The church is not a charity. The church is not a social service agency. The church is not a fraternal club.
The church is a group of people called and centered around Peter’s confessional claim at Caesarea Phillipi:
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”Matthew 16:16
Now, the church indeed does charitable things, serves the community, and draws people together. But each of those things derives from its identity; none of those things constitutes its identity. It is Jesus himself who gives the church its identity.
As long as we hold onto Peter’s claim, the forces of evil and death itself will never prevail over Christ’s church.
Herod is dead. Caesar is dead. Pilate is dead.
But Jesus is alive, and his church will never be defeated.
Some Quick Notes
- The English word “church” is a translation of a Greek word which means “called out.” It was originally a political term that the early church co-opted.
- “Peter” is really just “Rock.” Peter’s given name was Simon–“Simeon”–but in this passage Jesus gives him his nickname and explains its significance–he will be the “rock” on which Jesus begins to build his church. (By the way, the Aramaic word for “rock” is “cephas,” which is why Peter is sometimes called “Cephas” in the New Testament. It seems clear that Aramaic and not Greek was the first language of Jesus and the disciples–Greek was the language of commerce and politics.)
- Jesus’s words to Peter are a bit confusing there at the end:
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16:19
What does that stuff about the binding and loosing mean? I like how Grant Osbourne puts it:
“The church exists on earth but with a heavenly authority behind it. As the church takes the teaching of Jesus and lives it in this world both in terms of opening the doors of the kingdom to converts and opening the truths of the kingdom to the new messianic community, it does so with the authority and guidance of God.”Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, pg. 630.
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