What does it mean to be the “Church”?

One of – if not my favorite – pieces of theology is the study of the Church. It’s a rather endless venture to look at the breadth of what the Church is, and the depth of promises given to it alone, but we looked at a small portion of it last Sunday. As we concluded our study on our church’s name, we focused on that word: “Church”. To help understand more, we looked at Matthew 16:13-20. There, Jesus asks two questions. First, he asks the disciples who the world thinks he is, and second, he asks who the disciples think he is.

To the first question, the disciples say people have rationalized the miracles, the claims, and the life of Jesus, saying he must be a prophet of old, or John the Baptist. They claim he is someone resurrected, but then shortly after when Jesus is indeed killed and resurrected, even the disciples don’t believe it at first! This shows the lengths that the soul apart from God will go to deny the truth.

To the second question, Peter emerges as the spokesperson and says, “You are the Messiah [or, King], the Son of the living God” (v.16). It’s a fascinating answer because, as Jesus says next, this was not a confession from flesh and blood, but rather it is the grace of the Father that has taught this truth to Peter. In that way, the identifying mark of those who belong to the Church (that being the family of God, those for whom Christ died) is the confession of Christ as Lord and the work of God within them. In other words, what separates the Church from the non-churched is the confession and belief that Christ Jesus is Lord and King, the son of the living God, the only way, truth, and life (John 14).

In response to Peter’s confession, Jesus tells us that it is on “this rock” he will build his Church. Catholics believe that this is the instituting verse of the papacy, but this is impossible for many reasons (i.e. Shortly after this, the disciples debate who is the greatest among them. If Jesus so clearly singled out Peter as the greatest, they wouldn’t have had their argument). Rather, what Jesus is saying is that Peter is the greater among equals. That is, if you follow the account of the early Church in Acts, the first half follows Peter. Indeed, upon him the Church is built, but not at the exclusion of others, and not because he is more valuable, because the second thing Jesus is saying is that it’s on the confession of Peter that the Church is built. In other words, membership – with all of its promises – is given only to those who confess and believe what Peter confessed.

With that in mind, we begin to see clearly what the Church is: beginning with Adam and Eve, and lasting until the end of time, the Church is the collection of true believers, those who see Jesus as the only hope in this life or the next. It is to them that Jesus then continues in v.18 with a promise, saying, “The gates of Hades [or Hell] will not overcome [the Church]”. Unbelievable, right? There is only one organization to which Jesus made this promise, only one institution that has been promised eternal security. This promise means that no scheme or warring of Satan can overthrow the Church, which is built on the cornerstone, that true rock, Jesus Christ. Likewise, it means that as long as the world exists, God will have His Church in it. Death cannot overtake this organism.

So think of what that means for us. The promise and authority of Christ is given to the Church (in the promise of v.18, and the keys mentioned in v.19). Likewise, the promise of lasting protection, guidance, grace, and hope are given only to the Church. If Jesus singled it out as this important, should we not do the same? When we consider that perhaps Church isn’t worth our time, or that we’re too busy, this passage reminds us that nothing could be more important than gathering together with fellow believers to hear and worship the Father and His Son. After all, the promise is not given to any outside of it!

So when we look at why our church is called “Gospel of Grace Community Church”, what we see is that we exist, saved and washed clean by the blood of Christ, in order to bless the families of this world with that message of hope. Or, in other words, as the church upheld by Christ, through grace alone we bring the message of the gospel that our God reigns through Jesus to the communities around us. We have no other calling, no other joy, no other hope, and no other pride than to confess the same words of Peter, that Jesus is the King, the son of the living God, and it is our truest hope that as we revel in that great and wonderful news, others will hear and join the one family to which Jesus has pledged himself forever.

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