What is the Church?


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by David A. DePra

What is the CHURCH?  The church is Jesus Christ in His people – or if you prefer – believers IN Christ.


This should not be surprising.  If Christianity is, “Christ in you,” then it follows that the church is comprised of those in whom Christ dwells.  Indeed, the term, “Christian,” actually means, “a Christ-one.” 


The Greek term translated, “church,” in the NT is EKKLESIA.  It means, “called out ones.”  Notice that term closely:  Called out ONES.  Thus, we see that the church is comprised of individual believers.  The collective body of those individuals who are in Christ is the church.


What we see from this is that the church does not exist as a THING apart from Christ.  It is not something that people join.  The church IS people who are IN CHRIST.  Thus, the only way in which you are OF the church is if you are OF Christ – and not the only way around. 


The church was never a building, a corporation, a denomination, a religious movement, or anything orchestrated by human beings.  The church is the composite of those who are IN Christ.


Built Upon the Rock


When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?   And they said, Some [say that thou art] John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?   And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.   And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.   And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  (Matt. 16:13-19)


This conversation between Jesus and His disciples was pivotal moment for both Himself and them.  Every part of it contains Truth about the meaning of Christianity -- and Truth about the meaning and purpose for those who are in Christ.


It begins with a question:   “Who do men say that I am?”  You will note that the question is not yet, “Who do YOU say that I am?”  There is a reason why Jesus begins with this question – it opens up the great Truth He is about to reveal to them.


The disciples give their answer to this question:  Some say that you are John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”  It is only then that He asks, “But who do YOU say that I am?”  What is He getting at?


In this passage, Jesus is going to reveal that the revelation of Jesus Christ is a personal and individual revelation from the Father.  It is not a revelation that anyone can give to another person.  We can talk about Christ and share the revelation WE have received.  But this is an INWARD revelation that must be given from the Father, and received by the individual.  This is why Jesus first asks about what other people are saying about Him.  The disciples answer -- but then He puts what others say about Him aside, and asks:  But who do YOU say that I am?


This says much about the nature of the church – about the nature of the, “called out ONES,” who comprise the church. There have always been folks who have attached themselves or associated themselves to various congregations of believers.  But the question is whether THEY have received Christ WITHIN – or whether they are there based on what others have said about Jesus.  But by setting aside what OTHERS say about Him, and asking them directly what THEY believe about Him, Jesus is setting the stage for what follows in this conversation. 


Christianity is CHRIST IN YOU – not Christ in another person – not Christ talked about – not Christ as a doctrine – not Christ somehow in a group – but Jesus Christ within the individual person.  That is a Christian – and it is the only way that a person is a member of Christ, and thus, “a called out one.”


Peter answer for them all:  “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”


This INWARD revelation of Jesus must be received from the Father.  One way to say it is that we must receive HIM from the outside of us into us from the outside.  It is a spiritual revelation.  We cannot receive it from any, “flesh and blood,” source.     


We have already seen that one, “flesh and blood,” source would be another believer.  No matter how sincere a person might be, it is not possible for one believer to impart Christ to another person.  But another, “flesh and blood,” source would be a person’s OWN flesh and blood.  In other words, we cannot muster up a revelation of Jesus from out of our own nature, intellect, emotions, religiosity, upbringing, or will.  No.  Again – we must receive the revelation of Jesus WITHIN – on an individual basis – from the Father.


Jesus continued by saying, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


There is a play on words in this answer.  The name PETER means, “little stone.”  Jesus is obviously the ROCK.  Thus, rather than say He is founding the church upon Peter, Jesus is saying the opposite – He is saying that the church will be built upon Himself – the Rock.


But let’s be more specific – and understand the meaning of Jesus in context.  The context is the inward revelation of Jesus from the Father.  Thus, Jesus is saying that He is going to build His church – He is going to build the PEOPLE who comprise His church – upon the inward life and revelation of Himself that they have received from the Father.


Can we see that this is an affirmation that Christianity is, “Christ in you?”  Sure.  Of course, the disciples could not yet understand that reality, but Jesus was giving them Truth that they would later realize.


Jesus said, “I will build the people in whom I dwell upon the revelation of Myself in them.”  In effect, He is saying that once we receive Him at salvation – once we are joined to Him in spirit – everything that He will do is going to be built upon His presence; upon His life -- in His people.


This is Christianity.  And whatever Jesus uses to BUILD His people upon Himself will likewise be OF HIMSELF.  Thus, all ministry that is of God will be of the Truth, light, and life of the Person of Jesus Christ.


The gates of hell cannot stand against the life of Jesus in a person because His life is resurrection life – and resurrection life already has complete victory over all that speaks of death.  Thus, all ministry that is of HIS LIFE will topple the gates of hell.  On the other hand, ministry that is NOT of His life will not be able to manifest His victory.


Can we see the essential that those who would minister Christ have the Living Christ within?  And that they be under His Lordship? 


Keys OF the Kingdom


There are a couple of important details in the words of Jesus that we dare not pass over.  One is His promise to give, “the keys of the kingdom.”  In the original Greek, it reads, “I shall be giving.”  This is an ongoing progressive matter – it is really a supply AS needed.  In addition, the keys OF the kingdom are not keys that merely open and shut the kingdom to others.  Rather, they are keys that BELONG to the kingdom – that is the sense in which they are the keys OF the kingdom.


This meaning goes hand in hand with what Jesus says about binding and loosing.  The keys of the kingdom are obviously what are used to bind and loose.  But again the Greek reads, “If ever you should be binding on earth, (the same) shall be having been bound in the heavens.  And if ever you should be loosing on earth, (the same) shall be having been bound in the heavens” That is a little awkward when translated word for word into English, but the meaning is clear:  The keys will bind and loose on earth ONLY that which is FIRST bound or loosed in heaven.  In other words, the keys that belong to the kingdom can only open or close – bind or loose – according to the will or sovereignty of God.


What we see here is that believers are not given a THING called, “power,” go do things for God.  There is no, “authority of the believer.”  There is only the authority – or kingdom – of God.  In context, this means that Jesus Christ IN HIS PEOPLE is the only power of God – and believers are merely those who are to be extensions of Him – acting as agents through whom Jesus will act. 


You will note that there is no command in this passage for the church to do ANYTHING.  Rather, the emphasis is upon the inward realization and the inward life of Jesus IN His people.  The rest of what Jesus describes is BUILT upon the presence of Christ in His people.  If Christ is in people, then wherever they go, He goes.  Whatever they encounter, He encounters.  And they will encounter the gates of hell, and occasions to bind and loose. 


The fact that Jesus said, “I shall be giving you the keys of the kingdom,” shows that believers are NOT given power once for all to use to do things for God – but SHALL BE GIVEN what is needed when it is needed through the Christ that dwells within – and only for the will of God.  As a believer encounters situations that require binding and loosing – whatever is needed to address that situation IN THE WILL OF GOD will be present in that believer, because Christ is in that believer.


Can we see that this is simply a matter of Jesus Christ living in His people – but then living through His people?  But more than that, it is a matter of Jesus being present IN His people and being brought into other lives and situations.  Wherever Jesus is brought in, binding and loosing takes place – for HE is the resurrection and the life.  There may or may not be outward DOING – but unless Jesus Christ is IN HIS PEOPLE there can be nothing that is of God accomplished through His people.   


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