What is the purpose of the church? This is the question I was asked recently at a lay training seminar. So in my next presentation, I decided to ask the same question, and here are some of the answers I received: The church exists to preach the truth, to fulfill my needs and my families’ needs, and to teach about Jesus. There was no clear conclusion on the purpose of the church. How would you have answered?
THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH
The church is in the world for three reasons. One reason is to worship and glorify God’s name, and this continues throughout time and eternity (Luke 4:8; John 4:23; Acts 2:42; Rev. 4:10). To glorify the name of God in word and deed means nothing less than a total identification with and dedication to the purposes of the Creator. Above all else, He calls us to love Him with our whole being and our neighbors as ourselves.
A second duty is to edify the body of Christ (John 13:35; Phil. 1:1-4; 1 Cor. 14:5, 12, 19; Gal. 6:2). This happens in many different ways—encouraging each other, praying for each other, loving each other, and training each other for the work of evangelism and ministry. The endowments and gifts unique to each person are to be used for the enrichment of all. In heaven all believers will be sinlessly conformed to Christ’s image. Here on earth, we have opportunity for mutual “edification” (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11). Our calling as believers includes the upbuilding of the community of which Christ Jesus is the foundation. We are to contribute to the spiritual and evangelical growth of fellow believers and thus be builders of a heavenly fellowship, bringing to this task whatever spiritual, intellectual, moral, and evangelistic possibilities are available to the biblically disciplined believer.
Extension of the kingdom is the third prong, and this is most effectively fulfilled by those whose lives are God-glorifying and church-edifying (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:12; Acts 2:47; 5:12; 9:31). The gathered church aims to equip all believers to function effectively as the church influences and impacts the world for Jesus Christ. The risen Christ gathers with His followers, renewing and invigorating them for Christ to witness and serve in the world. The church can hardly glorify God’s name or be truly edifying if she neglects her ambassadorial role of beseeching the lost to be reconciled to God. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21).
Inspired Scripture governs the church’s sense of urgency of local and global evangelism; this affirms the impossibility of salvation through alien ideologies and religions. The Bible is clear: no name but Jesus Christ’s is given whereby sinners must be and can be saved (Acts 4:12).
ONE REASON IS TO WORSHIP AND GLORIFY GOD’S NAME, AND THIS CONTINUES THROUGHOUT TIME AND ETERNITY.
Evangelism is directly related to God’s will. God wants His church to reach out and offer His gift of salvation to everyone who will listen. Jesus said, “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, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20, NIV). It’s as plain as that. Any church that is concerned with evangelism and discipleship is really obeying God and doing what is pleasing to Him. His expressed will is that the good news of the gospel be communicated to all people, all classes, all races, and all languages—near and far, geographically and culturally.
The goal is that there will be a living church community of believers in Jesus Christ that fills every segment of society. Every segment of society should be throbbing with Christian life, full of groups of committed Christians who are loving, serving, praying, growing in the Word, and reaching out. When the church is functioning well, it provides hope for the world and is a source of change, leading others to new life and the gateway to heaven. Each local church is called to do its part in fulfilling the Great Commission! Each local church is to bring love, hope, change, and joy to this sin-ridden and dying world.
The “church” is made up of local churches. In obeying the Great Commission more intelligently, more effectively, and more fervently, the church will grow. As Christians refine their methods, cultivate church growth, communicate the gospel, and edify the believers, the church as a whole will receive the abundant blessing of God.
Evangelizing the lost is not just a matter of media ministry, gospel tracts, and street ministry; rather, it is a connection with an individual. No person is truly evangelized until they are confronted with claims of Jesus and make a decision on a personal level.
GOD WANTS HIS CHURCH TO REACH OUT AND OFFER HIS GIFT OF SALVATION TO EVERYONE WHO WILL LISTEN.
Diverse methods of evangelism are used by the church today to spread the gospel. Yet the fact remains that a one-to-one approach initiated by every believer still holds the best promise of evangelizing the masses. If every Christian would win one individual for Christ in a single calendar year, the multiplication of believers would far surpass any harvest of souls yet reported in the modern missionary era. Evangelizing the lost in one’s own sphere of influence is the most natural place to begin.
We cannot accomplish any of these purposes without the power of the Holy Spirit. The message of the Bible is addressed to all mankind, for God’s revelation in Christ still speaks today; He illumines the minds of God’s people in every place and culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes.
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.