One of the unfortunate consequences of a splintered and divided Christendom is the general disagreement about the purpose of the church. Some want church to be a Spirit-fueled rock concert. Others want church to be a group therapy session where hurts and sorrows are shared and feelings affirmed. Still others see the church as a mechanism by which humanity can remake the world.
In a world of confusion and contradiction, we must turn back to the Bible. Paul, in the book of Ephesians, shows the church fulfilling several vital purposes in the life of a disciple.
Purpose of the Church #1 – Glorify God
…to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:21).
To glorify means to honor and praise. To speak words of excellence. To assign the highest status to God.
The church glorifies God through the example we set by the lives we live. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). When we do well, we create an opportunity for the world to honor God. Therefore, as we endeavor to do well, let us seek to glorify God.
Purpose of the Church #2 – Worship God
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20).
Paul contrasts the drunkenness typical of pagan worship with “being filled with the Spirit.” When filled with the Spirit, we should “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Or, to put it another way, God expects Christians to sing when we get together.
When the church sings “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” we “make melody in our hearts to the Lord.” Singing from our hearts implies that our singing is an act of spiritual worship. In the Bible, the heart often represents our spiritual person. So when the church meets, God expects us to worship Him spiritually.
Peter says more about spiritual worship in 1 Peter 2:5, “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In verse 6, Peter quotes Isaiah 28:6, which describes Jesus as a “stone, a chosen and priceless cornerstone.” Likewise, in Ephesians 2:20, Paul describes Jesus as the “chief cornerstone” upon which God builds His church.
Jesus is a living stone, and like Jesus, God makes us living stones by which He “[builds] up a spiritual house.” Contrary to what some might think, churches are not material buildings of brick and mortar, concrete, and drywall. The house of God is the people of God, the living stones. And it’s made up of people because God dwells in His people – He does not live in houses made with men’s hands.
And within this spiritual house, God calls upon His people to offer up spiritual sacrifices: the writer of Hebrews says our words of praise are a sacrifice,“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (13:15). In a spiritual house, God expects His people to worship Him spiritually.
Purpose of the Church #3 – Strengthen Our Fellow Christians
In Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul describes Jesus as the head and the church as the body: “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Building upon this imagery, Paul shows the church depends on each member doing their part to unite the body and make it stronger.
…from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:16).
When every part works together and operates properly, the church can grow and build itself in love.
But the church can only accomplish this objective if it meets regularly: the writer of Hebrews exhorts in 10:24-25,
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Verse 25 emphasizes the importance of the church meeting regularly. We must get together, especially when times are increasingly demanding for Christians.
And when we get together, we need to “consider one another to stir up love and good works.” When I attend church, I must pull my mind away from “what will I get out of this” and drag it toward “what can I give my fellow Christians?” If I give careful thought, I can think of ways to inspire love and good deeds in the lives of my fellow Christians. Maybe I can offer an encouraging word. Or I can motivate them by setting a loving example.
Whatever the case, the writer of Hebrews, tells me to think about how I can inspire my fellow Christians. And if every church member attends to how they can inspire others to serve, it would inevitably increase my motivation.
Purpose of the Church #4 – Uphold the Truth
God builds the church on a three-fold foundation of the “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The apostles and prophets form part of the foundation because, to them, God revealed the mystery, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5). God spoke through the agency of His Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit spoke through the agency of the apostles and prophets. Therefore, we build on the church’s foundation by heeding the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets.
As Paul tells Timothy, the church is “the house of God…the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). “The ground” is another word for a foundation, and together with a pillar, the foundation of a building holds up the structure. The church is called by God to hold up the truth, elevate the truth, to make the truth visible to all of creation. When the church “speaks the truth in love,” we build on the foundation of truth laid by Jesus Christ, His apostles, and prophets; we become the mechanism by which God declares the truth to the world.
Purpose of the Church #5 – Preach the Gospel
When equipping ourselves with the armor of God, Paul tells us to “shod your [our] feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh. He resisted all forms of temptation and remained sinless. He delivered a message from God. He died for our sins.God raised Him on the third day following His death.
Paul describes it as “the gospel of peace” because the sacrifice of Jesus secures our peace with God – through the forgiveness of sins, we are no longer God’s enemies.
God calls His church to spread the good news of Jesus to the world. Paul asks in Romans 10:14-15,
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Paul says to believe, we must hear. For one to hear, another must preach. And for there to be a preacher, one must be sent. And who will send the preachers? It must be the church! Our purpose as the church is to preach to those who have not heard and believed. And as Paul quotes from the book of Isaiah, God calls His people to perform a beautiful work.