I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
How very true. And how very sad.
The church is often seen as a byproduct of Christianity. “Organized religion” is said to limit “true” spirituality. Today people describe themselves as “Spiritual not Religious” if asked about church.
Church is often seen as a part of a weekly schedule. Today we “Do Church” and pencil it in on the calendar of our lives. We get to church if we can. We choose from a vast menu of programs that are carefully designed to intrigue our spiritual pallet but not tread to carefully on our time. When things like golf, fishing, youth leagues or a variety of other things come up, church is pushed aside and we excuse ourselves – if we even think of excuses – by saying that we are “worshiping in the fellowship of our families.”
The church has become irrelevant today because we have forgotten just how vital it is to our faith and practice. While Roman Catholics may claim Peter as the first Pope, all Christians must look at this ordination by Jesus as the root of the church. Look at the power: the gates of hell will not overpower it, it is given the keys of heaven, the united voice of the church can accomplish great things in earth and heaven. Clearly this institution of the church is no byproduct but an essential part of the Kingdom of Christ.
Where ever Paul went throughout his missionary journeys, he planted churches. He established pastors, elders and other officers of the church. He reinforced the centrality of the church in all areas of the Christian. It was to the church that members were to take their disputes, not to the courts. The elders instructed in morality and the deacons ministered to the poor and needy. The church was the center of families and the nexus of the community of faith.
As our country grew, this idea of the church was made evident in the concentric rings that grew around a centralized church. The church building served as school house, town hall, community center as well as a place of worship. Townspeople literally worked in the shadow of the cross, and the bells of the church would peal over the landscape. All activities were scheduled around the church, because the community of faith was central to belief and practice to the people in the area.
Thus the church has become irrelevant by allowing itself to be replaced as the driving force in the lives of its members. We no longer look first to the church in times of ethical crises. Our courts are jammed with Christians suing Christians. We turn to public schools to educate our children in morality, and to government dole checks to meet the needs of the poor. Our church friends stay safely in church and Bible studies, but it is our cultural and work circles from which we draw our sense of self. Since we have no united anchor, we drift and cast our ropes on anything that comes along, and we careen from one shelter to another.
I do not think that is what Christ had in mind.
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.
She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
–Samuel J. Stone