Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matthew 16: 18).
The word "church" appears for the first time in the New Testament in this verse. How greatly encouraging it is to see Jesus' statement here that it is HE (and HE ALONE) Who will build His church.
We need to see this sovereignty and authority of Christ in the building of His church, first of all.
Acts 2, which describes the founding of the church on the day of Pentecost, underlines this sovereignty of the Lord by saying that it was "the Lord Who added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2: 47).
The first statement of Jesus about the church referred to the universal church. But when He spoke about "the church" a second time, He referred to the local church (in Matt. 18: 17). The disciplinary action mentioned there ( Matt.18:15-17) can be exercised only by a local church. Here again, we see the authority of the Lord being exercised as He stands in the midst of a local church where the members are in agreement (as seen in the next three verses - Matthew 18: 18- 20). A local church can be an expression of the Body of Christ only if Christ is allowed to be in its midst as its Head.
Sadhu Sundar Singh described the relation between the universal church and the local church thus: Water, that man needs for his sustenance, is found in rivers, lakes and wells. But when a man wants to quench his thirst, he needs a cup to drink this water from. This cup is a picture of the local church.
The universal church is spread across time and across nations, from the day of Pentecost onwards until our Lord's return. It includes all who have accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives. But God also wants each believer to be an active member of a local church where he can fulfil his function as a part of Christ's Body.
The Lord is the Head of the universal church and of the local church. The primary responsibility for building the church and for preserving it, is His (Eph.1: 23,4: 13- 15; Col.1:18). Thus we see, in the past five centuries, how the Lord, through various servants of His, has restored truths to the church, that were present in the early church, but which were lost later, through neglect.
If we study church history carefully from the 16th century onwards, we see God restoring various truths to the church, such as, justification by faith, believer's baptism, holiness, separation from the world, baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the early 20th century, God raised up the Pentecostal movement to emphasize the ministry of the Holy Spirit and His gifts.
With all these glorious truths now recovered, can we say that the recovery of all of God's truth has been completed? Many Christians would say "Yes".
But look at Hebrews 6:1 , 2 carefully: "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to perfection, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment".
In these two verses, we see ALL the truths that have been recovered and that are found in almost all evangelical and Pentecostal churches today: Repentance, faith, water baptism, Holy Spirit baptism, ('baptisms' being in the plural), healing (laying on of hands), our Lord's return, and the final judgment and giving of rewards. But Hebrews 6:1 ,2 states that all these truths are merely the foundation. What about the building itself? What truth do we need beyond all these, to build the superstructure of the building?
Let us look at an Old Testament example. When the Israelites returned from their Babylonian captivity, they laid only the foundation of the new temple initially. Then for 16 long years they did nothing more. They ignored the building of the temple itself. At that time, God raised up two prophets to speak to them - Haggai and Zechariah. Haggai was an older man, while Zechariah was younger. But both of them had the same message for the people of Israel: "How long will you ignore the building of the temple?" The people finally responded to the challenge of these prophetic messages and completed the building of the temple.
When evangelical and Pentecostal churches take pride in their "Statements of faith", they need to recognize that they have only laid the foundation. They are like the Israelites who laid the foundation, but did not complete the superstructure of the temple.
What is the superstructure? We see the answer in Hebrews 6:1 itself: "Let us press on to maturity (perfection)".
It is pressing on to maturity (and perfection) in Christ that is the superstructure of the church.
No-one can see the foundation of any building. It is the superstructure that captures the attention of people.
What do the people of the world see in us Christians? They are not interested in our foundational doctrines. They don't care whether we were baptized as infants or as adults; or whether we believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit takes place at the time of new birth or as a second experience. What the world looks at is our daily life.
When Mahatma Gandhi was once asked why he rejected Christianity, he replied, "I don't reject Christ. It's just that many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ."
The world around us is waiting to see Christlike Christians - and that is the superstructure of the temple!
The world is not interested in our detailed doctrinal statements about salvation, water baptism and Holy-Spirit baptism etc. They don't care about this foundation, because they cannot see it. But when our life becomes 'conformed to Christ's likeness', then the world will sit up and take notice. Conformity to Christ's likeness is God's goal for us as well. This is what He pre-destined us for (as we see in Rom. 8:29).
The apostle Paul was eager to build this superstructure in his own life, after he had laid the foundation. His sole desire till the end of his life was to "know Christ and to be conformed to His death and thus to press toward the goal - the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (which is, to be conformed to Christ's likeness)" (Phil.3: 10-14). Paul said that this was the ONE thing that he pursued after (verse 13).
The majority of today's believers however do not have this passionate desire that Paul had, to take up the cross and follow Jesus in order to be like Him. They do not realize that "the disciple must become like his teacher" (Matt.10: 25). They are not concerned about being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Instead, they spend their lives nitpicking on doctrinal matters and repeatedly laying the foundation, week after week! When will they begin to build the superstructure?
In a situation like this, what is desperately needed is the prophetic ministry of a Haggai and a Zechariah once again.
But who is willing to fulfil such a prophetic ministry today? There is a severe price to be paid to fulfil it. Look at what the prophet Zechariah had to suffer for the stand he took for God. He sought to enlighten God's people through his powerful prophetic ministry about the need to build the superstructure of the temple; and he did not seek the honour or approval of any man. But he met with a tragic end. The people were angry with him and murdered him (Matt.23: 35). Today, because believers fear the law of the land, they do not kill prophets like Zechariah. They only "strike at them with their tongues" (Jer.18: 18).
If we look at Christendom today, with an open and unprejudiced mind, we will discover that God has indeed met the need of the hour, by raising up the prophetic ministry of 'Zechariah', that is constantly challenging the people of God "to press on to perfection and to be conformed to the image of Christ".
God wants His people now to build the superstructure of His church, taking heed to this prophetic message, instead of repeatedly laying the foundation. Those who are determined to build the temple of the Lord today will find the enemy raging against them. But "when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will cause him to flee" (Isa.59:19 - Literal translation) .
We see the historical context of the prophetic ministry of Zechariah in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In those books we see a detailed description of the schemes of the enemy as he tried to hinder the construction of the temple and the wall of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah relates seven ways in which his enemies tried to hinder his work:
1. They were very displeased (Neh.2:10)
2. They mocked and despised the workers (2:19, 4:3)
3. They were furious and very angry (4:1)
4. They conspired to fight and to cause a disturbance (4:8)
5. They invited him to a meeting in order to harm him (6:2)
6. They tried to frighten him with threats (6:7,17,18)
7. They planted their agents inside his camp to try and frighten him (6:10-12).
But God's work went on and was completed. Finally even his enemies "recognized that the work had been accomplished with the help of God" (Neh.6:16).
In the days of the apostles too, the enemy opposed God's work in very similar ways. But then also, the work went forward "unhindered" (Acts 28: 31).
God's work in the church is being opposed today in similar ways. But it still continues on unhindered, because our Lord has said, "I WILL build My church". And no-one can stop Him from doing that.