WHERE AND WHAT IS THE CHURCH ?
I don’t think going back to the New Testament is any better than going back to the Old. Human nature is just the same. There is no way out of human nature wherever we go. The point I want to make is this, we know the ‘so called church’ is in a mess but whether we go back or go forward what are we looking for? The root of the problem is human nature. Human nature has to be changed, not by being better but by being renewed. We have to go beyond the laws of nature if we are to find the answer to the contradictions and disappointments of the ‘so called church’.
THE REAL CHURCH
The real church is a miracle of grace. It is called into existence by the cross of Christ. ‘I preach Christ crucified,’ St. Paul said. ‘The Greeks preach wisdom but I preach the foolishness of the cross.’
‘Where is the scribe? Paul asked. ‘Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ (1 Corinthians 1:20-23)
Paul put it in these few words to the church at Corinth: ‘For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures...’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
SIN DEATH AND BURIAL
Sin, death, and burial are always with us. This is the pattern of human life that does not change. It is the law of nature and the law of sin, whether in war or peace. It consumes all our dreams and takes away all our longings for there is nothing we can do about it. But there is something that God has done if we believe Paul’s declaration, his momentous proclamation that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures. The outcome is this, ‘For as in Adam, -our first parent, - all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Corinthians 15:22) Christ dealt with the problem of sin and death, the root and the cause. Christ died for our sins, took the blame upon himself that he might deliver us from sin and from death, that he might change the law of human nature and give us a new law of life and a new future. That opens up a new prospect for those who believe the gospel. Celebrating the good news of Christ, Paul exclaimed, ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55)
THE GATES OF HELL
The church is such that not even the gates of Hell, the grave, can prevail against it. Thus Christ said to Peter, ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. The rock is Christ, not Peter, as some have supposed and have built their churches around Peter’s name, or Luther’s, Calvin’s, Zwingli’s, and many others, endorsed and governed by popes, archbishops, priests and kings, ministers and elders; who have built their churches on doctrines and articles of faith, cannon and state laws that have raised not just prayers but banners and arms. But Jesus said,
‘On this rock I will build my church.’
‘On this rock...’ On Peter’s confession, ‘You are the Christ the Son of the living God,’ to which Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’ The rock is God’s revelation to Peter and Peter’s confession of faith in Christ. Faith is always a gift of God. It is never a philosophy or an article of faith, whether the Apostles Creed or the thirty nine articles of the Church of England, or the Westminster Confession.
Peter’s confession and the confession of the universal church is a gift of God, which is why the church is One, Holy and Catholic, not one built on tradition or Apostolic authority. ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ not on flesh and blood but our Father in heaven’s unveiling of the Christ, the Saviour of the world.
THE BINDING AND LOOSING
To Peter, Jesus then said, ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ (Matthew 16:19) Keys, as everyone knows, open doors that are locked, and lock doors that are open. This gift of the keys is replicated by what keys do, they bind or loose by those who have the keys in their possession. The state has the power of the sword to conform people outwardly to the laws of a country, the church has the power of the keys to proclaim the gospel of Christ by which people are transformed inwardly to love God and each other. But at the same time the proclamation of the gospel may bind those who do not believe from entering the kingdom of heaven. The Word of God is a two edged sword dividing and separating people from each other. ‘Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12)
THE SPIRITUAL FAMILY
For the church is God’s spiritual family, made holy by Christ’s grace. And this is why: just as we are born into a human family by a physical birth, so we are born into God’s family by a spiritual birth. We belong to God’s family because we are born into it, not because of any church tie, association or confirmation, whether traditional, doctrinal or political. If we are not born into the church we do not belong to it. So, Just as Peter preached to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
The remedy is the same today as it was then. For the ‘so called churches’ to repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus so that your sins may be forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
THE FRAGRANCE OF THE CHURCH
The fragrance of the church is everywhere the church follows the way of the Lord. Paul saw clearly the effect of this fragrance, He said, But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. ‘For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.’ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
If you sense there is a mystery here you are right. The church is seen and yet not seen; exposed and yet hidden. That is because the real church is the Body of Christ, his presence in the world through you and his children. You become the light of the world Christ’s light, who said, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ (John 8:12) His light shines from within you. No one can see that spiritual light within you but they can see and feel your life, how you live and what you do. So there is a visible church and an invisible church, a communion that is One, Holy Catholic Church and a dysfunctional nominal church that is unholy and divided. Which church do you belong to? To know that you belong to the real church listen to the words of Jesus, ‘My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.’ John 10:27)