|Posted on February 13, 2019 at 12:05 AM|
When Jesus first told his disciples about the church he was going to build he stated that, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. This statement indicates two important facts about the church that help us identify the true church Jesus continues to build today. First, the church Jesus had in mind was going to have a mission in this world, and second, the defenses of hell itself would not be able to withstand that mission. To identify that church requires an understanding of the mission or purpose Jesus had in mind for it.
All the gospel writers record the final words of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection and before he ascended to the Father in heaven. Bible scholars have referred to them as, “the great commission” because they gave instructions for his disciples to follow when he left. Much like the “general orders” given to soldiers entering battle these instructions provide the basic direction needed to continue their mission in this world in the physical absence of Jesus. At the end of his gospel Matthew describes the mission in Jesus’ own words as, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
From these instructions it is obvious that Jesus intended for his church to look more like an advancing army or a small group of special operators breaking through enemy lines rather than a defensive fortress with protective walls and weapons to defend itself. Sadly, many of the institutions recognized as “churches” today resemble the latter. Since the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, church buildings have been designed with a fortress mentality that suggests the only safe place in this world is within its walls. Consequently (either intended or unintended) those who are given the authority to manage the fortress (the clergy) have had to be selective about who they let inside the fortress and what activities may be allowed. The fortress mentality necessitates a stringent set of rules (written and unwritten) needed to maintain the integrity of the fortress itself.
The concept of leadership in the fortress mentality of the church also suffers as those with the authority to make and enforce the rules are viewed more as “benevolent dictators” rather than shepherds. Leaders within a fortress are constantly divided between their loyalty to the structure of the fortress and the needs of the individual within or seeking entrance into the fortress. Decisions are generally made for the “greater good” of the fortress itself even at the expense of individual needs. Church history is replete with examples of such abuse of authority by the clergy and incompetent, if not evil, leadership.
While it is much easier to discover what the church Jesus is building is not (a religious fortress), our search needs to focus on what it is with the guiding instructions in the mission Jesus gave it. History also provides us with examples of various groups of believers, beginning with the first disciples, who infiltrated the word around them with the gospel message of God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. The assurance of Jesus that the defenses of hell would not prevail against them as well as his promise to be with them to the end gives us hope that his church is still very much alive and well today. Continue to pray for our eyes to be opened by the revelation of the Father through his Spirit to see the church Jesus is building.