A City on a Hill
Dr. Jim Denison
The scene is one of the most dramatic in all of God’s word. The Galilean Carpenter stands on a massive outcropping of rock, 1150 feet above sea level, dwarfed by the gigantic cliff which towered above it.
Just a short distance away stands the brilliant white marble temple built to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, Caesarea.
Nearby is the cavern where the Greeks said their god Pan was born.
Scattered around the hilly countryside are fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite god where the Syrians worshipped.
And nearby is one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river to his own people, the Jews.
In the midst of such religious traditions and fervor, surrounded by every kind of god known to his culture, he asks his rag-tag band of peasant followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And one of them declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the Carpenter says, “On this rock I will build my church.” And the Church is born.
On this Heritage Weekend, we look back with pride and gratitude to our history and heritage. And even more important, we look forward to our future with faith. Jesus called us a “city on a hill, which cannot be hid.” Today I will tell you why.
See the rock on which we stand
First, let us consider together the heritage of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” Which rock? Peter? No, the church does not stand on a man. Peter’s faith? No, the church does not stand on the faith of a man. Himself. Jesus pointed to himself, for Scripture is clear: “no one can lay any other foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). His Church, the church, belongs to Jesus Christ. He founded us, twenty centuries ago at Caesarea Philippi. We are his.
The Church is the idea and passion of Jesus, and his answer to the problems of mankind. Jesus could have established any institution, begun any movement. He could have left behind any entity to carry on his work on earth. And he founded the church. For this singular purpose and future: “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18).
The Church exists to assault the gates of Hell. Not to withstand the assault of Hell upon us—to assault them. To take the gospel of God’s love into our fallen, dark, dying, decaying, immoral world. Not to wait for them to find us—to find them. To go to them with the incredible good news that God loves us.
On this Heritage Weekend, let us be very clear about our founding and our future. We exist by the creation of Jesus Christ, to take the incredible news of his love to our lost and dying world. This is the rock on which we stand, and the purpose for which we exist.
And this rock will stand forever. This foundation is sure.
The Golden Gate bridge was completed in 1937, at a cost of $35 million. It stands directly over the San Andreas Fault, and yet it can withstand an earthquake measuring 7.0 in the Richter Scale. Why?
Its two great cables contain enough strands of steel wire to circle the globe three times. The concrete in its piers would pave a five-foot wide sidewalk from New York to San Francisco. But the cables and the concrete are not the secret to the bridge’s great stability.
The secret is simple. Every part of the bridge, from the concrete roadway to the steel railings and cross beams, is related ultimately to two great towers and two anchor piers. The towers are deeply imbedded into the rock foundation beneath the sea. In other words, the entire bridge is totally committed to its foundation.
So should we be. Each of us. See the rock on which the Church stands today. No earthquakes, no storms can shake us so long as we are bolted to this foundation.
Celebrate the heritage we have been given
We’ve seen where the Church began. Now on this Heritage Weekend let’s draw the circle more tightly. Let’s remember where the Baptist church comes from, and this church. Then we’ll see why this heritage matters to your soul and mine.
Meet John Smyth. Smyth and his follower, Thomas Helwys, were members of the Church of England. But they became increasingly convicted about three facts: in Scripture, believers can come to God without a mediator or priest save Jesus; in Scripture, believers have a personal relationship with Christ, and are baptized only then; in Scripture, the state does not govern the church, or the church the state.
And so in the year 1606, Smyth and Helwys led a movement which broke with the established state Church of England, beginning the group known as Baptists today. To shorten a long story, by the year 1630 there were six Baptist congregations with 150 members. These Baptists experienced various periods of persecution and tolerance at the hands of the British monarchy.
As a result, in 1631 Roger Williams fled England in search of religious freedom. In March of 1936 he helped to found the first Baptist church in North America: First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island.
From such humble beginnings, Baptists have grown to become the largest Protestant denomination in the world. In time, Baptists moved across the frontier and became the largest Protestant movement in Texas, and in Dallas.
And so in early 1939, Dr. George W. Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and one of the greatest leaders Baptists have ever known, announced that “There ought to be a church” in the Park Cities. Park Cities Baptist Church was organized on Thursday evening, October 26, 1939, by the action of some three dozen persons gathered in the auditorium of the City Hall in University Park.