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The Purpose of the Church

By William R. Cunningham
September 2, 2001

 

INTRODUCTION

What do you think of when you consider church?  What do you suppose other people think of church especially the non-Christians?  Most of us think of church in terms of the organizational unit that we grew up in as a kid whether Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist or whatever.  Church, in our minds, is the place that we go on Sundays to worship God and fellowship with each other.  Church is the place that has a plethora of activity, functions, and services.  Church is an organization or so we think.  Many even say that church should be run like a business—an organization.

However, do you really know what church is all about?  Do you really know the purpose of the church, which is the reason that it exists?  What if you were asked by a stranger to explain the purpose of the church?  Where would your mind wander?  Is your perception of church the organization or the body of Christ?  Do you think of church in terms of the Kingdom of God or the ways of men and women?

Well this lesson will hopefully change your thinking about church—the true Church of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully you will reconsider your perception and the concept that you have of Church and realize that church is much more than the place you go on Sundays.  Overall, I hope that you will be liberated by the bondage that has been placed on you by the place you call church so that you can operate in the true Church of Jesus Christ and fulfill your purpose and contribute to the fulfillment of the purpose for the church.

THE CHURCH DEFINED

The first thing I would like to do is to define what is meant by church and then to establish the church definition that I will use in this study.  As I said previously, many think of church as the place or building that we go to on Sundays for services.  However, what does the Bible reveal about church?  How does the Bible identify church?

The word church only appears twice in the four Gospels (see Matthew 16:18, 18:17).

(Mat 16:18 NIV)  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

 (Mat 18:17 NIV)  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which means a consecrated gathering (calling out), a congregation.  In our case it refers to the gathering of Christians.  There are however a few perceptions of church and they include the following.

  1. The building that Christians go to worship
  2. The local assembly of believers
  3. The religious institution called the Christian Church
  4. The redeemed of all times (The complete Body of Christ)

The definition of the word church denotes a gathering of believers or a congregation.  We will see that number four above is the true church.  Church is really the Body of Christ and the place that you go on Sunday is only a meeting place for the church even though you call that place church.  We have replaced the true church with the organizational entity, which I will explain shortly.

THE TWO ASPECTS OF CHURCH

The church as we know it is composed of two components: the charismatic and the institutional (administration).  The charismatic (comes from a Greek word that means gift) is the foundation of the true church (the body of Christ).  It identifies the church organism, which is a living body, the spiritual component of the church.  The charismatic, not to be confused with the charismatic movement, is the life of the church, the body of Christ.  This is the most significant part of the church. Let’s briefly discuss these two aspects of the total concept of church.

The Spiritual Component of Church

The spiritual component of the concept of church identifies the body of Christ.  The body of Christ can itself be seen in two different forms.

  1. The local assembly of believers (whether in a building, home, or outdoors)
  2. The redeemed of all time (Ephesians 1:22, 3:10-21, 5:23-32)

This component denotes the true church, which is based on faith in Jesus Christ and that faith is what binds us together as one fellowship regardless of what local church you attend or denomination that you are a part of.  The spiritual component of the concept of church centers on ministry.  This aspect of church included such ministries as pastors, apostles, prophets, evangelists, etc.  See Ephesians 4:11-12.  Note that a pastor is actually a ministry and not necessarily or purposed to be a congregational leader.

I must point out here that many have misconceptions about the church.  We normally think of church in terms of the organization and not the organism or the living Body of Christ.  We define church in terms of the organizational structures that men and women have created to govern the various local congregations.  This is very unfortunate since we eventually lose the true meaning and concept of the church.  Now let’s discuss the administrative aspect of church.

The Administrative Component of Church

The administrative component is simply that part of the church that evolved out of a need for organization.  There arose a need for more organization, as more people became believers.  This organization was designed to help the church accomplish its work as commissioned by Christ.  The administrative component of church centers on organization for the purpose of carrying out the church’s purpose or commission and in no way defines church.  The church administration included such offices as deacon, bishop, and elder.

The administrative component is also where church government resides.  There is no specific method or structure for church (local assembly) government in the New Testament, which is why there are so many different methods of church government.  However, it should be pointed out that the overall purpose of church government should be to help the church carry out its purpose and commission.  There are six forms of church government that I would like to briefly mention for your information.

  1. Congregational—the congregation manages the affairs of the local church.  The congregation makes the decisions as a whole.  There is no one leader apart from Christ.
  2. Presbyterian—Christ is the head of the church.  The leaders’ powers are typically ministerial.  They cannot create rules for the church apart from the authority of the Word of God.
  3. Episcopalian—The Bishop is the head of the local churches and he or she makes the decisions for all churches under this form of government
  4. Roman Catholic—The church is a visible manifestation of Christ.  The leadership forms a hierarchy where the Pope is the head and decision maker for all Roman Catholic churches.
  5. National Church Government—Church leadership rests in the state and the state rules the affairs of the local churches.
  6. Quakers—No form of church ruler or official is observed nor most any form of physical organization.

It is important to understand here is that the church organization is a separate entity of the true church body, the Body of Christ.  The church organization exists only to provide a means for structure, organization, and administration so that the church can carry out its commission effectively.  People would tend to do their own thing unless there was some type of organization or structure in place by which everyone could operate.  The organization or structure of a particular church is not the standard way that all local assemblies should operate.  It is merely a method that a particular church body has decided to implement in order to maintain organization so that it might carry out its calling.

Again, the problem is that people think of church in terms of this organizational or administrative unit.  Church is seen as the organization structure along with the doctrines and dogma associated with a particular denomination.  That is not true church!  Church is not the organization.  The organization exists for the benefit of the true church so that it can carry out its purpose, which I will discuss shortly.

THE CHURCH'S COMMISSION

I think it is important to discuss the commission of the church as given by Jesus Christ and as recorded by three of the Gospel writers.  I should point out here that we will see that the commission of the church and the purpose of the church are different things.  The great commission of the church can be found in Matthew 28:18-20.  However, we can see a premonition, precursor, or prophecy of this commission in Genesis 12:3.

Genesis 12:3 (NKJV) 3I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

We should note that Jesus is a direct descendant of Abraham and through Jesus; all people of the world are blessed (See Matthew 11-17).  These blessed people (born again people) are collectively the church.

Now the great commission as recorded by Matthew.

(Mat 28:18-20 NIV)  Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. {19} Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The Gospel of Mark records Jesus’ commission as follows.

Mark 16:15 (NKJV) 15And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

John gives us another perspective of the commission to the disciples in Luke 20.

John 20:21 (NKJV) So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

The commission can be dissected as follows.

1.      The disciples were sent out to preach the Gospel

2.      Make disciples (learners, followers of Christ) of all nations

3.      Baptizing (those who believed in Jesus Christ were expected to be baptized)

4.      Teaching the disciples to obey what Jesus commanded the original disciples (the eleven)

The commission of Jesus Christ can be described as going out to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that all people would be saved.

The word Gospel denotes the story about Jesus Christ.  It was the story of how Jesus was sent by God via the Virgin Mary, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father so that we would have life and therefore receive salvation (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-3).  The word Gospel does not merely mean good news.  The Gospel was good news because of the nature of the story.  Salvation is indeed good news.

The commission of the church is therefore what Jesus told the church to do.  It does not identify the purpose of the church.  The purpose of the church is not merely to preach the Gospel so that others would be saved.  You have to ask yourself the reason for being saved and then you will find the purpose of the church, the body of Christ.

THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH

The purpose of the church is usually stated as preaching the Gospel to the world so that people might be saved.  However, this is not the exact purpose of the church.  Remember that the church is really the body of Christ, the redeemed.  We have to ask ourselves, why did God provide salvation.  What was God’s purpose for the body of Christ?  Now we are getting closer to the purpose.

Overall, we can reason that God loved us so He wanted to save us from the doom that we created through sin.  He endeavored to rescue us from destruction.  The purpose of the body of Christ was to fulfill the love of God and the plan of God to rescue us from death.  The purpose of the church can ultimately be stated as, “the fulfillment of the plan of God in regards to rescuing us from death and destruction.”  We are to fulfill the original plan of God for humans by being reconciled with God so that we would spend an eternity with Him.  The purpose of the church is therefore to fulfill the will of God for humans, which can be seen by studying the creation in Genesis.

I think that this is important to understand and distinguish from the commission.  The commission is the activities or work of the church.  We are to spread the word or Gospel of Christ so that others might be saved.  But what is the purpose of that salvation.  The Bible gives us enough information so that we can negate the idea that God wanted to save us “just because.”  However, the body of Christ is to fulfill the will of God in regards to human-God relations.  Consider the following scripture very carefully.


Genesis 1:26-27 (NKJV) Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

In these scriptures and a further study of the creation as it pertains to humans, we can see the purpose of the church.  How so?  First we see God created humans to be in his likeliness and image.  He created humans to have dominion over what he created for us.  God created creatures that would freely receive His love and care and also freely love Him back.  Of course there were risks here because a free-willed creature can also deny its maker, which man (humans) eventually did.

Man (the word Adam, which implies human) became incapable of fulfilling the purpose of God.  Sin separated us from God so that there could be no communion.  However, God did not give up on His creation.  He began the process of reconciling humans to himself, which would effectively restore us to the state we were in before we sinned.

Now Jesus comes to reconcile us to God.  Consider the following scripture.

2 Corinthians 5:16 through 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

We cannot fulfill the purpose that God had for humans if we are separated from Him by sin.  The unredeemed (those that remain apart from God because of the sin nature) will be eternally separated from God and never able to fulfill the purpose that they were designed for.  However, those that are born again or redeemed by the blood of Christ can fulfill the purpose that God had for us since we are not restored and reconciled with God.  We are the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. 

What is righteousness?  Righteousness is the ability to stand before God as if you never sinned.  It means to be in right standing with God.  We can only be in right standing with God if we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ.  So you see, the purpose of the Body of Christ, i.e., the church is to allow us to fulfill the purpose that God had for us in the first place.  Only the redeemed can do this since we would have been reconciled to God.

The purpose of the church is to provide a platform, if you will, for us to fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for his creation called humans.  Let me explain this in a little more detail by discussing the topic of foreknowledge.

Romans 8:28-30 (NCV) We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan. God knew them before he made the world, and he decided that they would be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers. God planned for them to be like his Son; and those he planned to be like his Son, he also called; and those he called, he also made right with him; and those he made right, he also glorified.

First consider the “whom” and those that are called.  These are identified as those that love God and this implies, based on the context of Paul’s writing here, Christians.  This simply tells us that God has already entered into a relationship with those who would believe, i.e., Christians.  It does not imply that God chose who those would be.  For example, I may say that I will be a friend with anyone in the “Goodtime” organization.  Whoever is part of the Goodtime organization is a separate concern.  Whoever is part of that organization, now and in the future, I have already determined that I would be their friend.  The same principle applies to predestination and foreknowledge.  God has already determined, before time began, that he would have a personal relationship with all of His people, namely Christians (those that love Him, i.e., the called), and these people will be in the image of His son Jesus Christ.

Predestination is not pre-ordination.  God did not pre-ordain anyone to die.  The Bible declares that God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  We have the choice to accept salvation or reject it (John 3:19).  If we accept salvation then we are numbered with those who are called by God since the called are simply the believers.

There is no scripture evidence that suggests that Jesus’ actions were limited to those whom God pre-determined would be saved (would believe).  Jesus died for all and we have the responsibility to believe (John 3:16).  Who are numbered with the called is determined by who becomes born again.  God did not pick and choose who would be saved.  That, as the Bible indicates, is up to each individual.

The only barrier between the elected ones and the non-elect is unbelief (John 3:19).  Jesus didn’t come to save some (those that were pre-ordained for salvation) and condemn others.  Non-believers are condemned by their unbelief.  Jesus came that all might have eternal life.  Those that have eternal life received it by their own choice.

Foreknowledge

We tend to think of foreknowledge as to have information before a certain time.  This is not the complete meaning of the term as it applies to the doctrine of election.  God’s foreknowledge simply means that he has already established a relationship with those who are Christians.  To a Jewish person at this time, to know means to enter into personal relationship with.  Therefore, to foreknow means to predetermine to enter into relationship with.  So God has decided and has established a relationship with all Christians from the beginning of time—whoever those Christians happen to be.  See Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:1-2, and Romans 11:2.  For example see Psalm 139:1-4.

It is very important to realize that God’s election is not based on His foreknowledge.  That is, God didn’t choose one person over another because he knew what they would do.  Nor did he choose who would be saved and who would not.  No.  He has entered into a relationship with the Body of Christ from the beginning.  What or who comprises that body is determined by those that belief in Jesus Christ.

The Purpose Of Church Revisited

Now consider the church as the elect of God or rather the predestined ones.  The church is therefore those who comprise the body of Christ.  From the above discussion and for illustration purposes, we could think of the Body of Christ as a container.  That container will be forever with God.  God has established that container to be reconciled to Him.  His has predestined that those who are in that container would be reconciled to him.  He has also already established His relationship with the container.  Now if we think of the container as Jesus Christ then those who are in Christ (in the container) already have a relationship with God for eternity.  That container can be thought of as the church, the redeemed of the Lord, those that love God.

So now we can focus our attention on the container, which has nothing to do with a local church or denomination or whatever religious organization that you are a part of.  What is the purpose of the Body of Christ, the true church?  The purpose of the church is to provide a platform (container in our illustration), as I said already, for having the intended relationship with God and all things pertaining to that as indicated by our purpose in the creation story.

I could summarize the purpose of the church and its relationship to the work of the church as follows.

  1. The purpose of the Body of Christ (the redeemed, saved, reconciled to God) is to fulfill the Will of God in regards to our relationship with Him and his own ultimate purpose for humans.
  2. The work of the church or commission is to preach the Gospel to others so that they would also become followers and do the same, thus causing others to be reconciled to God (saved or born again).  See 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

THE MINISTRIES OF THE CHURCH

Hopefully you have a better understanding of the purpose of the church.  Now in the church there is much work to do and this is where the various ministries come into play.  Let’s briefly discuss the ministries of the church since they are related to the purpose via the commission.  Consider the following scripture.

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NKJV) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

And,

1 Corinthians 12:27 through 1 Corinthians 12:31 (NKJV) Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

We all have a particular ministry based on the way God made us.  We collectively form the body of Christ and fulfill the commission of the church.  We are all members of one body, each carrying out his or her own purpose as the church fulfills its purpose according to the will of God.

The various ministries of the church are to effect the perpetuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to edify those that are saved.  The ministries of the church are designed for the work of the church and the health of the church.  Ministry does not identify the purpose of the church but endeavors to get more people inside of the container (from the previous illustration).

CONCLUSION

We saw that church has many different interpretations.  It can mean a particular place as in a local church.  It could mean the collective body of Christ, and it could mean the assembly of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Overall, however, we saw that the church is really the Body of Christ.  Within that body we have certain activities and practices.

We also saw that the church organization exists to provide administrative aspects to the church as a whole (the assembly of Christians).  This introduces the component of organization so that the church can better carry out its commission.  This organization includes various offices within that organization and it has produces various forms of church governments.

The commission of the church from Jesus Christ is to preach the Gospel to all people so that the world might be saved.  This should not be the confused with the ultimate purpose of the church.  If the purpose of the church was merely to preach the Gospel then there would be no need of a mention of believers at the second coming of Christ since the purpose of the church would have been complete.  However, the body of Christ lives on and that implies a greater purpose according to the will of God for the universal church (the redeemed of all times).

The purpose of the body of Christ, the church, is to fulfill the will of God pertaining to our relation with Him.  He wants us to be reconciled and spend eternity with him as His creation and His children.  The body of Christ fulfills that purpose of God.

The purpose of the church can be seen as pleasing God by fulfilling His will for us, His redeemed children.  The commission of the church is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that more might experience the joy of the Lord.  Amen.

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