What is the Purpose of the Church? Part 1

Depending on who you stop on the street, you will most likely receive wildly varying opinions to the question “What is the purpose of the Church?”

Is the Church meant to do good? Feed the hungry? Care for the orphan and the widow? Is the Church’s purpose to be a light to a dark world or to edify the saints? Does it have to be one or the other?

As my husband and I are venturing into the new world of house church, we have been “talking church” and this question inevitably came up. We have also met some resistance from other Christians (big surprise) who question the practice of house church because they feel it falls short in the area of evangelism.

Which also begs the question: Is the Church meant to be an evangelistic tool? Perhaps a better way to phrase the question is this: Who is the Church for, us or them?

On the one hand we have verses like Matthew 25:42-45, in which Jesus Himself clearly seems to state that the church should be tending to the elderly, the forgotten, the needy:

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

I have always believed that if the Church were really operating as the Bride of Christ, we would be single-handedly supplying for the needs of each person in our community. There would be no necessity for state run entitlement programs, such as welfare or food stamps, because Christians would be meeting those needs. We would be the ones supplying meals, caring for children, driving people to job interviews.

However, no where in the verse above does Christ allude to the “purpose” of the Church. If anything, He mentions a function of the Church. Yet, I would go a step further and say that He is referencing an individual responsibility of each believer and not necessarily the duty of the Church as a whole.

Jesus was and is, very much about personal responsibility, even within a corporate context. He emphasizes the individual within the Church as a whole, while still speaking to the power of a body of collective believers–His body, in fact.

Yet, for us to believe that the main function the Church is to care for the poor and needy and to evangelize to the masses, we must ignore verses like Ephesians 4:11-12 which says,

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”

Here we are told that the gifting of evangelist, for instance, is not a gift given to reach the lost, per se, but to in fact “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  It seems we are to be equipped to evangelize for ministering to others, but with the purpose being the ‘building up of the body.” Hmmm…..

Tomorrow’s post will pick up where today’s left on, asking whether or not the purpose of the Church is to build up the body or build up others. Also, whether the church is solely meant to be an evangelistic tool or if the Church has far greater purpose. Stay tuned and be back tomorrow to read more.

In the meantime, without reading Part 2, what do you think the purpose of the Church is? Why? Do you think the Church is fulfilling its purpose? Why or why not?

10 thoughts on “What is the Purpose of the Church? Part 1”

  1. I look forward to the second part. The purpose of Church has a little to do with the individuals definition of church. It became fashionable a while back in Christian circles to say “We are the Church, not this building.” The problem is we kept using the same model even while saying it was

    “There would be no necessity for state run entitlement programs, such as welfare or food stamps, because Christians would be meeting those needs.”

  2. I am not sure why but my comment posted itself mid stream. Sorry for the novice, chump mistake.

    I look forward to the second part. The purpose of Church has a little to do with the individuals definition of church. It became fashionable a while back in Christian circles to say “We are the Church, not this building.” The problem is we kept using the same model even while saying it was problematic. I have thought for years that church meetings should be like a team meetings in some pro sports. A time to share, a time to care for injuries, a time to strategize, and a time to plan for upcoming games. That is more of the purpose for the church service.

    The purpose of the church (the people) is to reflect Christ. We care for the poor because Christ does, we evangelize to the relationships we have like Christ did/does. Its a chance to be little “bootleg Jesus-es,” kinda. A copy of Him.

    I so agree with this statement you wrote-“There would be no necessity for state run entitlement programs, such as welfare or food stamps, because Christians would be meeting those needs.”

    The Emperor Julian of the Roman empire said “The impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours . . . . It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance.”

    If we had kept up with our heritage then we wouldn’t need those entitlements.

    Great post.

  3. Very simply: It is to reflect Christ and edify one another. We often get hung up on the “stuff” rather than the Person. But if we focus on the Person, I believe everything else we try preaching so hard would naturally (or rather, supernaturally) flow out of that love and reflection of Jesus Christ.

    Yes? No?

    1. Oh shoot, I think my comment got eaten! (sorry if two show up from me)

      I totally agree, Johnathan. The church is for… becoming Kingdom people. Bringing the Kingdom here and being Kingdom to others. Love God (together) Love others (starting with each other) and make disciples (others who love God and love each other). It’s not about a building or the do’s and don’ts or even growing bigger and bigger – the numbers thing specifically has me weary. How many people came, how many were saved, how many were baptized, how many visitors, how much was tithed, on and on and on…

      And what is Kingdom? Jesus. What is love? Jesus. Like you said, everything else is allowed to naturally conceive and be birthed out of that foundation when it’s intentionally not about an institution but about Jesus and about Love.

      (and p.s. i owe y’all an email – short story: THANK YOU!)

    2. Totally agree Jonathan.

      Love God. Love Others. Period.

      In some contexts this is definitely a conversation worth having, but we tend to over-think it a lot of times.

      In truth, a lot of things are like fruits of the Spirit. When we let desires of the heart take over, all this other stuff is like a Spiritual byproduct.

  4. The Greek word ekklesia which is translated as “church” or “churches” or “assembly” in various Scriptures literally means “called out” and was used commonly in secular life, such as when the crowd gathered in Ephesus, recorded in Acts 19:39-41. Ekklesia always refers to a group of people.

    In the church planted by the original apostles, groups of believers met together in homes for worship and prayer (Act 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 16:40; 20:20; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phm 1:1-2), sharing meals together, being so transformed in the power of God’s love that they had favor in the sight of those who were not yet part of their number. When Saul of Tarsus started persecuting the church, where did he go to find them? In houses (Acts 8:3).

    Though the apostles preached in the temple in Jerusalem in the days following Pentecost, when thousands came to faith at one time, we have no record of large gatherings in arenas or other public buildings since that time and that place. Church gatherings were small enough that every single person could participate in the meeting (1 Cor 14:26). The meetings were open to those who had not yet come to faith in Jesus (1 Cor 14:23-24), but the instruction to the church about elements to include in the meeting never specifically included evangelism per se, expecting that the work of God among the saints (specifically prophecy) would be evidence to the unbeliever that God was with the members of this assembly (1 Cor 14:24-25). The evident power of God, not a proselytizing sermon, was the expected means of bringing someone to faith within a meeting of the church. All the New Testament examples of evangelism, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are outside the church meeting.

    The purpose of the church is

    (1) to worship God as a gathering of His holy ones (John 4:23-24; Rom 12:1-5; 1 Cor 14:24-25; 1 Pet 2:5) and

    (2) to edify and equip the saints for the work of ministry (1 Cor 14:5, 12, 19, 26; 12:22-26; Col 3:12-16; 1 Thes 3:2; 5:11, 14; Heb 3:13; 10:24-25; Eph 4:11-16).

    Jesus left us so that we would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would transform us into His image, so that instead of just one Son of God walking around the planet, there would be a multitude: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14) God’s plan is that we would all be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29) so that we will be the light of the world (Joh 8:12; 9:5; 12:36, 46; Act 13:47; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 5:8; 1 Jn 1:5-7) and bring many sons into His glorious kingdom. Amen!

    p.s. 80 years ago, before the government set up programs to care for the poor (without a Gospel message to accompany the gift), the church DID take care of the needy. Remnants of that care by the saints still linger today, but it was the Enemy’s design, IMHO, to take away that witness from the church so that people would worship the government as their benefactor instead of coming to the houses of the Lord to receive His blessing and His Word and to worship Him as provider, deliverer, and Lord.

  5. I must begin by saying how much I enjoy reading this blog. Your writing as well as your insight possess the too rare combination of being worthy of consideration and enjoyable.
    I would suggest that there is the eternal purpose of the church to be the pure and unblemished bride of Christ and the life of the church in pursuit of that eternity. Likewise our purpose here and now serves the eternal purpose. I submit that the singularly primary life of the individual christian as well as the church local and universal is to be in an ever growing relationship with Jesus Christ and that by design we must be able to see and love Jesus, secondly in one another in the congregation of Jesus and thirdly in all men and women, saved and unsaved. All else is the consequence of this life giving relationship. (John 14-17)

    As a result of this relationship we are His body and we will be Jesus to others as well as respond to and receive from the Jesus life in others. Conversely we are challenged and humbled by the lack and polluted nature of it as well. This is a corporate life that only finds it’s expression when we are in right relationship with Him individually and corporately as well as our relationships outside of the congregation.

    When we love, care for, edify, equip and do all the other one anothers to each other we are living the life of Jesus toward others as well as receiving the life of Jesus from others. When we feed the hungry we are giving and receiving the life and love of Jesus. While I applaud efforts by christian organizations to feed the hungry and clothe the naked the scripture tells us that we directly should be helping those we see in this way. I send money to compassion every month but that money does not build the life of Jesus in me or the child the money is helping in the way that a shared life experience does. Our hearts and our lives are to be built upon this life of Jesus in us and through us. The people who gather together and live this life this is the purpose of the church in the here and now. To be the body and bride of Christ expressing His life and being ever purified that we may see Him better to know and love Him.

  6. I could not help but make a comment on this blog post. Let me say I have had this very conviction for the last year. Was the Church created for the world or for his body? If we adorn His body to attract secular minds, are we not defeating our created purpose? I’m not so much against post modern expressions as much as I am replacing the purity of the Gospel. Secondly, Is the physical place (building, Homes) of congregation the grounds for evangelism or should it the place for discipleship? Perhaps its my bias, but i see evangelism taking place from a missions perspective outside and inside activity was more discipleship.. What are some of your thoughts on this?

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