Focal Passage: Matt. 16:13-18
The Lord Jesus asks what the rumor mill is spinning out about Him. The disciples report a list of past heroes. Then He presses them: What about you? Simon speaks: You are the anointed King from the line of David, the Son of God (c.f. Psalm 2:7).
The Lord Jesus announces that Simon is blessed — given a benefit from God Himself — because what he has just said about Jesus is not just some human observation, not just another opinion he or anyone else freely made up for themselves. Peter’s description of Jesus is a revelation from the Father Himself.
It is the absolute and life-giving truth. Jesus tells Simon that now he is Peter (“Rocky”) and on this Rock, Jesus will build His church (ekklesia , “assembly”). Who or what the “Rock” is pales in comparison to the importance of accepting who Jesus is and the truth that He builds the true church. To be a Christian is to make that same confession and let that King rule over you.
From the beginning, Baptists held to that conviction. That’s why they were willing to suffer persecution for what they believed. Christ was the King to whom they had to submit. They couldn’t surrender their obedience to the true, divine King to pressure from human kings, or majorities, or fads. They were free only to obey Christ. Indeed, others who tried to make them not obey Christ were abusing their authority. Hence was born the Baptist love of religious freedom. Political power is not to be used to impose our views on others.
But in the church — where Jesus is the King — members had to submit to the Word of God. Hence the wide-spread use of church covenants and “church discipline” in Baptist life, until the 20th century.
The purpose of the church (Christ’s assembly) was to make disciples (Mt. 28:17-19) who sought to bring their every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) until He puts all under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25).
But recently some have tried to tell us that Baptists have held to individualism and relativism, the modern idea of “soul freedom,” as if all are free to believe and live as they want and call themselves Christians. That is neither biblical nor Baptist. Jesus did not say that everyone’s opinion about Him was “a rock” — that He was John the Baptist, and Elijah, and Jeremiah, etc. — but only that the revealed truth is “the rock” and only He, the King, will build the church.