Thanks for the replies so far. The Catholic Church in our town had a garage sale today ironically, and I stopped by and grabbed several informational booklets while my wife "shopped". I haven't had a chance to read them yet.
Quick question. I know Matthew 16:18 is a key verse that the Catholic church is founded upon. Protestants (by the way, do you call us Protestants or just Christians?) argue that Jesus isn't talking about Peter literally being the cornerstone of the Church because the rest of the New Testament implies that Jesus is the cornerstone. I see how you can interpret that scripture both ways. So how can one know for SURE which side is correct?
For me, the KEY to understanding the scriptures is the covenant of God. If you introduce the covenant principle of hierarchy (headship) then the verse in Matt. 16: 18 is solved.
1. First of all, that verse is not talking about Peter being the CORNERSTONE. Not even implied. We know from other verses in the scriptures that Jesus is called the cornerstone.
2. Every covenant structure (family, kingdom, parish, etc.) has a covenant head. Adam was the covenant head over mankind in the Garden. When he fell, he forfeited that position legally to the evil one. Jesus, as the Last Adam (1 Corin. 15:45) is the new covenant head over the whole Church. Mankind now has a glorious Head in Heaven Who rules as King.
3. However, in His absence from the earthly Church, there still must be a HEAD (headship, or leadership, is essential to the running of covenant units such as family or kingdom). Therefore, Jesus is appointing Peter to be the covenant head over the earthly covenant structure of the Church. In this authority, Peter is still subservient to Jesus as the covenant head over all mankind, but the covenant structure on earth is not left without headship that can be heard, understood, and obeyed.
4. A picture of this is the Suzeranity covenants (which are political covenants) which existed in the time of Abraham and the OT. The Suzerain would be a great king over a powerful kingdom. When the "time of war" (2 Sam. 11:1) came, the greater king would offer the lesser kings around him the benefits of entering into covenant with him. The greater king ruled over all lesser kings under his protection, yet they had a certain amount of sovereignty over their citizens even after submitting to the covenant with the greater king. This is a picture of the kingdom of God as it exists now. The Church is the lesser kingdom. Peter is the "king" over the kingdom (in the person of the pope) and the greater king is the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. The problem with the Protestant interpretation of Matthew is that it leaves the kingdom on earth without headship. You yourself have seen the chaos that has followed, haven't you?
Finally, go to Isaiah 22:20-25 and read those verses. Jesus is the Servant upon who's shoulders the key to the kingdom was placed. The Pharisees knew this verse well. When Jesus made the statement in their hearing that He was giving the key to the Kingdom to Peter, He was saying in essence to the Pharisees "That's right. "I" am the Servant of Isaiah 22:22 and "I" have the key which was placed on my should and "I" am giving it to whom I choose!"
It was a very "in yer face" moment of confrontation with the Pharisees. And knowing the scriptures as they did, I know they "got it." Which fact just drove them a little more crazy.
Hope that helps. Would be glad to answer any questions this raises for you!
And welcome to the board!