It seems that in Australia today people are leaving churches but are still very interested in spirituality. I’ve heard people say that they still love Jesus but they just can’t stand the church. Others say they just don’t feel the need to come to a building each week to listen to one person speaking, and telling them when to sit and stand. It seems that many believe that ‘the church’ is on the way out! Is that so? Is there any need for it? Should we forget about ‘the church’ and just individually love Jesus instead?
Though many might resist it strongly in our individualised world, the truth is that we need community. We need others. We hate the thought of being alone. Why is this? We were made for community. Our God is community. In the Godhead is a community of oneness between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Our God of oneness has been calling to himself a people, a community, since the beginning of time. This group of people in the Old Testament are called the people of God and are those who have responded to God’s call by faith. In fact the Biblical term used for these people was qahal meaning “the gathered” or “the assembly.”
In the New Testament the Greek word ekklesia is translated as church. It means “the gathered ones,” “the called out ones.” So we were made for community and God who is community calls us to himself to be a community.
The church is not therefore a building, an authority structure, a set of programmes or a tradition. Rather it is a people. A gathered people called to community by God.
So can you have Jesus but not the church? No! The Bible shows us that the church from first to last is all about Jesus. We become part of it by faith in Jesus. He is the one who is responsible for building it and he has said that it will endure forever.
The Church Is Those Who Have Put Their Faith In Jesus
Jesus gives us insight into the essential nature of the church when he asked his disciples in Caesarea Philippi the direct question, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:15-16). When Jesus heard his answer he replied, “Blessed are you, Simon… And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matt 16:17a & 18a) Because Peter recognised Jesus’ true identity and mission, Jesus gave him a new identity and a new mission, both expressed in a new name: Simon son of Jonah became known as Peter, which means “rock.” It was on this confession of faith, this rock, that Christ would build his church.
In Peters’ revelation of Christ’s mission & identity he had identified that Christ was the long-awaited Messiah (a Hebrew word), that is, God’s anointed one, the one who fulfils God’s purposes. He was also the Son of God, because he was uniquely related to God as Son to Father and because he was God in the flesh. Peter was the first human to understand and proclaim who Jesus was and his mission.
It was this confession of faith in Jesus as Christ that would be instrumental for the building of the church throughout all time. Peter would be the first of many rocks, living stones, being built together through faith in Jesus to become the church. It is faith in Jesus Christ that makes you part of the church. The church is not a building but a living church, a church that is alive. It is God’s household built with living stones which make up a living church (see 1 Peter 2:4-5).
What does this mean for us today who love and follow Jesus?
• You are the church if you have put your faith and trust in Jesus as Lord.
• Jesus has brought us all together and just as like in our own families we don’t get to choose who becomes a part of the church. Learn to love them anyway.
• We are one in Christ even though we might look different in so many ways.
• We have a new identity and a new mission. We are the church declaring to the world the good news about Jesus.
Well now that we know that the church is a community of those who have faith in Jesus we might now wonder who is responsible for its continued growth and development.
The Church Is Built By Jesus
Who builds the church? Our first answer might be, “Whichever building company that submits the cheapest tender to the Church leaders.” But in Matthew 16 we see clearly who the builder is when Jesus says…
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.” Matt 16:18
It is Jesus who said, “I will build my church.” This truth leads us to some important observations for those who are part of his church.
• The Master Builder is building his church and therefore you can serve with great joy knowing that it doesn’t all depend on you! You can serve offering your gifts for Jesus to use as he desires but leaving the results to him.
• In mission, Jesus has been at work in so many people’s lives before you and I even thought about sharing the good news with them. We can get involved in what God has already been doing and join him in his mission.
• You can relax! It doesn’t all depend on you! We are God’s co-labourers and he said he will build his church. Work hard, yes, but don’t stress!
It’s important for us to pray, seek God’s will, and study the scriptures together so that we can understand in community how Jesus is wanting to build the church. A church that takes seriously Jesus’ promise to build his church will be prayerful and careful about the activities they do together. They will ask, “Is this what Jesus would have us do.”
So now we might finally ask whether the church that Jesus is building is in danger of extinction or is it worth giving yourself to wholeheartedly?
Jesus Declared That The Church Will Last Forever
A builder today builds a house with the hope that it will last for a life time. Why would we want to be an active and eager part of the church that Jesus is building? Because the church will last forever. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it” (Matt 16:17). Because of your saving faith in Christ you will be forever in heaven with the rest of the Church and even death, hell or Hades or any other place will not be able to touch you!
From that small rabble of twelve to the 3,000 who responded to preaching of Peter (the rock) on the day of Pentecost millions have put their faith in Jesus and become part of the spiritual house that is the church. Jesus has certainly been building his church through the ages!
If you believe in Jesus then you are the church! Join with others who he has called and be co-labourers with Christ, your Master Builder, and trust him for the results. Why? Because the church from first to last is all about Jesus, and it will last forever like nothing else will.