Shepherding 201: The Church is Christ's Perfectly Fashioned Bride
I’ve already written several posts regarding the very basic nature of shepherding within the context of the family. These previous posts (Shepherding 101, 111, and 112) were not intended to be comprehensive studies on the matter, but simply an overview of the foundational scriptures that inform us of our purpose as God’s image bearers, the functional roles of men and women, and God’s design for the family. All of these points I attempted to draw out in a single sermon, which in hindsight may have been better served in a short series. This is a lot of information to be compressed into a single message. But it’s a foundational message that lays the groundwork for literally everything to follow.
This post will build upon the foundation that has already been laid and pave the way for several posts to follow. I’m going to transition from shepherding within the context of the family, to shepherding within the context of the church. I am saddened that any of these posts are necessary, and yet the reality is that they are. The singular purpose of both the family and the church (to glorify God through representation, teaching, and training in righteousness) have long been neglected. The black and white commands and God-given design for both entities have been left to be subjectively pursued. Both the family and the church are shaped more by the secular culture than they are by the Scripture; thus the need for this discussion.
As we turn our attention to the church, once again we must begin at the beginning. This first post will be content to only examine the origin of the church. In doing so we will examine the source of the church, the mission of the church, and then briefly examine the record of the birth of the church.
The Church’s Source (Matthew 16:13-20)
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ and Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not over power it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.; Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.” (NASB)
This encounter is the very first instance of the term “church” (ἐκκλησία) being used in the New Testament and contains within it the promise from Jesus Himself to build His church. But there are a few observations that we need to make.
The Foundation of Christ’s Church
There’s been a lot of misunderstanding by what Jesus meant by stating, “upon this rock I will build my church.” What does “this” refer to? Which rock will Christ build His church upon? The Roman Catholic Church has long asserted that the demonstrative pronoun “this” refers to Peter himself (thus their doctrine of magisterial procession). But by carefully analyzing the text, it becomes obvious that the grammar will not allow for such an interpretation. Without boring the reader to tears, let me simply state that “this rock” (ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ) refers not to the man Peter, but Peter’s confession: “Thou art the Christ!”
In other words, Christ will build His church upon Himself. The person of Jesus, the long anticipated Christ (Messiah, “anointed one”), the Son of the living God, is the foundation upon which His church will be (notice the future tense there) built. Can you imagine the implications of the church being built upon a mere mortal man? The church, the bride of Christ, will be built upon the foundation of Christ Himself. But this interpretation does not only hang upon the antecedent of a pronoun (though the grammar is sufficient to prove the point alone). The language Jesus uses brings us back to the very beginning.
The Source of Christ’s Church
I cannot help but notice Jesus’ choice of words here. When He states that He will build His church, He uses a word that might better be translated as “fashion” (οἰκοδομέω). This is the same word that the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses in Genesis 2:22: “And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.” Just as the Lord God fashioned a woman from the rib of the man, Christ will fashion from Himself His Church. The relationship between Christ and His Church will be in the same vein as the relationship between the man (Adam) and his wife.
Yet this relationship is not exactly like the relationship between Adam and Eve. Adam did not fashion his own bride. But what did Jesus promise? “I will build (fashion) My church.” Jesus, the Christ and the Son of the living God, will fashion His own bride. Who can do that but God incarnate? The church is not a human construct or man-made organization, but a living organism fashioned by Christ Himself. I hope that at this point it is becoming apparent why we must understand the God-given purpose and structure of the family before we can even begin to discuss the purpose and structure of Christ’s church. He’s building upon a divine model already established in Genesis. To misunderstand or distort the family is to misunderstand and distort the church.
The Church’s Mission (Matthew 28:16-20)
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
This passage is largely known as “The Great Commission” and appropriately so. These few verses describe the risen Christ commissioning the eleven faithful disciples to begin the work that Christ will use to build His church. There are a few observations that I’d like to make. With a military background, I cannot help but notice that this text breaks down like an Operations Order (Opord).
The Lord has risen and has called His faithful few to meet Him back on their home turf in Galilee. The last three years have been training for the mission that they are about to receive.
Jesus claims here that all authority has been given to him “in heaven and on earth.” Perhaps a better understanding of this claim is that all authority has been given Christ from heaven upon the earth. The significance being Christ’s authority comes directly from the top (The Father who is in heaven) and is directed over the earth. This is nothing short of a claim to be the new and better Adam. Adam’s mission was to represent God on earth and impose God’s will upon all living creatures. After the fall, this task was made impossible due to man’s sinful state. But now the God-man has come and defeated death. Who better to represent God than God incarnate?
The situation has utterly changed. Atonement has been made. The veil has been torn. There is now access to the throne of God through the veil, which is His flesh. With His marching orders coming directly from God the Father, Christ’s authority includes all of the earth. The mission of re-creation is about to commence.
After establishing His authority and right to command (as the 2nd Adam and Son of God), Jesus gives His disciples a single command – make disciples. Part of the Adamic mandate was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Jesus gives the disciples similar instructions. Go and reproduce yourselves. Make disciples. This is a clear mission statement. But how are they to go about it?
The rest of this commission rests on two participles that give explanation on how the disciples are to complete their mission. First, they are to baptize their new disciples. This implies conversion. Christian baptism is a physical symbol of a spiritual transformation. The public dunking (not sprinkling!) of a person into the water and then emerging out of the water is a sign that they have been immersed into the body of Christ. They are now a new creature and identify fully with Christ. This of course can only be true if they have first confessed their sin and repented in the name of Jesus (Romans 10:9-11). And if they confess Jesus as their sovereign king, they are also swearing fidelity to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as well. Make disciples by publically placing them into the body that Christ has already placed them when He converted them through the preaching of the gospel.
Secondly, the disciples are to make new disciples by teaching them to observe all that Jesus has already commanded. This should strike a familiar tone to the father and husband whose job it is to raise his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The father is first and foremost a teacher of righteousness to his children and a leader to his wife. Disciples are not only made by conversion, but also through instruction. This is not an either/or choice but a both/and command.
If a parent would be seen as criminally wicked for birthing a child and then abandoning them to the elements, how much more a shepherd who preached the gospel, saw conversion, and then moved on with no instruction or care for that new convert? The task of making disciples involves the preaching of the gospel for conversion and baptizing them as a public demonstration of Christ’s work within them, but it also involves teaching them and expecting obedience. A shepherd who doesn’t teach and hold accountable is a disobedient shepherd.
Service and Support
Notice the promise that Jesus gives to His disciples. “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The church is not ever going to be left alone. Christ will not leave His people like paratroopers behind enemy lines, surrounded and cut off. Jesus promises that He will be with them, now and right up to the end of this current age. Now that is encouraging! What more support could you possibly need?
Command and Signal
You cannot help but take note of the constant use of first person pronouns. Jesus assures them that all authority as be given Me. He commands them to baptize disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as well as to teach what I command. Jesus makes sure that He, the bridegroom/foundation/source/creator is at the pinnacle of the church. Christ, not a man with a funny hat in Rome, is the head of the church. Just as a husband leads his wife as the singular head of the family, so is Christ the singular head of His church.
There is much to be said about these verses. But the point I’m trying to make in this single article is to draw out the implications from the text that the church, like the family, is designed for the specific purpose of reproduction and representation. The family reproduces through natural birth, the church through supernatural re-birth. The family represents God through the teaching, instruction, and modeling the Word of God. The church does the exact same thing. The connection between the church and the family is strong and purposefully stated.
The Church’s Birth (Acts 2)
This whole chapter captures the birth of the church. The Operation Order from Matthew 28 is perfectly executed. Peter explains to a perplexed crowd that what they are witnessing is not natural, but supernatural. This is a foretaste of what Joel promised as God pours out His Spirit upon mankind. But Peter didn’t stop at giving an explanation. He preaches the gospel to this crowd and gives it to them with both barrels.
“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seatone of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted [to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (vv. 29-36 NASB)
Understand that the same crowd before Peter had been in town since Passover, meaning that it is extremely likely that these same people were among those demanding Pilate to “crucify Him!” Peter does not use “you” figuratively here, but literally. This Jesus is the long awaited seed of Abraham, seed of David, Messiah, Anointed one, and you killed Him!
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (vv. 37-42 NASB)
The gospel always convicts. You cannot point out sin without conviction. There are only two responses to conviction: rejection and repentance. Here we read the blessed response of repentance. But notice that Peter and the apostles are being perfectly obedient to the model that Christ Himself established for His church. How did they go about making disciples that day and every day after? They preached the gospel, baptized those who repented, and continued to teach them all that Christ had commanded.
Like the family, the church is a creation of Almighty God, the God-man, Jesus Christ. Like humanity, Christians are not created/re-born/converted in isolation. It is not good for even redeemed man to be alone. Humanity was created within the context of the family and Christians are converted within the converted of Christ’s church. Like the family, Christ gave explicit instruction as to the source and mission of His church. Not only this, but left instruction as to how that mission is to be accomplished. And like the family, any church that deviates from that mission or even attempts to recreate an alternative way of accomplishing that mission is by definition a disobedient and dysfunctional church. Preach the gospel. Baptize believers. Teach the saints. Yes, it is that simple.
In case you haven’t noticed, the family and the church are not for us to reinvent. God created them and designed them very specifically. Next time we’ll move from mission to structure.