Jesus and His Church
Since beginning at Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church, I have enjoyed getting to know a number of you and look forward to getting to know you all better over this coming year. It has been such a privilege to witness the many ministries of our church in operation and to be involved in a number of them. The greatest joy, though, has been seeing God at work in many people’s lives. It was a privilege to welcome all those who professed faith in Christ and who joined the Sandyford congregation in December. The diversity of those standing at the front is great testimony to the power of the gospel to change anyone!
Through getting alongside folks in the congregation over these past weeks, I have had many discussions on various aspects of church life. I have heard lots of comments on what some would like to see changed, or what some would not like to see changed, as well as conversations about the future. Thank you for your help in enabling me to better understand the ministry at Sandyford. I’ve often said by way of response that since I’ve never had any past connection with Sandyford, I’m not fully aware of how exactly things have been done before. Therefore, anything we do is simply by way of response to the particular context we find ourselves in in the West End of Glasgow as we seek to worship God together and reach out to the many around us who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, at the beginning of a new year, it is good to keep things in proper perspective by reminding ourselves of what Jesus Christ says about the Church.
Jesus said, “I will build my church” (see Matthew 16:13-20). Jesus spoke these words to his disciples and today he continues to build his church. This is a tremendous encouragement to us all, especially in days when our society views the church as completely irrelevant and when we see our denomination prepared to depart from the clear teaching of the Scriptures. We need to hear Jesus' verdict on his Church to help us keep things in perspective in these challenging and dark days.
1. The Church is built by Jesus
Jesus said, “I WILL BUILD my church.” Jesus gathers his people together to be his church. He alone is the builder and not us. This is a great reassurance for us because, in all our work for him, the results are not dependant on us, but on him. That’s why this building work has nothing to do with the number of names on any membership roll, since names on a list don’t truly reflect the true health of a church, especially where there are more names on the roll than people who come regularly. True church growth happens as men and women come to faith in Jesus and then faithfully follow Jesus Christ, living lives of obedience to God and his word.
Jesus said to Peter, “And on this rock I will build my church”. The rock Jesus speaks about is not Peter himself, but Peter’s confession of who Jesus is. Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the gospel that builds the church and keeps the church together, because all true members of the church believe that Jesus is the Son of the living God who died, rose, ascended, who rules and who will return again to judge. This is the apostolic gospel which was expressed by Peter, proclaimed by the apostles, explained in the rest of the New Testament and is the foundation of the church. The church is not built upon commitment to anything other than the core truths about Jesus Christ which are the biblical gospel. So, if we long to see growth in Sandyford Henderson, then we must remain faithful to the this gospel; believing it, living out its implications and proclaiming it to the world, believing that Jesus will build his Church.
2. The Church belongs to Jesus
Jesus said, “I will build MY CHURCH.” The church belongs to Jesus. It is his and he owns it. The church does not belong to its members like a company belongs to its shareholders. The church does not belong to its leaders like a charity belongs to its trustees. The church does not belong to presbyteries, synods or denominations like a branch of The Bank of Scotland belongs to its central office. The church belongs to Jesus because he is the king and the head of the Church. Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her, paying for her with his own blood on the cross, so it goes without saying that only Jesus has the right to say what the church is. Therefore, no one else has the right to dictate anything different from what Jesus says. No one has the right to change the beliefs of the church or the teachings of the church or the purpose of the church because Jesus has already told us what the church is for and what the church must do. It is never the place for church members, or elders, or ministers, or committees, or groups, or civil authorities to contradict Jesus' loving rule of his church. So, since every true church belongs to Jesus, it must be ordered, led and conducted in accordance with his Word, no matter what anyone thinks or says or decides. Whilst this never changes, there is enormous freedom in how we exercise the ministry Jesus calls us to. This is why we must be wary of traditions which, whilst they may be good, may only be the traditions of men and may have taken on too much importance in our thinking.
3. The Church will be preserved by Jesus
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT.” Jesus guarantees the future of his church which will always continue and never be defeated. Jesus does not promise the perpetuation or preservation of institutions, denominations, structures, buildings, even congregations or anything that is meant to aid and serve the mission of the Church. These things do come and go all the time, yet Jesus promises that he will build his church which will continue when everything else disappears and God’s people from every nation, tribe, people and language will worship God forever in the new creation. Don’t we need to remember in our world where churches are or may be persecuted, marginalised, weak, discouraged or small? Or where false teaching takes root, where the gospel is denied and where sin is celebrated? None of this, no matter how destructive it seems to be to the visible church, will be able to prevent the building of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The judgement of God may come upon a nation or a church for unfaithfulness to Jesus but Jesus will still continue to build his church on earth and will always have a faithful remnant of people in this world. Therefore, we have nothing to fear, even persecution and death cannot prevent the building of the Church. Jesus keeps the church safe, preserving her, including us, for eternity.
I know I need to be constantly reminded of Jesus' words and I’m sure you do too. They are words of great encouragement and of great hope. They are also words of great challenge because they are not an incentive to sit back and do nothing. Rather, they are the incentive we need to live faithfully for Jesus Christ and to faithfully work together to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ believing that, as we stick to this task, Jesus will continue to build his Church. It is a privilege to be involved in this work which lasts for all eternity so let’s keep that in perspective. I love the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and I looking forward to labouring together with you as Jesus builds his Church.
Your minister and friend
Jonathan de GrootView All Letters