Why I Believe That The CHURCH Is The Solution, Part 5 *SERIES END*
The previous post was a bit of a cliff hanger but I hope it has given you time to really think through and process the significance of Jesus’ great announcement regarding the Church. Every word of Scripture, scribed by humans and inspired by the Holy Spirit, must be significant to the meaning and purpose of the words chosen (in the original texts). Many times our modern translations and traditions cloud the true meaning of the words. This is why it is vital that as we read and study the Word of God that we are filled with the Spirit of God and equipped with the study tools that are available to us (and there are many good resources available). May our desire be like that of the Apostle Paul who some have described as a seeker, a finder, and a seeker still!
So let’s zero in on the passage in Matthew 16 and focus our attention on the finer points of the great announcement of the Church at Caesarea Philippi. Is there any pertinent reason why Jesus chose this town as the place of this grand unveiling of the plan to redeem Earth? There are varying views that have been proposed to answer this question. I will present to you the view that I believe is the most probable in light of the context of Jesus’ announcement.
This town had a long history with the Greeks and later the Romans for being the central location for the activity of many important gods in their worship rituals. A huge rock formation rose up from the base of the town that contained a large cave. The pagans who worshipped there believed that this cave was the entrance to the underworld where the gods lived and came into and departed from the world that the mortals inhabited. Detestable worship rites including human/animal sacrifices and sexual acts of perversion were preformed at the mouth of this cave to appease these gods. The mouth of this cave came to be known as the “Gates of Hades,” or the “Gates of Hell.” In this region of the world, Caesarea Philippi was Hell’s headquarters.
With this backdrop clearly in view and spiritual significance firmly planted in the minds of the disciples, Jesus declares war on the powers of darkness:
[Mat 16:18-19 NASB] "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."
Wow, Jesus establishes His Church right at the front door of the demonic hordes that had invaded Earth! This pronouncement was not made from the safety of defensive bunker miles from the battle front. Jesus goes right to the battle line and declares that He and His army will be marching against the gates of hell and he fully intends to overpower every foe that would stand opposed to His plan to liberate Earth and usher in the fullness of His Kingdom. Yeah, Jesus! Go get them! We’ll sit in the safety of the sidelines and sing victory songs as we watch you kick the stuffings out of Satan! We’re with you all the way! That is not exactly what Jesus had in mind…
Jesus did say that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:18-ff) but He didn't say that He was the one who was going to do all the fighting. Jesus had to “legally” render the authority that Satan had over people and the earth (through the sin of rebellion) null and void through His death and resurrection (Col. 2:15). Once this authority was taken back by Jesus, He gave it back to its rightful delegates - people. But not just any people. This authority could only be given to and function through people who acknowledge that Jesus is King, bow to His supreme authority, and surrender to using this authority to do the will of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus gave a special name to this group of people. He called them “My Church.” This is not a cutesy pet name that Jesus gave to this group of people. This was a name that embodied the full force of Jesus’ plan for taking back the rest of the world, starting with His first group of 12 disciples.
Before we look under the hood to see the engine of what is at the core of the church, let’s look at some of the things Jesus said regarding the people and the power of the church. In the passage from Matthew 16 Peter is the one who declares the revelation of Jesus’ true identity. The first thing that Jesus does is to give Peter a new name. Peter’s given name was Simon - a very common Hebrew/Greek name. Jesus upgrades his name and calls him, Peter, meaning rock or stone. Indeed, the first thing that happens to people when they become believers in Jesus is for them to get a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17, Isa 62:2). All those called into the Church of Jesus get a new name. Simon, is now the rock. The man who was impetuous, prideful, and unpredictable is being promoted to head up operation redemption when Jesus leaves the planet! Peter was being called from shifting sand to solid rock by the prophetic declaration of Jesus.
Jesus then states that this group of believers will be given the Keys of the Kingdom! These keys represent the authority to access everything Jesus had access to while on the earth and access to all the authority that exists in Heaven. That means ALL authority was being granted to this group called the church. This group was also given the power to use this authority to enact and enforce the will of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. In other words, the church (the people and the structure) would become the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches of God’s government on the earth. That is a pretty bold statement. Here is how Jesus said it: and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." What does this statement really mean?
If you have been a believer for any length of time you may have heard people say in their prayer that they “bind” or “loose” something in Jesus’ name. What does this really mean? The words binding and loosing mean forbidding and allowing. In other words, these are legal terms that would be used in writing, enacting, and enforcing the law. For example: A civil society decides the action of stealing from someone is wrong. A legislative body gets together and writes a law that states what the behavior is, what is wrong with it, and what the punishment is for those who violate it. The law, after enactment, is passed onto the executive branch for enforcement (police, FBI, etc). If a question arises as to the application or interpretation of the law it is passed onto the judicial branch for discussion and decision. This is the heart and soul of what Jesus is saying to His disciples.
Now, Jesus is not giving the authority and power to these men to make things up as they go along as seems good to them. They would be acting as delegates of heavenly government. The phrase in the passage actually reads like this: “whatever is allowed in Heaven, you must allow on the earth. Whatever is forbidden in Heaven must be forbidden on the earth.” This ties all the activities of the church totally and fully to what is already established in Heaven. This demands that the church must fully submit to this structure in order to function the way Jesus intends it to function. In short, the church is the governmental structure of Heaven reproduced on the earth.
Now, let’s look at the name Jesus gave this governmental structure - “My Church.” There were many words available to Jesus in the language of His day to describe what His followers would be called that would have been more relevant to followers in a religious setting. Jesus chose church. This is a word that comes right out of secular Greco-Roman legal language. The word is ekklēsia. Here is what it means: a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly, an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating.
There it is, at the very core of Jesus definition for His group of followers, the central purpose for the church is to be the gathering of citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (by nature of being born again) who are presently living on the earth, gathering together for the purpose of discerning the will of God, and then enacting the will of God through a governmental structure that represents Heaven. This gathering includes components like singing, testifying, sharing, teaching, praying, fellowship- but the main reason the church is formed is to re-present the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
This mandates the activation of the mission as a unified and universal body of believers who are in lock-step with the activities of Heaven. Reading through the New Testament scriptures and studying early church history reveals the amazing transforming power that the church of Jesus was executing on the earth. The early church had leadership structures firmly established to head up this assault on hell much like any successful army would need (Eph. 4:11-ff). The believers were totally sold out and had given all to the mission and to those who were marching alongside them (Acts 2:42-ff). People willingly gave up their goods, comforts, and even their lives for the cause of the Kingdom.
This liberation march was rolling through the Roman empire and tearing down demonic strongholds of darkness even in the face of tremendous tribulations and persecutions. It could not be stopped (just as Jesus said). By the third century, the Greco-Roman world conceded to this righteous rampage and made Christianity the official religion of the empire! Good news, right? Not so fast…
If you study church history, this is the point of dilution. Once the Church was incorporated into the worldly structures of the day, greed, power-politics, abuses and abominations began to stymie the Spirit and the true Church began to be persecuted by the now Roman church. It has been a downhill slide from there with moments of come-back glory, but never regaining the high ground and the global influence it once had.
As a reaction to this slide into nominalism, individuals and small groups began to break away from the State Church and form small monastic communities in search of purity and holiness apart from the corrupt church. Although noble in its intent, this movement created a belief system that Christianity could be individualized and internalized. People didn’t need to be connected to the Church (capital C), because each individual was the church (small c). This was never the intention of Jesus for His Church.
However, as people became attracted to these individual small groups, they became larger groups and the problems of nominalism and legalism began to grow in these groups also, which eventually morphed into denominationalism. Apart from the only, original plan for the Church, any attempt to build something else would not work. In reading through the New Testament all the references to church are expressed in the plural collective that included leadership structures (Eph. 6) that were set in place to keep the main thing the main thing and to keep the mission on track. In the original model for church, the collective group met daily at the temple and in individual homes (Acts 2:42-ff, Acts 5:12,13, Acts 5:41-42). House groups were part of the whole, not entities unto themselves. Throughout early church history the practice was that every believer in a given location would come together on the first day of the week (Sunday), as the Church and then gather in homes during the week to solidify the mission and their relationships.
There were no options to stay home and do church as an individual. The definition Jesus gave to His church was taken seriously - until the events described above poisoned the plan. History reveals (it is a fascinating study if you have the time to read it) that within about 300 years, the Church as Jesus designed it had turned the whole Roman empire upside down and Christianity was winning the known world. It was working then... can it work again the way Jesus intended?
Jesus said He would build HIS CHURCH. His Church was not destined to failure and futility. His Church is His business and it is not going to be thrown out on the dump heap of failed enterprises. Jesus is King and He will have His way with His Church.
Can the modern church, which is so fractured, segmented, isolated, and mostly powerless come back together with the righteous rampage it once had? Can the modern church which is filled with disgruntled and hurt people who have splintered off be healed and made whole again? Can the modern church, with all of its varied doctrinal emphasis come back together under the banner of THE CHURCH of Jesus? The Church was born on Pentecost, a miraculous move that came directly from the courts of Heaven. Can the church be born-again in another miraculous move from Heaven and reset the power, authority, and unity it was intended to have?
Your answer to that question will determine your involvement in what is coming next. The old-time gospel song, When the Saints Go Marching In, was originally written for the glorious day when God’s people march into the gates of Heaven. It is time to change the perspective to when the saints go marching into the gates of hell. I want to be there in that number - do you? I hope I see you there!
by Pastor Jim Anan