches that have a connection to Russia in some form or fashion. We heard about the 100 anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution which is this year. Funny how no one is celebrating that. It was in this revolution that hundreds, no thousands of Orthodox priests were martyred because of their faith. The goal of the Bolsheviks was to eliminate the church entirely. That didn’t happen. Not by a long shot.
The church is able to be refined through persecution. The mainline church, of which the Presbyterian church is one, has not really faced persecution in our society. In fact, it has had a favored status in our history, and I believe the denomination is paying a price as a result of that. We do not know what it means to face persecution. If we did, then our faith could be refined in such a way that our future would be one where we would know with certainty what we believed and our faith would be strengthened. I do not wish for persecution, but we do need something that makes our faith real and refined. I believe that James gave us the answer in the last book that we looked at. Our faith can be refined by the works that we do. What we do in the community allows us to be real in our faith.
Look at vs. 13 and you see Peter say the same thing: Prepare your minds for action.