“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And 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 16:18-19
Edinburgh Castle, built on solid rock has stood the test of time. A symbol of military might and national stability, this magnificent building depends on its foundations. So the Church of God founded on Christ alone depends on him alone for its very existence. Unlike the castle in Edinburgh, the building of which we are a part is made up of living stones. Jesus shapes each stone individually and places us in his church which is the very habitation of God on earth. This means we are all called to know, to share and to grow in his glory.
Our primary purpose in life is to carry his presence to all the nations in the earthly world and display his glory to the unseen powers in the heavenly places.
Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18 establish that the Church he builds will be characterised by an offensive, warlike nature and guided by his Word, filled with his joy, united in his love, and sent into his world so that people will believe. We establish an intimate relationship with God and each other so that together we can reach the glorious destiny that God holds before us.
God’s people on earth are not, as some in society suggest, a small group under siege trying desperately to hold out against a more powerful opponent, but the victorious army of Christ. We have been given a strategy, which is to function in five main areas. These inter-relate, overlap and affect each other greatly, but all five need to be effectively fulfilled if the Church is to be complete and balanced as God intends.
To love and honour God
The supreme, all-embracing call of the Church is to worship God. Before everything else, we are to be a worshipping community. Wherever we gather together, in twos and threes, cells or Sunday celebrations, our priority is to acknowledge God for who he is: Father – the Creator and Redeemer of the whole world, Jesus – the eternal Son and Saviour of all humanity, and Holy Spirit – our enabler and encourager.
Jesus explained to the woman of Samaria that the Father is seeking those who will worship him ‘in spirit and truth’. He is not much concerned with our musical tastes, but he aches for our hearts and minds to be right before him, for our lives to be always ‘in the Spirit’, and for our minds to be saturated in ‘the truth’. This leads us to true worship which involves praising God with our mouths and serving him with our lives.
Of course, we must make sure that our church worship is significant, meaningful, skilful and culturally relevant, for God does not want our worship to be dull, repetitive or boring. And in our cells we have the opportunity to be creative and imaginative in our worship. God wants us to worship him creatively, in fresh, exciting ways which reflect his own creative nature.
Guardians of eternal truth
The Church is meant to be the ‘keeper’ or ‘guardian’ of eternal, absolute truth – the written Word of God. Across the world today, there are many rival claims to truth and, in Europe, we live in a post-modern culture which denies even the concept of absolute truth. This means that we need to teach and preach the truth with the greatest possible care and clarity.
It is of the utmost importance that we maintain our devotion to God’s Word. All sorts of emphases and fashions can distract us from Scripture, but God’s Word must remain primary. Every aspect of church life must be rooted in Scripture. We need to be constantly encouraging one another to submit our thinking to God’s Word. New believers increasingly have no biblical background but instead they have great mass of human ideas drawn from many and various ideologies, so it is urgent that they are quickly taught the eternal principles of grace and faith.
In Acts chapter 2 we read that the Church began in worship but soon moved into the preaching of God’s Word. The Spirit fell, the disciples worshipped, but the people were only ‘cut to the heart’ when they heard the Word proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.
Throughout the New Testament, we read how the Church used God’s Word to argue, debate, expound, admonish, confess, charge, reprove, correct and instruct. Just reading 2 Timothy 3:15–17 reminds us that the Word of God provides everything we need as the army of God, thoroughly equipping us for every good work.
If we – individually, in our cells or as a church – forget the primary authority of God’s Word we become incomplete and poorly equipped for battle. And if we do not keep the Bible at centre of our lives we no longer experience his glory, and we will begin to wither and die.
Revealers of God’s glory
We are Jesus’ witnesses – in words, deeds and lifestyle – to the ends of the earth. The Church has always exploded with growth whenever ordinary believers have been equipped and released as witnesses.
All of our words and activities are meant to point people to Christ. Wherever we are, at work, school, shopping or playing sports, our goal must be to testify to Jesus, to attract people to him, to encourage them to follow him, to assist them to love him, and equip them to make him known.
Witnessing is not a specialised activity set aside for evangelism teams or occasional church events, it encapsulates everything that we say and do. The truth is that we are all always witnessing to Jesus; sadly, much of what we say and do neither brings him much glory nor attracts many people to him.
We desperately need the guidance of the Spirit to find appropriate ways of witnessing which will reach our generation and culture. But, ultimately, the most effective witnesses are always believers who live the ordinary dedicated life of Jesus, and gossip the good news in language that the people around them understand.
Carers of one another
Some churches are so evangelistic that they ignore pastoral care, and others do the reverse. We must find a godly balance and ensure that everyone is properly pastored.
In John 21:15–17, Peter was first commissioned to ‘feed my lambs’, then to ‘tend my sheep’, and finally to ‘feed my sheep’.
The feeding of God’s flock from the Word of God is a constant and regular requirement: it is the priority. Tending the flock – acting as one of Christ’s under-shepherds – involves discipline, authority, restoration and practical help, but these are incidental in comparison with the feeding. This does not mean that the welfare of the church should be restricted to visiting when someone is ill or bereaved. Instead, welfare means the sort of practical caring at which our cells excel.
Of course, we are also called to care for the welfare of the community around us as well. No church should neglect community care, as Jesus calls us to serve with him, but we must take care not to duplicate or usurp the state’s distinctive functions. Community care must become an even greater church emphasis when society disintegrates, social needs grow, and governments abdicate from their responsibilities to the elderly, the homeless, the mentally ill, and other socially disadvantaged groups.
It is worth remembering that God has commonly sent revival to churches which were deeply involved in controversial community care programmes. For example, in the 1860s, the North American churches that experienced revival were principally those which were resisting slavery and caring practically for escaped and ex-slaves.
And, a few years later, the British ‘evangelical awakening’ occurred essentially among the churches which were deeply concerned with industrial, educational, penal and mental health reform, and were caring practically for abused, destitute and illiterate children.
Confronters of the enemy
We know that the people of God in the Old Testament had to fight every inch of the way to possess the Promised Land, and that the Church is called to reveal God’s glory not just to the nations of earth but also to all the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
This means that we are not able to do the work of Jesus without grappling with the spiritual forces which are opposed to God’s kingdom. Ephesians 6:10–18 offers a picture of God’s army standing shoulder-to-shoulder and fighting in hand-to-hand combat. The whole point of the passage is prayer. We wear God’s armour so that we can be ready to engage the enemy when we pray.
One important, though much-neglected principle of spiritual warfare is found in 2 Corinthians 10:5–6. Paul is addressing the false teaching of the false apostles he refers to in 2 Corinthians 11:13, who had infiltrated the church in Corinth. He explains that this teaching had resulted in ‘strongholds’ of the mind and bondage to self-exalting arguments which were against the knowledge of Christ. This is a characteristic part of the devil’s strategy as he is the arch deceiver and liar. Paul came against these arguments through his apostolic teaching and was ready to back up his words with a show of apostolic power to bring to judgement the false teachers and the demonic powers who were manipulating them.
We do need to confront demonic powers through prayer, fasting and praise, but we need to do it cautiously, under the direction of the Spirit – not rashly, five times in every cell meeting! Warfare prayer is on God’s agenda, but we must be clearly directed by the Spirit in everything we do. Remember, that we have been given Christ’s authority to trample over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19).
We have a vicious enemy, and 1 Peter 5:8–9 reminds us that he is seeking people to devour, and also that we can resist him – if we are steadfast in the faith. Jesus’ Matthew 16:18 promise is absolute, but it is meaningless unless the Church is actively raiding the enemy’s kingdom, resisting his forces and releasing his captives.
All this means each one of us must make sure that our lives are founded on the rock. We must also be built into the building alongside other living stones. That way we can grow together into the expression of God’s glory on the earth that he intended when Christ founded his Church.