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?