“Why the Church?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
So far, I’ve written on some very fundamental truths that Christians generally affirm. I’ve written about salvation, the God who created everything out of nothing, truth, the hope that believers in the Risen Lord Jesus possess, and why Christians have the desire to worship and praise the one true God. All of those topics are of particular concern to individuals. Now I am turning my attention to the corporate aspect of Christianity. Specifically, I want to focus on the church that we see, called the visible church.
The visible church, the one we see, is defined as all those who profess Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and their children. Every local church that teaches Jesus is fully God and fully Man, the second person of the Trinity is part of the universal visible church. The Protestant Reformation described the true church, the visible church as every church that preaches the pure gospel, administers the two Sacraments as ordained by Christ and exercises biblical church discipline.
God has chosen to reach the lost through the visible church. Romans 10:17 is the clear affirmation of God’s plan. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (ESV) But God has also organized the visible church. “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” Ephesians 4:11-12, ESV. Every local church that bears the marks of a true church is part of the world-wide visible church of Jesus Christ.
So, if God organized the church, revealed her marks and chose to use her to reach the lost, it is reasonable to expect that He also gave her a purpose. So then, what is His purpose for her? In other words, “Why the Church?”
It’s common to think that the purpose of the church is the ministry that she does. We can look to biblical preaching, teaching sound doctrine, liturgy, programs, etc. But the God-given purpose underlies all of the things that the church does. Purpose is concerned with being rather than doing.
Another way to phrase this idea is to ask, “Why?” That is, why is the church here?
The dictionary’s definition of purpose is that purpose gives the reason for the existence or being of something or someone. Applying this definition, what is the reason for the church’s existence? The Bible answers the question. God’s purpose for the church was revealed in the Old Testament, Leviticus 11:44. “Be holy for I am holy.” The Apostle Peter repeated God’s purpose for the church. “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” 1Peter 1:16 ESV
Simply stated, the purpose of the church is holiness. In other words, the church exists to be holy. The basic meaning of holy is unique. The range of meaning includes purity and perfection. God gave the church’s purpose; He declared that the church was set apart. The church is by His definition, different than the world.
In Chuck Colson’s “Against the Night”, he observed that the church had become or was at least striving to become just like the world. D.L. Moody once compared the visible church to a ship in the sea. He said, “The place for the ship is in the sea, but God help the ship if the sea gets in it. Just as the place for the church is in the world, but God help the church if the world gets in it.” The Bible uses the metaphor of a bride to describe the church. She is the bride of Christ. She is the holy Jerusalem that the Apostle John was allowed to see coming down from heaven. Jesus Christ died for the church, Ephesians 5:25 to make her holy.
It is essential for Christians to know their purpose. For the church to be holy, all its members are likewise to be holy. The individual members of the church were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy, Ephesians 1:4 God doesn’t leave this to the will of men. God sanctifies each and every believer. That is, He makes every member of His church more and more like Christ. He does so by the power of His Spirit who takes His word written and applies it to our hearts so that we might live holy lives for His glory.