And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God — Matthew 16:16
‘What is the church?’ ‘How does it work?’ Most importantly, ‘why does it make a difference in our world?’
In our first part, we attempted to answer these questions by focusing on the founder of the church, Jesus Christ Himself. While the world has debated Jesus’ identity for the last 2,000 years, it can be neatly summarised in Peter’s declaration above. Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, the Son of David who will sit on his throne. He is also declared as the Son of God.
While ancient Israel had anointed prophets, priests, and kings, the anointing of Jesus is unique. He is ‘the anointed of the anointed:’ Anointed
1. A Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15);
2. A Priest like Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 17, 21); and
3. A King: like David (Psalm 18:50; 89:20; Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38; Hebrews 1:9).
Only Jesus of Nazareth fits this description and Peter affirmed it in his confession. It is on this confession that the church is built. Jesus, doing a play on words regarding Peter’s name, calls him petros meaning a detached or boulder stone, or ‘little stone,’ that can be cast down. But on this confession, called petra, an unmovable ‘mass of rock’ that is used for a sure foundation to build the church.
In other words, Jesus calls Peter a detachable, throwable stone, but on this unmoveable foundational rock Christ will build His church. It is the confession of Jesus’ identity as Christ, Son of David, Son of God, not the person of Peter himself, which is the foundation stone for the church.
God purchased the church with the shed blood of His Son (Acts 20:28). Jesus Christ is head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). Christ loves, nourishes, and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:25), which He will present blameless in glory on day (v. 27). Christ prime responsibility is to build His church (Matthew 16:18), and one of His methods is by spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:12).
Defining ‘The Church’
Now that Jesus’ true and complete identity is revealed to Peter and the disciples by the Heavenly Father (Matthew 16:17), it is time to ‘talk church.’ First, note that this is first out of 77 times that the word is used, all in the New Testament. So what does the word actually mean?
‘Church’ comes from the Greek word is ekklesia (Greek: ἐκκλησία). It means those who are ‘called out’ from their normal dwelling and/or the world into a special assembly. In its most basic sense, ekklesia, (from where we get the word ‘ecclesiastical),’ means an an organised assembly of citizens in some public place. From the spiritual view, it is a gathering of Christians for the purpose of worship and service.
Yet it does not stop there. Ekklesia/church is every person, redeemed by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the day of Pentecost until the second coming of the Lord. Even those who have died in faith are very much part of the church and may very well constitute the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ spoken of in Hebrews 12:1. This is the universal church. Church also is referred to as Christ’s body (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18), of which He is the head.
As one person aptly put it, the church in the Old Testament was concealed, but in the New Testament revealed.
In summary, the church of the New Testament is built on the confession of Jesus being the Christ, Son of David who will sit on his throne forever. He is also Son of God (Matthew 16:18). Those that believe this confession are grafted into the church. We note that:
1. Christ is building His church;
2. This church-building program uses people. God’s method is a person, not a program;
3. Anyone can join the church through repentance from dead works, faith, and confession towards Christ, Son of God, Saviour, Lord of all;
4. The New Testament church built on the confession that Jesus is Christ, Son of God (Matt. 16:18). As Bob Gass says, Christ had to be God to save us and man to die for us.
In our next instalment, we will learn what does the church do.