What Christ Thinks of the Church
Bruce Reeves, March 10, 2010

The word “church” evokes many responses, the vast majority of which are foreign to biblical teaching. Many seem unable to mentally extricate denominational concepts from the term “church” and thus their estimation of the church is low. In this article we want to consider the great value of the Lord’s church by considering “What Christ Thinks of the Church.”

The foundation of our thoughts in this article will be the classic text on the subject found in Matthew 16:13-19. 13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.’”

Defining the Church Biblically

Our conceptual understanding of the Lord’s church is critical to our appreciation of it as an expression of the “manifold wisdom of God” and a fulfillment of His “eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:10-11).

The term “church” is from the Greek term Ekklessia. “Ekklesia” etymologically is from “out of” and “a calling.” The term refers to those individuals who have been called out of the world through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14). In reference to our present study it is used in a universal and local sense (I Corinthians 1:2).

The universal Church refers “…to the whole company of the redeemed through the present era, the company of which Christ said, ‘I will build My church,’ Matthew 16:18, and which is further described as ‘the church, which is his body’ (Ephesians 1:22, 23; 5:23)…” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary, p.42).

There is a common misunderstanding that argues that the universal church is composed of local churches tied together, but this is not found in the scriptures. The universal church is made up of individual believers, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many , are one body, so also is Christ…Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:12, 27). [1]

In the New Testament local churches or congregations, were made up of Christians who banded together in a geographical area to worship and work together in the accomplishment of spiritual purposes. They were independent and self-governing groups[2] [3] [4]of Christians overseen by qualified elders (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-11). Local congregations are composed of members who agree to join together in fellowship (Acts 9:26); worship in a common assembly (I Corinthians 11:18); work out of a common treasury (I Corinthians 16:1-3) and submit to a common oversight (Acts 14:23; 20:28; I Peter 5:2, 3).

The local church is all-sufficient to fulfill the work God has given His people. This truth, however, does not deny the individual responsibilities we all have as disciples. It is concerning to me, personally, to see the low estimation and dissatisfaction some brethren seem to have of the potential of the local church and the seeming indifference toward God’s divine wisdom in revealing how local churches should carry out their work. Church sponsored and funded Para-church[5] organizations among our brethren although seemingly well intended, yet manifest an underlying, but real dissatisfaction with the local church as God intended it. A good case in point, historically, is found in the words of Alexander Campbell regarding the Missionary Society, “There is now heard from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, a general, if not universal call for a more efficient organization of our churches…our current system is comparatively inefficient and inadequate to the exigencies of the times …” (Millennial Harbinger, Alexander Campbell, February, 1849).[6] Campbell’s description of “our churches” and “our current system” is reflective of a subtle denominational perspective, as well as a approach that did not place the emphasis on the binding pattern on the activities of local congregations.

In contrast to this line of thinking we can read the words of the renowned historian of “Church History,” Philip Schaff, “There were no missionary societies, no missionary institutions, no organized efforts in the ante-Nicene age; and yet in less than 300 years from the death of St. John the whole population of the Roman empire which then represented the civilized world was nominally Christianized” (Citation later).

Admittedly, there are a good number of professing members of the church that have a denominational concept in mind that should be addressed. The term “denomination” while ambiguous to some can be defined accurately as, “4 : a religious organization uniting local congregations in a single legal and administrative body” (Merriam-Webster). “A group of religious congregations united… and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy”(http://library.christchurch.org.nz/FamilyHistory/Glossary). When we use the description “church of Christ” to identify ourselves, i.e. “I am church of Christ” we unwittingly convey a denominational mindset. The Lord’s church has no earthly headquarters, nor human creed, manual or catechism.

The Foundation of the Church

Now that we have a clear definition in mind of Christ’s church, let us re-enter our consideration of our text and the affirmation of the foundation of the Lord’s church. When asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter unequivocally confessed the deity of Christ, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).  Christ response emphatically exclaimed the true foundation of the church, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:17-18, emphasis mine, B.R.).

The notion that “this rock” refers to Peter, himself, is untenable to say the least. While there is legitimately strong semantic evidence that the foundation to which Jesus refers is the truth which lies behind Peter’s confession, i.e. that Jesus is the Son of God[7]; the contextual support of scripture cuts through the convoluted reasoning of theologians in the affirmation of Christ as the foundation of the church.

For instance, Peter never referred to himself as “the rock,” but used such metaphors to refer to the Lord (I Peter 2:7-8). Furthermore, the figurative use of the word “Rock” through Hebrew scripture is never used symbolically to refer to man, but to God. The apostle Paul explicitly taught that Christ is the foundation of His church, “For other foundation can no man lay that that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 3:11). Even when the apostle speaks of the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” he speaks by metonymy of their teaching regarding “Jesus Christ…being the chief corner stone, in whom al the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord…” (Ephesians 2:20-21).

The Certainty of the Church

The certainty of the church is easily discerned in Christ statement, “I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18). In spite of the unbelief of the Jewish leadership, the oppression of Roman rule and the shortcomings of His disciples—Jesus declares the certainty of the establishment of His church. We see that the church is the manifestation of God’s wisdom, sovereignty and power and far from a mere contingency plan (Ephesians 3:10-11). There is no uncertainty in the words of Jesus. What a blessing it is to know that God is faithful to His promises! The notions of dispensationalists today are not only speculative, but serves as a repudiation of the true greatness of the Lord’s church.

The Intimacy of the Church

The Lord emphasizes the intimacy of the relationship He would sustain with His church when he said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). It is imperative that we see the living relational sense of the church, rather than viewing it in terms of a cold ecclesiastical organization. Nowhere is this truth seen more lucidly than in Paul’s treatment of Christ and the church through the analogy of the marriage relationship. Throughout the scriptures God described His relationship with His people through the figure of marriage. The apostle Paul vividly describes the sacrificial headship of Christ over the church (5:23-25); the sanctifying purpose of the Savior for His bride (5:26-27) and the selfless devotion of Christ for His people (5:28-32). The Lord “nourishes” and “cherishes” His church (5:29). His provision and protection demonstrate to all His intimate concern and love for His people.

How anyone could fail to see the great value of the church in light of the truth that Jesus Christ “purchased the church with His own blood” is unimaginable (Acts 20:28). The church is presented as “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:4; Colossians 1:18). While it is true that the church does not administer salvation and is, therefore, not our Savior per se. All those who have been saved by Christ have simultaneously added by the Lord to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).  When Saul was persecuting the church (Acts 8:1), Jesus asked him, “Saul…why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) When the enemies of the Lord persecute God’s people they are sticking their finger in God’s eye  (Zechariah 2:8; Matthew 18:6).

The Invincibility of the Church

Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  This statement was not a denial of the reality of the opposition of the enemies of the cross, but it is a promise that death would not prevent the victory of the church. Death would neither stop Christ from building the church, nor spell defeat for those who comprise it. Christ manifested His power over death  (Romans 6:9; Hebrews 2:14-15). His resurrection demonstrated His intercessory life  (Isaiah 28:16-18; Acts 2:25-28; Revelation 1:17-18). In Christ, death and Hades, have no power over us (I Corinthians 15:55).

Entrance into the Church

The Lord promises Peter apostolic authority in the preaching of the gospel and the entrance of sinners into the church: “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you shall bind one earth, shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

The word “you” in Matthew 16:18 is singular, referring to Peter alone, however, it should be remembered that Peter was speaking for the twelve (16:14, 16). In Matthew 18:18 where Jesus makes an identical statement the verbs are plural. Metaphorically, a key references authority (Scribes when admitted into their office were given a key to open the treasury of divine oracles). The Pharisees had been locking people out of the kingdom (23:13) by suppressing the “key of knowledge” (Luke 11:52).

The Kingdom is something to be entered and Peter would show people how they could enter through the inspired preaching of the gospel (Acts 2, 10). When Jesus promised Peter and the apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”  He was not writing them a blank check to do and say whatever they desired.  The form of the verbs “bind” and “loose” is the future perfect passive, which correctly could be translated “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Peter was only to teach on earth Heaven’s will (6:10). We thank God for the apostolic message of the gospel (Heb.2:3-4). Let us never underestimate how much Christ thinks of His people and how much He loves His church!

 

For Christ and the Church

(Hymns for Worship, 550)

Verse One

“‘For Christ and the church’ let our voices ring,

Let us honor the name of our own blessed King;

Let us work with a will in the strength of youth,

And loyally stand for the kingdom of truth.”

Verse Two

“‘For Christ and the church’ be our earnest prayer,

Let us follow His banner, the cross daily bear;

Let us yield, wholly yield, to the gospel’s power,

And serve faithfully every day, every hour”

Verse Three

“‘For Christ and the church’ let us cast aside,

By His conquering grace, chains of self, fear, and pride;

May our lives be enriched by an aim so grand;

Then happy the call to the Savior’s right hand”

Chorus

“For Christ our dear Redeemer,

For Christ the crucified;

For the church His blood hath purchased;

The church, His holy bride

                        E.E. Hewitt                                                                                Wm. J Kirkpatrick



[1] The concept that local churches tied together constitute the universal church is a denominational concept. It would be better to view the universal church in the relational sense, i.e. as an organism rather than an organization.

[2] “The elders and deacons of one church had no authority over another church; they had no authority over the elders and deacons of any other church. Each church was independent and free, under God, to carry on its own worship and work at its own elders should direct”   (The Church: Its Autonomy, Gospel Advocate, H. Leo Boles).

[3] “There is no domination from above to lord it over local churches…such domination belongs to the denominations, not to New Testament churches. There is no state authority or political power to control the acts of a church; it must stand or fall before its own Master…no delegated system of preachers…has any right to manage the affairs of a local congregation” (ibid).

[4] Autonomy is not violated by brethren warning of a local church’s teachings or practices which are not in harmony with the gospel and are, therefore, an undermining influence against biblical teaching.

[5] The term Para-church as used in this article refers to the practice of local churches funding faith-based organizations to do the spiritual work which has been assigned to local churches.

[6] Some have suggested that Alexander Campbell’s post-millennial view, as well as his belief that the millennium was soon to be ushered in may have contributed heavily to his desire to structure human organizations which would, in his perspective, be more effective in the increase of conversions.

[7] The Gospel of Matthew, Chumbley, p.298-299.