what is the church

If we are going to discuss the church, then first we must ask is, “What is the church?”

To adequately answer that question, we must examine what Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel account:

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.

Matthew 16:13-20

This is the first time Jesus mentions the church during His earthly ministry. The only other time is a few sentences later in Matthew 18. Through this conversation Jesus sets into motion the birth of His church.

Let me identify three simple observations about this birth announcement.

First, Jesus is the OWNER of the church. He tells Peter, “…and on this rock I will build MY church” (emphasis added).

I know you have heard me say this one thousand times. Now for one thousand and one: this is not your church, the church belongs to Jesus. Jesus is the Author, Founder and Sustainer of the church. He died for the church. He was buried for the church. He came back to life for the church. The church belongs to Jesus Christ.

Second, Jesus is the BUILDER of the church.

Again, Jesus tells Peter, “…and on this rock I will BUILD my church” (emphasis added).

Cultural relevance, novelty or innovation is not the secret to church growth. It is the Lord who causes the church to grow. There are plenty of creative people in this world, with new, imaginative and sometimes distorted thoughts or ideas about the church. Creativity or ingenuity, however, is not the mark of a true church. Neither is a crowd or big buildings or a lot of money the mark of a true church. And let me add, just because a “church” is drawing a crowd does not necessarily mean the church is growing. You can get a crowd to show up for a circus. The true church grows because the Lord Jesus decides for the church to grow.

Third, the church is built on a COMMON CONFESSION.

Notice what Peter said in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).

There are all kinds of people in the church. There are seekers. There are sneakers. There are lost people. There are saved people. There are disobedient people. There are obedient people. The church is full of different kinds of people. Yet those who are really a part of the church are those who CONFESS Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus explains how Peter, and for that matter, how anyone else arrives at that confession:

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.”

Matthew 16:17

There is something supernatural that must take place in the life of a believer in order for them to become a member of God’s church. That supernatural act is not a matter of joining the church, walking an aisle, praying a prayer or being baptized. The supernatural event is act performed by God, and it includes being born-again. Only a born-again, blood-blood, Spirit-filled believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ can be a member of God’s family known as the church.

Tomorrow we pick up the word CHURCH and how it is used in Scripture.


5 Responses to “what is the church”

  1. 1 Searching
    March 21, 2008 at 9:43 am

    A question for you… in many of the most crucial moments in Jesus earthly ministry he is credited with telling those involved to keep quiet about it. This example you have in verse 20, and with the healing of Jarius’ daughter. Now, I do understand that his “time” of recognition had not yet come leading up to the events prior to his murder, but nonetheless, how does the Church rationalize the way it calls attention to itself in so many ways that do not glorify God in present day? Hasn’t the Church, especially certain denominations like the Southern Baptists, compromised the example of Christ and his charge to the Church with its political posturing and public infighting? It seems that the Church has become preoccupied with sin instead of salvation. Isn’t the scriptual reason for salvation about the relationship with God instead of the presence of sin? Do saved people not still sin? So if we are to be a church in the image of Christ’s example should we not focus less on the sin of others and more on the relationship with God the Father as modeled by Christ himself? Would you not agree that if saved people continue to sin, albeit that they can receive God’s forgiveness through their relationship with Christ, that sin itself is not the reason for salvation but rather the relationship with Almighty God and his glory to be the greater reasoning for one to be born again? And also, as you so elequently pointed out, the supernatural event that takes place within the heart of one who is genuinely born again? Not certain but you may be going in this direction… just some thoughts as I read your blog.

  2. March 24, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Your questions intrigue me. Your insight is thought-provoking. Let me try to respond.

    I agree, many, many, many churches–as well as Christ-followers–bring entirely too much attention to themselves instead of to God.

    Yes, many churches and denominations, including Southern Baptist, have politicized Christianity. By doing so, they have also polarized and paralyzed themselves. The good news, however, is that not all churches fall in that trap.

    Actually, your final two questions nail it. The scriptural reason for salvation is to glorify God (Ephesians 1:5, etc.). Jesus’ purpose was to glorify God (John 12:23:17:1-4, etc.).

    I think the church would be much more effective if it dwelled more on the glory of God and not the glory of man.

    As for talking about or preaching about sin. The Bible does expose us for what we really are. When the church preaches and teaches the entire Bible, then sooner or later, the church must address sin. I have found from my own preaching the more one dwells on the glory of God, the more man is exposed to his finite nature, which includes his sinful nature.

    I have not said anything you do not already know.

    Keep responding. Perhaps your remarks will trigger more discussion.

  3. March 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    One more thought. I read a book a few weeks ago entitled The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. Owen said, “We must constantly kill sin or it will kill us.” I think the church must address sin, so the world knows how to motify it.

  4. 4 Searching
    March 27, 2008 at 6:04 am

    Ryan, while I can’t disagree that sin is that thing we do which builds the greatest barrier between us and God, it seems to me that if we get our relationship with God right and we tune our spirit to his that everything else in our lives will begin to come under his leadership. It ocurrs to me that we do so many things backwards and then wonder why it’s not working. People who marry to keep from being lonely or to validate sex or for financial security always end up divorced and usually bouncing from relationship to relationship. Conversely, people who marry because of a deep and selfless love stay together with fewer divorces and more stability. It seems we as a people get so obsessed with the symptoms of our broken lives that we never get to the real problem. Isn’t that one reason we have a problem with the abuse of perscription drugs? I believe that Paul wrote from a perspective few of us have and that is one of a clearer understanding of how deeply God loves us as demonstrated by allowing us to murder his only son to become the propitiation of our sinfulness and not to escape the consequences of his own sin. Salvation is a God given gift for something mush deeper and more meaningful and lasting. Anything done to escape the consequences will not last. I realize that my little ideas will not change the practice of established religion, but I am enjoying our discussion and thank you for engaging with me.

  5. 5 Searching
    March 27, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Just another observation/question on this subject… the deeper I study and read and contemplate this deeply personal relationship with my creator the more I am amazed at the vast reach and significance of faith. Everything in life can be brought back to only two things, in my opinion, the first is our relationship with God in Jesus Christ and the second is the measure of our faith which is in direct proportion to our concept and understanding of God. I understand the stages of spiritual maturity and that people’s capacity to comprehend some things is based on that spiritual maturity. So I wonder if our preoccupation, as the “Church”, with modifying behavior through and after the acceptance of salvation hasn’t resulted in fewer people actually knowing the true and living God? One of the most respected Christian leaders of all time, Dr. Billy Graham, once said that it is possible that as many as 75% of the people who fill the pews in churches in this country every Sunday have no real relationship with Jesus Christ nor God the Father. And yet his basic message is one of conviction of sin as well… So, here is a question, is it just easier to address sin than to bring an understanding of something that cannot be experienced with the five senses? With the number of pastors and church leaders being exposed for their sin all over this country… is the message of killing sin before it kills us being heard? And then the larger question… how does a Christian leader help people find or even want to search for an accurate comprehension of God’s love for us and the sacrifice he made for us? I still believe that my own attempts to please God and turn from sin is because of my deep love of God and knowing what he did and does for me and not because of the fear of an eternity in hell. Well, enough on that subject, but I do hope this causes just one more to pray more, study more, read more and especially to think more about God and who he is. Blessings!

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