Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 16, 1969
NUMBER 36, PAGE 8c-9a

The Church, A Structure

Harold Turner

"And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18)

The above verse is quite familiar. It's probably quoted as much in sermons as any other verse and is certainly a significant statement in the teachings of the Lord. However, even though you've heard it much and have, no doubt, given it a lot of thought let's look at it once again. When Christ said, "I will build my church," exactly what did he say? If you would reword the sentence to mean basically the same thing, how would you do it? What would you say? How about something like this: "I will bring into existence my following," or maybe this: "I will create my assembly of people."

Now, if these paraphrases do not touch pretty close the idea involved, then I've missed the point. The figure of a building or structure of some kind is introduced in Matt. 16:18 relating in a very skillful way the relationship between the identity of Christ and his followers. The relationship is simply that of a foundation to a building, but we'll discuss that more in a moment.

All of us, I think, would respond correctly if asked what the church is. The church of the Lord is people that follow the Lord, but for some reason when we get the church (people) involved with the figure of a building, our thinking gets a little foggy. If the church is people and the building in Matt. 16:18 is the church, then it follows that the building in Matt. 16:18 is the people. The people are not in the building — the people are the building. Let's say it again. The people are not in the building; the people are the building.

Now when we view the building as one thing which was brought into existence on Pentecost, completed then and there and is that something or other that everyone from now on must get into, and the people who follow Christ as a second thing, something is wrong. The building of Matt. 16 was not started and completed on Pentecost. It was started but it is still being built until this day. Christians, saved people, the followers of Christ, are referred to as a structure; the church (people) is the structure and as long as people are being added to the saved you will have the structure being built. Christ simply said he would bring his following into existence.

The building of Matt. 16 was no more finished on Pentecost than was the family of God fully developed on that day or the kingdom filled to capacity with subjects. THE BUILDING IS THE PEOPLE!

Why the figure? In context the identity of Christ is being considered. After the truth that he is God's son is revealed, we have the statement in vs. 18. A foundation to a building is that which adds stability and strength to the structure. Without a good solid foundation no building is worth much. Now, when people follow Christ, what determines their stability? Well, stability in what sense? What makes their following Christ a wise thing — a good thing? What makes their hopes and dreams, in connection with him, other than empty and vain? The answer can only be found in his identity. If he be the Son of God then he can and will fulfill the promises to mankind he has made. If he isn't the Son of God, then his followers, considered as a structure, are built on quicksand.

Thus, to make the building one thing and the people something else ruins the beauty of what's being taught by the Lord. He's assuring us that our faith in him and our following after him are as stable as can be. The building (his followers) is not a rickety shambles but a solid, firm, well-founded structure which will stand the test of time.

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