25 July 2013

The First Order of Business

by Frank Turk

I am posting excerpts from my talk at the "Call to Discernment" conference last weekend since DJP feels a little dry this week.  You can hear the full audio for my talk, or any of the talks, when they all go live.  I'll post the link here.


Today is Thursday, so keep it between the ditches.

We continue in Mat 16:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! [He says] For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
That’s quite a declaration from Jesus.  He started with what looked like some sort of opinion poll or a survey of ideas about what it is that was happening as he was going around with these fellows teaching, and he changes the discussion from what everyone is expecting from Jesus to what God Himself is doing, and is about to do, through Jesus.

See: Jesus did not come to appeal to flesh and blood, or to fulfill the desires of our flesh and blood: Jesus came to do what God Himself wants accomplished.  Those who see it, says Jesus, are “on a rock” – like Simon who is the first to say it out loud. This is plainly a reference back to the parable in Matthew 7 -- the wise man and the foolish man, yes?  The foolish man built his house upon the sand; the wise man built his house upon the rock – and the rain came tumbling down.  Right? This is the end of the sermon on the mount -- “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”  So on the same rock which caused Simon to declare Jesus to be the Christ and not merely a prophet, Christ himself will build what he calls “my church” – and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

Jesus has set up the priority of things carefully here, contrasting what “everyone” thinks against what the Disciples think about himself.  But as soon as He gets the right answer, Jesus draws a conclusion: Since I am the Messiah, the Christ, I will build my church on the rock of faith which God has given.  That’s the first conclusion Jesus draws about the priority of things – in this passage anyway: Since there is a Christ, there must be a Church.

When I say that, it will upset a lot of people.  Some people will say, “But Jesus is here speaking about the universal church, or the invisible church – the set of people from Adam to the last person saved in Revelation – and that is as broad as the scope of the cross-work of Christ.”  The reason they do this is simple: they read Jesus here to be saying, “I will build a church in general, with an indeterminate number in it.”  That's an orthodox reading of this statement, and one which I agree with.

But there is something there which I think we also want from this passage: nobody wants Jesus to do anything which offends.  We want Jesus to be saying things which are inviting only, and not in any way intimidating or putting demands on us.  And let’s face it: it’s easier on us if we think the church is merely an indeterminate and disembodied set of people because that means there’s nobody in particular in that church.

I think Jesus is making a different point here.

We must see that Christ is not saying this to the wind, or writing it in a manifesto as a claim for the ages to people not yet in evidence.  He’s saying it to the disciples who are right here, right now, in front of him.  This fellow here? He is Simon Peter.  He’s standing on the rock of faith Jesus was talking about back on the hillside.  And what he’s got is what Jesus will build his church on.



This gets buried behind our English word “church.”  In Greek, it is the word “ecclesia.”  Most of you have heard that before, I am sure.  The word means “an assembly,” or “a group called together for a common purpose.”  It is not a word like “citizen” – although Christians are called “citizens” elsewhere in the Bible.  A “citizen” can be in a place but not of a place – or at the same time, they can be an American, but present in Canada or Mexico or China.  To be a “citizen” is to be a class of person without regard to your current whereabouts.  People being “ecclesia” is not like one person being a “member” – because I can be a member of a political party and never vote and never meet another soul who believes what I believe.

But an “assembly”, a “church” as we translate it: it’s not an association in theory.  It’s an association in person, a coming together in one place.  In an “ecclesia,” people are called out and get this: they come.  Everyone is present.   When the Greeks used this word, they used it to describe a body of people which is called out in public for a purpose of common cause.  I’m working this over for you only to say this: for us to misread Christ here to mean some kind of invisible body only where the people are virtually linked together merely by a mark or a quality entirely misses Jesus’  point.

He’s saying that as the Christ, he’s going to bring a real body of believers together, starting with this fellow Simon Peter.

Christ will build his church – it is the first necessary consequence Jesus tells his Disciples.  This is interesting because Jesus had what we might call a target-rich environment in Judea and Caesarea.  The Romans occupied the land; the religious rulers were corrupt and hypocritical; the standard of living, let’s face is, was, to say the least, impoverished – and Jesus was the Messiah.  He could have said anything as the first order of business:

“Flesh and Blood did not declare this to you Peter, and because of your faith I will rain my wrath down on Caesar, after whom Caesarea Phillipi is blasphemously named.”

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah – and to show you my power as Messiah, bring the Scribes and Pharisees as my enemies before me so that I may lay them under my footstool!”

“Upon your faith, Simon, I claim healing upon the whole land, and wealth, and prosperity, and good marriages!”

But No: the first order of business was to declare that as Christ, he must have his Church.  He must have the people who have faith in Him, built upon the rock which cannot be shaken.

Therefore, when we ask the question “what is the church?” we can make our definition of the church using Jesus’ term:  “The Church is that which Christ builds, on the basis of real faith in him, in real people like Peter.”

“The Church is that which Christ builds, on the basis of real faith in him, in real people like Peter.”







14 comments:

Daryl said...

Seems to me that where we miss your main point here, is to say that Christ came to free captives, heal the sick and bind up the broken-hearted, so lets look for those people and serve them.

As opposed to: Christ came to free the captives, heal the sick etc...and we were them. Now, since Christ has done that for us, let us now also serve our fellow man.

The first, I think, leads to a social "gospel" which quickly becomes no gospel at all, and the second leads to the preaching of the gospel along with serving folk in a physical way.

Because if Christ came to save us, then we should tell other people so they can know and be saved too, but if Christ came to help us out in our tough situation, then our whole aim should be to do the same for other disenfranchised people too.

How we aim to serve others depends entirely on what we understand to have been done for us.

Frank Turk said...

I am loving watching the star count for this post.

I actually love it that the local church offends so many people. It makes me sure God is in it.

J. E. Smith said...

So is what you are saying, Frank, that all of our theology is just empty theory unless we actually unless it is lived out in an actual local church?

...And that we have a tendency to talk about the church, blog about it, read about it, teach about it, learn about it, complain about it, try to fix it, admonish it, warn it, and yet never really get down to being the church with a group of flesh and blood people the way Christ and His apostles told us we should?

Frank Turk said...

J.E. Smith:

You just made 9 years of blogging pay off for me. If you go and do THAT, I will feel like everything I have done for the last decade in writing was worth it.

Zorro! said...

So, because I am not able to adequately explain the answer this question myself...so why should I go to a church, if the guys I live with are both Christians, isn't that good enough?

Sean Scott said...

It was a great speech. No references to theological oreo cookies...but hey there is always next year!

Frank Turk said...

Zorro! --

um, that you can't answer this question is a great reason to get yourself into submission to elders and to make some friends who have been Christians a little longer than you have been.

That snarkily said, what do you think about Titus 1? How does it apply to you, do you think?

Zorro! said...

Sorry, I did not mean to implicate myself in that question...my church is sound - I understand Titus 1 to describe men qualified for overseeing these assembled believers. Elsewhere Paul describes elders and teachers and such as gifts to the church. I understand that to be...the way God ordered things, for lack of better words.
I was asking that question as if I was playing devils advocate, but it appears I am not that talented. What I meant by not being able to answer the question is that I can't convince some of my friends very easily; I am convinced, but not so well versed as to be able to teach or be very persuasive myself. I have many friends involved in a para-church organization that is pervasive in the military - and its very existence (in places where there are plenty of local churches, but it is not part of any of them) says a lot: not only about what they are providing, but about what many local churches lack. That is what they call discipleship, they cultivate intentional relationships and one on one accountability. (the quality of teaching varies, there are a wide variety of people involved, and they are a very flat organization. But they do get blown about quite easily because they lack a solid base, like the men mentioned in Titus 1).
I would say the biggest challenge I have in trying to convince my friends is understanding how to discern between the descriptive and the prescriptive - regarding the account of the early church.

This leads me to another question that may be profitable to discuss in this forum. How do I know what church to go to? There are so many places out there that call themselves a church. Here is how I did it, but I would like to hear what other people think.

I am in the military, so finding a new church every couple years - and being absent for months at a time (so it is hard (not impossible) to participate and stay connected) - has been difficult. But I did not struggle with this for years, I justified not going to church for various reasons, or sometimes I would attend anything that had "Baptist" in it, because that is my past. A few years ago, it was as if my eyes were opened and as I studied the Bible, and followed several pastors and theologians online, I found myself to be in a church that I would probably classify as pre-liberal. They were not keen on even having a statement of beliefs, they subscribed to many mystical beliefs, and I was stuck. I knew, by that time that I ought to be part of a church. So I stayed there - I had plenty of dialog with the pastor (like when he preached from a Mark Batterson book) and some elders and when that failed, I started from the bottom - in the Sunday school class, asking questions and pointing out Christ in scripture, where previously we would only be taught life principles or some such nonsense.
Now (thanks to Uncle Sam) I live in a different state, and I did due diligence in scouting out a church that holds to God's Word, in practice, in what they profess to believe and in preaching and teaching. Compared to my past experiences, it feels like I have come home from a deployment - like I do not need to be hypervigilant anymore, like I am safe.
I am quite new here though, and I do not expect perfection - but I do expect that when imperfection and sin is found, it will be handled as Christians ought to and not ignored or be allowed to leaven the whole lump.

Frank Turk said...

Zorro!

I think you should read my answer to you in the same way you asked the question. That is: as an honest first pass.

I'll be back in about 3 hours with a more-robust answer. :-)

Frank Turk said...

Zorro! Said:

| Sorry, I did not mean to implicate myself in
| that question...my church is sound - I
| understand Titus 1 to describe men qualified
| for overseeing these assembled believers.
| Elsewhere Paul describes elders and teachers
| and such as gifts to the church. I understand
| that to be...the way God ordered things, for
| lack of better words.

There are no better words. Paul literally sets things in order in Crete by establishing Elders for the sake of making a church which adorns the Gospel with good works.

That view of it ought to put anyone who thinks they can lay about in Christ to shame.

| I was asking that question as if I was playing
| devils advocate, but it appears I am not that
| talented.

You did fine. :-)

| What I meant by not being able to
| answer the question is that I can't convince
| some of my friends very easily; I am convinced,
| but not so well versed as to be able to teach or
| be very persuasive myself.

I think you need to tell the people you can’t convince that they are not actually very clever people. The only thing in the NT more-obvious than the local church is Jesus himself.

| I have many friends
| involved in a para-church organization that is
| pervasive in the military - and its very
| existence (in places where there are plenty of
| local churches, but it is not part of any of
| them) says a lot: not only about what they are
| providing, but about what many local churches
| lack.

Well, whatever the local church lacks, it has Jesus. You know: unless somehow they have rejected Jesus, in which case they aren’t really a church, yes?

| That is what they call discipleship, they
| cultivate intentional relationships and one on
| one accountability. (the quality of teaching
| varies, there are a wide variety of people
| involved, and they are a very flat organization.
| But they do get blown about quite easily
| because they lack a solid base, like the men
| mentioned in Titus 1).

That is why I pointed you to Titus 1. :-)

| I would say the biggest challenge I have in
| trying to convince my friends is understanding
| how to discern between the descriptive and
| the prescriptive - regarding the account of the
| early church.

Well, start them in Titus 1. When Paul says, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you,” that’s not descriptive. It’s a set of directions.

When Paul then says, “ To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” People have to ask themselves: which are we?

| This leads me to another question that may be
| profitable to discuss in this forum. How do I
| know what church to go to? There are so many
| places out there that call themselves a church.
| Here is how I did it, but I would like to hear
| what other people think.

Go to the one closest to you that is teaching faithfully from God’s word, administers Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and has elders who demonstrate pastoral and loving discipline for the church.

The rest comes by walking it off every day.

Tom Chantry said...

The only thing in the NT more-obvious than the local church is Jesus himself.

Just sort of thought that maybe shouldn't be buried in a long comment.

Zorro! said...

Thanks, I appreciate that.
And that is a good point (that they are not that clever), some people (as I once was) can go through great pains to justify a certain lifestyle that really finds no merit in scripture.
Like straining for gnats, and ignoring logs I guess - it can be dangerous for your health!
If you are oblivious to the obvious you can't expect to mature.

"walking it off every day" - I like that.

Solameanie said...

What J.E. Smith said.

Robert said...

My wife and I worked to memorize Titus last year...we didn't fully succeed (got through 2 chapters), but the two things that were made abundantly clear to me in that letter are the need for the church and the need for qualified men to lead the church. And I would say that both of these have been neglected in the modern western church. Praise God that He has chosen to provide many godly men and churches in our generation...I'm not sure how long that will last with the turning tides here in the US, though.

Either way, God is always sovereign and has worked all things out for the good of His elect. Part of that is messages like this by men like Frank. Thank you for being faithful with the responsibilities the Lord has given you. Many are edified by your work (myself and my family included).

Grace and peace you you from God our Father.