I plan to post a series that I am calling “Defining the Church.” My desire is to examine passages of Scripture that define/describe the church; and, through that examination, to develop a basic definition of the church.
The first passage is Matthew 16:15-19 -
He (Jesus) said to them (His disciples), “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “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, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
There are several things that we can learn about the church from this passage:
- The church belongs to Christ.
- Christ will build His church.
- The church will be built upon Peter.
- Death will not defeat the church.
- The church will be granted authority from Christ.
The church belongs to Christ. This seems obvious. Jesus says, “I will build my church.” The community (ἐκκλησία = “assembly, community”) of believers will be the possession of Christ himself. This is demonstrated throughout Scripture, especially when the church is called “the church of God” (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 1:2, 10:32, 11:22, 15:9; Gal 1:31; 1 Tim 3:5, 15; 1 Pet 4:17).
Christ will build His church. Again, Jesus accepts responsibility for building his community. He does not place this responsibility on anyone else. He does not assign this responsibility to anyone else. Does this mean that people play no role in building the church? No. But, it does mean that people must understand their role in relation to Christ’s role. As Paul stated: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6-7; i.e., 1 Pet 2:5).
The church will be built upon Peter. There are three interpretations of this passage. 1) The church will be built upon Peter who becomes the first bishop of the church. 2) The church will be built upon the confession of faith that Peter makes. 3) The church will be built upon Peter – and others like him – because Peter is a believer and follower of Christ. I believe the third explanation comes closest to explaining this passage. The church is built of believers and followers of Jesus Christ. Again, Paul explains this in 1 Cor 3: You are God’s field, you are God’s building (1 Cor 3:9).
Death will not defeat the church. This is another contested passage. This could indicate that the church will wage a spiritual warfare against the “forces of Satan,” but the church will not be defeated. Or, it could indicate that death (Hades) will not defeat the church, whether death comes naturally or as a result of persecution. The one who dies will not be separated from the church. The church that remains will not be defeated by death or persecution. I believe this latter explanation is most valid. The church is not frail, nor is it on the verge of destruction. The existence of the church is promised by Christ himself.
The church will be granted authority from Christ. I will discuss this and the phrase “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” in the next post.
From this passage, we learn that the church is built and owned by Christ. He builds his church with those who believe and follow him. We also learn that Christ grants some type of authority to the church, and that death will not defeat the church.
- Defining the Church 1 – Matthew 16:15-19
- Defining the Church 2 – Matthew 18:15-20
- Defining the Church 3 – John’s Farewell Discourse
- Defining the Church 4 – Acts 1-2
- Defining the Church – Implications