Tonight I want you to turn with me to the l6th chapter of Matthew's gospel and the 18th verse: "And I say also unto thee, That 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" [verses 18,19]. My text tonight is: "And upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Our Lord has a picture here for us which many times we misinterpret. Many people have an idea that in this passage Jesus likens the church to the Rock of Gibraltar. I used to think it, and I used to preach it that way. In other words, the church was a great defensive organization; and when the gates of hell or the forces of hell and evil attacked the church, that the church would win. Hell would not be able to prevail or sweep over the church. But that is not the picture. The picture is different.
Jesus has the picture here of the church on the offensive;and when the church attacks the gates of hell, they shall not prevail. In other words, there is a promise of a church that is aggressive, evangelistic, moving, filled with the Spirit of God. God gives us through Christ a promise that hell itself shall not prevail against such a church.
What do you think of when you think of the church? I heard about two men talking some time ago and one of the men said, "What do you believe?" He said, "Well, I believe what the church believes." "Well, what does the church believe?" "It believes what I believe." "Well, what do you both believe?" "Well, we both believe the same thing." That's about as vague as some of us are when we're asked what we believe.
Well, you believe what the church believes, but you don't know what the church believes. Many of us have joined the church like you would join a social club. Well, I'll go over here and put in my application in Myers Park[?]. I'll tell you, it's harder to get into one of these country clubs than it is to get into some churches.
Well, what do you think when you think of the church? The word "church" is an English translation of the Greek word "ecclesia" which means the called out ones, an assembly of people. This word was used throughout the Greek world as a designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in the city streets. It was a group of citizens who would be called out by the herald for the discussion of public business. In other words, citizens that were called out by a herald to discuss and to make decisions relative to the community. And the same word "church" is used in the Old Testament to designate Israel as the called-out people of God. The word "church" applied to the Christian society was first used by Christ here when He said, "Upon this rock I will build my church."
Now the Holy Spirit is a herald. The Holy Spirit goes throughout the world, and He calls out from the world those who are to make up the church. Now the Bible teaches that Christ Himself founded the church. He is the great cornerstone upon which the church is built. "Other foundation can no man lay than that [which] is laid, which is [Christ Jesus]" [1 Corinthians 3:11]. Christ not only founded the church, He built the church, and the church belongs to Him. And Christ has promised to live with and in all those who are members of the church.
Therefore, the church is not only an organization, but an organism which is completely unlike anything the world has ever known. That means Christ Himself living is with, and in, men and women who are members of His church. It is a living body, a living family, in which we have become partakers of God's own very nature. Christ is like the commanding general issuing orders to the many groups under His jurisdiction. His subordinates may interpret His orders in slightly different ways, but His orders still remain the basis of their combat.
The Bible teaches that Christ so loved the church that He gave Himself for it [see Ephesians 5:25]. And when Jesus Christ was hanging on that cross--with the nails in His hands, a crown of thorns on His brow--the shadow had passed between Him and God. And He said, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" [Matthew 27:46]. Those were moments when His thirst was so unbearable that He exclaimed, "I thirst" [John 19:28]. He was thinking of those called-out ones who were yet unborn, those whom God had foreknown and predestined unto salvation [see Ephesians 1:4,5].
Jesus had His mind on you. You say, "How could He know me two thousand years in the future?" He was God incarnate, and He had the capacity to know us all by name and had the hairs of our head numbered [see Matthew 10:30]. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He was thinking of you. He was thinking of you. He loved the members of the church so much that He was willing to die--but more than die. When we think of the death of Christ, we think of the death of a body, physical death. That was not the death of Christ. When Christ died, His soul cleansed us of sin. Because the Bible says God "hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" [Isaiah 53:6].
The Bible says He was made "to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Christ was made sin for the first time. That was the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross. And when He was suffering and bearing your sins, He was doing it because He loved you. He loved the church collectively, and He loved the church individually.
Now the Bible uses three figures to describe the church. It is called the body of Christ. "He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" [Colossians 1:18]. The Bible teaches that Christ is the head. It is just like a physical body. We may be a little toe or a toenail or a finger or a nose or an ear. But you are a member of the body. You might be the most insignificant. You might be the skin on the bottom of the foot. That is important. Suppose you did not have any skin on the bottom of the foot. Suppose you did not have a fingernail. Suppose you did not have a nose. Suppose you did not have an ear. All of us who are in Christ are members of His body, and that body would be incomplete without you.
You look fine; you've got a good body, good eyesight, good health, feeling fine tonight. But the Bible says you are spiritually dead. Because, you see, down inside of you is a soul. You have a body with eyes, ears, nose, and feet. But down inside of you is a soul, a spirit--your memory, your ego, your personality, that part of you the Bible calls soul. Now the Bible teaches that your soul, your spirit, is dead if separated from God by sin. Just like I am separating the leaf from this plant. It is separated. There is no life going into the leaf at the moment. This leaf left right here will soon wither and die. God is the source of all life. And when you are cut off from God, you are separated from God--alive physically, but dead spiritually.
Now the moment you come to Christ, the moment you repent of sin, the moment you receive Him, the moment you have this encounter with the living Christ, whatever time in your life it may be--it may be at confirmation, it may be at baptism, it may be the moment you enter the church, it may be when you come to a meeting like this, it may be in the quietness of your room, it may be walking down the road--whenever you come to this point where contact is made with the living God by faith, the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit of God comes in and life flows through you again. That is spiritual life. So the leaf that was dying and dead is grafted back into the plant, and God's life comes in and your soul lives. Now when your soul lives, you are attached to the body.
"I am the vine," said Jesus, "ye are the branches" [John 15:5]. His life is flowing through us and in us. That is the glory and the beauty and the thrill and the joy of the church. We are the body of Christ.
Now the Bible says we are also the bride of Christ. "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom [Matthew 25:1]. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him [verse 6]." This indicates that there will be some church members who thought they were part of the bride of Christ, but are not [see verses 1-13].
Now the bride is to love the husband. To be a true bride, you should love the husband. Christ is likened to the husband. You and I are the bride. We are to love Christ supremely. When you get married, if you are a true bride your mind is not thinking about other fellows. You are not wishing you were married to somebody else, if you are a true bride and in love with your husband. When you are with Jesus Christ, He is the bridegroom. We are the bride. Our minds and our hearts are supremely on Him.
But the Bible says there will be some in that day of judgment who thought they were members of the bride. They thought they were ready to go. But when the bridegroom comes, they have no oil in their lamps and they are left out. Oh, the terrible thing of it. They were ready partially.
There are thousands of people whom Jesus indicated in the Sermon on the Mount that will come that day and say, "Lord, Lord, I have cast out demons in your name. I did many great things in your name." Jesus will say, "Depart from me for I never knew you." [See Matthew 7:22,23.]
There will be some who will be waiting for the bridegroom, but they will not be taken with Him. They were not saved because they were not ready. There was no oil in their lamps. And oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did not live with them. They had never become partakers of God's nature although they thought they had.
Then the Bible teaches that the church is likened to the family of God. You were born the first time in the physical world. There was a book that came out some years ago, a very famous book entitled Twice-Born Men [Twice-Born men : true conversion records of 100 well-known men in all ranks of life, written by Hy Pickering and published ca. 1935]. The Bible teaches you have to be born twice [see John 3:3-7].
You have been born physically, of course. All of us know that. The Bible teaches, however, that even more important is it to be born spiritually. That is the reason Jesus spoke such words to a religious man who already thought he was all right. Jesus said, "Nicodemus, you have to be born again. Nicodemus, you must have a second birth" [see John 3:3]. When you are born the second time, you are born into the family of God. And when you are born into the family of God, you have a unique relationship with your brothers and sisters. Who are your brothers and sisters? They are the people in Africa, Asia, Europe, all ranks and nationalities and races, represented as brothers and sisters--representatives of the living organism which is the church. Those who have been born of the Spirit, those who have repented of sin, those who have been converted, those who have received Christ, those who have committed themselves to Christ are members of the body of Christ. I could spend half an hour on each one of these points.
Now there are special titles given to the members of the church--"children of God." "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then . . . heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" [Romans 8:16,17]. In other words, we are heirs. Think of the hope we have for the future. God owns the universe. You look at those dazzling stars out there. Some of them may be made of pure gold, some of them are probably of silver, some are made of diamonds. And it all belongs to Christ. We are joint heirs with Christ.
You know the thrill and the majesty and the glory of it all is this: that God is conditioning us, making us, and molding us into the image of His Son. And here is the reason why: that the whole universe--the angels and principalities and powers--might see the grace and the mercy and the love of God; how God could reach down to the lowest depths to people who deserved hell, and pick them up and make them joint heirs with Him. Heirs of God! Heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ! What a high calling, what a privilege! What difference does it make if we suffer a little bit down here? For the suffering of the present hour is not to be compared with the glory that is ours up yonder [see Romans 8:18].
Well, let us see something about the purpose of the church. When someone asked the deaf and dumb man why he went to church, he wrote on a little pad, he said, "To show which side I'm on." We don't go to church because it's fashionable or because there's prestige or because there is beauty. We go to worship, to witness, and to serve.
Now there are some of you, I grant you, who go to the church just because you think it will help your business. You go because it is the social thing to do. It is like a social club to you. Or you go because it is the traditional thing to do. Your family has always gone and so you go to church. But your heart is not in it; your soul is not in it. You are not really giving the church everything you have, and you are going for the wrong motive. And you may be a part of that great host of people like Judas. Judas was a member of Jesus' little church. There were only twelve in Jesus' little church and Judas was elected treasurer, and yet he was not saved. He was lost when the chips were down. He was in it for what he could get out of it. And there are some of you who are in the church for what you can get out of it.
This past summer Dean Gordon, Dean of the chapel at Princeton University, was in my home and we had long talks about this very part. "Billy," he said, "I am convinced from my study of the Bible and from my observation of churches all over the world that there is a church within the church." By the way, those of you who saw the picture, "The Bridge Over The River Kwai," he was one of those officers who actually was there, one of those British officers about which this picture was made.
Within every church are members of the real church, but there are many on the fringes of the church. When the bridegroom comes, they will never go with Him. There's no oil in their lamps.
Now, first, the church is to glorify God by its worship. We go to church for what reason? To hear a sermon? No! What reason do you go to church? Why do you go to church? If you go to church for any other reason than to worship God, your motive is wrong. It doesn't make any difference who preaches. It may be a bad sermon, and yet I can sit and worship God. It may be a cathedral, it might be a little mission, it may be out in a jungle hut. But if that is where God's church is, two or three gathered in His name, then I can worship God. So the motive for going is primarily to worship God.
In Washington, at the National Presbyterian Church, a woman called up on a Sunday morning and asked the sexton, "Do you expect President Eisenhower to be in church today?" The sexton replied, "I cannot promise. However, God will be there, and that should be incentive enough for anyone to come." Can you imagine that? "Well, I will come to church if the President is going to be there." Surely there is Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords; and we have the privilege of coming and adoring Him and worshiping Him. I want to tell you I see Jesus every Sunday morning when I worship in church more than I see the President when I go to the White House to see him.
A lot of people get what I call "Sunday-itis" on Sunday mornings. Do you know what Sunday-itis is? It attacks the victim shortly after breakfast on Sunday morning. It is accompanied by a feeling of weakness and lethargy. Sometimes the victim has a slight headache which is aggravated by the ringing of the church bells in the community. But the disease is of short duration, usually disappearing about noon when the victim is able to eat a full dinner and then he can play golf in the afternoon. But the symptom usually appears again about 7:30 Sunday evening, and then disappears until the next Sunday morning. There are a lot of us who have Sunday-itis.
We don't go to church. Why? Because our motive is too low. If you are going to church to worship Christ the living God, if you are going to worship God, to meet God, then nothing will keep you from church on Sunday morning. Nothing will keep you from the hour of worship. If they are having holy communion at the service, nothing will keep you from that hour when you meet the Savior. We go to worship Him, and most certainly we go to hear the Word of God taught and preached.
Now I'm glad to say that in our churches today there is a great return to biblical preaching. There was a time about twenty years ago when preachers were beginning to preach philosophy and psychology and other things, and they rarely really got down into the Scripture. You could go and hear a sermon, and if you heard the name of Christ once you were fortunate. There is a great return today to biblical preaching, more emphasis on the Scriptures; and that's the way it ought to be. I hear some people say that we don't need, that we shouldn't use the old jargon--redemption, conversion, justification, the blood, and all of the scriptural terminology. They say that people don't understand it today. I want to tell you they understand that far better than they do the psychological terminology that is being used by some.
I preach to quite a number of people, and I have found the more I use the old terminology the more they come to hear it. And I have found it true all over the world. I've preached in the jungles of India, and I've preached on the coasts of Africa. I've preached along the coast of Asia, and I've preached to people in the jungles. And I've preached the same message, and I've seen the Spirit of God use His Word.
And so I would say to every Sunday school teacher and to every preacher, "Preach the Word and teach it with authority. Preach it and teach it with urgency. Preach and teach it with simplicity. Make it easy to understand, but keep to the Scripture." God will bless you and God will use you.
Thirdly, the church is for fellowship. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst" [Matthew 18:20]. Psychiatrists say that the herd instinct is one of the greatest in man. Without fellowship with each other, Christians could not possibly grow great in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We should go in for fellowship--fellowship with Christ and fellowship with each other. It's important. That's the way we grow, by fellowship with each other.
We grow by reading the Scripture, and it delivers us from sin. Many of you who have just come to Christ are spiritual babies. You must grow, and you cannot grow without feeding on the Scripture. You cannot grow without prayer. You cannot grow without Christian fellowship which you can only get in the church.
Then, fourthly, the church is for the strengthening of our faith. One stone standing alone has little strength; but when stones are put together into a building, they can strengthen each other. You take some live coals that have been burning and separate them and they will die. Put them together and they will stay alive and warm and keep burning for a long time. You get a Christian isolated and he is done for. Get him together with other Christians in the church and he grows.
The church is also to be an influence for good in the community. The church is to lead in civic righteousness. The church supports orphanages and hospitals and homes for the aged. The church is interested in humanitarianism, social service, and educational works. The church must speak out on the social issues of our time. There are many people who say that that is none of the church's business, but it is the church's business. It is the church's business to be a light in the community, to be a leavening influence in any community, to be an influence for good and to lead in civic righteousness. If the church doesn't do it, we'll turn it over to the devil.
And I want to tell you, you've got some problems in this city. You have got some crime problems and moral problems in this city that are as great as any city in the nation. Your papers are filled every day with murders and robberies and all sorts of things. The policeman just told me tonight, as I came in, that today over here at one of the high schools one of the students pulled out a .32 revolver and threatened another student. You hear about that in New York and in Detroit, but it is coming to Charlotte. Because you are growing up; you are no longer a little community. You are a big city, and the church must speak out.
And a newspaper man asked tonight, "Why is it that when we have one church for every four hundred people in Charlotte, we have such a high crime rate?" I wonder if it isn't time for the church to be the church and to take its stand. Now, listen, there are enough church people in town to put in every officer in your city. There are enough church people here, if united, to elect your congressman, could elect anybody you want; and every one of them could be wonderful Christians. Maybe they all are; I am not saying they are not. I am just saying the church has power, that it works together for civic righteousness.
Then the church is also a clearinghouse. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse" [Malachi 3:10]. I wonder if you give your tithes to the Lord, to the church. A tithe is one-tenth of your income. One-tenth of your net income belongs to the Lord. The New Testament teaching is to give as God has prospered you [see 1 Corinthians 16:2]. But certainly the Old Testament rule of a tithe is at least a criterion that we are to go by, and I believe we are to give more than ten percent. That belongs to God; and if you do not give it, you are robbing God.
There are many of you who are wondering why your prayers are not answered. It is because you are not giving to the Lord. You are not giving to the church that which belongs to the Lord. You are selfish, you are using it for yourself. And covetousness, the Bible says, is idolatry [see Colossians 3:5].
You should give systematically. Many of us give when the plate is passed. We say, "Well, I don't have any change." Maybe you have a pocketful of bills, but you don't have any change. We think of the collection as "change."
Then the church is for witnessing, service, evangelism, and mission. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel" [Mark 16:15]. What does that mean? That means going to all the geographic world. That means to go to India. That means to go to China. That means to go to Africa. That means to go to South America. That means to go to the jungles where the Indians have never yet heard. But it also means another type of world. It is the biggest one. It is the first one.
There are some of you here that are football players. Some of you have been converted right here--some of the leading football players in this city. Some of the leading businessmen in this city have walked down this aisle. Men whose names are household words in the city of Charlotte have come and sat here to receive Christ. Some of the social leaders of this city have come here. All right, your mission field is back there facing your business world. Your mission field is back in your business, back in your social world, to witness for Christ. Let them know that you have changed, that you are living a new life, that you are witnessing for Christ.
Now, listen, some of the old gang are going to look at you. They are going to watch you and see how you live. If you compromise, your witness is done for. You don't ever win anybody for Christ by doing the things they do, to try and get next to them. You win them by taking your stand for Christ and becoming a witness for Christ.
This also means going all through the world. I believe that we need today to hear once again the missionary challenge. Did you know the world could be won for Christ if every one of us in this auditorium could become filled with the Holy Spirit? Because there are many times more of us here than there were on the day of Pentecost. There were 120 that day who believed and prayed and believed God, and they turned the world upside down in one generation. [See Acts 1:15.] This crowd here could turn North Carolina upside down. Some of you young people, there is no greater challenge or excitement or adventure today than out on the mission field of the world, out on the frontiers winning others to Jesus Christ. Why don't you give your life to be a missionary?
I was at the board meeting of my own denomination the other day, the foreign mission board. I saw twenty-six handsome young couples stand before us, most of them with high educations and one or two of them with Ph.D. degrees. They stood there and said, "We have been called by God to go to Japan or to Africa or the jungles of South America." There they stood--some of them beautiful and handsome, some of them sports figures--on their way to give the Gospel. My eyes filled with tears and I said, "O, God, I wish I had my young life over again. I think that's where I'd go."
All right, you admire Paladin on "Have Gun, Will Travel." You say, "Boy, I would like to have lived back in those days. I would have cleaned up Dodge City." All right, there are other frontiers. There are frontiers in the world. There is a frontier in Charlotte. Let's go in and clean up Charlotte. We can do it as a church. We can give the Gospel to lost men who need Christ. Because you will never make a better world until you make better men, and you can't make better men except through coming to Jesus Christ. That's the reason I concentrate on the individualistic Gospel, because I don't think you can clean up a community until you have got men's hearts right.
There are many things I wanted to say. I am going to skip the rest of them and just say this. How do you get into the church? In order to get into the true bride of Christ and the body of Christ, you must be born again. I am going to ask you tonight: Have you been born again? Have you received Christ? Has your sin been cleansed? Has He washed away your sins? Have you ever come to the cross? Have you ever renounced your sins and said, "I want to give myself to Him"? You say, "Well, Billy, I am not sure. I am not certain. I am a member of the church but I am not sure. I think I am like those five virgins who weren't ready. I am not sure there is oil in my lamp. I am not sure that I have really been converted. I am not sure that I am really cleansed. I am not sure about this, and I would like to make sure." I am going to ask you to come tonight and make sure.
There are others of you, you know you are not ready. Nobody has to say to you. You know it. You are cut off from God. You know it. I am going to ask you to come. You may be a Sunday school teacher. You may be a deacon in the church. You need an experience with Christ, and you don't want this crusade to close until you have come and given yourself to Him.