A few years back, the church where I serve received an unsolicited letter. It was from an organization that warned us about the potential for lawsuits. Primarily from members, ex-members, and outsiders because of stands that we might take as a church. Included in this letter was a set of recommendations for changes to the church’s by-laws. These changes would make us more immune to those types of lawsuits. Although they also admitted that we were not really at much risk anyway.
But we chose to look into it, and a committee was appointed to make recommendations concerning changes to our by-laws. Changes that would further protect us from legal action. That committee met and prepared their recommendations. When I saw the proposed changes, my initial reaction was disappointment. But I initially had a hard time putting my finger on just why. It is not that they were proposing changes that I really disagreed with in principle. But something about the whole thing just didn’t seem right.
It Is Not My Church!
And then it finally dawned on me what it was. In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus first asks his disciples who others say he is and then who they believe him to be. Peter is commended for his response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded with, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.“
The first thing to note about this is Jesus is talking about His church, not my church or our church. We often use those terms to refer to the local body of believers we’re a part of. And that is not inappropriate. But we do need to be careful to recognize that it is not our church. The church belongs to Christ. We are members of the church, the body of Christ. But it does not belong to us. At least not if we really are a church.
The Gates of Hell Will not Prevail
Jesus here says something very important about His church: “The gates of hell will not have victory over it.” That is a pretty bold declaration. His church will win! All we need to do is be his church: reaching the lost, disciplining the believers, and worshiping the creator. We do not need to put special language in our by-laws to protect us from the “gates of hell.” We for sure do not need to withdraw into a defensive posture, climbing into our bunkers. Just be about the business of Christ’s church, and leave the rest of it up to him.
And I guess that is the problem I had with this proposal. It looked to me like we were reinforcing our bunker and keeping us safe within our walls. Rather than going out into the battle that rages around us. Might we suffer in the battle? You bet. But we will emerge victorious. That is his promise in this passage.