The Church That Jesus Built
"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."
"For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whole the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
"The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm's length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together."
James H. Aughley
I have a t-shirt that I wear regularly. It's a purple t-shirt and written on the shirt in bright and bold white letters is a question - "Have You Seen The Church?" with a scripture reference; Revelation 21:2. John records what he saw in his vision; "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." There are many "interpretations" of what this means, which seems to circle around a question: how far into the future was John's seeing? It was certainly a vision of the future for John, but how does it concern us, today? Some believe that what John saw was an actual city, a "new Jerusalem" coming down from heaven with Jesus. Thus we have the "pre-millennialist" view that when Jesus comes back, He will establish His kingdom on earth. And there is even some that believe that this will take place at the present day location of Jerusalem, with the current Jerusalem being destroyed and replaced by a "new Jerusalem." I am more inclined to believe that what John saw was not an actual "city", such a Jerusalem, Chicago, or New York City. I believe what he saw was exactly what Jesus referred to when He said to Peter, "I will build my church." The very words to Peter indicate that, at the time Jesus said it, the church has not yet been established. His words also indicate to us that Jesus intended to build it. Were you to ask someone today about the church, they would conjure up a variety of different choice "adjectives" to describe it. Surely you have heard of this cultural phenomenon "deconstruction." It is, basically, "(1) the heading most recently applied to the process of questioning, doubting, and ultimately rejecting aspects of Christian faith." Much of what I understand about the term is that it stems primarily from personal pain related to the church (of which I am familiar with).
I believe that for many years now, the church in the Western world has largely been pushed to the periphery of our thoughts and our lives. It has grown far more difficult for church buildings to find their way into the center of "town life," but instead have been pushed back to the outskirts, and I do not just mean "geographically." Pastor Alistair Begg once said, "the marginalized way in which the church is regarded by the secular mind is only followed two steps behind by the way in which the church is marginalized in the experience of those who would regard themselves as faithful." Do you understand what he means? If the CEO of Amazon suddenly considered Amazon retail to be superfluous, or an "after-thought", how long before that mentality infects the workers? How long before that mentality infects the customer? Before long, Amazon would cease to exist. Begg's statement is haunting, and he said back in 2000. And here we are, over twenty years later. How are we doing? Since then, according to places like Lifeway Research, Barna Research etc., faithfulness and church attendance is and has been rapidly changing. Where one could be considered "faithful" by showing up three times a week (Sunday, Sunday Evening, and Wednesday), now those same "faithful" are considered "faithful" if they attend twice a month only on Sunday morning. Or, in recent times, thanks to COVID, simply watch the church livestream. As a result, many church groups have had to close down their Sunday evening service and mid-week service and struggle even to draw a "faithful" crowd on Sunday morning. But I do not intend to debate the recent "trends" in any attempt to place blame, either on the church or the individual.
I believe that if we gave out a survey asking "What is the church" most people in the pews would give a C answer. (That's not their fault. It's my fault; my colleagues in ministry should feel responsible for that).
What is the "church?"
Jesus says to Peter, "upon this rock, I will build my church." Firstly, what is "the rock?" Peter's name (Petros) means "rock." In this phrase, Jesus used "petra", a feminine form for "Petros", but it is not a name. Christ does not mean to say, "Upon you, Peter, I will build my church." But upon this "rock", the confession that Peter just made concerning the identity of Jesus; "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" Christ will build His church (Matt. 16:16) Peter's declaration of Jesus (which was revealed to him by God) led to a declaration of Jesus' program - He was going to build a "church" based on WHO HE IS. This "program" is nearly as old as time. All the way back in Genesis 12, God calls Abram and says to him, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:2-3) God promises to build a "nation" unlike any other nation - a people of God's choosing. God says much later, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth." (Deut. 7:6) F.G. Smith writes,
The writer of the Book of Hebrews affirms that the Old Testament house of God was "a figure for the time then
present," pointing forward to, and meeting its antitype in, "a greater and more perfect tabernacle," which was
introduced by Christ and dedicated with his own blood (Heb. 9:1-14). The transfer of God's sanction and approval
from the Old Testament house to the New Testament house took place at the death of Jesus, when all the rites,
ceremonies, and appointments of the former ended, so far as divine requirement was concerned....He who had
promised to build his own church and complete a new order of spiritual worship, cried as he hung on the cross of
Calvary, "It is finished." Immediately, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom" (Matt. 27:51).
And when the veil was torn in two, it was signifying that God would nevermore reside in temples and that entrance into the presence of God was available to all people.
"A few weeks later the infant church, his future earthly house, or temple, being fully prepared and set in order,
was dedicated by the marvelous Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire. And when this organization and
dedication of the church took place, "the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And
the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:41, 47). So the church was built and
dedicated, and souls were added to it. Praise the Lord!" (Smith, F.G. What The Bible Teaches, 1945, pg. 166-167)
The church is not a human invention, but a divine institution. God is not interested in building "my" church. He is wholly devoted to building "His" church. Paul writes, "in him (Christ) you also are being built (present tense, ongoing) together (a picture of unity) into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (Eph. 2:22) My responsibility, as a pastor, is not to insist that the church be fashioned after my preference and design, because ultimately it will fail. My responsibility, as a pastor, is to simply follow the blueprint provided by God's Word. The reason, the prime reason, people attend our churches is to sit under the teaching of the Word of God. The other side of this coin is that I am unable, apart from His help and by faithfully following His blueprint, to build anything. I do believe there are things I can do, and the people who a part of the church can do, to create the environment that is ripe for growth. But ultimately church growth, church planting, church establishing is supernatural work (and for that, I am grateful). The Bible is clear that the church owes its birth to Jesus, its construction to Jesus, its dedication to Jesus, its establishment to Jesus, for the purpose and design of Jesus. Any "deconstruction" as the result of hurt in the church does not come from Jesus nor it is inspired by Jesus (It comes from the enemy). And I believe it is the by-product of when men claim ownership over what does not belong to them. We are called to be "stewards" of the church, not "owners." And when stewards think they are owners, the only logical end is church hurt.
If the church is an invention of man, how has it lasted for 2 millennia? I've never come across anyone who uses a telegraph. Hardly anyone writes a letter. I don't know of anyone who uses a sundial to determine the time. It's mostly Apple watches or cell phones. And I don't know anyone who uses a rotary phone, unless you have one in case the power goes out. My point is that nearly every human invention has been improved upon making the previous "model" obsolete. No one has ever "improved" upon the church because the church is not built by man. It has been built on the Gospel of Jesus Christ - and it doesn't get any better than that! Why use anything else? Do we really need a man-made "theory" or "project" to provide instructions on how to treat women or people of another color, when the Bible clearly provides that answer? "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:27-28) "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both ONE and has broken down in his flesh the DIVIDING wall of hostility." (Eph. 2:14) Can anyone improve on this? I can't see how! From Genesis and onward, the Bible is clear that the "issue" has never been with God's law, but always with man. Maybe what we need is not a "new teaching" but the old one - "put on Christ." Maybe the problem with the "institution" is not the "institution" but the people who make up the "institution." Perhaps the problems we have in the church is simply due to the fact that we have stopped putting on Christ, thus we are not "being built up together into a dwelling place for God through by the Holy Spirit." (Eph. 2:22) When we start to build on our own, the architect leaves the project. But I digress.
We may have added a few bells and whistles to the building and made it more modern, comfortable, and appealing. Many churches have purchased those massive air purifiers in the wake of COVID. But there's nothing wrong with that. The "guts" of the church remain the same and should remain the same. The foundation remains the same and should remain the same. The church has always been built on and sustained by Christ and His Gospel. What does this mean for us? The church grows only as Christ is the organic head. The body goes as the head goes. One of the greatest human errors is to forget what we are trying to achieve. Like Alice in Wonderland when she came across the Cheshire Cat, she asked, "would you please tell me which way I ought to go?" The cat replied, "That depends a good deal on where you want to go." Alice says, "I don't much care." The cat replied, "then it doesn't matter which way you go." Paul says to the church at Colossae, "And he (Christ) is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." (Col. 1:18) Is it too much of a stretch to say that the preeminence Jesus is given in the life of the "church" is inseparably linked to the overall health of the "church?" And is it too much of a stretch to say that many of the "problems" we face in the church may just be self-induced - the result of Christ no longer having preeminence? The way the church as a whole submits to Jesus is a result of the individuals in the church submitting to Jesus. Basic human anatomy explains that the body will only grow with it is connected and in line with the head. The body of Christ will only grow when the head is given preeminence over all things in the body.
Author John Stout says, "It is every easy to be unfaithful stewards and I'm afraid that we have to admit that there are many such in the Christian community....rejecting the authority of the Word of God; preferring their own teaching; neglecting to study it, failing to relate it to the real contemporary world; manipulating it to mean what they want it to mean; selecting from it what they like and discarding what they don't; even contradicting its plain teaching and submitting their own threadbare speculations; flagrantly disobeying its ethical teaching. No wonder the church is languishing in many parts of the world."
We must ask the same question that Jesus' disciples asked when He said one of them would betray Him, "Is it I? Lord" (Matt. 26:22)
God help us!