In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said “upon this rock
I will build My church”. He says this is the context of laying a very interesting
and very debatable foundation of facts for that church to be built on. If you are a Roman Catholic or in some branch of Eastern
Orthodoxy you probably believe that foundation is the original apostle named Peter. It is how you have been taught by your
church. It is how your church interprets that specific text. Since the dialogue is between Peter and Jesus Christ, it is easy
to see how an organization that places so much emphasis on “rank and order” comes to the conclusion that Jesus
is building Himself on a man whose name just happens to interpret as “the rock”.
If you are a Protestant and/or a Pentecostal or Charismatic, you probably believe that
the foundation Jesus is building His church on is the factual statement Peter responded with to Jesus in two verses earlier
in Matthew 16:16 when he said “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That answer is the correct answer to the question Jesus was asking. The issue that is addressed differently in both churches
is the question of what or who Jesus is building His church upon. Is He building it on the factual statement that He (Jesus)
is the Christ – the Son of the Living God, or on Peter as a leader discerning the correct answer to the question - or
maybe a little of both?
That very debate used to be something that I enjoyed engaging in. It is one of the major
reasons why those two Christian denominations divided. Arguing about those two opposing views only causes more problems between
them. Both sides of the argument have become far too entrenched with tradition and time to yield to the other. The bottom
line statement of Jesus Christ still remains – “I will build My church”
That statement makes two claims. The first one is that Jesus will do the work. He says
“I will build”. He does not say “you will build my church”,
or “I will help you build My church”. He doesn’t even say “I will trust you to build My church”
– a very popular subliminal interpretation that many churches and denominations fall into the acceptance and perpetuation
of. They would never admit it openly, but their portrayal of ministry and church growth shout it with every dying breath.
The typical counter reaction to this critique I have just stated that is given by the
theologians is that “the Church” is “the Body of Christ” here on earth. Because “the Church”
is “the Body of Jesus Christ”, than we “do” the building. They will quote references from Paul’s
conversion experience in Acts 9:14 where Jesus asks Paul “why are you persecuting
Me?” The question itself overwhelmingly implies that the group of believers in the early Christian church actually
are the bodily representation of Jesus Christ. Indeed they are.
Jesus is obviously ascended into heaven at this historical point in Scripture. So the
verbal reference of Jesus Christ to the word “Me”, certainly references
those who represents Him at that moment in time. Paul certainly was a known and feared persecutor of these early Christians
in the Palestinian community of Jews believing in Jesus Christ.
Another passage that is often referenced in this debate is Ephesians 4:11-12 which reads
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists,
and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body
of Christ.” The phrase “building up of the body of Christ”
must certainly have some connection back to the words of Christ in Matthew 16. The argument that is often given with this
text is that we are to build up the body of Christ, thus we are building the church, spiritually, literally and even numerically.
Very simply put, that interpretation is just not a viable view of that text. That must be read into the text. Building the
body of Christ through sound teaching and Christ centered disciplines speak nothing to the size of the church or its potential
for evangelism or ministry.
In the next verse (13) in the Ephesians 4 text, we see the definitive. “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure
of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”The issue wrapped around this reference is obviously maturity
not creating structure, organization or various ministries as we typically think of when we reference “building a church”
- or even Christ building His church.
So nowhere does Paul or any other New Testament writer talk about the body of Christ
“building” the church. The tangible issue of a building itself is never brought into any discussion about church
organization, meetings or liturgical processes in Scripture. Even though we find that the letters to Timothy and Titus communicate
some form of organizational leadership in the role of the elders and deacons, they do not imply that there is a direction
for the church to build itself in some organizational, physical or numerical way. Many theologians dismiss the idea that Paul
even wrote the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus, thus attempting to deny the importance of their content. However, we
must understand that the importance of this potential fact does not eliminate the spiritual benefit or divine inspiration
of those letters which Paul may or may not have written. Authorship does not equate to inspiration.
The second powerful fact in the Matthew
16:18 statement by Jesus Christ is that the church He is going to build is His church. The statement indicates that He is
the owner. He does not say “I will help you build your church” or “I will build your church for you”.
The church of Jesus Christ is not ours. It does not belong to anyone but Jesus Christ.
It is not owned by the pastor, the elders, the consistory or the governing board or the denominational affiliation. It only
stands to reason that if He is indeed the owner, than He should be making the decisions. When looking around the contemporary
“Christian church scene” it is rather obvious that most churches make their own decisions about their organizational
issues, buildings and congregational life.
This might be for one of two reasons, or both. The leadership in most congregations wouldn’t
know how to listen or discern the voice of Christ making the various necessary decisions, or they simply have no interest
in giving up their self proclaimed and felt authority.
If my wife and I were building the house that we wanted to build, we would not allow
the company pouring the foundation to select the quality and color of the carpet in the family room or bedroom, or any room
for that matter. We would not even allow the plumber to select the sinks or plumbing fixtures, even though he might install
what we do select. It is our house. We are paying for it and we are going to live in it. So, we are going to specifically
select what we want in it, and it will be built to our specifications.
Nevertheless, Christian denominations own their churches politically and doctrinally
as well as literally sometimes. They decide what is best for those churches and their congregations. Denominational leaders
plot the course of direction, set goals, mandates and institute programmatic ministries as they see fit, or as they interpret
the current cultural circumstances.
Some of these denominational leaders may argue and say they do what they do under the
guise of “much prayer”. If that is the case, it is really difficult to understand why every Christian denominational
organization in North America has a more than adequate amount of legal problems continually being addressed, as well as stressed
out pastors, priests and exhausted leadership and administrative personnel, not
to mention the endless stream of moral failures in their hierarchical leadership (Protestant and Roman Catholic alike). Jesus
Christ may be permitted to speak on occasion, but one must constantly ask who is making the final decisions that represent
Many church leaders may attempt to use the Scriptures as a foundation for their positions,
direction and decisions. But do they approach the Scripture with a predisposed agenda seeking Scriptural support for what
they already intent to do, or do they truly allow God speak to them about their positions, direction and decision through
the Scriptures and their seasons of prayer?
Some pastors will blatantly and without reservation, refer to the congregation they are
employed by as “their church”. Technically speaking, if these pastors are employed by a congregation then that
church is technically owned by the congregants, unless the pastor is saying he or she is self employed. These pastors say
that they will lead their congregation the way they
see best. But is it really their church to lead? If we are to take an accurate
look at Scripture, the answer is an absolute “no”. But their attitude and/or understanding of the situation is
really part of why there is constantly friction in the various factions of their congregation, and why people are constantly
coming and going.
These pastors don’t own the church. The people don’t own the church, even
though it is extremely common for church attendees to say “this is my church”. What do they really mean by that?
Do they understand the public implications of that statement, or even the subliminal
and psychological attachments that type of talk may have on them and those listening to them say that?
Jesus Christ said He would build His church and that He owned it. In reality that should
be a big relief to all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and members of “His” church. But here in
the entrepreneurial mindset of these United States of America we cannot seem to relax and leave our hands off His church enough
to allow Him time to build it when, where and how He sees fit to. We insist on building our churches and denominations into
a business and a production house for the mass processing of souls (No pun intended to the Roman Catholics).
What is wrong with just stepping back a little bit and letting Jesus Christ take over
a whole lot? We might be amazed at what we would experience Him do to build His church if we would only stop trying to do
what we think we need to do for Him. This does not mean that He will not use us in the process. But it does mean He that it
will be accomplished as He desires it to be.