ROCK JOHNSON, SUPERSTAR, OR, THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CHURCH
18 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. 19 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
Rock Johnson, Superstar. If I were a Roman Catholic Priest, this is the title I would give to my homily on this text. It would grab attention and require an explanation.
Most Christians will have to wait until they get to Heaven to get a new name from Jesus (ref. Revelation 2:17), 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.” Rock Johnson, Superstar.
I would go on to claim that Rock Johnson, or Simon Peter, was anointed and appointed by God to be the first Pope of of the Roman Catholic Church, with a clear line of succession leading up to Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a.k.a. Pope Francis. I would have to gloss over the fact that the current Pope has been branded a heretic by some of his own Priests and scholars for embracing universalism and endorsing immorality. His sins and idiocies pale in comparison to some of the other historic Popes, though, and I would have to omit that from my homily, too.
I would furthermore emphasize that the Pope is the undisputed head of the church, ignoring Ephesians 1:22, 5:23, and Colossians 1:18, and claim he is indispensable along with the College of Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and Indulgences to ensure escape from Purgatory and the salvation of souls by grace through faith in donations, sacraments, and good works.
But I am not a Catholic Priest, and though I cannot control my spiritual gift of sarcasm, I truly mean no disrespect. I have known many Catholics who obviously know and love the Lord. I do, however, disagree, as any Reformed Baptist Pastor would, with Catholic polity and theology. Like Luther, “My conscience is held captive by the word of God (the Bible).” And like Spurgeon, I believe, “Salvation is all of grace.”
Simon Peter was an Apostle, Evangelist, and Church Planter for the Lord. He was called by God to hold the fort in Israel while the Apostle Paul and associates went barnstorming with the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. Peter did travel outside of Israel, but never served any lengthy stint as the Pastor/Bishop of the church in Rome, although he did die there.
Simon Peter never claimed any superior authority for himself, and shortly after this episode had to be sharply rebuked by Jesus (ref. Matthew 16:23) and was later sternly rebuked by Paul (ref. Galatians 2:11). Peter never issued any infallible “ex cathedra” decrees, and continued to put his foot in his mouth from time to time even after Pentecost. He did, however, write two epistles inspired by the Holy Spirit that are included in Holy Scripture.
Peter preached and wrote about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and acknowledged only two sacraments or ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If Simon Peter were alive today he would not fit in to what has become the Roman Catholic Church. He might be a Presbyterian but probably would be considered a Reformed Baptist.
Simon Peter, Rock Johnson, was important to be sure. But Simon Peter was also imperfect. Neither he nor the office of Pope are indispensable to Christianity. But one entity mentioned in this text is. It is identified for the first of 114 times in the New Testament. It is the true focus of this oft misunderstood text. Jesus’ emphasis was upon “My church.”
The Church is Indispensable
Simon Peter died in AD 64 and it would be four centuries before he or anyone else was referred to as “Pope.” This and other extra-biblical machinations plunged the church into the dark ages for a millennium until the light of the Reformation dawned. Peter, Popes, and Pastors have all come and gone since the first advent of Christ, but one thing is meant to remain until He comes again. “My church,” says Jesus.
It is clear from the text that Jesus appreciated Peter’s profession of faith, thus tagging him with the super cool nickname. It is also evident that the Lord intended to build something upon such professions of faith, as Peter spoke not just for himself but for his peers, and the multitudes of we who have come to Christ in the ensuing years. But Jesus did not intend to build the papacy or any monument to a mere man. Jesus Christ clearly established His intent to build a movement for the God-man, Himself, “My church.”
The church is just as indispensable to Christianity as the gospel we preach and the Bible we believe. For the Bible teaches that those who are saved by the gospel are to be baptized and brought into the church, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the visible expression of the kingdom of God on earth.
As His bride we are His exclusive beloved, those for whom Jesus bled and died and lives. Every church worship service is celebration of our blessed union with Almighty God through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. As His body we are His hands and feet, His eyes and ears, His heart, His mouth, the vessels of the Holy Spirit mobilized so that God can love and reach people through us. And when we do, we bring them in to the place and people 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 journey, His entertainment venue. Jesus proclaimed He is building “My church,” and the church is an indispensable part and party to God’s plan on earth.
The Church is Important
Since the church is indispensable to God’s plan, then it behooves God’s people to belong to one. Those who make a profession of faith like Simon Peter’s should very soon afterward seek membership in “My church,” according to Jesus, and make the church an important priority in one’s life.
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. False professions abound in our age, as do false churches. But if you are a true believer it is important, even imperative, that you unite with a true church.
About the time the church started calling Peter the Pope, a true Pastor and scholar arose in Egypt named Aurelius Augustine. He did not promote the Pope, but he was a most excellent apologist for the church. He coined the phrase in Latin, “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” which means “there is no salvation outside of the church.” His commentary on this catchphrase is even stronger: “Whoever is separated from the church, by this single sin of being separated from the unity of Christ, no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living, shall not have life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
In other words, Augustine 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 very 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 which reaches out and rescues people from the other one 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 not to make him Pope, but 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 outreach into 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). Proper evangelism is breaking into Hell, whose gates cannot withstand the power of the gospel, reaching and raising a dead person to life, then sharing with them the keys to the other gated community, the church, where they will be saved and safe forever more.
Life on earth is a time of testing to see in which community one resides. A proper profession of faith binds you to Christ and His church. A lack thereof and you are loose, and you lose, your soul and your life and your all, forever more.
Perhaps this picture will serve to illustrate and ingrain the indispensability and importance of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, of getting baptized into His name and His church, and the need to spend your life in the church of your choice, all the while sharing with others the keys to come alive and come in.
The Church is Imperfect
The imperatives we have established so far from Jesus’ pronouncements to Simon Peter are two: Christians must profess faith in Jesus Christ; and, Christians should belong to a church of Jesus Christ, and help build her up and bring people in. So why do so many people remain unsaved and unchurched? And why do some people who claim to be saved shun the church? I can suggest at least two reasons.
The church is imperfect. In our age, a good, biblical, church has become hard to find. Too many churches and entire denominations of churches have exchanged the truth of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ for the politics of diversity and the heresy of universalism. Too many churches have pharisaical rules and regulations to give them power over people rather than leading them to enjoy the glorious freedom of the children of God. Too many churches have sold their soul to gain a crowd, championing emotion and excitement at the expense of spiritual regeneration and biblical worship.
Christians are imperfect. Some of them are hypocrites, not genuine Christians. Some of them are charlatans, using Christianity for power, sex, or money. Some of them are truly saved, but woefully immature. All of them, all Christians, are imperfect, and often the imperfections drive people away instead of handing them the keys to come in. It was Mahatma Gandhi who famously said, “I would have become a Christians except for the Christians.”
But these two imperfections cannot take away the perfect truths found in this exchange between the Lord Jesus Christ and Rock Johnson, Superstar. If you profess faith in Jesus Christ, you should be an active and contributing member of the people and place Jesus calls “My church.” It is indispensable, it is important, even if the church is imperfect.
It has been said that when you find the perfect church, don’t join it, you’ll mess it up. Nothing could be farther from the truth! First of all, there is no such thing as a perfect church, because churches have people in them, and none of them are perfect. And secondly, the only way you can mess it up is not by joining, but by not joining, not taking a stand, not making a valid profession of faith, not taking your place in the only place in the world expressly built by God: “My church,” Jesus said.
There are plenty of Christ-less churches in America, but there should never be a church-less Christian. Be saved by repenting and professing faith in Jesus Christ. Be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Belong to His church, a local assembly of your choice, and give your life to make the church better, even bigger if you can. This may not make you the Pope, but in God’s eyes you’ll be a superstar, just like Rock Johnson.