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Jesus: I Will Build MY Church
By David A. DePra
He says unto them, But whom say you that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mat 16:15-19)
Jesus told the apostles that HE would build HIS church upon HIMSELF. Peter, the little stone, had just confessed that Jesus was the Christ. The church Jesus would build would be upon the Big Rock Ė Himself Ė and it would be built out of those who had received and embraced the revelation of Jesus as the Christ.
Jesusí words, "I will build My church," are perhaps some of the most ignored, misunderstood, and misinterpreted, in all the Bible. Indeed, it is almost impossible to penetrate peopleís traditional ideas about what Jesus meant when He said, "I will build My church." The real Truth on the matter, to many, seems foreign to their thinking.
What did Jesus means by those words? And how do we best come into line with His will on this matter?
Building Our Church
The first thing we need to realize is that Jesus never said, nor does God ever say anywhere in the Bible, that people are incapable of building a church. No. People are quite capable of building a church. In fact, we are capable of building a big church, all in the name of Christ, and supposedly to His glory. We can do this thinking we are doing it FOR Jesus. This has been going on for two thousand years, and God has rarely done anything to stop it. He just tells us the Truth about these things and then lets us make our choices.
Has it ever occurred to any of us that if we build a church for Jesus, instead of letting Him build His church, that we are sinning? I know that must sound radical to many people. But think about it. If Jesus said, "I will build My church," and we stray outside of that, how are we without guilt?
There is a reason why Jesus has not told us to build His church for Him. That reason is that if we try, in the end, it will be something that is created in our image, and not His. Look around you and read history. Christian people have been building Jesusí church for Him for centuries. Has the church ever really looked like Jesus? No. It has looked, operated, and acted like the people building it FOR Jesus.
Do you and I actually think we have the right to do ANYTHING for God, hand it to Him, and obligate Him to bless us? Indeed, if there is one error that God continually warns us against, both in teaching and in example, it is the error of trying to do for Him what He only can do. God is not simply giving us a suggestion. He is telling us HIS WILL.
What is the Church?
Now, when I speak of churches that people build FOR Jesus, I am not yet talking about something evil. Iím not talking about a cult, or even rank heresy. No. People build those things too. But right now, Iím simply stating a fact: If you have the right kind of people, with the right kind of religious personalities, with enough money Ė you can build a church. A nice good one, with a nice statement of faith. And by the time you are done, you will almost certainly attribute what you are doing to God. You will say you give Him glory. Sure. God is given credit for MUCH that Christian people do.
The problem here is that Jesus did not say, "You will build My church." He didnít even say, "I will build YOUR church." No. He said, "I will build MY church." Jesus did not give anyone of us the right to start a church for Him. He did not promise to bless a thing we do in His name. He simply said, "I will build My church." It is almost too simple for us to understand Him, and frankly, ALMOST NO ONE BELIEVES HIM.
At issue here, of course, is the definition of CHURCH, as well as what Jesus meant when He used the word BUILD. Most Christians think, "the church," is a THING Ė a sort of nebulous entity to which we belong. To many, it is an entity composed of people who profess Christ, and who, to comply with legal standards, and get tax advantages, have joined together to form a corporation that serves as a social outlet, and religious center. The church is a PLACE to go on Sunday, and other days, where Christian activities are taking place.
But, according to Jesus, what is HIS church? According to Jesus Christ, the church is people in whom Christ dwells. Period. That is it. Consequently, while it is not wrong to have buildings, corporations, or activities and programs at my church, none of those things are the church. Indeed, you could totally strip the Christian landscape of all of those things and there would still be THE CHURCH. The church would be a LIV ING body of people in whom Jesus Christ dwells.
Now we can see how Jesus BUILDS His church. He doesnít build it by adding numbers. AMOUNTS of members or money does not build a church. The church is built when Jesus Christ is built up -- in PEOPLE. Sure, as people are converted to Christ, that might result in MORE people. But the issue here is not more people. The issue is MORE OF JESUS. It is when the MEASURE OF CHRIST is increased that the church is being built.
The danger is when our programs, and efforts to gain members and money, begin to replace CHRIST IN US as the dominant focus. The danger is when we want OUR CHURCH, instead of Christ Himself. There are very few people who are willing to let go of their church and let Christ build out of it what HE CHOOSES. There are very few people who even know TO DO THAT Ė because it is almost never taught.
So the church is people in whom Christ dwells. And the fact is, that is ALL the church is. Period. The rest are tools, at best. But until we understand this, we are never going to even begin in the purpose God has for His people.
But again, CHRIST IN US is not what most Christians think of when they think of church. For example, people talk about how, "their church is doing." But what they mean by, "how their church is doing," is MEMBERS and MONEY. "How their church is doing ends up coming down to those kinds of NUMBERS, and how happy the people are who are attending. If a church is getting lots of new people, and starting lots of new programs to accommodate them, then that church is said to be, "coming alive," or doing well. And if the people are grumbling, and unhappy, or if the church is having financial problems, then that church is said to, "not be doing well."
Ask the average churchgoer what it means for a church to be growing, and most of them will answer in terms of members and money. But the fact is, members and money have NOTHING to do with how Jesus builds His church. That may shock some people, but it is true. You will not find a single verse in the NT that even addresses NUMBERS of members in Godís church, or the amount of money needed to keep it going. None. Neither will you find any teaching as to how to get people into your church. You wonít find any appeal along the line of, "a purpose driven church," or a, "seeker-friendly church." None. What you do find is that, "church growth," in the mind of God has to do with the measure of Christ in and through people.
What I am saying is this: A church is alive, not because there are lots of people and activities. A church is alive because Jesus is alive in the people. Furthermore, a church is growing, not because numbers are increasing. Rather, a church is growing because Jesus is growing in and through people.
The reality is, WE have created a church system that demands members and money to self-perpetuate. We build a building, and then we have to pay for it. We create an ecclesiastical system of ministry, and then we need to support it. So we begin to structure the very body life of the church to do so. But God never said to do things that way. And what ends up happening is that the church becomes A THING to maintain -- an entity apart from Christ. And the danger is that it often becomes a rival and a substitute FOR Christ.
It is an absolute fact that most who are in church leadership today never get beyond thinking in terms of members and money when it comes to evaluating, "how their church is doing." This is not my theory. It is a fact. Go to the many websites that advertise church needs for a pastor. Read what most churches are looking for. There will usually be a certain obligatory lip service given to the need for a pastor who will feed the flock with Truth. But in the end, most churches are looking for someone who will be WHAT THEY WANT HIM TO BE, and for someone who will keep, and increase, members and money. There are even those churches who demand a proven track record along that line. Strip those ads of their religious lingo, and they are not a bit different than ads for a secular job.
For the last two-thousand years this has, to one degree or another, been going on. Christians have been trying to figure out the best way, "to do church." Well, church is not a THING we are to DO. It is something we ARE. Church is about our mutual fellowship in Jesus Christ. WE are the church.
Neither is the church a THING to grow. The church is people. But today there is little teaching about how people ought to be growing in Christ. Instead, we have false teaching everywhere as to how to grow your church. We have, "the purpose driven church." We have, "the seeker friendly church." We have all kinds of programs and gimmicks geared to building Jesusí church for Him Ė if that is even given lip-service at all. Just raising a murmur of protest against these things today and you will be labeled a trouble-maker. Yet such programs are becoming the NORM. Christian people WANT THEIR CHURCH! THEIR WAY. And there is much teaching out there that offer them tips on how to get it.
The responsibility of keeping the church focused on Christ falls to leadership. But the trouble is, most churches have completely ignored the NT guidelines for leadership. Therefore, to say that leadership is responsible to keep the church focused, while a true statement, pre-supposes that the people in leadership ought to be there. But the brutal Truth is, many churches are literally controlled by the attitudes, if not the offices, of leadership whose very conversion to Christ is in question Ė let alone their calling to leadership in the church.
But you see, this problem with leadership is ALSO the result of people building a church for Jesus. Can we see that? The Bible says that GOD has given leaders. They are not elected, and neither is leadership acquired through education. But no one wants to hear this. People just will not have the Truth on this. The ramifications are too much for them. So people just go ahead and elect people into church leadership. They develop different forms of church government to glue the thing together. None of it is what Christ does to build a church.
I have known of churches that are literally controlled by unbelievers. They are on the elder boards, or on the boards of trustees. Iíve also known churches where the very leadership that controls the church is composed of people who may be saved, but who have almost no insight into the mind of God. They run the church exactly like a business, and indeed, Iíve even heard them SNEER if you suggest otherwise. They have no calling from God to church leadership, but because they are successful in business, or have an education, they are elected. This is nothing more than the thinking of the world. But almost no one wants to hear this today Ė especially if their church has members and money. Why rock the boat?
There is going to be a day of reckoning over all of this. You can bank on it. And the way that it will come will not necessarily be God coming down from heaven and raising a finger to straighten things out. God needs to only let people reap what is sown. If people want darkness, then they get darkness. If people want their church, God will give it to them. Right now the table is being set for great deception on a level that we cannot imagine. It is coming, and our churches are not ready. They arenít ready because people donít know Jesus Christ. He hasnít been taught in our churches. But we have some nice churches!? I really canít think of a more terrible judgment.
Iíve known of churches that have had decades of strife, politics, and power struggles, and despite it all, the people who have caused this the most are STILL IN LEADERSHIP. They go through pastor after pastor, and crisis after crisis, and split after split. No one ever asks WHO is the common denominator of all the trouble. No one ever deals with it. No one ever seeks Jesus. Apparently, the price of doing so isnít worth it to some. So it just goes on, littering the landscape with the spiritual wreckage these things do.
And then there are the pastors who have sold out to keep the peace, and to keep their job. And there are the other pastors who were never called to be pastors to begin with. All of this, and many other examples I could give, are the result of people building a church for Jesus. Weíd better watch out. What we build for Jesus might end up being an abomination in His eyes.
When people build a church for Jesus, there really is only one way to deal with what is built. At some point, the whole thing has to been TORN DOWN. There needs to be MAJOR UPHEAVEL. People in leadership would need to be dismissed. There would be splits and divisions. Of course, most people would think of this as bad. Yet any split that is the result of COMING BACK to Christ is always good. It is necessary. What will remain will be REAL.
If we want Jesus to build our church, then it may be necessary for us to allow Him to first tear down the one we have built for Him. But you see, this is exactly why people wonít consider it. That would mean repentance, humility, and total surrender. It would mean that we would risk losing members, money, and power.
There is simply no other solution. If we want Jesus Christ to be the Head, and the Builder of our church, He will not accept what we have built for Him. He canít. Jesus said, "I will build My church." He wasnít kidding.
The Other Extreme
Now, there is a way of taking all that I have said and using it to justify a bad attitude towards church. But if this is what I am doing, then I am no better than the people I criticize. I am not saying that people ought to leave their churches because the system is evil. Or that because the system we have created is counterproductive to the Truth, that the people in it are automatically evil. No. In fact, there has for years been a, "house church movement," whose claim to fame is that they have, "come out of the evil church system." But even though the system is a problem, it is really a problem because of the people in it. There have also been many home churches that have turned into cults and have damaged Christian people. The issue here is NOT form or structure or government. The issue here is that Jesus Christ has not allowed to build His church, or to function as the Head Ė no matter where the people meet.
We MUST see that the church as a BODY is in the shape that it is in today because PEOPLE as INDIVIDUALS are in that shape. I donít care what you do or where you meet, if you are not right with Jesus Christ as an individual, you will not contribute to the measure of Christ. You will NOT be more holy or right in Godís eyes if you meet at home, or if you do not meet at all! You wonít. It is deception to think otherwise.
The One Head
Someone is liable to ask: "Ok. Youíve got me interested. HOW can we, starting right now, begin to allow Jesus to build our church and be the Head? We are willing to pay the price, even it if means that Jesus will first tear down what we have built. Where do we start?"
The answer is that you, as leadership, must first let Christ build YOU, and be YOUR Head. You must get right with Him personally. Otherwise, you have NO BUSINESS being in leadership of any kind in your congregation. Then, as you get right with Him, start preaching the Truth of God. And start LIVING it. Start preaching the Cross Ė start getting serious with Christ. Not in a legalistic way, but in a redemptive way. If you do that, I guarantee you that the first thing that will happen is that every stronghold of hell that is in your church will begin to come at you. Youíve heard the expression, "all hell will break loose?" Expect that this will literally happen in your church.
If you preach the Truth in your church, and lovingly refuse to compromise, two things are going to happen. First, everyone who wants the Truth will respond. Second, everyone who doesnít want the Truth will eventually leave. But what you will end up with is a group of people who want the Truth!
This is the ONLY way to solve the problem. But you see, if you are a pastor, they will probably fire you before you can get very far with this. And if you are a lay member, those in charge probably wonít listen. And if you are in leadership on another level, you will meet much opposition. Why? Because again Ė if you begin to preach the Truth, members and money are going to be affected. And you will quickly discover which is more important to the people in your church Ė the Truth or the members and money. Sadly, in most places, the members and money are the most important. Indeed, they are so important that the people making them the most important donít even realize most of the time how deceived they are.
Life Finds a Way
The essence of the church is LIFE Ė the life of Christ in us. Get that. The church is a LIVING body. But once we see that, we see that the church isnít a THING to build. It isnít a PLACE to come. It isnít anything I could possibly do for God. The church is Christ in people Ė the church is HIS LIFE, and consists of all who have been raised with Jesus Christ.
To try to build LIFE for God is nonsense. You cannot build LIFE. But we try. We put together an organization in which there is NO LIFE, and prop it up with members and money. But so many are hollow shells. The resurrection life of Christ is not there.
Any group of people in whom there is LIFE cannot be stopped. Jesus said, "And the gates of hell cannot prevail against my church." Sure. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church, because the gates of hell cannot prevail against resurrection life. But when I say, "cannot be stopped," I am not talking about SIZE. I am talking about Godís purpose of seeing the fullness of Christ. THAT is Godís goal. That is what Jesus builds in people.
What is our part? We are to preach the message, and live the message, and BE the message. That is our part. But we are to do this to the complete disregard of members or money. Another way to say this is this: We are to NEVER TAKE OWNERSHIP over what Jesus might build through us. Ever.
We must see that the moment we take ownership over the church, that we ARE, at that point, trying to build it for Jesus. We are. It comes down to that in the end.
Have we seen that the church does not belong to us? Indeed, we donít even belong to ourselves! But if we try to build a church for Jesus, it is almost certain that we have taken ownership over what we are building -- to a degree. That is why we seek to continually PROTECT it, promote ourselves, and use the things of God for our ambition.
If only people would see this. If only we would see that we are to meet together to the complete disregard of members and money Ė and leave that to Jesus Christ. HE WILL BUILD HIS CHURCH! And the guts of it isnít going to be members and money. The essence of it will be His resurrection life. The members and money will come along as God sees fit. But that is NOT our business!
But again Ė none of this will make sense if we have a false concept of church. Only if we see that the essence of the church is LIFE Ė the life of Christ in people. You cannot build that, or protect that, or create that. No. All you can do is FEED it. God gives the growth. But not so much growth as to numbers. Growth as to MATURITY in Christ.
If Jesus Christ wants to build a congregation through me, or through a group of people, the only way is if I allow His resurrection life to possess me. If I do, there is nothing that can stop Him from building what He wants to build. Life Ė His life Ė will find a way. He will make a way.
Can God Trust Us?
I once knew a group of people who had decided that they were called of God to start a church. In reality, they werenít. Their efforts were based in a terrible arrogance. Their understanding of Jesus was purely intellectual. And in time, it showed. They would make statements such as, "We are a group of highly educated people." And they would say, "We donít really need a pastor." Yep. They really DID say those things, and not just once. Worse, the true spiritual condition of the church began to emerge through the teaching. They would question the words of the apostle Paul. There was a general attitude of intellectual arrogance towards the things of God. And over the course of time, it became clear that Jesus Christ Himself had gained very little access to them personally. It was a really BAD situation. But Ė they were going to have their church!
One day I was put in a situation where I had to tell them what I thought. I did not create the situation where this was necessary. I believe God did. I didnít bother telling them that they were arrogant, etc. Rather, I simply said, "Jesus Christ cannot send other Christians here, and entrust them into your care. You must first get right with Him." That was all they needed to hear. At once I was the bad guy, and labeled a prideful man, because I dared to say such a thing about them. So they went forward, totally in tact, and never broke stride in their attempts to build a church for Jesus. In time, they ended up turning against each other, and disbanding.
Now, the fact that they disbanded really isnít the point. For it is a fact that it might have been possible for them to build a big church totally out of Godís will. But in this case, God thankfully did not let them. Really, I think He just let things take their course. Their own personalities were enough to keep people from coming to their church.
The point in all of this is that Jesus Christ is not going to build His church through people He cannot trust. Jesus must be able to trust us NOT to take ownership over what belongs to Him. Jesus must be able to trust us to refuse to compromise with the Truth. Now, of course, Iím assuming that what we believe IS the Truth. Otherwise we are not called of God. But even if we do know much Truth, Jesus has to be able to trust us with the spiritual lives of others. We are going to give account to Him for them.
I say it again Ė Christian people are quite capable of building a church for Jesus. We are capable of building multimillion-dollar ministries, and claiming that this is the evidence of Godís blessing upon us. But it may not be evidence of that at all. Jesus builds his church out of people who are devoted to Him. The church is PEOPLE in whom Christ dwells, and has nothing to do with SIZE.
Jesus said, "I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." He was talking about building a BODY OF PEOPLE.
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