“The First Importance”
Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The church is the body of Christ. She is referred to as the Bride of Christ and the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. The Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John reveals to us the perfect church, glorified prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, Revelation 21:2
Revelation gives us the picture of the people of God in glory. Yet, there is the church on earth. We have not yet reached glory but the church is still all those who profess the true religion. There is a visible church and an invisible church. The visible church is made up of all who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The invisible church “consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25, Par. 1 Also, read Matthew 7:21-23 and Romans 9:6-13
God has called out a people for Himself. The first priority of the church is to worship Him alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to its first question clearly defines God’s revealed purpose for mankind, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And, the church under her head, Jesus Christ is commanded by God to worship God in the way He has revealed in His word. True worship of God is only possible through His Son, Jesus Christ. God seeks worshipers to worship Him in spirit and truth, John 4:23-24.
With so much emphasis in the Bible on the church, one would think that God would have given a clear purpose for her. In fact, He did! The purpose of the church is, in a word, holiness. God has called His people to be holy. He has set us apart for His glory. He commanded His Church to be holy, Leviticus 11:44 and repeated in 1 Peter 1:15-16.
The Apostle Peter emphasized God command to be holy by exhorting the church to “be holy in all your conduct,” 1Peter 1:15. Paul likewise declared God’s purpose and will for His people. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification (holiness)” 1Thessalonians 4:3
Take special note of the verb “to be” used in the declaration of the purpose of the church. The church is to be holy because God is holy! The purpose that God has revealed for His people is a statement of being. In other words, holy is the essence of the church.
I like to think of this as “being” rather than “doing.” Of course, being holy requires the pursuit of godliness. It is a term that describes our sanctification. Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace wherein He continues to make believers more and more like Christ. As we are sanctified we die more and more to sin and live more and more for God.
The church that understands her purpose pursues God’s mission.
Those who profess Christ first understand God’s will and purpose while embarking on His mission.
In my view, a church that seeks to look like the world dare not try to fulfill God’s mission. That is, a church that looks like the world is by its witness preaching a different gospel.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this very issue. The Corinthian Church was tolerating unholy behavior and Paul’s first charge to her was to purge the evil from her midst, 1Corinthians 5. Jesus taught His disciples to first remove the beam in their eye before seeking to remove the speck in a brother’s eye, Matthew 7:5
The church is to guard her peace and purity for the sake of her witness. The first importance is the gospel. God confirms His purpose to those who receive His gospel and sends them on His mission.
It was after rebuke and correction that Paul reminded the church of the gospel. He declared to the believers that his delivering of the gospel was “as of first importance.” 1Corinthians 15:3 The church that understands her purpose to be holy and teaches her members the same is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to proclaim the pure gospel which is the power of God to save all who believe!