Jesus taught us that “he is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18) This is an incredible promise: though the worst evil will be thrown against the church, she will prevail.
There is a lot of confusion within our culture about what the church actually is. Some think it is just a building or organization, it is not! Others think it is a place where religious services are held and given out, it is not! The word church in the Bible comes from the Greek word, ecclesia, which literally means a public assembly which is called out. Ek, meaning out of, where we get the English word exit from, and clessia, which means, called out. It was a word originally used when a town meeting was called in ancient Greece, when a local magistrate or mayor would call out the people.
The NT writers took the word and used it to describe God’s people who have been called out into a meeting. So church in the Bible doesn’t mean a building, but it is a gathering of people who come together in the name of Jesus. It is a living organism, not an organization, though it is organized. Though NT believers gathered in buildings, houses, synagogues, and public places, the church was understood as an assembly of God’s people.
The Bible teaches also that the church is also both universal and local. What that means is that every person who has believed in Jesus, who have trusted Him for the forgiveness of sin and as Savior and Lord are now placed into His church. And so you have believers, universally in hundreds of nations and places who gather as Christ’s church or people.
But the church is also local. I together with many of you are part a local church like Immanuel Bible Church in Howell. Within Monmouth and Ocean County there are literally hundreds of local churches. When the NT was written you have letters that were written to local churches. Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, were local churches.
When writing to the local church Corinth, the Apostle Paul helps us understand how all this happens. Calling the church the body of Christ, we read that in I Corinthians 12:12, “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” Baptism here means to be placed in or immersed into. The NT uses the word baptism in 6 different ways. The most widely understood use of the word is water baptism. When a person is baptized by water, they are immersed into water as a public confession of their faith. But that is not the meaning Paul intended in I Corinthians 12:12.
Here in 1 Corinthians we are told the Spirit of God takes us out of the world and immerses or places us into the body which is Christ’s church. When does this change or immersion take place? The verbal tense here indicates that it happens only one time and we know by the rest of Scripture that this takes place when we believe in Jesus. One of my favorite verses in this regard is from John 1:12, “to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
Our transformation from being alienated and enemies of God, to becoming His children is by faith in Jesus. And it is as believers in Jesus that we become part of God’s church, or God’s people. Just showing up in a building does not make you part of God’s church. What makes a person part of God’s people, the church, is our faith in Jesus.
In Matthew 16:13, right before Jesus promised us that He is building His church and protecting it from the gates of hell, He asked a question to the disciples, “who do people say that I am?” Peter is the one who answered correctly, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus said that upon that testimony of who He is, that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, and the living God, He would build the church and protect it from the gates of hell.
This is the good news of the gospel, that our faith in Jesus gives us salvation, eternal life and a place among God’s people, His church. And when we learn to anchor into God’s church, not only do we have the promise of protection from the worst of evils, but it have the great privilege of becoming part of God’s church, where we learn to grow and mature in the things of God! (Eph 4:13-15)