Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Does the Bible Say About the Church? The Gospel of Matthew

What does the Bible say about the Church? The Gospel of Matthew

The word Church, in Greek--κκλησα--occurs only twice in the Gospels, both of them in the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s take a look at these verses and see what Jesus wants us to know about his Church.

The first is in Matthew 16:18. Peter has declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. To this Jesus states:

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

(Matt 16:18)

So what does this tell us about the Church? First off, and perhaps most importantly, are the words “My Church.” It is his Church, the Church of Jesus. And so, it is not our church. For Jesus to describe the Church as something he builds, means that the Church is a real thing. He built it. And like a building, it has a structure. It is visible.

He also tells us in this verse that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Notice, he isn’t saying that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against individual Christians just so long as they follow the Bible. The Gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church.

The other use of the word Church-- κκλησα--in the Gospels is in Matthew 18:17, where Jesus says that, if a fellow believer, living in some sin, refuses to repent after first being approached privately, and after that by two or three fellow believers, then:

“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the Church. And if they refuse to listen even to the Church, let them be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.”

(Matt 18:17)

The Church Jesus describes in this verse evidently is an institution capable of hearing a case through recognized leaders, whose judgment is then accepted and implemented.

And this is something taught elsewhere in the New Testament. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells Christians:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them. For they keep watch over your souls.” (Hebrews 13:17)

The New Testament Church, then, had leaders considered to hold true authority within the Church for the welfare and good order of the People of God. 

The belief that the Church in ancient times or the Middle Ages fell into serious errors of belief or practice is not compatible with Matthew 16:18 or 18.17.

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). And so, if the Church was built by Jesus and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, and if the Church has leaders we are commanded to trust, then we may be confident that whatever that Church came to believe and practice, is true. And it is not a problem if any of those teachings or practices are not always found directly described in the Bible. If that were not so, if the Church could fall into serious errors of beliefs and practices for centuries, then Jesus’ description of a Church against which the Gates of Hell would not prevail, would really have no meaning.

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