Believe
The Church

 by Pastor Greg Fitch
2-October-2016 FCC, Galesburg, IL
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 16:13-18 (and Acts 2, Ephesians 4:1-16)

 

EMPORER CONSTANTINE … BUILDS

It was the spring of 311 A.D. Constantine, with 40,000 soldiers behind him, made his way to Rome. His plan was to confront Maxentius whose army was four times the size of his own.

Maxentius turned to pagan oracles and found a prophecy that said the "enemy of the Romans would die." With that encouragement he left the city to confront Constantine who was still miles away.

Instead of oracles, Constantine saw a vision in the afternoon sky. He saw a bright cross with the words "By this sign conquer." In one account Constantine said that Christ himself told him in a dream to take the cross as his standard into battle. The next morning, he had his soldiers mark their shields with the now famous Chi-Ro … XPISTOS … CHRIST….

Constantine won the battle and entered Rome as the undisputed ruler of the West. He was the first Roman emperor with a cross on his crown. Several things happened because Constantine conquered.

In 313 A.D. he met in Milan with Licinius who was ruling the East. Together they declared that Christianity would have full religious freedom of worship and ended the period of Great Persecution. They also directed all governors to restore land to the Christians that had been taken away during the persecution.

From that time forward things really began to change for the church and the followers of Jesus. In 323 A.D. Constantine built from the ground up the city of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). Christianity was now the recognized religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine began building the first buildings in which Christians would assemble. Before that time, they had met in homes, sometimes even secretly, and even in the catacombs because of persecution. He built these in Constantinople and in Rome and Jerusalem and many parts of Italy. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was built by Constantine, and was commissioned in 327 A.D. … the church still stands in Bethlehem today.

Out of his pagan background he made these buildings ornate and ordered that each one be named after one of the Christians in the New Testament because pagan temples had always been named after their pagan gods. Christians from Rome moved to Constantinople and found for the first time a "church building" erected for their worship gatherings.

But Constantine had nothing for them to sit on. It was either stand or sit on the cold stone floor. The Western church in Italy put pews in their buildings. They got comfortable. The Italians in the West sat while the Greeks in the East stood. Needless to say the Western church grew while the Eastern church did not.

Constantine was all about building church buildings. Jesus was all about building the church. He had something entirely different in mind when he said, "…on this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18).

MATTHEW 16:13-18 … ON THIS I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH

· Turn in your Bible to Matthew 16:13-18 …

· As you are turning, I was reminded this past week about a saying that the Dean of Brite Divinity School always said when he was teaching, "Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God … and what resulted was … the church."

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it.

· Jesus says that he will build His church on this testimony of Peter … this affirmation that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ/Messiah, and the gates of hell will not prevail against such a statement of faith!

o I remind you that the gates … are hell's gates … not come castle that we are hiding in and seeking protection from with OUR gates shut up and tightly closed against the onslaught of evil.

o The gates are hell's gates, and Jesus, in His imagery at this moment, is letting us know that we are supposed to be going out to where those gates are trying to keep the Good News of Jesus and His sacrifice and gift out … and by the power of the Holy Spirit and the confession of faith in Jesus … with humility and unconditional love … those gates simply cannot stand!!

o Jesus will overcome!

o And Jesus makes it clear that it is His church that will be built on this confession of faith and action in the world!

WHAT IS THE "CHURCH"?

· The word that Jesus is using when he talks about building his "church" is the Greek word "ekklesia". Ekklesia means a gathering of people, NOT a physical structure or a building as we define church too frequently today. Ekklesia was used to describe the groups of people who gathered as followers of Jesus … but it was also used to describe many other gatherings of people both in religious, such as when the Jewish people gathered to worship in their synagogues, and in cultural settings as well.

· It's literally Jesus saying that he will build His gatherings of people because they are united in their confession that Jesus is Lord and Savior and Messiah!

· As was mentioned, it wasn't until the 4th Century that actual buildings began to be erected with the sole purpose of being a place for Christians to worship in large numbers.

o The actual word for "church" that we use today comes from the German word "kirche" which refers to a building.

o But let's be clear that Jesus was speaking about the people who would follow Him.

DESCRIBE THE CHURCH JUST USING THE BIBLE

· I appreciate a statement and a challenge that Francis Chan , a pastor who grows God's church in California, and writes some wonderful Bible study curriculum, says about the church.

· Church isn't about what I want it to be …

· ((Exercise for each person to write a few moments, describe what the church is, just using the Bible?))

· Describe church just using the Bible:

1. Love - a group of people who unconditionally love each other, like a magnificent family taking care of the needs of each other.

2. A group of people who just HAD to get this message about Jesus out to the world. An urgency of mission! Gave their lives!!

3. They gathered and were focused on the body and the blood of Jesus, communion, praying for each other, fellowshipping with each other, blessing one another, studying and learning together … doing all this with one another, together …

§ I laughed at a story I read about a pastor who was inspired by watching another church have a time of turning around, shaking hands and greeting other worshipers. The pastor thought his own congregation was a bit stuffy and could use a bit of friendliness. So, on Sunday he announced that the following Sunday they were going to initiate this custom.

§ At the close of this same service, a man turned around to the lady behind him and said, "Good morning." She looked at him with shock and dismay at his boldness and said, "I beg your pardon! That friendliness business doesn't start until next Sunday!" (Illustrations Unlimited, p. 92)

4. There was an equipping and training that took place … leaders instructing others for working and serving the Lord. Developing, not just recruiting people.

§ Image of raising kids so they can be ready for living in this world and standing on their own feet and going out and beginning their own family/life …

§ NOT, raising them up so that they are happy just staying in the house and having someone else take care of them and provide just for them …

· Are we experiencing this in our church???

· We don't have all the answers … we are not perfect by any measure … BUT we have to try to fulfill the Biblical image of what the church is supposed to be … structure to achieve the Biblical image of church …

o Be careful not to be distracted by anything that is not fulfilling the Biblical image of the church.

o Faith in Jesus Christ

o Passion to share with other people … get outside the walls.

o Reproduce ourselves, multiply and divide and grow new groups and new ministries … may make us uncomfortable … we may not like leaving our comfort …

o Read through the Bible together … each person reading from God's word in order to be on the same journey and walk in the same direction as we learn from God's word.

o Train leaders … raise them up … get them ready to be sent out on their own.

§ Our Elders training and mentoring out Deacons in serving outside the church as they go into homes and nursing homes and hospitals … this is one place where we are answering the Biblical instruction to train up the next group of servant-leaders for God's gathered people.

§ The Chairperson for each of our Ministry Departments who are training up a Vice-Chair to learn the ministry and getting them ready to take leadership of that group, or in preparation to lead in another area of service through God's gathered people.

§ Those in leadership in our congregation are tasked with the responsibility to not only do the work of ministry, but to train and raise up additional people so they have the skills and deepening spiritual calling to go out and serve themselves, and to pass it forward to still other believers … and on and on …. For 2000 years it has been working, and we will be the next generation of gathered followers of Jesus to pass on the faith and the mission to those who will follow us.

WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY

· On this World Communion Sunday we celebrate our oneness with all other Christians throughout the world. We affirm that even though we live in different lands and worship with different languages, some gathered in homes, or outdoor spaces, or even in small buildings or mighty cathedrals … we celebrate that we are one Body in Jesus who is the Messiah/Christ. We are people all over the world who gather in His name, to worship and learn and grow … and then go out to serve in His name.

· Gather and disperse … gather and disperse … … for 2000 years it has been working, and it continues to transform the world!

CHILREN'S SONG à I AM THE CHURCH … YOU ARE …

· Remember the children's song that went something like this … sing along if you wish …

I am the church

You are the church

We are the church together.

All who follow Jesus

All around the world

Yes, we're the church together.

The church is not a building,

the church is not a steeple,

the church is not

a resting place,

the church is the people.

· You. Me. Us together.

· Wouldn't it be great if someone knew beyond any doubt that Jesus loves them because they experienced that the church loved them? That's our job. You and I can build up the body of Christ right here. And together, we can be the body of Christ right here I our own communities, and all around the world.

· That is something I want to be a part of. I hope you do, too.

INVITATION

· Prayer

· Invitation à Ministry together as the church begins by becoming a member of the congregation by publicly confessing that you are a follower of Jesus and desire to not only join the gathering of believers here at FCC, but that you also desire to grow and serve through and from this congregation. I invite you on behalf of Jesus to confess … reaffirm … join with the Body of Christ … … … as we stand and sing.