Are You a St Paul or a St Peter?
guest blog by *Holly Ordway
Saints Peter and Paul – the steady fisherman and the fiery Pharisee, the devoted disciple and the persecutor-turned-apostle. Every congregation is filled with Peters and Pauls – which one are you?
In Peter we see the Christian who has been raised in the church. Peter has no dramatic conversion experience, no abrupt shift from darkness to light; rather, he has spent a long time in the company of those who follow the Lord, and he has come to know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Peter’s faith is not dramatic, but it is solid – so much so that our Lord declares that the faith he shows, the acknowledgement that Jesus is the Christ, will be the rock upon which he will build the Church.
Not that the path has always been straight – definitely not! For only moments after he declares his faith, he tries to dissuade Jesus from the way of the Cross, only to be sternly rebuked. And though his protestations of eternal loyalty are loud, he fails Jesus in the end, and as our Lord goes to his death on the cross, Peter denies that he even knows him.
Peter follows, and stumbles, but he gets back up again, always with his eyes on our Lord. Better than any of the saints, perhaps, he knows the full experience of Christ’s forgiving grace.
I have friends who are almost wistful about not having a dramatic “conversion story.” Their journey seems almost boring: lots of ordinary faithfulness, mixed in with falling away and coming back, and carrying on. But wait! St Peter shows us that this “ordinary faithfulness” is anything but ordinary. It is to Peter that Jesus gives the great task of ministry: “Feed my sheep.”
In Paul we see those Christians who had a “Damascus Road” experience. Perhaps they were rebels against God, or contemptuous or hateful toward Christians (like me), embracing atheism with the zeal that Paul persecuted the early Christians. Or perhaps they were simply mired in indifference and apathy – until the season in their life when everything changed. Like Paul, headed to Damascus with other plans, until our Lord made an appearance and everything, absolutely everything changed.
Paul’s conversion is so sudden that the other Christians don’t even trust him at first; isn’t this the guy who was ordering us to be thrown into jail, or killed? But the same zeal that made him the greatest enemy of the faith also, when re-oriented by our Lord, made him its greatest missionary and theologian.
When it comes to the way that we came to our faith, each of us is either a Peter or a Paul… which makes me appreciate the wisdom of the Church in honoring these two saints equally. Their key moments of faith – the Confession of St Peter, and the Conversion of St Paul – are celebrated a week apart, on January 18 and January 25, respectively.
If we look ahead a little bit in the Church calendar, we are reminded of another great truth about these two aspects of the Christian life.
There is no separate day for St Peter and a different one for St Paul. Instead, June 29th is the combined Feast of St Peter and St Paul – always together, the two sides of the coin.
Because we are, all of us, both Peter and Paul.
Even a Peter, who has grown up in a Christian family and gone to church from the very beginning, must at some point make a conscious decision to accept Christ. No one inherits Christian faith; it is a personal choice. Do I follow Christ, or do I follow my own will? That moment is a Paul moment.
Even a Paul, who has made a clear, dramatic choice to follow Christ, must then learn what it means to actually live that out. The Damascus Road moment is just that – a moment. Following that is a lifetime of listening, learning, praying, obeying – making mistakes, repenting, being forgiven. Every Christian life is Peter’s life.
I am a Paul – learning how to be a Peter, with God’s help.
*Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of English and literature, a competitive sabre fencer, literary apologist, blogger at Hieropraxis, and the author of the book, Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith.