“The Purpose of the Church”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
There are fundamental truths that all Christians affirm. All who profess Christ would affirm that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. All would believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. Professing Christians have received the truth that Jesus was the full, penal and substitutionary atonement for sin. Clearly, Christian assurance is grounded in the bodily resurrection of Christ. Finally, since the Bible is true, all the miracles recorded in it are a matter of historic veracity. All of these doctrines are believed by every individual Christian. They are also held and taught by every true Christian Church.
I want to briefly examine the purpose of the gathering of those who hold those truths. That is, the church has been given a purpose. There is a God-given reason for the church to exist. Since everything is for the glory of God, the church must therefore exist for His glory.
The visible church is defined as all those who profess Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and their children. Every local church that teaches the fundamental truths listed above is part of the universal visible church, gathered to worship the Triune God! The Protestant Reformers described the true visible church as one that preaches the pure gospel, administers the two Sacraments as ordained by Christ and exercises biblical 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.
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.
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.
The dictionary’s definition of purpose is the reason for existence or being. Applying this definition, what is the reason for the church’s existence? Everything is for God’s glory. The church glorifies God because she is to be holy, Leviticus 11:44; 1Peter 1:15-16. Peter wrote, “Since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”’ A holy church glorifies God.
Therefore, the purpose of the church is holiness. The church exists to be holy. The basic meaning of holy is unique. Biblical holiness, uniqueness has a range of meaning which spans from uniqueness to purity and perfection. God declared that the church was set apart. By God’s definition, the church is to be different from the world.
In the book “Against the Night”, Chuck Colson 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 new Jerusalem, the holy city, that the Apostle John was allowed to see coming down from heaven. Jesus Christ died for the church to make her holy, Ephesians 5:25-26.
It is essential for Christians to know their purpose. For the church to be holy, her members are likewise to be holy. Believers who are also members of the visible 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.