A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.
Copyright © January 1, 2018
Just as God ordained civil government, He also ordained His churches after the nation Israel rejected Him and the kingdom of heaven. Civil government, as we learned in earlier lessons was to secure a temporal earthly blessing for mankind. The power given by God to His churches on earth was to secure a spiritual good for their members.
When Christ asked His disciples whom they thought Him to be (Mt. 16.15, Mk. 8.29, Lu. 9.20), Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16.16; see also, Mk. 8.29, Lu. 9.20). At that point, our Lord announced the out calling of the church when He said: “And I say also unto thee, [t]hat thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16.18-19).
The building of the institution of the New Testament church which is made up of local visible church bodies is on the rock of Peter’s confession, the Christ he confessed. Peter makes clear that the rock upon which the Lord will build the institution of the church is Christ Himself:
- “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (1 Pe. 2.4-9).
“This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner” (Ac. 4.11, part of Peter’s address to the Sanhedrin). From the context, it is obvious that Peter is speaking of the Lord as being the chief corner stone. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that Peter was the cornerstone of a universal visible or invisible church.
The words used also make clear that Christ was referring to Himself as the rock on which the church would be built. There is in the Greek [in Matthew 16.18] a play upon the words, “thou art Peter [petros—literally, ‘a little rock’], and upon this rock [Petra] I will build my church.” He does not promise to build His church upon Peter, but upon Himself, as Peter himself is careful to tell us (1 Pet. 2.4-9).
Jesus did not give Peter the keys—a key being a badge of power or authority (see, e.g., Is. 22.22 and Re. 3.7)—but to “the kingdom of heaven,” which in this age is represented by Christ’s local autonomous New Testament Churches and the individual believers therein who are to function as a spiritual body, each exercising his/her individual spiritual gifts. Peter assumed no other authority. In the council at Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15, James seems to have presided. Peter claimed nothing more than to be an apostle by gift and an elder by office (See 1 Pe. 1.1 and 5.1). The power of binding and loosing was shared by the other apostles (See Mt. 18.18 and Jn. 20.23). Since only Christ held the keys of death and the place of departed spirits, this did not involve the determination of the eternal destiny of souls. “I [Jesus Christ] am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Re. 1.18).
Isaac Backus, the great Baptist leader in New England, elaborated upon the faith confessed by Peter:
“This faith is the foundation of the church; against this faith the gates of hell shall not prevail; this faith hath the keys of the kingdom of heaven; what this faith shall loose or bind on earth, is bound and loosed in heaven…. Now it followeth, that whatsoever person hath received the same precious faith with Peter, as all the faithful have, 2 Pet. i. 1, that person hath a part in this gift of Christ. Whosoever doth confess, publish, manifest or make known Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, and Saviour of the world, that person opens heavens gates, looseth sin, and partakes with Peter in the use of the keys; and hereupon it followeth necessarily, that one faithful man, yea, or woman either, may loose and bind, both in heaven and earth, as all the ministers in the world” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 12 quoting John Robinson, A Justification of Separation from the Church of England.).
Click here to go to Bible Study of Ephesians. Ephesians reveals the institution of the church as God’s masterpiece. It is more wonderful that any temple made with hands, constructed of living stones, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1 presents the church as a body.