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Theology > Jesus > Life and Teaching > I Will Build My Church


I will build My church.
Matt. 16:18

Jesus asserts that He will build His Church. What is He building? What exactly is the Church? And what is its relationship to Jesus?

“Church” translates the Greek word, ekklēsia, meaning, “called out ones,” “congregation,” “community,” or “fellowship”; the Church, therefore, is a group of people. From the strict meaning of the word the Church cannot be identified with an institution, a program, or an organization; the Church is not an impersonal something but a fellowship of people who are believers in Christ.

Jesus stands in a unique relationship to the Church; the Church is His, meaning the Church is composed of individuals—believers in Him—who stand in a saving relationship to Him. All  believers from the time of Adam constitute the spiritual people of Jesus, redeemed by Him and reconciled to God by Him. In a metaphor used in Scripture Christ is the Head; and the Church, the people, form the body (Eph. 1:22; 4:15-16; 5:23). Thus the Church is a living organism, a spiritual organism.

The Church is composed of the people who replaced ethnic Israel. Always within the ethnic people were the spiritual people, and even in the Old Testament these spiritual people comprised true Israel. In the New Testament the people of God become not just the spiritual ones from ethnic Israel but spiritual people from both Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:8-22). The people of God, therefore, are the people who are followers of Christ and the followers come from all the world—this is the Israel of God that Paul speaks of in Galatians 6:16 (this would take kai in the sense of “even” rather than “and”). Thus there is continuity and discontinuity with the nation of Israel.

In relationship to the Kingdom, the Church constitutes the people of the Kingdom, with  the Kingdom being the more comprehensive concept (see: Nature of the Kingdom). The Kingdom is the rule of God over the people who have submitted to His rule. The Church is not the Kingdom; it did not bring the Kingdom into existence, rather the Church is the people of the Kingdom, the community that enjoys the blessings of the Kingdom. The parables, therefore, are related to the Kingdom and not the Church if the Kingdom and Church are not identical (see: Parables of the Kingdom).

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men (Ladd, Theology of the NT, 111).

It is possible for individuals to be associated, with an organizational attachment, to the community or fellowship of the Church without being a part of the true Kingdom. This is to affirm that there are people who unite themselves with the group known as the Church but who in their inner being have not submitted to the rule of God. In other words, with the wheat there are tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). At the time of judgment the tares will be separated and will not enter into the eternal Kingdom.

Being the people of the Kingdom it is the business of the Church to bear witness to the Kingdom and the demands of the Kingdom. That is the mission of the Church; it is the  commission of the Lord of the Church that He gave to the Church. Jesus Himself spoke of the “gospel of the kingdom” that must be preached in all the world before the end comes (Matt. 24:14).

Israel, the nation, is no longer the witness of God in the world; rather, it is the Church, the people of Christ, who are now entrusted with the responsibility of bearing witness to the acts and word of God.

Additional, it is the burden of the Church to manifest in some measure the life of the Kingdom; in the present age the Church must demonstrate something of the age to come and proclaim the same to the world. The mission of the Church is two-fold: proclamation and demonstration.

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