"We Believe in the Church" Matthew 16:13-19 Pastor Allan Wooters, D.Min.
Today we come to the second most eye-opening statement in the Apostles’ Creed. The first challenging statement is that Jesus “descended into hell.” Now the affirmation that “We believe…in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints.” It’s that “c” word which many Protestants stumble over. It makes us feel uncomfortable, as if we’re doing something wrong or saying that the Catholic Church is right – something like that. Well, let me put your mind at ease. The word catholic in the creed simply means “universal.” We are affirming that the church is not bound by culture, time, or place. The church is for all people of all time. We could update the creed by saying, “We believe in the holy, universal Church….” It is the church without borders.
Now that I’ve dealt with the catholic issue, let’s read one of the most remarkable statements concerning the church found anywhere in Scripture. Matthew 16:13 – 19 is the text. Having secured an accurate and profound confession from Peter, Jesus shifts His teaching concerning His own nature to announce that He is going to engage in a building project. Of course, Jesus was a builder, but this project is different from any construction effort He ever undertook. From this passage, we gain some much-needed insights into the nature and importance of the church. Why does the church matter? There are many reasons why it does with the first being that the church is Jesus’ idea.
The Church is Jesus’ Idea
Jesus responds to Peter saying, “Upon this rock, I will build My church….” Jesus is not saying the church is going to be Peter’s church. Such a view is never given in Scripture. You don’t have to look any farther than to Peter himself to see how he understood who the rock of the church is. That rock in Jesus! In 1 Peter 2:4 – 8, the apostle is discussing the role of Jesus. Peter quotes a string of biblical texts all pointing to Jesus as “a choice stone,” “the stone which the builders rejected,” and “the very cornerstone.” You can’t read 1 Peter 2 and miss the point that for Peter, Jesus is the rock! The church is founded on Jesus, not Peter! It makes sense in part because the church was and still is Jesus’ idea.
We need to remember this when it is fashionable today to treat the church like it’s some historical accident. Some so-called teachers try to assert that Jesus came preaching the kingdom, but the church resulted. Nonsense! Others think the church was the creation of mere men bent on lording it over others. Men in their lust for power created the church as a political force. Again, nonsense! Has the church been misused and abused by power-hungry men? Sure! Such perversion was predicted by Jesus and writers of the New Testament. But to see the church from its beginning as some power-grabbing institution, a historical mistake, is to completely ignore the biblical teaching about the church starting with Jesus’ own teaching.
Jesus ordained the existence of the church. This fact holds several implications for us. One implication is that the church is foremost a gathered people. We hear how the church isn’t a building, it’s people. That’s true. The word church literally means, “a called-out assembly.” Men and women are first called to salvation by the Holy Spirit then they are called to be part of the community of faith, or as the creed has it, “the communion of saints.”
By the way, this “communion of the saints” idea rules out the notion of individualist Christianity. The church is about our being in community with others not a bunch of Lone Rangers. Jesus did not envision His followers doing their own thing spiritually and living their lives divorced from other believers. We are a gathered people.
A second implication is that Jesus dispels the notion that church is optional. Since Jesus instituted the church then it logically follows that He knew His people needed the church. This flies in the face of much popular thinking. Most folks, even within the broader Christian fold, think the church is a good thing but not essential. It is optional. They therefore think they can go off almost all Sundays and do other thing. In light of Jesus’ teaching, it’s time to rethink that idea. For example, most people think you can be a good Christian but have nothing to do with a church. But here’s the thing, if Jesus established the church, He knows we need it. Doesn’t that make sense? Someone says he doesn’t need it. Now, one of the two of you are wrong and I’m betting on Jesus being right.
On top of this, we are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Even in the early days of the church’s existence some were already in the “habit” of not being in church services. So, God, who inspired Scripture, inspired a command telling us not to forsake assembling. So, you’re telling me that someone can be a good Christian while deliberately disobeying a direct command of God Almighty? Yes, I know it’s challenging right now with the pandemic. But as things ease up, when God heals our land, will you be faithful to be among God’s people? As a Christian, you and I don’t have an option. And that’s a good thing! And it being good leads me to my next point. That point is that church is our hope.
The Church is Our Hope
Now of course, Jesus is our hope. Scripture abounds with this fact. But the idea of the church being our hope I’m basing on what Jesus says in this text. In v.18 we find the promise of our Lord that, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Jesus is saying that neither the forces of death nor the powers of darkness can conquer His church. In Scripture, we find that the realm of Hades carries both the idea of the realm of the dead and the powers of the demonic (Heb. 2:14). Jesus is therefore saying that death and the powers of evil will not conquer His church.
God’s power is with us! While we can see the church defeated for a season, she will never be down for count.
But this present hope is also the hope for our nation in this trying time. Jesus’ church is a universal church as we have seen. This means it is the church for all people of all times, places, and ethnicities. The church is the place where all lives matter! Before the throne in Revelation 5 we read of a song sung in heaven celebrating Jesus. Part of that song says how Jesus “purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (v.9). In heaven, all lives matter. On the cross, all lives mattered. So, in the church what lives matter? Each and every life matters regardless of color.
The church is our hope in this life. It is also our hope for life after this life. That the gates of Hades will not prevail over the church is saying that death is not the end for God’s people. Heaven does await all who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. The church is the place where we are reminded that heaven is real.
By the way, this is why we need Christian funerals. In part, these funerals are needed to help fellow believers remember the promises of Christ concerning death. Such funerals are times of ministry not just to grieving family members but are times where God’s people confess their faith and find comfort in Jesus’ promise of heaven. Tiny, grave-side only services, celebration of life services held at country clubs or other venues, lack the confessional and truly comforting facts of the gospel. At a Christian funeral we serve notice to one and all that death is not the end of all good things for a Christian. We also announce that Jesus is the Savior and that all who wish can take of the water of life freely. Well, I must hurry and add one other note. We believe in the church because she is our treasure.
The Church is Our Treasure
Jesus invests the church, not just Peter, with the “keys of the kingdom.” There’s a whole sermon just there but suffice it to say that Jesus is declaring that the apostles have the authority to make the rules for the early church and give the authoritative teaching for the church, teaching which became the New Testament. To bind and loose is to forbid or permit ideas and behavior. Today the church serves this function by opening the meaning and implications of the Bible for believers. If the Bible says it, we lose it as a practice for our lives like attending church! If we bind something, we simply study what the Bible says is wrong and we say, “Don’t do that!”
The church is God’s storehouse of wisdom concerning our life with God. It is a place where we can get our questions answered, find wisdom for life, and experience the peace of God.
The treasure we have in the church is seen in the images used of her. According to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15 the church is “the household of God… the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” Moreover, according to Ephesians 5:32 the church is the “Bride of Christ” which denotes the closeness or intimacy of Christ to us. Other metaphors include being a “holy priesthood” – that’s all Christians by the way, not just ordained men. We are also the “Body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12 – 17) which means at least that we represent Jesus to our world.
Now of course, no church is perfect. Some are legalistic, arrogant, and care for little more than money. But many churches strive to be great places where Christ is not just proclaimed but obeyed as Lord. In the end, there’s no better place to invest yourself than in the church. It is Jesus’ church and when we work with Him, we can only win!
For Further Reading
Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, Ted Kluck, Kevin DeYoung
Whether you're committed, disgruntled, hesitant, or disconnected from the body of Christ, this passionate resource will help you renew your love for the church in all its real-life guts, gaffes, and glory. DeYoung and Kluck's valuable resource provide a solid reminder of the biblical mandate to participate in our local congregations. Relevant and encouraging!
What Is a Healthy Church Member? Thabiti M. Anyabwile
God intends for all Christians to play an active and vital part in the local church. He wants us to experience the local church as a home more profoundly wonderful and meaningful than any other place on earth. He intends for churches to be healthy places, filled with church members who contribute to the church's growth and health. In this book, pastor Thabiti Anyabwile explains how membership in the local church can produce spiritual growth in its members.