The Church That Jesus Built
January 10th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHURCH JESUS BUILT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-10-82 10:50 a.m.
A thousand times and more, welcome to the great throngs who are sharing this hour with us on television and on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Church Jesus Built.
In Matthew 16:18 is a passage of Scripture as famous and as importantly pertinent as any passage in the Bible: “I say unto you, That thou art petros” a stone, an individual pebble, one that you can throw. “And upon this petra,” the great basic ledge layer upon which you could build a city, “upon this petra,” that is the great confession of faith that Simon Peter made, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16], upon this foundational rock, this ledge, “I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18]. The gates of hell, a word for death, it shall not prevail against, katischuō. Kata means down or against. Ischuō means to have strength, to have power. “I will build My church,” and death, and fire, and flood, and martyrdom, and blood shall not be able to keep it down. It shall rise and live forever!
All other institutions in our world are buried in death, whether they are political or economic or social. All of the relationships we make in life are dissolved in death. A king is a king no longer in the grave. A corporate magnate is no longer a tycoon in the grave. A star, whether in Hollywood or Broadway, is no longer a star in the grave. Every relationship we make in life is dissolved in the grave. But the relationships we make in the church rise, and abide, and live forever. The gates of Hades shall not katischuó, shall not have power to hold it down [Matthew 16:18].
That immortality of the church, the foreverness of this institution, this organism that Christ loved and for which He died [Ephesians 5:25], is vibrant and living, not because of a self-chosen name and not because of a certain kind of a history; but it lives forever because of five great fundamental, constitutional characteristics. There are five articles of faith fundamental to the church, and the church that Jesus built is forever characterized by those five fundamental, constitutional articles, foundational of faith and practice. I read one time of a New Testament that was washed up on a South Pacific island, and the natives found it and read it and organized a New Testament church. What are those five articles, enduring, that characterize the church Jesus built? As I have five fingers, there are five of those foundational, fundamental, constitutional beliefs.
The first one is: the Holy Scriptures is the only and the sole rule of faith and practice. It lives by description, by organization, by and through and on the Word of God. In the last chapter of Luke, Jesus said to His apostles, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Torah,” the Law of Moses, “in the Prophets,” in the Nevi’im, “and in the Psalms,” the Kethuvim,” the three great divisions of the Holy Scriptures in the Old Testament [Luke 24:44].
Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.
And He said, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead…
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all of the nations…
And ye are witnesses of these things.
By the Holy Bible, by the Scriptures, Christ was born [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. By those same Scriptures, He lived [Matthew 4:4]. By those same Scriptures, He died [1 Corinthians 15:3]; by those same Scriptures, He was buried [1 Corinthians 15:4]; according to those same Scriptures, He was raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:4]. According to those Scriptures, He is at session at the right hand of God, our great intermediary and High Priest [1 Romans 8:34]. By those same Scriptures, He is coming again [Acts 1:11]. According to those same Scriptures, He is rapturing that church up to Himself [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And by those same Scriptures, we shall have a home in heaven with Him, world without end, amen [John 14:1-3]. According to the Scriptures, Christ lived, and died, and taught, and built His church. And that church, abiding forever, lives according to the immutable, unchanging Word of God. In the days of the apostles, it was the didachē as the second chapter of the Book of Acts calls it; it was the oral teaching of the apostles [Acts 2:42]. And the church lived by the oral teaching of the apostles. That’s why the synoptic Gospels are called synoptic, they sound alike [Matthew, Mark, and Luke]. It was the oral teachings of the apostles. When they died, God wrote it down, had it written down, and it is now the didachē, the teaching of the apostles; it is now in the New Testament.
And the church is built upon that great, revealed, doctrinal revelation of God [Ephesians 2:20]. In our Lord’s ministry, He appealed to the Scriptures. As He said in the fifth chapter of John, “Search the Scriptures” [John 5:39]. The apostles did the same as in Berea, in the seventeenth chapter of Acts; “They searched the Scriptures whether these things were so” [Acts 17:11]. Thus it is that the Word of God gives life and birth and direction to the people of God, the family of God, and the church is built upon that commitment.
In the days of the Reformation, when the church drifted away from its foundational conception and commitment to the Holy Scriptures, Martin Luther came forward and his fellow Reformers with a theme, with a flaming aegis, Sola Scriptura. And that Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone, Scriptures alone, is the foundation of the church that Jesus built.
The second great article of faith is the priesthood of every believer. 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 had done it. And when that veil was severed, the inner sanctuary of God was opened to view and to access. There God dwells [Exodus 25:8]; there Isaiah saw Him in that very place, high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. There did the high priest enter with blood of atonement once a year. There did he make intercession in behalf of the people [Hebrews 9:7]. And now that veil that separates in-between is forever destroyed, forever rent [Matthew 27:51]. It’s a useless rag; it hangs limp. And any man, anywhere, now has full access to God [Hebrews 10:19-20]; no priest, no sacerdotal system in between, he can come to God for himself and talk to God as a man would to his friend, face to face.
He can come anywhere. A kitchen corner is as good as a gilded cathedral. Anywhere is a good where to call upon the name of the Lord. And any man can stand before God, his own priest, and offer sacrifices of witness and praise and testimony to the Lord. It’s a glorious thing God has done for us. And that is the second great foundational stone upon which our Lord has built His church: the priesthood of every believer. Every man has a right to talk to God for himself and listen to the voice of the Lord in his own heart and in his own soul. And there’s no officiating sacerdotal system to intervene. We come to God for ourselves [Hebrews 10:19-20].
The third tremendous foundational, characteristic article of faith of the church is: it is a regenerated, in these recent days, a popular phrase, “born again” congregation of the Lord. Then Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ,” e-i-s, eis, “because of the remission of sins” [Acts 2:38], because of what Christ has done for us. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto the church about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didachē,” the oral teaching that later was written down that we call the New Testament, “and in the koinōnia, the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread,” the Lord’s Supper, the continuing church ordinance, “and in the prayers and intercession before the Lord” [Acts 2:41-42]. It is a “born again” fellowship. The word in the New Testament is ekklēsia: ek—out of—and kaleō—to call. It is a called-out body unto God. It is an elect, an election to the Lord.
In the beginning, God elected the man above all the sentient animals around him [Genesis 1:26-28]. God elected Noah above all of the antediluvians [Genesis 6:7-8, 7:23]. God elected Abraham out of a world of idolatry [Genesis 12:1-3; Joshua 24:2-3]. God elected Israel above Edom, Esau [Genesis 25:23-26, Romans 9:12-13]. God elected Judah from among his brethren [Genesis 49:8-10]. God elected David from among the families of Judah [1 Samuel 16:1-13]. God elected Bethlehem from among the cities of Israel [Micah 5:2]. God elected Mary from among the daughters of the family of the Lord [Luke 1:26-35]. God elected the apostles from among the followers of Christ. God elected Paul, His emissary to the Gentiles, to us [Acts 9:15, 13:46-47]. And God has elected you. God has elected us. He has called us to be a part of the ekklēsia, the called-out family of the Lord, separate from the world. By no means is the church congruous with the state. We are born by natural birth a citizen of the state, but we must be reborn to be a member of the family of God and the church of Jesus Christ [John 3:3, 7]. It is two separate things to be born naturally into the state; we must also be “born again,” supernaturally, into the family of God. And the church is the convocation, the gathering together, of these regenerated members who have been called into faith in the family of the Lord.
Number four of these great constitutional foundational principles the church of Christ rests upon: it has a twofold order of ordained ministers and a twofold ordinance observed faithfully in the church. When Paul writes to the church at Philippi, he says, “Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, with the bishops and the deacons” [Philippians 1:1], just two. There are two orders of ordination in the church, just two. The first one is the bishop. There are three words in the New Testament that describe that officer. He’s called a presbuteros, he’s called an episkopos, he’s called a poimēn, and all three of those words are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Presbuteros is translated “elder,” referring to the dignity of his office. Episkopos is translated “bishop.” That’s the word used here; that refers to his assignment. Episkopos means “overseer.” He is the overseer of the church. Poimēn is the word for shepherd. He is the pastor of the church. He has in his heart the love of the people and he intercedes for them, and he cares for them. This is the first officer of ordination in the church Jesus built.
There is one other: with the deacons. The word diakonos is a household word in that day, meaning “servant.” The diakonos, “the deacons,” the deaconate are men who are set aside and consecrated to hold up the hands of the pastor, like Hur and Aaron held up the hands of Moses [Exodus 17:10-13]. The deaconate, the deacons, are set aside to hold up the hands of the pastor. And when those two work together in the Spirit of Christ, they comprise an unbeatable team: the preacher and his laymen.
Then there are two ordinances, as there are two orders. They are not sacraments; they are not means of salvation or grace. They portray the gospel. Like a dipper holds and shapes the water, the two great ordinances that Christ gave His church hold and shape the truth. And if there is in anywise a departure, an aberration from them, its repercussion is felt throughout the doctrinal structure of the entire body.
The first ordinance we witnessed this morning at this hour: the initial ordinance of baptism. That is a dramatic picture of the gospel and our experience in it. Paul defined the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “How that Christ died for our sins according to Scriptures; that He was buried and that He rose again . . . according to the Scriptures.” That ordinance portrays our experience in that. We are dead with Christ and buried with Him, and we are raised with Christ to walk in a new life [Romans 6:3-5].
The recurring church ordinance is the Lord’s Supper: “This do in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:24]. It looks back to the day when our Lord suffered for our sins, and it looks forward to the day when He is coming again. And the broken bread presents His torn and mangled body [1 Corinthians 15:23-24]. And the crimson of the cup represents the red blood of His life poured out for us [1 Corinthians 11:25]. And the church that Jesus built is characterized by those two orders and by those two ordinances.
Fifth—the fifth tremendous characterization, foundational article of faith in the church is its abiding and forever Commission. The Gospel of Matthew closes:
All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and mathētuō all the nations—all the people,
baptizō in the name of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
didaskō all the things I have given you to keep.
Mathētuo: to “make disciples,” to evangelize, to win to Christ. Baptizō: “baptizing” them in the name of the triune God. Didaskō: “teaching” them, didactic—didaskō, “teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded you.” And this is our tremendous assignment and commission to the end of the age [Matthew 28:19-20].
The church that Jesus built is characterized by those five fundamental articles of faith: the Bible, the sole rule and foundation for faith and practice [2 Timothy 3:16-17]; the priesthood of every believer, the right for any man to approach God for himself [Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:19-20]; a regenerate church membership, born again into the family of God [Acts 2:41-42]; those twofold orders [Philippians 1:1], and ordinances [1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Romans 6:3-5]; and the Great Commission that sets our face toward the conversion and the discipling of the whole world [Matthew 28:18-20]. Now, and maybe in these days to come, we’ll have much time, I pray, as there are five great foundational, constitutional principles upon which Christ built His church, there are many habits, many bylaws, many practices of that family of God. We could be here for the uncounted hours speaking of them.
May I choose one? At least one? In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews and the twenty-fifth verse, the author of Hebrews says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…and so much the more as you see the day approaching” [Hebrews 10:25]. One of the bylaws, one of the habits, one of the beautiful customs of that church is to meet together on the Lord’s Day, not by way of commandment, but out of love and deference and remembrance for what Jesus means to us—to come to together in God’s house.
Psalms 27:4—Jack Hamm, our tremendously gifted Christian artist and deacon, Friday brought me a beautiful, beautiful picture to the study, and this is 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,
and behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
That’s the one thing the psalmist says, “That if God is good, let me do that. Let me be a part of the family of God, and to meet with them in the Lord’s house.”
It’s no coercive duty for me. It never was. When I was a child, I loved to go to the little white crackerbox of a church house where I was converted, where I was baptized. I loved it then; I love it today. I’d rather come to church than go anywhere in the world. I love God’s people. I love to hear the orchestra play and the choir sing. I love to see the people. If I could, I’d like to stand somewhere and shake hands and say a word of encouragement to everybody who ever comes to the house of the Lord.
It’s a strange thing in the life of Martin Luther that Pat Zondervan referred to; in his New Testament, he translated from the Greek into the German—that’s the German Bible today—he never uses the word “church,” kirche. He uses a term, die Gemeinde, and he pronounced it for you in Dutch. They do the same thing in Holland. Isn’t that a strange thing? The word for church, ekklēsia, he never translates kirche, “church.” He never uses it. What he uses is a word he picked up on the streets out in the world where men congregate, where they fellowship, where they’re together: die Gemeinde. And, when you look at a German Bible, wherever we have the word “church,” in German, it is die Gemeinde. Die Gemeinde is the word in German, as he says it is in Dutch, for the fellowship, the communion. In the New Testament, it is often called koinōnia, the fellowship, the communion. That’s what the church is. It is a fellowship. It is a communion.
And as one of the things that Paul writes, he closes his first letter—the first letter that he wrote to the church at Thessalonica—he closes it, “Brethren, pray for me” [1 Thessalonians 5:25]. Pray for me. Pray for me. I think one of the sweetest things I ever heard of in my life, Spurgeon, the great London preacher, said to a friend one day, he said, “Friend, someday when you have the ear of the great King, would you call my name?” Pray for me. Just above in that same Thessalonian letter, he said, “In everything give thanks to God, and then pray without ceasing!” [1 Thessalonians 5:17-18]. That’s the church, that’s the Gemeinde, that’s the fellowship. We pray for one another, and we love one another.
And if the church reflects the spirit of Jesus, always there’s that sweet deference and remembrance. God be good to you! God be good to us, as we encourage each other in the faith and in our pilgrim way, as we lift up each other, bless each other, love each other; this is the church of God. “On this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18]. It is a forever body of Christ.
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 there aught but to face,
The wrath 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 judgment of Almighty God!
Soon life will be over, soon day will be ended,
Soon flowers and trees cease to nod,
And 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 night, come into Christ’s light,
And rest in the church of God!
[ W. A. Criswell]
Man, why not? Why would a man choose to go through life, separate himself from the fellowship, sweet and precious, of the Lord and His people? Why would a man come to the end of the way and face the darkness of night, and despair, and judgment, and death, when God opens the door, tears asunder the veil that separates us [Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:18-20], and bids us enter in, full, free, welcome? As He says, “Come boldly to the throne of grace, that you might find help in the time of need” [Hebrews 4:16]. This has God done for us. Welcome sweet friend into the fellowship, into the koinōnia, into the die Gemeinde, into the communion of God’s sweet family. May we stand together?
Our Lord, there are thousands of us in the world, innumerable, who have found a preciousness in the family of God, in the sweet fellowship and communion of the saints, all by faith and trust in Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 2:8-9]. And our Father in heaven, bless Thou the message. May the Holy Spirit bear it to the hearts of these who have listened? And our Master, in this precious, meaningful moment, may God give us other friends, other worshipers, other families to praise God with us, to pilgrimage with us, through the days of this world.
While all of our people remain just a moment, I’ll give you the opportunity to leave if you want to in just a moment, but right now, while all of our people remain, stand before God in prayer, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, “Pastor today, we’re standing in the presence of angels and men, confessing our faith in the Lord.” Or, “coming to follow Him in baptism” [Matthew 3:14-17], or “putting our lives in this dear congregation.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, down that stairway if you’re in the balcony, down one of these aisles on this lower floor, “Pastor, we’ve decided for God and here we come.” A thousand times welcome. May angels attend you in the way as you come.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy precious name, amen.
While we sing our song, come, and welcome. While we sing.