What’s the Purpose of the Church?

by Drew Anderson

One of my most enjoyable professors at seminary shared a story with our class describing one aim of the church that I’ll never forget. It went something like this, “My family and I love to share a good meal together. In fact, we seldom missed meals as a family. At our table, you’ll find laughter, you’ll find tears, you’ll find correction, you’ll find truth, and you’ll also find love and acceptance.

It’s a safe place–our table–and it’s also a place of care, support, and appropriate guidance. We (my wife and I) love our children, and we love to be with them. They too, love to be with us. And so, when our daughter called home–after her first semester of college–to tell us that she was bringing friends home for the Thanksgiving holiday it thrilled our hearts. It’s exactly what we hoped she would do. She loves her family, she’s safe in her home, and she wants her new college friends to experience this supportive and caring environment.” 

The professor went on to say that, “…the church should be no different–principally–in cultivating the love, care, truth, and support experienced in our home.” He said, “When the church is living and breathing as the healthy church that it should be, members of the church-family can’t wait to bring their friends to the table.”

When you think of church what comes to mind?” Most people think the following when they think of the church: 

Family. Fellowship. Community. Worship. Learning more about the Bible. Singing. Love.

Therefore, one thing that is safe to conclude from this survey and from my professor’s thoughts is that the church has–at least–the potential to cultivate an environment similar to that of a family.

The question is, then, “Is this enough?” In other words, should the church strive for a family-feeling environment like my professor suggested and like what many people think of when they think of the church?

I would say, “yes and no”.

Yes, the church should cultivate and environment where similar experiences to that of a loving home are also experienced in the church. In fact, the Bible supports this idea. We see early on after Christ’s ascension that the church functioned similar to that of a family.

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Acts 2:42

This verse describes a church-environment where:

  • the Word of God (i.e. the apostles’ teaching) was a priority in their lives–it held a place of devotion.
  • fellowship or cultivating a place of mutual benefit for others was normal.
  • the Lord’s supper was observed (i.e. breaking of bread).
  • Prayer was part and parcel to their lives.

The text goes on to say, that “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” In other words, these early Christians experienced a place of love and care and support similar to that of a family.

However, the answer to the question should the church strive to be like a family is at the same time, “no.” The reason I say no is because, while a family-like environment is important for the church to cultivate, it is not the ultimate purpose. I would say it like this, when the church is fulfilling its purpose, then it will naturally feel like a family. Take the home for example, when a father is acting like a father, and the mother like a mother, and the child like the child, etc. the family atmosphere takes on a whole different shape than it would if the child started acting like the father, etc. That’s another article for another day, but suffice it to say that the family-like environment is a product of and not the purpose of the church.

So, what is the purpose of the church?

The purpose* of the church is:

  1. To provoke Israel to jealousy. Tie this back to Deuteronomy 32:21. In essence, the church is God’s means of provoking Israel to jealousy, so that they will repent, turn back to Him, and look to Christ as their true Messiah. The church does this…amazing!
  2. To display God’s grace and wisdom. Christ’s death–man’s sin at its height–and Christ’s resurrection–God’s power over man’s sin at its height–reveal par excellence God’s grace and wisdom. Until this time, man only experienced a fraction of God’s grace and wisdom.
  3. To prepare rulers for the kingdom. In other words, through suffering in this world (church-age), followers of Christ are being prepared to reign in God’s kingdom to come.
  4. To evangelize the worldIn other words, the church is to witness or declare the gospel through their lives and their words in Jerusalem (local), in all Judea and Samaria (regional), and the uttermost parts of the earth (global).
  5. To edify itself. This is through Scripture and our lives. To edify is to build up, which the church does through God’s Word and through coming alongside people with encouragement and love.
  6. To purify itself. In other words, the church–through the Word of God, prayer, and Holy Spirit–disciplines, corrects, and guides its members. They carry out a character of God, who disciplines those He loves.
  7. To glorify God. In other words, the church is a megaphone of God’s glory. It’s not a place of trivialities and inconsequentialities. No, no, the church is a place of displaying to all the glory of its Savior and God!

In conclusion, as the church fulfills her purpose, then the church will feel like family. It will be a place of love, of care, of nurture, of support, of correction, of guidance, and of acceptance.

*Adapted from Robert Saucy, The Church In God’s Program, 89-97.

www.staffandstones.com. Used by permission. 

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