"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
-- Matthew 16:18-19, ESV
Most Christians will have to wait until they get to Heaven to get a new name from Jesus, but Simeon Bar-Jonah got one while he was still on earth. Simeon, or Simon, the son of Jonah, or John, or "Johnson," was renamed "Peter." In the spoken language of the day, Aramaic, it is "Cephas." In the Greek language of the New Testament, it is "Petros," derived from "Petra." In any language, it means "Rock."
My Catholic friends would call Peter the first Pope, but I prefer to call him Rock Johnson, Superstar. He was the first to make a full confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He was an imminent Apostle, a flaming evangelist, and one of most important figures in Scripture and church history.
But Simon Peter, or Rock Johnson, is not the only superstar mentioned here. You are a superstar, too, if you are an active member of the entity named here in the Bible for the first of 114 times. The real rock and the true star in the kingdom of God today is not a person, but persons who belong to Christ's "church."
The church is indispensable to Christ. Scriptures defines her as Jesus' bride and body. As His bride we are His exclusive beloved, those for whom Jesus bled and died. As His body we are His hands and feet, His eyes and ears, His heart, His mouth, loving and reaching out to bring people in to the people and place Jesus calls "My church."
No other organism or organization on earth has such distinction. Christ did not come to build His club, His school, His political organization, His entertainment venue. Jesus proclaimed He is building "My church," and the church is an indispensable part of God's plan on earth.
The church is indispensable; therefore, it is important to belong to one. Salvation and serious church membership went hand in hand for most of church history. It is only in the last century or so that many professions of faith have not been accompanied by responsible church membership.
The great saint Augustine was an excellent apologist for the church. He considered it impossible for one who has made a true profession of faith to not belong and participate in the life of a true church. Moderns may find this harsh. But this text validates this very thought.
Jesus followed up Simon Peter's faith confession of faith with a fiery metaphor of life inside and outside of the church. It is a picture of two gated communities, one with keys, the other with gates. With no middle ground in the picture, every member of the human race belongs to either one community or the other.
Jesus gave Peter the keys to the gated community of God's people, the church. This was to affirm that a profession of faith in Christ is the entrance into the church. Once one enters in, he ought to invite others to come in, also, but to do so requires breaking in to their gated community.
The gated community of the lost and unchurched is Hell, or Hades, or better still, the realm of the dead. All lost people, often evidenced by their aversion to the church, are "dead in trespasses and sins" (ref. Ephesians 2:1). Evangelism is breaking into Hell, whose gates cannot withstand the power of the Gospel, and bringing people into the church, where they will be saved forever more.
The church is indispensable and important, but admittedly imperfect, as are the Christians who compose them. It is often said if you could find the perfect church, don't join it, you'll mess it up. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The way you mess up the church is not by joining, but by not joining, not taking your place in the only place expressly called by God, "My church."
Sure, there are plenty of Christ-less churches in America. But there should never be a church-less Christian. Choose one, and spend your life to make it better. You may never become the Pope, but in God's eyes you'll be a superstar, just like Rock Johnson.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].