“Upon this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not have strength against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The Rock Jesus refers to here is Himself (see 1 Corinthians 10:4) and the Church – ecclesia in Greek which literally means “gathering” – is the gathering of which He is the Head, visible and present (see Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 5:23). So what is the true Church?
According to the Bible the Church is the habitation of God and exists wherever the Holy Spirit has gathered believers together. Those so gathered will be those who honour Him with their lives, who worship Him in spirit and in truth, who renounce ungodliness and worldly desires, who have put off the old man and put on the new, who have been renewed in the spirit of their mind and who have no dealings with the world or the flesh. They will be those who hear His voice and do His wish; in other words, they have taken up their cross to follow Him.
Those comprising such a Church may be scattered and isolated but they will have the same longing in their hearts for the sheep of the sheepfold and the Great Shepherd of the sheep; having new life they will long for the Body in which to live it. The cells making up the Body are everywhere, not visible perhaps, but known to Him Who is their Head. They have received the gospel not in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The power with which they have received the gospel is the power to alter their lives and to bring them into conformity to the likeness of the Son of God; if the power doesn’t do that of what use is the gospel in word only?
We catch a glimpse of these saints making up the gathering of God in Hebrews where they are described as “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) whose deeds of faith and obedience are set forth in Hebrews 11. All of this begs the question; what sort of witnesses are we? It is probably safe to say that the Church as a whole in this present age puts forth such a witness as to turn seekers away. This is a scandal in the kingdom of God.
We can do nothing about the condition of the Church or the world; but we can do something about our response to what God has set down in His holy scriptures. God’s will is going to be done; it is inevitable and absolute, and we must learn to cooperate with the inevitable. Our life in this world is a place of preparation; there is no halfway house to go where we can be prepared for eternal life in the kingdom; we must give ourselves over to God’s training and discipline here and now. If we do that, we will find, as the hymnist put it;
“Fixed upon Jehovah, hearts are truly blest, Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest”.