I was walking by the online alley and heard some folks talking about the failure of “the church” or severally referring to its shortcomings and seeming division. On closer examination, I discovered that they have been confusing the object of their reference with what the LORD Jesus meant when He used or uses the word.
This is my brief attempt at a conceptual clarification so we also do to conflate the issues. This is not exegesis, but a mere ideological clarification and correction in a few sentences.
In understanding what “the church” is, we must look to its origin, particularly in scraping from the thoughts of its founder, through the documented words we have. When Jesus used the term “my church”, it was very personal and flowed from a deep conversation He had with His disciples. The Bible only records Jesus using the term twice; once for a personal cause, the other as a generally understood reference.
Jesus, in using the term “my church” (a spurious translation from the word Ekklēsia or in English Ecclesia), He was speaking of an active process of establishing and sustaining something by all Himself. The fuller comment is “I will build my church and the gate of hades will not overcome it” Matthew 16:18). The term He used is that which everyone around Him at the time understood. This gives us some understanding if we care to comprehend.
- He said “I will build…”, which means He is entirely responsible for it. We cannot find any instance in scriptures where He transferred that responsibility to another or invited someone else to assist in building it. We therefore cannot assume that any activity of a man is a part of that process. Only the LORD Himself knows that.
- Only the LORD knows what His church looks like or its composition. He only mentioned His intentions (build my church), indicated its success (hades will not overcome it) and stated its function (using the Kingdom keys to bind and loose). None of these can be determined or influenced by men. In this case, only the builder, know what He is building.
- If the gates of hades are prevailing against anything, it cannot be that which Jesus is building. He was emphatic in saying His church will not be overcome. If we understand the power that backs His words, then we understand that it is an inviolable assertion.
Let me also state the following to disambiguate further the concept of “church” (Ecclesia). This should also help correct mindsets and assumptions about what it is.
- It is not a physical building and will never be. Do well to dissociate physical structures from what Jesus is building. In His physical ministry on the earth, He never built a physical structure that we know of, He never commissioned one, neither did He encourage one to be built. Interestingly, He even confused religious people by asking them to “destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days” – John 2:19
- It is not a gathering of religious worshippers. Yes! It sounds controversial but please understand it well. The church can gather to worship, fellowship, do ministry, etc., but that is not its core identity. To understand the real identity check John 12:26
- It is not the combination, confluence, or convergence of all known Christian religious denomination in the world. Those differences already point to potent admixtures of human views and preferences that create the present division and doctrinal difference we see.
Let me cast a slab over this by stating the obvious. Jesus is the King! That is who He is and even the Romans and Pharisees grappled with that in their time. This implies that He is a political figure and walks and works in the order of Power, Authority, and Judgment. He brings down kingdoms and sets another up, He overthrows kings, princes, presidents, or whatever we call them. This also speaks to everything He is building, including His church. It is a political setup.
With these few statements above, I hope we think differently about “the church”. We ought to be very careful of what we refer to with those words as only the Master can truly verify that. Each one of us should even be more concerned about our status with Him, and if we indeed are a part of that entity He said He will build.
If we are not sure what to call the gatherings formerly thought of as the church, let’s use general terms such as “children of God”, “Christians”, or “believers”. Only Jesus knows what His church is, and by His standards, it cannot be overcome.