In Matthew 16:18, after Peter makes his inspired confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus claims ownership of the church when he says, “upon this rock, I will build my church.”
In Greek, the order of the words can allow for emphasis to be put on one of the words. In this phrase, the emphasis is on the word my. It is Jesus’ church. It is not Peter’s church, nor Paul’s church, nor does it belong to any mega-church pastor or denomination. The church belongs to Jesus. Jesus began the church and he maintains the responsibility for its growth and health.
Below are five implications that can be drawn from Jesus’ ownership of the church.
- It is Jesus’ responsibility to build the Church. Yes, good preaching plays a role. A vital youth group can play a role. Exhilarating worship may also play a role, but the ultimate responsibility is on Jesus. It is Jesus that brings people into relationship with himself. We can only make the introduction.
- All of the “church building” methodologies should be reexamined for their faithfulness to what Jesus taught us either directly or through the Biblical authors. We should not confuse building attendance with building the church. Gimmicks such as the “Toronto Blessing,” motivational talks in lieu of sermons and trendy worship music may build attendance, but do they build the church? Do they bring people into solid relationship with Jesus Christ?
- We need to guard against a cult of personality built around a gifted preacher or teacher. When I lived in Southern California, we attended a congregation pastored by a well known radio preacher. On the Sundays when the preacher was out of town there would be a significant drop in attendance. Is this a healthy church or is it a gathering of consumers who want to get their weekly fix of “spiritual” entertainment?
- Pastors need to be careful about assuming too much responsibility for the growth of the flock they lead. As under-shepherds, they rightly feel responsibility to minister to those God brings into their care, but that responsibility should not be an excuse for attempting to control all that goes on in the local congregation. I attended one church where the pastor made all the decisions and gave little freedom for others in the body to be led by God in their ministries. His strangle hold actually inhibited growth by driving away people who understood their own gifting. They moved on to another congregation that valued their gift.
- The leaders need to be sensitive to where God is leading the congregation. True Biblical leadership allows for God to orchestrate how the various gifts and talents work together for the building of his church. Even a casual reading of 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 shows that God is the one in control of bringing together the various gifts that are necessary for the health of the local body of Christ.
The church is initiated and maintained by Jesus. Jesus commissions elders and deacons to maintain order and oversee the care of the congregation but they are to do so in a way that is consistent with Jesus’ direction. Jesus is to remain in control.
When that control is wrested from the hands of Jesus, the local congregation becomes less than what it should be. It then becomes a social organization at best and a cult at worst.