The Church That Christ Built – Thomas Allen Robertson

Thomas Allen Robertson

One of the grand themes of the New Testament is the church of Christ. It is held in high esteem in the Bible. Paul calls it the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) It is referred to as the “body of Christ” (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). Its purpose is to make known the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10). And it was built by Christ (Matt. 16:13-18). Therefore, the church of the New Testament, the church that Christ built, is worthy of a higher place and more attention than the religious world of today is willing to give it.

The first mention of the church in the Bible is Matthew 16:13-18, where we find Christ talking with His disciples; and he asks them who men said that he was, then followed that question by asking,

But whom say ye that I am? And Simon answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:16-18).

The Foundation of Christ’s Church

In the passage just used the church is presented under the figure of a building. A building, no matter how beautiful, is of little value if on a poor foundation. What, then, constitutes the foundation of Christ’s church? The Catholics contend that the foundation is the Apostle Peter. They insist that Peter’s name is rock and this is the rock of the foundation. But the language forbids this. Peter (petros) is masculine, while rock (petra) is feminine. Differing in gender, they could not be the same. Not only do the words differ in gender, they differ in meaning. Petros means a stone, a piece of rock, a fragment broken off. Petra means a rock, cliff, ledge; according to the best authorities, petra is a solid bed of rock in its natural formation. Petros a fragment broken off. It is evident, then, that Christ did not refer to Peter as the foundation. Again, the prophet as quoted by Paul settles the question of the foundation: “Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:33). Here the foundation is a person on whom we must believe. And we are not requires to believe on Peter, nor any mere proposition, human or divine. Christ is the object of our faith. Again, Paul says: “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Had he intended to convey the idea that the confession is the foundation, as many hold, He would have had to expressed Himself differently.

The idea that Christ is the foundation of the church has been objected to on the ground that He is its builder, and that He cannot occupy two positions in the figure. It is evident that Christ could not be the foundation and the builder at the same time. But the objectors seem to forget that the figure does not require that Christ occupy both these positions in the figure at the same time. He laid the foundation while He was here. He did not begin the building until He went to the Father. What He did while here in the flesh became the basis of his work after His glorification. Hence we find Him occupying a double relation in other things on the same principle. He was the sacrifice here and the High Priest there. After He went to the Father He officiated as High Priest, offering His own blood, which had been shed as a sacrifice on the cross. So this objection is without foundation.

When Did Christ Build His Church

The church did not exist at the time Christ spoke in Matthew 16:18; it was something yet to be built. Christ said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” He did not say that He had built it in the days of John or Abraham, but it was something yet to be done. And the word here used for build (oikodomeo) never means to repair or remodel, as some mistakenly insist, contending that Christ’s church is only the old Jewish church reconstructed. This word occurs thirty-eight times in the New Testament, and is never rendered rebuild. On the contrary, they had a word that means rebuild (anoikodemeo), and they invariably used it to convey that idea. Had that though been in Christ’s mind, He would have used it here. The church was not a renovated institution but something new (Heb. 8:6-13; Eph. 2:13-16).

In Matthew 16:13-18 Christ tells His disciples what he intends to do—to build his church—but informs them that before this work is done, He must die. His body must go into the grave, and His soul into hades. But he assured them that He would come forth; that He would rise the third day; that He would wrest from Satan the keys of hades; that He would unlock its ponderous gates; that He would drag the captor captive; and, coming forth a triumphant conqueror over the unseen world, He would build His church according to promise, and the gates of hades, through which He had to pass before its accomplishment, should not prevail against the building of the church. He not only came out triumphantly, but He unlocked the gates of hades and carried off the keys (Rev. 1:18). Hence, in Acts 2 we have the record of the triumphant Christ establishing His church on the first Pentecost after his resurrection.

Again, as Christ talks with His disciples according to Mark 9:1 He said, “Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” According to Acts 1:8 the power was to come “after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” The Holy Ghost came upon them on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:4). Hence the kingdom came on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ and from the second chapter of Acts on we find the church, the kingdom of Christ, in existence. “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

The Creed of Christ’s Church

As all churches must have a creed, we inquire as to the creed of this church which the gates of hell could not prevail against. It is useless to talk about getting along without a creed. The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means I believe.” A church must believe something; and what it believes is its creed. Our objection to creeds is not that they are creeds, but we object to the written creeds of the religious world today on the basis that they are without authority, and are not in harmony with the revealed word of God. There is absolutely no reason for their existence, because if they contain more than the word of God, they contain too much; if they contain less than the word of God, they do not contain enough; and if they are the same as the word of God, they are not necessary.

When we go to the history of this church, as we find it in the New Testament, from the second chapter of Acts on, we find that they were simply required to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 8:37-38; Heb. 11:6). Hence, they were required to confess his name before man (Acts 8:37-38; Rom. 10:9-10). The Bible as a whole was not their creed. They were not asked if they believed the Bible. Nor was the New Testament as a whole their creed. At that time it was not written. But they were required to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.” When one believes with the whole heart that Jesus is the Christ, he believes, as a consequence, all that Christ says, and does all that He directs.

Conditions for Membership in Christ’s Church

We next observe its condition of membership. Those seeking membership in this church were required to believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior (John 8:24; Acts 8:37-38; Acts 16:31). Not an intimation of an infant or any non-believer. Hence all the members were called believers (Acts 5:14). They were required to confess their faith in Christ before man (Matt. 10:32-33; Acts 8:37-38; Rom. 10:9-10) They were baptized (immersed) in the name, or by the authority, of Jesus Christ into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28: 18-19; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Rom, 6:3-7; 1 Pet. 3:21).

They were then required to live a godly life; to add to their faith the Christian graces (2 Pet. 1:1-10) to grow in the grace and in the knowledge of the truth. When one became incorrigibly rebellious as did the young man in the church at Corinth, the church withdrew its fellowship, and had no social intercourse with him, that he might feel the disgrace of his offense and repent of his sin (1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; Titus 3:10). Such were the conditions of admission into and continuance in the church of Christ.

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