“I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it”. I remember hearing these words as though I were hearing them for the first time in 2009 in our Church History lecturer at the University of the Free State. We began our study of the history of the church starting with the book of Acts, and saw how Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 came to pass at the end of the book. It was also encouraging to see how the gospel, from Acts, reached the nations, and how Christ was building His church.
What was also very encouraging was to see how the apostolic fathers, the early church fathers, and the faithful of the past defended the truth against those who masqueraded as teachers of the Word of God, and debunked their heresies. It was very clear from the reading of church history on first century Christianity that Satan has always been trying to thwart the gospel. But as a defeated foe his plans has always been frustrated, and will always be frustrated until the end of time.
It was not long into our study of church history that we started learning about the dark ages. The events leading up to the dark ages began with the first “Christian” emperor named Constantine. I put “Christian” in inverted commas because the authenticity of Constantine’s conversion remains to me in question, and it is still a subject of debate among many. Under him the persecution of the Christians subsided, and it became favourable for many people to identify with the Christians.
You can imagine the ugliness of such a system. Before, if you were a Christian you got persecuted for your faith, and not many became Christians. Under Constantine, you sort-of received favours from the government for being a Christian, so many people became “Christians”. Christianity became nominal and many people had a relationship with the church and not with Christ. Basically, Christianity was made the state religion of Rome.
You can imagine that those who would read their Bibles would soon come to a different understanding of how things should be done and who people should become members of the body of Christ, the church. So this nominal Christianity was a replacement of the true gospel, of salvation that comes by faith alone through the hearing of the Word of God preached, in Christ by His grace alone, to the glory of God alone.
Many things happened in between, but this eventually led to the persecution of true believers and the dark ages. During the dark ages a lack of knowledge of the Word of God pervaded. The Crusaders happened during this time. The Great Schism happened during this time. The Inquisition happened during this time. The Roman Catholic Church ruled during this time. This was a difficult time, and indeed Dark.
You read about what was happening during this time and you wonder where the true church of Christ was. While studying about this period in class, I remember saying to my lecturer (without knowing about the reformation, and how the protestants got us to where we are today) that there will never be light after the dark ages. I knew there was light in 2009 already because the Reformation had taken place, but it was as though I was reliving the Dark Ages and saw no hope of gospel light ever coming to surface.
It was at this point that our lecturer looked at us, and said to us, that even if we were to experience something like the dark ages again in the future, we must know one thing that is probably the most important promise given to the people of God in the Bible. All can fail, but there is one thing that is certain, and it is this: “Christ is building His church, and the gates of Hades will never prevail against it”. Using this text our lecturer started showing us evidences throughout church history of how Christ has always faithfully been building His church, and how He will continue to do so until the last elect person is saved.
So, from that day to today, whenever I am asked what my vision for the church is my reply has always been: I have no vision for the church, borrowing from Chris Wooley of Midrand Chapel, because the church is Christ’s and so the vision is His. He has a vision to build His church, and He does it His own way. Mine is to follow Him, and make His vision mine. This is why I will go to the Bible alone when trying to find out what to say and how to do things relating to the church. Not only that, but also on matters pertaining to life and godliness.
This is why, like my favourite Bible teacher, John MarArthur, I spend a lot of my time in studying the Bible, to be precise I sleep roughly 4 hours a day, because I think God’s Word deserves it. When I handle the Bible, before thinking of applying it, the only Person I have in mind is God and the only thing I have is the honour of His truth. Being a Bible teacher is a serious thing. To be a pastor literally means that you are watching over souls. One day I will have to give an account for the things I taught, believed, and practiced. I will also have to give an account for the things I did not teach, believe, and did not practice.
I always ask myself: at the end of my ministry, if the Lord wills to spare me many years and allow me to keep watch over His souls, will I be able to say with a clear conscience: “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God””? My wife will not be there to defend me. My children will not be there to defend me. My brothers and sisters in Christ will not be there to defend me. My favourite teacher will not be there to defend me. My books will not be there to defend me. My seminary lecturers will not be there to defend me.
I am the one who has been entrusted with the stewardship of being a faithful servant of Christ Jesus to make the Word of God fully known. My greatest confidence and encouragement is that He has not left me in the dark as to how to be faithful and pleasing to Him. For Him I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. What great comfort this is, because He alone get the glory in the end.
I blog then, for Christ and for Scripture.