References: Matthew 16:17-19; Romans 8:30
The work of perseverance by the church
Despite the turmoil we may see, we trust in the sovereignty of God. Let us be clear, we can look at all of the things which have happened and trace the developments. But this is a plague sent by God — not just the virus. Perhaps even more importantly, understand that the lawlessness and upheaval regarding law and authority, and all the stuff that goes with it, is a plague sent by God.
Yes, Satan uses it as he desires, but it is from God, used for His ultimate purpose. Though there is always judgment, and chastisement involved, God’s ultimate purpose in this, too, is His glory and the strengthening of faith of the church.
This is one of the things He uses to bring about the preservation of His church. It will be very interesting to observe as we go through this. How will we respond to having to suspend, for a time, the public gathering of the church for worship, even as we continue to deal with restrictions? We ought to gain a deeper appreciation for meeting with God and with His people, and become more dedicated than ever before to meeting with God regularly, because we have experienced not meeting. I trust and pray we will see that happen.
Enabled and directed by Christ
Let’s take a closer look at the picture Christ paints for us in His response to Peter’s confession. He says that He will build the church on this confession, referring to the word which he has spoken.
You see, Jesus challenged the disciples, “What do you believe? What is your faith?” Is it like those who were simply interested in the miracles?
Peter confesses Christ. His testimony is the truth revealed by God, made a reality by Christ, laid down through the apostles. It is the foundation on which the church is built. The basis is the Word, given in Scripture, holding the church’s identity; creeds are also used for helping to know and apply that rule within the church.
Storming the gates of hell
It is equally important that we see how this actually happens. Jesus goes on to say what he will do with this truth.
Now it would be natural, and I am afraid it happens often, to say, “Well, we had better build big walls around ourselves… if we can just make sure we never, ever change, that we just continue always the same and keep the world out, then we can survive.”
But look at what Jesus says: “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Gates are for protection. Gates are for keeping the enemy out. Notice carefully which kingdom Jesus speaks of when he says the gates will not prevail. He is talking about the gates around the kingdom of Hades.
The very last thing the church ought to do is put up a bunker. “If we just build the wall high enough we can keep the stuff out”? No! The well known sports formula, “The best offense is a good defense,” does not apply here. For the church, the best defense is a powerful offense. Yes, we must stand firm on the Word. That means we stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before; we must continue to go back to the Scriptures and reapply what it says over and over. To just say “keep the tent down snug” is a formula for failure, because there is sin within.
While we recognize the seriousness and danger of popular movements that spread lies, when the word of God is proclaimed, God’s truth wins. I fully appreciate and support the need to protect ourselves, especially for those in dangerous situations, but now is not the time to be timid. Now is not the time to hide from the world. Now is the time to attack and break down those gates of Hades, perhaps more so than ever before. Now is not the time to be filled with fear; now is the time to be bold.
What this looks like for the church is not necessarily going to be a powerful team obliterating and pulverizing the other team, or a powerful army charging ahead. But the spiritual kingdom which is the church, will be preserved by knocking down the gates of the kingdom of Satan. That is what Jesus has promised to you.
He will do it by means of this confession. It is the confession of the church; it is your confession. You, believer, are called to be part of the means by which Christ makes true this promise.
Applying this picture which Christ has given may involve a number of things, some of them quite different in different situations. But there exist a few fundamental elements.
First, we must continue to have and to rely upon strong leadership in the offices of the church. We must apply the Word, study, and understand it, learning from those who have gone before us, but resting ultimately not on human traditions but on the Word.
Second, it means we are storming the gates out there. That the focus is not inward, just on me, what is in it for me, but on the conquering of that which is yet in the world.
Finally, and most importantly, trust. As the truth is taught in the catechism, based on the teaching of Christ, we can trust in Christ and his promise.
The gates around hell will not prevail; the church of Christ will.
Blog post content taken from a sermon series delivered by Dr. Maynard Koerner, President and Professor of Ministerial Studies at Heidelberg Theological Seminary.