“I Will Build My Church“
A couple of surveys done in the spring of 2021 revealed fewer than half of Americans now say they belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque. That’s down from 70% in the year 2000. Yet it doesn’t take a survey to tell you such things. Church attendance in America, even in evangelical churches, is at an all-time low. It would be fair to say the church in America, for a variety of reasons, is facing unprecedented challenges.
Almost 2000 years ago, Jesus declared: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In Jesus’ words we can find much encouragement. Four main truths are stated. Let’s consider each:
“I will build MY church.” Theologically there is a distinction made between the universal church, made up of all the believers from Pentecost until the rapture and the local church–where a group of believers gather together in a specific location to worship Jesus. The focus here is on the universal church, which belongs to Him. Though what is true of the universal church ought to be true in the practice of any local church. Jesus is the Head of the church, which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The church is His bride, and He is even now working to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27). It is His church, and the first obligation of its leaders and members is to lovingly surrender and subject themselves to Him and to His word, that He will have the freedom to do all He has purposed to do in and through His church.
“I WILL BUILD my church.” Jesus’ outlined His church building plan to His apostles in Acts 1:8. Put simply the plan looks like this: Ordinary men and women are Spirit-empowered to live out and proclaim His extraordinary message. He deliberately chose to do the work through ordinary men and women, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7), These folks don’t do what they are given to do in their own strength, they are empowered by the Spirit to do what they could never do on their own (John 6:63). By the Spirit, cowardly Peter (who had previously denied Christ three times and even to a slave girl), was made courageous and proclaimed Him before a crowd of thousands and even indicted his hearers with having killed Jesus. It is by the Spirit the church is led and empowered to bear witness of Christ. The book of Acts speaks to this reality, as the message of Christ spread from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth! Though those folks didn’t have church buildings and lacked in training or resources, they were led and sustained in their work by the Spirit. It was the Lord who “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
“I will build my church, and the GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT.” The fact the gates of hell shall not prevail against it doesn’t mean they won’t try. From Stephen’s martyrdom until this day, the church has been under assault. While the church in America has faced setbacks, disruption and inconvenience due to Covid, fellow believers in other parts of the world have faced far worse. According to one study, in the past year 360 million Christians around the world faced severe persecution for their faith. Every day in 2021 an average of 16 believers were killed for following Jesus, a 24% increase from the year before. But it is as was declared by the church father, Tertullian, who said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” In spite of the relentless efforts of the devil and his emissaries to destroy the church, the church expanded. It will never fail and the gates of hell SHALL NOT PREVAIL against it.. Leaders will fail. Nations will fall. Other organizations will be long forgotten in the dust heap of history, but in the church we possess “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28). Its beauty and longevity lies in its Lord and Savior, the One who died to purchase it, the One who is even now preparing it for glory!
Psalm 113:3, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” And so it is in His church. The sun rises on any given Sunday. And far to the East, in those earlier time zones, people wake in the morning and then head off to their churches where they gather to worship the Lord Jesus. Even in places where it is dangerous, these people have determined nothing will deter them from assembling together in Jesus’ name. They gather to worship Jesus, hear His word, and fellowship together with their brothers and sisters. As the sun makes its course across the sky—from that time zone to the next—other folks do the same. Some live in poverty. They travel to their churches on foot. Sometimes they gather in places which could hardly be called a building. They have no fancy sanctuaries. They have few Bibles. Few, or no programs. Nothing of earthly fare to attract folks. But they LOVE JESUS and they are determined to assemble together to worship Him. Then still, as the sun makes its course across the sky—in the spiritual desert regions of Europe—there are still those who hold onto faith, even though they are in the great minority of folks. Though people naively ridicule them for their beliefs, they nevertheless gather together to worship. So it is in America. Once there were new churches being planted and churches growing and missionaries being sent out and prayer meetings being attended. Now the church in America sleeps. Yet there are still those who love Jesus. Because they love Jesus, they love those who belong to Jesus. These folks are like those early believers who were awestruck by Jesus and the work He was doing. By the Spirit they love and worship and serve the Head of the church, the One who died to save them. The day is coming when we shall all be gathered together in heaven to worship Him. Gentiles and Jews, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, people from every “tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9-10) will praise the Lamb who was slain who will reign forevermore. He said He’d build His church! And so He will!
Lord Jesus, How beautiful is Your Church! You promised to build Your church, and so we read of Your handiwork through the centuries in spreading the gospel from Jerusalem to the far reaches of the globe. You warned us of opposition, Yet You’ve watched over Your church during all these years and strengthened her amidst her toils and tribulations! We praise You as the Lord of the church! May we ever look to You to lead and provide and direct us in all of its affairs! As You are even now at work to present Your church to Yourself, holy and blameless, so might we devote ourselves in love and service to the building up of Your body! Until You rapture us home! Amen!
The Church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heav’n he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.