Recently, the church where I serve received an unsolicited letter from an organization that warned us about the potential for lawsuits from members, ex-members, and outsiders because of stands that we might take as a church. Included in this letter were a set of recommendations for changes to the churches by-laws that 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 choose to look into it and a committee was appointed to make recommendations concerning changes to our by-laws that would further protect us from legal action. That committee has met and prepared their recommendations. I obtained a copy of them yesterday, and my initial reaction was disappointment, although I had a hard time putting my finger on just why. It is not that they were proposing changes that I really disagreed with in principal. But something about the whole thing just didn't seem right.
And last night, as I was going to bed, 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 responds 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 innocently to refer to the local body that we are members of, or at least regularly attend. But oftentimes it really does mean that the local body referred to does not belong to Christ, but belongs to the members; although I doubt that many would actually say it in that way. But if the pastor, elders, or members provide the direction for the church; does it belong to Christ? If we have become more of an internally focused social club than a body that is reaching the lost and worshiping the creator; do we really belong to Christ? If we can see no further than our limited financial income and human resources, and live in fear of the outside world; do we really belong to Christ, or are we a human institution?
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 have with this proposal. It looks to me like we are reinforcing our bunker, 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.