THE CHURCH THAT JESUS BUILT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-10-82 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on KCBI, the “Sonshine Station” of our Center of Biblical Studies. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Church that Jesus Built.
Pat Zondervan said just now you are going to follow two series: in the morning, in the evening. That is right. These morning sermons are doctrinal, “The Great Doctrines of the Bible,” and the series is divided into fifteen sections. A Sunday a week ago we finished the section, the series on pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Today, this hour, we begin the series on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. In the evening at seven o’clock, we begin the series on What Shall I Do? And the titles of the messages are printed on the front of our Sunday Reminder. What Shall I Do? Tonight, the message I Am Lost, What Shall I Do? And I pray that God will enable us to invite people who are not Christians, who haven’t accepted Jesus, that they will be present tonight. In order to encourage that, you can come to the church and look at the football game in San Francisco in Candlestick Park. It starts at four o’clock. And by seven o’clock it will be done, and the Cowboys will be in the Super Bowl. So you come here to the church, and there will be room for you on the third floor of the chapel building to listen and to watch. Then all of us can come over into the sanctuary. Or if you are not interested in it, just come to church. Tonight at seven o’clock, I Am Lost, What Shall I Do?
This hour: The Church That Jesus Built. I would think that no text in the Bible is more famous or more oft used than Matthew chapter 16, verse 18: “I say unto thee, That thou art petros; and upon this petra I will build My church.” It is something that Jesus accomplishes; He does it. “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18].
“Upon this petra, this foundational rock”—Peter is a petros, he’s a pebble, he’s a stone that you could throw; but petra is the great foundational ledge upon which we stand in this earth. That petra is, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God [Matthew 16:16]…and upon this confession, I will build My church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18].
“The gates of hell,” that is death, flood, fire, martyrdom, “shall not katischuō.” Kata means “down, or against”; ischuō means “to be strong, to have power.” So the gates of hell, the gates of death shall not be able to hold it down. It arises, it lives, it has an eternal immortality. All other institutions in this world are buried in death, whether they are political or domestic or social. And all other relationships we make in life are dissolved in death. The king is no longer a king when he dies. The magnate is no longer a great financial tycoon in the grave. And a star—whether in Hollywood or on Broadway—no longer shines in the realm of death. All relationships we form in life are dissolved in death. There is only one place where the relationship lives forever, and those are the relationships we make in the church.
I wrote this poem:
Empire and kingdom, archduke and prince,
Are buried beneath the sod.
All that remains of earth’s vast domains
Is the church of the living God.
History has finished its slow moving course,
Fallen are scepter and rod.
All that abides of times and of tides
Is the church of the living God.
Alas for a world steeped in sin and in shame
Sinking down in despair with a sob;
A world facing fate of repentance too late
To enter the church of God.
Gone are the lusts of the flesh and the heart
And the passions that sway the mob.
Naught in their place is their ought but to face
The judgments of Almighty God.
Sorrow of sorrows, oh loss of all losses,
The soul of its Savior to rob.
Turning away from Him who could stay
The wrath of Almighty God.
Soon life will be over, soon day will be ended
Soon flowers and trees cease to nod.
In an earth filled with death, where the spirit of breath
Has been taken back unto God.
O stranger in sin, O child without hope,
O wearied of earth’s ways to plod,
Forsake evil’s night, come into Christ’s light,
And rest in the church of God.
[“The Church of God,” W. A. Criswell]
All other relationships in life are dissolved in death except the relationships that we build in the church. The gates of hell shall not be able to hold it down: it arises, it lives forever [Matthew 16:18]. The church that Jesus built has a life and an immortality, not because of a self- chosen name, and not because of a certain kind of history, but the church of Jesus Christ has unending life, immortality, eternity, because of its foundational characteristic principles, its constitution. As I have five fingers on my hand, so there are five great articles of faith, fundamental, constitutional principles that ever and forever characterize the church of the living Christ. I name them.
Number one: the article of faith, the constitutional characteristic of the church that Jesus built, number one: its sole authority for faith, for doctrine, and for practice is found in the Holy Scriptures, always. The last part of the Book of Luke reads, “Jesus said, These are the words which I spake unto you...that all things must be fulfilled, which are written in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms” [Luke 24:44], in the Torah, in the Nevi'im, and in the Ketuvim, the three great parts of the Old Testament. “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it behooved Christ to suffer, to rise from the dead: that repentance and remission of sin should be preached in His name among all nations. And ye are witnesses of these things” [Luke 24:45-48]. According to the Scriptures, Christ was born [Matthew 1:20-25]. According to the Scriptures, Christ died [Matthew 27:32-50]. According to the Scriptures, He was buried [Matthew 27:57-61]. According to the Scriptures, He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. According to the Scriptures, He built His church and commissioned it [Matthew 16:18]. According to the Scriptures, He is in session at the right hand of God [Hebrews 10:12]. According to the Scriptures, He is coming again [Acts 1:11; John 14:2-3]. And according to the Scriptures, He raptures the church unto Himself; according to the Scriptures [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18].
In the New Testament times, in the days of the apostles, this doctrine, this didache, as Acts 2:42 calls it, was oral. That’s why the synoptic Gospels are synoptic: they sound alike. It is an oral tradition. It was spoken by word of mouth. Then it was written and became what we call the New Testament. In the days of the apostles, it was spoken by them, the doctrine of the church. After the days of the apostles, by the Holy Spirit, it was written down; and I read it here in the Bible. This is according to the pattern of Christ. He turned to the Scriptures. In the fifth chapter of the Book of John, “Search the Scriptures” [John 5:39], He says. It was the pattern of the apostles. The apostle Paul in Acts 17, to the Bereans, they “searched the Scriptures to see whether these things were true” [Acts 17:11]. The church that Jesus built is founded upon the authority of the written Word of God. “And heaven and earth shall pass away; but that word shall never pass away” [Mark 13:31]. My favorite verse: “The flower fadeth, the grass withereth; but the word of God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. And that is the constitutional foundational word upon which the church is built.
In the days and the centuries that followed after, in an accumulation of superstition and debris, the church fell away from the truth of God. And in the Great Reformation, it was brought back to the Bible with a theme, an aegis, that sounds true forever: “Sola scriptura: nothing but the Word, the Word alone.” The first great fundamental characteristic of the church that Jesus built is it is founded upon and built upon the eternal everlasting Word of God.
The second great characteristic, foundational, constitutional article of faith of the church that Jesus built is the priesthood of the every believer. In Matthew 27:51, “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom”—not from the bottom to the top as though men had done it, but from the top to the bottom as though God did it. And the sanctuary, the sanctum sanctorum, the inner recess where God dwells, where Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1], the very throne of God was open to view and open to access [Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:19-20]. No longer is there need of a priest or of an intermediary. Any man anywhere can come into the presence of God through the blood of Christ, through the atoning grace of our Lord, any man anywhere can come into the presence of the great High God for himself [Hebrews 4:14-16]. And he can come from any place. A kitchen corner is just as good as a gilded cathedral. And he can stand before God his own priest. He can witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus. He can offer sacrifices of praise and of thanksgiving. That’s the second great characteristic and foundational article of faith of the church that Jesus built. There is no sacerdotal system in it. Every man is his own priest, and he can come to God for himself and talk to God face to face in the name and in the grace of Jesus our Lord.
A third great fundamental characteristic article of faith of the church of Jesus Christ: it is a living organism of regenerated, born-again people. It is a regenerated membership. “Then Peter stood up and preached, and said, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of,” eis, e-i-s, “because of the remission of sins…For the promise is to unto you . . . and to those afar off…Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there was added unto the church three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didachē, in the apostles’ doctrine” [Acts 2:38-42], in the revelation of the truth of God now written down in the Holy Scriptures. So it is a regenerated church membership called an ekklēsia; it is a called out-- it is an elect group of God’s people.
In the beginning God elected, above all of the other sentient animals He created, the man [Genesis 1:27-28]. And Noah was elected above all of the antediluvians [Genesis 6:5-8]. And Abraham was elected out of a world of idolatry [Genesis 12:1-2; Joshua 24:2-3]. And Israel was elected out of all of the people of the earth, and above Edom, Esau. And Judah was elected out of the sons of Jacob [Genesis 49:8-12]. And David was elected above all of the families of Judah [1 Samuel 16:1-13]. And Bethlehem was elected out of all of the cities in Israel [Micah 5:2]. And Mary was elected out of all of the daughters of the family of God [Luke 1:26-28]. And you have been elected; you have been called out, ekkaleō, to be a part of the ekklēsia [1 Corinthians 1:2]. O Lord, how great and merciful Thou art to us. Out of all of the people of the earth, God hath chosen us to be a part of His redeemed family. We belong to the church of God.
It is not a membership by natural birth such as you are born a citizen of the state. It is separate and apart from the state. The church can address the state; it is a different entity. But we are reborn into the church of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:23]; we become members of the church by an open, unashamed confession of our faith in Jesus as our Lord [Romans 10:9-10]; a regenerated church membership.
Number four: the foundational characteristics, the articles of faith of the church that Jesus built, it has a twofold ordination and a twofold memorial of ordinances. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to the saints of the Lord Jesus at Philippi, with the bishops and the deacons” [Philippians 1:1], two, not many, not even three, two; there are two ordained orders in the church that Jesus built. First, a presbuteros, an episkopos, a poimén, and all three of those words are interchangeable in the New Testament, in the Word of God, referring to the same man. Presbuteros, translated “elder,” refers to the dignity of his office. Episkopos, translated “bishop,” refers to his assignment as presiding officer of the church; episkopos means “overseer.” And third he is called a poimén; that’s the word for “shepherd.” He’s a pastor, and he has a sensitive heart to the needs of his people. That’s the pastor. The second officer ordained is the diakonos. At that time it was a plain, ordinary household word for “servant.” The diakonos, the diaconate, this is the ordained second order in the church; and their responsibility is to hold up the hands of the pastor. Like Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses [Exodus 17:10-13], the deacons are to hold up the hands of the pastor. When they do that and they have a worthy undershepherd, you have an unbeatable team. That’s God and the Spirit of God in the church: the pastor and his consecrated laymen, strong in the faith and in the work of the Lord. Thus it is written in the third chapter of 1 Timothy, 1 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1 through 7 speak of the qualifications of the pastor, the elder, the bishop, the presbuteros, the episkopos, the poimēn [1 Timothy 3:1-7]; and then beginning at verse 8 the qualifications of the diakonos [1 Timothy 3:8-13]. That’s the characteristic of the church Jesus built.
And it has two ordinances, not three, not five, two, only two; and they are not sacraments, they are not instruments of grace. They portray the truth of the gospel. Like a dipper will shape and hold the water, these ordinances shape and hold the doctrinal truth of Jesus our Lord. And if there’s any aberration in them, you will find it throughout its repercussion, the doctrinal structure of the church. The initial ordinance of baptism is a dramatic presentation of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul defines the gospel, “that Jesus died for our sins, that He was buried, that He was raised from the dead the third day, all according to the Scriptures.” This is baptism; we are buried with our Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with our Lord in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. The memorial of the Lord’s Supper, the recurring church ordinance, is a dramatization of the atoning sacrifice of our blessed Lord. This is His body, so torn and broken for us. And this is His blood, the crimson of His life, poured out for us [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. These are the great possessions of the church. They don’t belong to the Congress, or the city government, or the political life and structure of the people; these are the ordinances of the church. They belong to the family of God.
The last and the fifth tremendous characteristic of the living church of Christ: it possesses an abiding and eternal Commission:
All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and matheteuō all the people, baptizō in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit: didaskō, teaching them to observe the things I have given you to keep: and when you do it, I will be with you to the end of the age, to the consummation and denouement of this world’s history.
And that is our abiding and eternal commission: preaching the gospel, evangelizing the earth baptizing our converts, and teaching them in the way of the Lord. If you find a church that Jesus built, that’s what it’ll be doing; faithful to the Great Commission of our Lord [Matthew 28:18-20].
Now, I want to take just a moment. We’ve got these Sundays ahead of us, but just today in order that we might kind of see how Jesus built the church, those five great fundamental constitutional articles of faith: built upon the Word of God, every one of us a high priest, a regenerated church membership, its ordinances and its orders, and its Great Commission; if that is the constitution, there are many, many bylaws, many things the church does, precious things, beautiful things, characteristic, habitual things. Here is one: Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together . . . and so much the more as ye see the day of the Lord approaching. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” coming with joy and gladness, praising God that He has chosen us, and given us the beautiful privilege.
See that boy, Jack Hamm, right there? About a day ago, Friday, he brought me a picture that he had drawn; it’s a beautiful thing, all framed. And it has in it a verse. I read it: Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” That’s what he made in a beautiful, beautiful picture, and sent it over there, gave it to me in my study.
“I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to church” [Psalm 122:1]. Let us go to church, not driven to it, no feeling of coercion about it, not a matter of duty; loving to do it. Rather go to the church anywhere in the world, to sit down with my brothers and sisters in Christ, to belong to the redeemed family of God, to sing His praises, to listen to the Scriptures, to the exposition of the Word by the pastor who has studied and prepared it, and to pray for the conversion of the lost. Oh, what a blessedness!
One of the strangest things I ever came across in my life is this: when Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, he never translated the word ekklēsia, kirk, “church,” not one time. He always translated it gemeinde, gemeinde. In the Greek you’d say koinōnia. Gemeinde is a secular word. And Martin Luther, in an inspired genius that’s hard to believe, took that word out of the street and out of the beer hall and out of all of the social life of the people, he took the word gemeinde and he used it to translate the word ekklēsia, “church.” Well, what is gemeinde? What is oikonomia? It’s fellowship, it’s communion, it’s loving to be together, it’s just what our hearts lead us to love and to be: prayer partners, friends, helpers, fellow pilgrims in the kingdom of Christ. It’s a beautiful thing, the habit of the church.
I haven’t time to follow through with others: how they support the church, a proportionate giving; and how they pray. “Brethren,” Paul wrote, “pray for me, pray for me,” first letter that we have that he wrote, in 1 Thessalonians, the last thing he says, “My brethren, pray for me” [1 Thessalonians 5:25]. Out of all of the things I have ever read, I’ve never read one sweeter than this: Spurgeon, the London preacher, said to a friend one day, he said, “Friend, some day when you have the ear of the great King, would you call my name?”
“Pray for me.” We pray for each other, love each other, encourage each other, stand by each other. O Lord, gemeinde, the koinonia, the fellowship of the church. And I have said world without end through the thirty-eight years I’ve been here, the last thing, the last thing I want done for me, I want to be buried from the church: not from some chapel in a funeral home; I want to be buried from the church. And I’ll see you in the great resurrection, when the church that can never die is raised in the likeness of our Lord [Romans 6:5]. All other relationships are dissolved; but this one remains forever. Now may we stand together?
Precious Lord, what a wonderful thing You did for us; not only dying for our sins, but giving us a fellowship into which we can grow in Thy grace and abound in Thy love. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. And Master, to be a part of that holy and sacred congregation of the Lord is our joy eternal forever.
And in the moment that we stand in the presence of God, a family you to put your life with us, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we’ve decided for God today, and here we stand.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment when we wait and tarry and pray, come. May angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, and welcome.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy saving, keeping, loving name, amen. While we sing our song, come and welcome, welcome.