What Did Jesus Say About the Church?
Jesus said nothing about how we should organize our churches or church services. But he did explain his vision for his followers, and it is beautiful.
Jesus talks about “the church”.
Jesus made only two references to the church. Both are recorded in Matthew, and it is not clear what Jesus meant by “church”.
The first time Jesus talks about church is while he is talking to Peter:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18)
For hundreds of years, experts have held deep and learned discussions on what Jesus meant by these words and, so far, they have not reached agreement. In this article I would say only that, whatever the role to be played by Peter, it is Jesus who is going to build his church. I have examined what this verse tells us about church leadership in the article “What did Jesus say about church leadership?”
On the second occasion Jesus is speaking to the disciples and gives some very clear instructions about how we, his followers, are to behave if we have a problem with someone else in the church.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
This teaching is really important – it gives us practical instructions on how to avoid conflict in our churches and how to resolve conflict when it happens. The teaching is so simple, and it works. I’ve discussed it in more depth in the article “Do our church services meet the needs of those who are looking for God?”.
It is likely that Jesus saw his church as a family, or community, composed of people who were dedicated to serving God, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50; see also Luke 8:21). A better translation of the Greek word, which is translated “church” in our bibles, might be “community”. Jesus’ community is people who serve God. It is not one particular denomination. Members of Jesus’ community will probably be found in every denomination.
Jesus wants his followers to understand, and focus on, truths that are much deeper and more important than organizational structures. Jesus’ teachings focus on how his followers should behave towards God and each other. When we follow the teachings of Jesus we become part of a community of people who behave differently, very differently, to normal worldly behavior. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. He teaches us to love our neighbors the same way that we love ourselves. He says that it is by our love for each other that outsiders will know that we are his disciples. He teaches us to be humble. He teaches us not to judge each other.
Jesus teaches us to be a very different sort of community.
Jesus’ vision for his church
Jesus’ vision for his church is set out in his prayer in John 17. Just before his arrest, he prayed:
“I ask not only on behalf of these (that’s the disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word (that’s us), that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Let’s pray the same prayer as Jesus. Let’s pray that we will be one with each other and with God. Let’s pray that we will play our part in bringing on this oneness. And let’s live it. Let’s love each other, encourage each other, listen to each other, pray for each other and focus on the things we have in common – not the things that divide us.
If this article interested you, you might like to read “Christians leaving churches today may be Christianity’s best hope for tomorrow“.