The Church and the Churches: Building or Local Assembly

In this second article we want to consider the difference between the Church as a building in Matthew 16:18 and the local assembly viewed also as a building by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:9. The Lord Jesus makes a wonderful predictive declaration, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Notice the time and place of this announcement. The Lord’s words as to the building of the Church are spoken immediately after Peter’s confession of the Lord’s person as the Christ of God and the Son of the living God. They are followed by the Lord’s prediction of His suffering, death, and resurrection. This is important, because THE Church is founded on the Person of Christ and, apart from His death, the Church would have no existence at all. The formation of this new Ecclesia shows that it did not exist in our Lord’s day and it did not exist in Old Testament times, for the Lord Jesus says, “I will (not “am” or “have”) build My Church.” If it be asked why the Church is only found in Matthew and not in the other gospels, the answer must be that Matthew is the gospel of the King and the kingdom. The Church is not the kingdom, but it is in the kingdom and the Lord indicates that during His absence and rejection as the true king of Israel, this Church comprising the whole company of the redeemed in this present age will be formed. To be part of this Church is the greatest possible blessing and privilege.
The Lord Jesus made this announcement in Caesarea Philippi. This area in the time of Christ was the furthest limit of Palestine and nearest to Gentile territory. This may illustrate how this Church is a universal Church composed not merely of Jews, but for the most part Gentiles. Caesarea Philippi was situated in the N. E. of the land of Israel in a beautiful valley just under Mount Hermon about thirty miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The neighborhood has some interesting historical associations. For example it was not far from the city of Dan where Jeroboam in his rebellion built two golden calves and a false altar. What has become of Jeroboam’s work? His buildings have gone forever, but the Church will never pass away or be destroyed. It has a lasting relationship with Christ – the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Because the Lord lives His Church will live also and that eternally. This is a wonderful truth to rejoice in. Observe three significant differences between these buildings of Matthew 16 and 1 Corinthians 3:

A Difference as to the Builders Involved

In Matthew 16 we have a divine builder, the Lord Jesus. As a result, this Church is indestructible, but in 1 Corinthians 3 we have human responsibility in building; where this is the case mistakes can be made in building which may lead to its destruction. As we think of Christ the builder in Matthew 16, we cannot but recall Solomon, for he was not only known for his wisdom and wealth, but for his work in various building projects. Matthew is the gospel of Christ as the King. Already in his gospel he has recorded the claim of Christ, “A greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:44). Just as Solomon finished the building of his temple, so there is no doubt that the Lord Jesus will finish the building of His Church. Christ is the perfect builder and He will never make a mistake in this building. Paul describes himself as “a wise master builder” who has laid the foundation of the Corinthian church (assembly). This foundation is Christ (v 11). An assembly may have been started right as to the foundation, but it is possible later for the same assembly to go on building that which pleases the flesh. Wisdom from God is greatly needed in building spiritual material into the assembly so that its character and growth may be maintained. The divine builder never fails, but human builders may fail.

A Difference as to the Material Inbuilt

The material involved in the building of the Church His Body, is living stones, sinners saved by grace. No false professor will be found in it. In 1 Corinthians 3, the material used to build up or edify the assembly is teaching. It may either be gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble – weightless and worthless (v 12). Moreover the work of the builder will be tested by fire – an obvious reference to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Thus the work will have to be assessed. The motive, method, and manner of the work will all have to be examined. This shows what a serious matter it is when teaching the Word of God in a local assembly. Thank God the Lord Jesus will face no assessment of His work, for it is perfect!

A Difference as to the Time Indicated

The Building spoken of by the Lord Jesus is eternal. Satanic opposition will never bring this building down. It is a building that has no subsidence and no shrinkage. The building of the Church by the Lord is a lasting structure. It will ever be the object of Christ’s affection and will remain unique in its place of nearness to Christ. The local assembly is not eternal, for as far as its testimony is concerned it is local and as such bound by time limits. One has to sadly acknowledge for various reasons that it is true that “once an assembly not always an assembly.” We would love to think that many assemblies will exist until the Lord comes and the church age ends. The very thought that an assembly will not last forever should so impress us that we should put our lives into it for the glory of God.