Christ’s Vision for the Church (1)
“…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16.18
“Against all the power of Satan the firmness of the Church will prove to be invincible, because the truth of God, on which the faith of the Church rests, will ever remain unshaken.”
- John Calvin on Matthew 16.18
Whatever you want
Building Christ’s Church is the common vocation of all who are called to pastoral ministry. If you are a pastor, your job is to build Christ’s church.
Moreover, we must make sure that we build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, following the leading of Christ and His Spirit (Eph. 2.19-22). The blueprints for our work are found in Christ and His Word (2 Tim. 3.15-17).
The Lord promises that His Church will remain firm, invincible, and unshaken so long as it rests on the truth of God. We may expect our churches to grow and bear much fruit for Christ and His Kingdom, but only to the extent that we have the mind of Christ for building His Church, and that we rest our work on the foundation and within the scaffolding of His truth.
As we survey the landscape of churches in this country and elsewhere, we can identify certain common features and aspects. All churches have buildings. All churches worship. There are pastors and leaders. Programs and budgets. Members and visitors.
But within those features and aspects, differences abound.
Whether your preference in a church is traditional or contemporary, your interest in fellowship or outreach, your inclination toward the young and hip or the older and more sedate, big steeple or no steeple, liturgical or more spontaneous, preaching or story-telling, sprawling campus or church-in-the-dale, Saturday evening or Sunday morning – whatever you want in a church, you can find, and very often within the same community.
We should ask, Why is this so?
The answer is to be found in the vision church leaders entertain for the church they are working to build. Church leaders today shape and position their churches according to denominational guidelines, the interests and needs of their communities, the evident success of certain other churches, or their own preferences in style or structure. As perhaps never before, many different kinds of churches exist to engage the visions of church leaders and the desires of prospective worshipers.
In some ways this is a wholesome and welcome development, a fresh change from the days when any church you might enter seemed as cold, stodgy, otherworldly, or irrelevant as the next. Many church-builders today want to get as far away from that model as they can.
Curiously, however, the more we distance ourselves from traditional church forms and formats, the more we seem to be drifting toward a point where, once again, all churches are starting to look and feel the same. We’re all becoming some version of contemporary – at least, for now.
Not ours to shape as we like
Changing, updating, repositioning, rebranding, and reshaping our churches can be necessary and even healthy, but only if we keep within the parameters of church-building revealed in God’s Word. Unless we acknowledge that there are some fundamental components of shape, form, elements, mission, and so forth that define a church as such, we will be in danger of so transforming our churches that they lose any recognizable continuity with Scripture.
The church is not ours to build and shape as we like. The Church – and all local churches as expressions of the universal Church – belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. In His ascended glory, He continues the work of building His Church. It is the top item on His agenda, because the Church is both the sign and outpost of the Kingdom of God.
Moreover, Christ has provided the tools, resources, and designs by which local church leaders must build their congregations. If we would enjoy the blessing of the Church’s Chief Architect and Builder on our facilities, ministries, and people, we must pay special attention to what Jesus intends for His Church.
We should ask the Lord, in short: What is Your vision for Your Church?
We are the Lord’s Church
The Church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ; He articulates the vision church leaders must follow if they would fulfill His purpose in their calling. Jesus Christ intends for His Church to be an agent of transformation – salt, light, and leaven – wherever it puts down roots and puts up walls. Putting down roots, putting up walls, staffing and programming our church, and attracting numerous members – none of this is of any inherent value. If our churches are not having the transforming effects Jesus envisioned, it may be that we have been building according to the wrong set of drawings.
Today, when the churches in America are more marginalized, maligned, and ignored than in many years, we do well to re-examine the vision of the Church which guides our local efforts at worship, disciple-making, and mission. We may build impressive facilities, attract large numbers of people, and fill everybody’s week with plenty of things to do, but we will not be the Church unless we are following the plans and building according to the designs of Jesus Christ.
The Church belongs to the Lord. He calls it into being by His Word and Spirit. He indwells it. He appoints our mission. He provides the resources, power, and support we need to fulfill that mission.
And He alone knows what He’s looking for – and what we should be looking for – in local churches all over the world. The Church is the Body of Christ, the top item on His agenda as He rides forth each day, conquering and to conquer (Rev. 6.1, 2; cf. Ps. 45.3-5).
Unless we and our churches embrace the Lord’s vision, we will not see our churches growing in unity and maturity in the Lord, and we cannot expect to realize increasing righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit, which comes with being the Kingdom people of the Lord.
“For Christ is a rock which is never disturbed or worn away. Therefore Peter gladly received his name from Christ to signify the established and unshaken faith of the church.… The devil is the gateway of death who always hastens to stir up against the holy church calamities and temptations and persecutions. But the faith of the apostle, which was founded upon the rock of Christ, abides always unconquered and unshaken.”
- Epiphanius the Latin (5th-6thcentury AD), Interpretation of the Gospels 28
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).