And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18 NKJV
Question 63 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What are the special privileges of the visible church?” It gives the answer, “The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies, and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.” The last time we considered some of the ways in which the visible church is especially blessed by God. Today we examine more closely how Christ blesses His church.
The visible church alone enjoys Christ’s special care and protection, for as we saw last time she alone is His special possession and project in this world. Yet it is worth noticing that all creatures benefit immensely from the general care and protection of God. Those things that are often called “nature” or are attributed to “the earth” are really the natural way that God provides for everything that He has made. The Psalmist declares that God gives all the sea creatures their food in due season (Psa. 104:27). In fact in innumerable ways “the Lord preserves man and beast” (Psa. 36:6); “He gives food to all flesh” (Psa. 136:25); and “satisfies the desire of every living thing” (145:16). Jesus taught how God feeds the ravens and clothes the grass (Luke 12:24, 28); and that not a single sparrow can fall to the ground apart from His will (Matt. 10:29). Even among pagan peoples who know not the Lord, God sends them rain, fruitful seasons and fills their hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). In all these things God’s benevolent goodness gives life and pleasures to all.
So how exactly does the Lord Jesus Christ specially care for and protect His church? First, the church alone can come to God in acceptable prayer for the physical blessings mentioned above. While God sends rain on the just and the unjust, and gives food even to the animals, only the Christian can rightly come to God in prayer and ask for the necessities of life, for healing when we are sick, for food when we are hungry, for shelter and clothing when we lack it. Yet it seems to me it is especially in the spiritual blessings that our Lord cares for and protects His church. Only the church has the immense blessing of being governed by the perfect law of God, the law of life (Acts 7:38); the law of love (Rom. 13:10); the law of liberty (Jam. 1:25); the law of truth (Psa. 119:142). Only the church has the wisdom of God. Christians alone have the right understanding of the world, of life, of what it means to be human. And of course as we looked at previously, only the church has the gospel of salvation: the message and the outward means of how a human being can be saved from the wrath of God and have eternal life.
Furthermore, only the visible church has God’s promise that she will never be conquered or destroyed before Christ returns. Individual churches and denominations have become corrupt. Many others have embraced heretical doctrines and become apostate to the point that they are no longer churches but “synagogues of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). No Christian, no church can presume upon God’s grace any more than the visible nation of Israel could. God is not mocked. Christians and churches will reap what they sow. If a particular church or whole denominations reject the gospel, tolerate sin, or worship idols and if they do not repent after a time God will remove their lampstand (Rev. 2:5), meaning they will no longer be churches of Jesus Christ regardless of what they call themselves. Every church is called and commanded to be faithful, to be vigilant, to keep the faith. The watchmen are to do their work faithfully and soberly, the members are to listen only to the pure Word of God. But even if some or many fail and fall, as the Scripture at the head of this article declares, Christ’s promise ensures some will remain true (Matt. 16:18). By God’s power there will always be a faithful remnant. Jesus will keep His church until the end, no matter how long He delays, no matter what enemy we may face.