Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | January 5, 2011

Will The Real Church Please Stand Up

When it comes to interpreting the scriptures, a few items are essential. First and foremost, as New Covenant believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we should always maintain a Christ-centered approach to the scriptures. The Word of God is ultimately all about the revelation of Jesus Christ. The law was given as a tutor to lead us to Christ, the gospels give us a glimpse into the ministry of Christ, and the New Testament letters point to the preeminence of Christ. And secondly, it’s vitally important to consider context and to be willing to study. Only then can we avoid the all to common problem of embracing “proof text theology” to our detriment; namely, theology that is based on one scripture, or a set of scriptures, but is not supported by the Word of God as a whole. Such theology comes crashing down when coming under more thorough New Covenant scrutiny, but usually not without a fight from its adherents.

Why is theology so important? Because we live out our beliefs. Sound theology results in healthy practice. The opposite is true with bad theology, and such is the case with many sincere believer’s theology that hinges on a faulty interpretation of Mathew 16:18.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it.” (Jesus speaking, Matthew 16:18)

There are some who believe that Jesus is referring to a particular institutional church as the “one true church” which is to be built upon Peter, who is “the rock.”

First, let us take an honest look at the notion of the so called “one true church” being built upon Peter. Peter was fortunate to be one of the original disciples and was used greatly by God, but one must remember that he was a man, just like you and I, who had his own issues. Only three verses after Matthew 16:18, we find the following account:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Peter was unconsciously being used and influenced by the enemy. I only point this out to show that Peter, like us, was susceptible to weakness and temptation.

Later on, after Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter stood outside the palace where Jesus was being held. You know the story; three people asked him if he was one of Jesus’s followers, and Peter denied it three times. Once again, we see the humanity of Peter.

Now one might argue, “Hey, you are bringing up instances in Peter’s life before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What about afterward, when he was filled with the Holy Spirit?” That is a fair argument. Lets fast forward to Acts chapter 10. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, still has issues. He is under the impression that salvation is only for the Jews (the one true people, so to speak) and no one else, even in light of the clear revelation of scripture in the book of Isaiah which proclaims that God’s salvation shall include the gentiles, going to the ends of the earth. It takes God providing a tangible vision of unclean animals being lowered from heaven on sheets to wake Peter up to this fact and to purge his heart from his own bigotry.

The scenario above has current applicability.

Finally, lets fast-forward to Galatians chapter 2. Here we have Peter freely eating with the gentiles, as long as the Jews are not present. But when the Jews come to town, Peter withdraws himself from the gentiles, leading others astray in his hypocrisy, and was sharply rebuked for it.

It may sound like I am being mercilessly harsh towards Peter, but that is not my intent. I only share these things to show that Peter was a fallible man, just like you and I. Even James, the Lord’s brother, said that we all stumble in many ways.Yet I admire Peter greatly as this was a man who found Jesus Christ and God’s grace to be more than enough for him, even in the midst of his flaws and failures. And we can find this same grace to be more than sufficient for us.

If God was going to build “one true church,” would you really want it to be built upon Peter???? Or any one disciple? Or any other fallible man? I think not. There is no place in scripture that supports such a notion, nor does the scripture support the idea that the “church” Jesus would build would be an exclusive institutional church to be esteemed above all others as the “one true church.” This is the height of spiritual self righteousness and has no place in the life of a born again child of God.

What we find in the Bible is the exact opposite in that 1) scripture puts Peter and the other disciples in proper perspective, showing us that they are not to be esteemed beyond proper measure, and 2) The church that Jesus refers to is not a place, but a people, and 3) the rock that His people (the church) are built upon is not Peter or any man, but the Lord Jesus Christ:

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.  My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

Wow, did you get that? Now lets go back and take a closer look at Matthew 16, interpreting it through a Christ-centered, New Covenant perspective, considering context (emphasis mine):

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, (which, when translated, means “Messiah”  or “Annointed One”) the Son of the living God.” 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.  And I tell you that you are Peter (which, when translated, means “a stone”), and on this rock (the fact that I am the Christ, the Annointed One) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus says, On this rock I will build my church, He is not referring to Peter as the rock! He is referring to Himself! He is simply responding to Peter’s declaration that He is the Christ! The church (which is not an institutional church but the body of Christ) is built upon the Anointed One (Christ Jesus) and His anointing! This is reason to celebrate. Our foundation is rock solid and secure.

Jesus was painting a picture for Peter and in essence was saying, “Peter, you are a rock to be built upon the Chief Rock, which is Myself.” And in all actuality, we are no different than Peter. We, as believers, are all stones being built upon the solid rock, who is Christ. We are His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us, not because of Peter, but because of Christ and His anointing that dwells in us:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2 Corinthians 2:14

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

In Conclusion, here is more supporting scripture from throughout the Word of God which should leave no doubt about who the church is, how it is built, and who is the Rock that it is built upon. We will start with a few scriptures from Peter himself, who clearly understood who the true Rock was:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”  1 Peter 2:4-6


“then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,

which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12, Peter speaking

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 9:33

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus speaking

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:10-11

O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.” Psalm 95:1

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:1-4

May Jesus Christ be honored in all things. Blessings to you all.

-Harry






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