I Will Build My Church

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Church Unpacked: Who’s Idea was Church Anyway?

Matthew 16:13–20 ESV
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
“I actually think Jesus would be mortified that a religion started in His name. I think he’d be like, “You what?!”’ - Pastor Rob Bell
It’s a fairly common to hear things like that. The idea that The Church, the institution of Christianity on earth is something that is man made, something that Jesus never intended, like it was an awkward by product of His ministry.
People will say - ‘I don’t mind Jesus, I just don’t buy into organised religion.’ Or ‘Yeah, Im spiritual but not religious.’ In the west we have a very disconnected understanding of Jesus and the Church. And we have a radically individualistic view of the world. It’s the cultural mileau we were raised in - we are so used to it we barely notice it.
This individualistic way of seeing life often spills over into the way we live out our faith. Pastor Terry Johnson, a presbyterian minister from the states - noted that American Christians on the whole view their relationship with Church like they would view their relationship with their local gym. “I go because it makes me feel better”, “I go along when I can, but if I get busy I just work out at home.”
Others, Johnson noted have the church = central perk view. It’s just a select few Christians getting together casually every now and again over a coffee for a bit of fun and encouragement.
Statistics in the UK show the same trends. The UK census in 2021 showed that around 46% of citizens identify as Christian. However, only a fraction of that percentage actually regularly attend a church - around 5% of UK citizens actually attend church regularly according to the faith survey conducted in 2015.
Church attendance in the UK has on the whole continued to fall away since the pandemic. Many church leaders report that as much as 20% of their congregation failed to return to church after the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.
In contrast the number of practicing Muslims has grown by 1 million in the UK over the past ten years to 3.9 million - and over half of all Muslims in the UK are attending Mosque weekly.
So why is this the trend? I would venture that many Christians see The Church as incidental rather than vital to their spiritual life. They generally view their personal worship time/quiet time as the most important part of their week rather than going to church. This kind of outlook is more prevalent in younger generations.
Story of John’s Mum at space - ‘Jesus has called me to come out of the church.’
All in all - most professing Christians have a very low view of the importance of Church, let alone non Christians.
But what is Jesus’s view of the Church? What does He say?
Jesus only actually mentions the church twice, in Matt 16 and Matt 18. That has led some to believe that He doesn’t have all that much to say about it. But to quote another pastor here; Jesus’s words are to be weighed, not counted.
οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν
Matt 16:18 - Jesus says ‘I will build my church’
This is Jesus telling us what His mission is - what His priority is. It is to build the Church - the ekklesia.
What is the ekklesia - Well etymologically it is a word made up of two other words ek ‘out of’ and ‘kaleo’ to call. We’ve all heard it said that the church, the ekklesia means ‘the called out ones.’
but usage is far more important than etymology in determining meaning. In the NT ekklēsia can refer to assemblies of people in a nonreligious setting (Acts 19:39); and once it refers to God’s OT people, the “church” in the desert at the giving of the law (Acts 7:38; cf Heb 2:12) - Carson
So the Church, the ekklesia is the assembly of God’s people. It is the gathered people of the Covenant - where they are scattered there is no ekklesia.
Christ says - I will build my church - it’s His promise, it’s His mandate, it is His purpose. In a very real sense all of Christ’s other statements about what He came to do fit into this one;
I came to do my Father’s will - John 6:38-39
John 6:38–39 ESV
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
To give His life as a ransom for many (matt 20:28)
To lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:10)
All these statements have to do with the building up of His church. The Church wasn’t an accident or an incidental side story to Christ’s work on the earth - it is His ultimate plan of redemption.
"Salus extra ecclesiam non est" ("there is no salvation outside the Church"), comes from Letter LXXII of Cyprian of Carthage (died 258).
Cyprian saw the Church like Noahs Ark in the Old Testament - the idea that you might be a Christian but have nothing to do with Christ’s Church would have been alien to him, and also to Christ Himself.
The Story of the Sea Wall that Saved a Nation - CONSTRUCTED more than 85-years ago to protect low-lying areas of the Netherlands from flooding, the Afsluitdijk is a true wonder of engineering.
Spanning 32 kilometres and holding back the Wadden Sea, the project was one of the largest engineering feats of its time and is credited with saving large parts of the country from catastrophic flooding in 1953.
The story of the Afsluidijk is a picture of the church - standing strong against unimaginable forces decade after decade after decade. But even that incredible sea wall now is now in need of a bit of a rebuild - it’s architects, brilliant though they were, were only human. The Church of Jesus Christ however still stands strong 2000 years after the day of Pentecost. Since that day there has never been a day when there hasn’t been a gospel believing church on this planet.
Christ said not even the gates of hell will prevail against His church. What did he mean by that? Well, a few things - the gates of hell or (hades) was often used in Jewish writings to refer to death:
Those who are in the Church will never die
City gates don’t attack you. You attack the city gate! This is a picture of the Church plundering death, through winning souls for Christ!
Some also believe this can be a reference to the Church having victory over the powers of darkness - satan and His emmisaries. They will not have victory over the church.
At times the church has waxed large, at other times it has waned. In the west the tide is going out right now - GAFCON & C of E. But even though these days seem hard - The Church will not be destroyed - Man cannot ultimately frustrate the plan of God.
In God’s plan of redemption each person of the Trinity is involved - The Father chose His ekklesia before the foundation of the world, He sent the Son to give His life as a ransom to liberate them from sin and death, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to fill them and to translate them from death to life.
Christ is committed to His church - It is His Church. He has laid down His life for it, and we ought to honour His sacrifice by valuing His Church, and Sunday worship even above our own times of personal worship.
Because He has not promised that He will be in the midst of our personal quiet time - but He has made the promise that He will be in the midst of the Church.
Matthew 18:15–20 ESV
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Jesus has promised to be among us when we come together - to be in our times of worship, to be in our times of prayer together and even when church discipline is taking place, when tough decisions need to be made.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that promise - that He is with us in a powerful way when we gather. It’s hard because of the ordinariness of church - the sounds, the sights, the smells, the paint peeling off the walls, the overwhelming normalcy of it all. Church can be messy and frustrating at times - But Jesus has put His name to this gathering and He has said He is here with us right now as we gather as an ekklesia.
Moreover, the church according to Jesus isn’t just a bunch of individuals, nor is it simply a community of Christians, it is an organisation, it’s an institution. He says - tell it to the church ‘He Ekklesia’, and also listen to the Church. You tell something to an entity, you tell something to an organised body of people. So is Christianity an organised religion? Yes it is. Just as God’s church in the wilderness had officers, priests and chiefs, so too does the new covenant church. The offices of pastor, overseer, elder, deacon.
These offices aren’t man made, they are God given, they are His means for facilitating and for overseeing His church. As we spoke about last week in the parable of the tenants - these are His tenant farmers. Their job is to oversee the church and to aid it’s health and growth through teaching God’s word, administering the sacramemts of baptism and the Lord’s supper, encouraging and moving in the gifts of the Spirit and guarding against the creep of carnality and false teaching.
Wherever the church exists - these offices must be functioning or else there is no true Church.
Titus 1:5 ESV
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
So The Church is God’s Idea - It is His project and Christ is the master builder. He has made it for our benefit - for our salvation - for our blessing and upbuilding and for our safety.
The Church alone cannot save you - But Her architect can. And if my Lord says help me build an ark - I am going to help Him, and I’m going to get as many souls on board as I can, no matter how many ridicule me, or tell me I’m wasting my time. If it matters to Jesus, it matters to me. If Christ tells me that He has commanded a special blessing in this place - then I am going to believe Him no matter what my senses tell me.
How can we deny Him who shed His own blood for us just a few hours every Sunday?
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