Rev. Lanny Carpenter
Many years ago, Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote and the Gaither Trio performed a song entitled “The Church Triumphant.” The words of the song are poignant and biblical:
Let the Church be the Church,
Let the people rejoice.
Oh, we’ve settled the question,
we’ve made our choice.
Let the anthems ring out,
songs of victory swell,
For the Church triumphant is alive and well.
This ship’s been thru battles before,
Storms and tempests and rocks on the shore.
Tho’ the hull may be battered,
inside it’s safe & dry,
It will carry its cargo to the port in the sky.
So my question is this:
Is the Church triumphing?
Is it victorious?
I am intrigued by the words of Jesus in a well-known verse of scripture found in Matthew 16:18. Here is His statement: “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” (ESV). This verse has been controversial on so many fronts, that time could unwisely be spent on these pursuits. For instance, who or what is the rock to which Jesus refers? Did Jesus really use the Greek word for church that is used after Acts 2, or is this Matthew’s Greek interpretation of Jesus’ Aramaic word? To what does the word hell refer, Satan and his demons or death? As you can see, these controversies could cause us unnecessary concern and also to miss some important principles found in this statement.
The first principle sounds so simple, that I almost hesitate to mention it.
The Church is Jesus’ Church.
Hear what Jesus says: “I will build my church.” Jesus has full rights to make this statement. Paul reminds us why: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27, ESV). It is Jesus’ church because He paid for it with His life. He gave all he had to purchase it. His death and subsequent resurrection paid the price of sin for all of those who would through faith accept His grace and become members of His church, His “called out” ones.
But along the way, the Church has forgotten whose she is. Today, the Church believes herself to be her own, and appears to be trying to be the world’s church. By being “seeker sensitive,” the church is trying to dress down to the world’s standards. We are essentially trying to look like the world so that we can appeal to them. The Church has even “dumbed down” the message of the Gospel, forgetting doctrines like the wrath of God, the holiness of God, the necessity of sorrow for sin and repentance, and the recognition of Jesus as both Savior and Lord. Now she speaks exclusively of God’s love, and how much He cares for all his children, and how he wants them to be happy and prosperous. The Gospel invitation is no longer “Repent, and believe” but “Say the sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus into your heart.”
It is Jesus’ church! It is time the Church recognizes her true Master and Lord, and begins seeing herself as being in His hands! The church must again do things His way, according to His Word, and in His power! Let the Church Be the Church!
This inevitably leads to the second principle.
Jesus will build the Church.
He said so, didn’t He? “I will build my church.” I find an interesting statement in the book of Acts concerning the early Church. In Acts 2 the Church is established on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the believers, just as Jesus promised. Following the great number of conversions on that day, the Church continued to grow. The statement that interests me is made by Dr. Luke in Acts 2:47: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ESV). It would be easy to get caught up in the emotions of the period and say, “Wow, look what the people of God did!” But Luke quickly humbles us when he reminds us that Jesus is building the church, just as He said He would.
Human programs are good, but often we tend to forget who is actually building the Church. Our efforts become the catalyst for our egos to assume that we are the ones responsible for any growth in the church. But the reality is that the Lord assumes the responsibility for the growth of the church. We have not done anything without His help.
On the other hand, maybe that is why the Church is not progressing as it should. We have stepped back and said, Lord, you said you would build it, so build it!” While the Lord is the one who builds it, and assumes that responsibility, members of the Church are God’s instruments used to build the church. We are only responsible for yielding and consecrating ourselves to His service, and joining Him in the work. We cannot build it on our own. It is His church, He is building it. We must join in the work that He has begun. Let the Church Be the Church! The third principle is equally engaging for us.
The Church will triumph through Jesus.
Jesus said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Now realize He is saying this negatively, but the opposite is also true. The Church will prevail! Remember, Paul stated that Christ wanted to “present the church to himself in splendor.” This indicates the splendor of glorification, when the church, victorious in this life, has reached her final rewards. “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’” (Rev 5:9-10, ESV). Whatever your view of the Church’s condition today, the promise is that it will overcome and be victorious.
But what of our local churches today? Are they victorious? Are they aware that God wants them to be triumphant, and are they triumphing over sin and this evil world? Unfortunately, many of our local churches are defeated, down-in-the-dumps, and divorced from reality. The time is now for us “to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11, ESV). We must arise and live and work and fight victoriously. Are we alive and well? If so, we must show it! Let the Church Be the Church!
I would be remiss if I did not remind you that, in the aforementioned song by the Gaithers, Gloria had a recitation in the middle of that song which is inspiring. I close with those words:
God has always had a people. Many a foolish conqueror has made the mistake of thinking that because he’d driven the Church of Jesus Christ out of sight, that he had stilled its voice and snuffed out its life; but God has always had a people.
The powerful current of a river is not diminished because it is forced to flow underground. The purest water is the stream that bursts crystal clear into the sunlight after it has forced its way through solid rock.
There are charlatans, who like Simon the magician sought to barter on the open market this power which cannot be bought or sold but God has always had a people; men who could not be bought and women who were beyond purchase God has always had a people.
There have been times of affluence and prosperity where the Church’s message has been nearly diluted into oblivion by those who sought to make it socially attractive, re-organized and financially profitable. It’s been gold plated, draped in purple and encrusted in jewels. It’s been misrepresented, ridiculed, lauded and scorned.
These followers of Jesus Christ have been according to the whim of the times elevated as sacred leaders and martyred as heretics. Yet through it all there marches on this powerful army, God’s chosen people who cannot be bought, flattered, murdered or stilled. On through the ages they march, this church, God’s church, alive and well!
Amen! Let the Church Be the Church!