I asked a frequent non-Catholic visitor to these forums, someone who believes in a great Apostasy, what it meant to him that Jesus Christ told Peter, “Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” How do you reconcile that with the supposed apostasy? YOU CAN’T.
Well, at first I was given a non-answer and then a long one cut and paste from a previous discussion with someone else at another time —
(I think you are misunderstanding that scripture. If you analyze it a bit more carefully, you will find that it doesn’t mean what you are assuming it does. The first thing to note is that God did not build His Church on Peter. God does not build His church on a mortal man. If the Church had been built on Peter, then when Peter died he must have taken the church with him, because there is no Peter around today. If the church was built on Peter, then where there is no Peter, there could be no church. So the first thing to understand is what the Lord meant when He told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church”.
The Lord made that comment to Peter after He had asked them the question, “Who do you think I am;” to which Peter had replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. In other words, he bore his testimony that he knew who Jesus was. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus afterwards told him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven”. In other words, he had gained a testimony of the Holy Ghost that Jesus was the Son of God. When the Lord told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church,” the “rock” He was referring to was the rock of testimony, meaning the testimony of the Holy Ghost, which is a personal revelation that something is true. The Lord was saying to Peter that He would build His church on the rock of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it, and that is of course true. That is why the LDS Church puts so much emphasis on personal testimonies, because once someone has obtained that testimony, it is difficult to shake them of from the Church. That is why many LDS remain strong and faithful to the Church, even in the face of strong adversity and criticism from the adversaries of the Church. So that is the first point you need to note.
The second point is what the Lord meant by “church”. The word “church” has more than one definition or meaning. It can mean just a house of worship, the place where people get together to worship God. It can mean a local branch of a particular church or denomination, or all of that denomination. Or it can man the complete body of the saints or believers in Christ, which constitute His church in the widest sense of the term. It can also mean the organizational structure of the church. The true church of God has also a distinct and organizational structure. Paul compared it to a house, with foundations, walls and everything else(Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 12:27-30).
When the Lord told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church,” He was using the word in the wider sense of “the body of His true believers,” or His saints. And that is of course entirely correct. When we say that the church apostatized, we don’t mean that there were no more true believers in Christ left in the world. What we mean is that the organizational structure was destroyed. The priesthood authority, hence the ability to lead and guide the church by revelation was lost. The power to perform valid sacraments acceptable before God was lost. That is what we mean by the Apostasy of the church. We don’t mean that there were no more good Christians left in the world. On the contrary, modern scripture clearly states that there were many good, believing Christians left in the world (see 3 Nephi 16:6-7; D&C 10:53-56).
–on to part two