The Naked Church
Whose Church? The most important question we need to ask is “whose church” are talking about. Conveniently the first time that the word ‘church’ comes up in the New Testament deals with this very issue… Read Matthew 16:13-20 13
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. There are a number of things we need to get right here and if we don’t then we are in trouble! The first is that when Jesus mentions the church it is not the church it is my church. The church belongs to Jesus. He is the head and it is the body (Col 1:18). He loves it like a husband loves his bride on their wedding day (Eph 5:25-32). Because he owns the church he can start new churches and he can close churches (Rev 2:5). He is the senior pastor and Chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). He is the therefore the one who builds the church. It is he who gives gifts to and of people to the church to build it (Ephesians 4:11-12). When Paul talks of building the church he does it in God’s power (Col 1:29). He stands in the midst of his churches, caring for them and building them up (Rev 1:12-13, 20). In regards to the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God we see Jesus often using organic illustrations in his parables implying the Kingdom should be built (E.g. Mark 4:1-34)1. The Spirit is the one who tells the church to send Paul and Barnabas out to the first mission that leads to more churches being formed (Acts 13:2-3) The church is in conflict with Hades. Hades is a hard word to understand. Sometimes it merely means place of the dead. Sometimes it means the place where people who are in rebellion to God go, what we would call Hell 2. But the phrase is a strange one: the gates of hell will not prevail. Gates are a defensive structure. They do not prevail against anything….unless they are being attacked. In this case we see that the building of the church means that hell itself will be attacked and will lose the battle. The last thing to note is those whole conversation comes about because Peter has worked out who Jesus is, though misunderstands what he does. And this is probably the most important point in this whole discussion of church: You cannot understand the church without understanding Jesus. 1 2
See Neil Cole, Organic Church: Growing Faith where Life Happens (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 9 Hence some translators have “hell” (ESV) and others will have “hades” (NIV).
© Peter Hughes 2009
In fact you cannot be a part of the true church of Jesus without being in a relationship with Jesus. You can go to the meetings, you can serve in the church, but you are not really a part of the church unless you are united to Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:1-26, Colossians 2:19).
Why does this matter? The first thing is that we need to make sure that we are connected to Jesus before we are connected to the church. The church is all about Jesus. So joining a church without meeting with Jesus and having a relationship with people in a church without a relationship with Jesus is a waste of time. It might be that you are at church, though you do you not know Jesus, but you are there so you can understand who Jesus is better and that is something I commend. The second thing is that Jesus is the one who determines what happens at church. He does this through his Word, the Bible so we can understand clearly his will for the church. Some details of this will: where we meet, what we do, etc. is not clear and circumstances will be the way that Jesus makes it clear what he wants. So if you are at a church full of older people, in a suburb with older people it is probably the case Jesus wants you to serve old people in that church. Thirdly, Jesus needs to be the centre of what happens at church. So we need to continually ask the question when we are in church “Does this please Jesus?”
© Peter Hughes 2009