What Is the Purpose of the Church?

Stephen Decatur Jr. sailed the Intrepid into the harbor of Tripoli under cover of darkness.  His mission: to set afire the USS Philadelphia captured by Tripolitan forces after running aground on an uncharted reef. The frigate was now a menace to its own country in the hands of the enemy.  Disguised as merchant ships, they planned to dock beside the Philadelphia, spring from below deck, and overwhelm the enemy in a surprise attack. The USS Syren was to provide covering fire for the Intrepid in case of a skirmish. The wind had calmed however, and the Syren lagged behind. Decatur made a decision; they would go on with the attack as planned, without the help of the Syren. “A midshipman aboard the Intrepid recorded Decatur’s words: ‘The fewer the number, the greater the honor!’” (Kilmeade)

When I first read this, I pondered his words, inspired by the bravado. In the face of very grave danger, he already saw his name on the front page of the hometown paper. He saw himself recieving a medal for bravery, he saw the victory parade.

Glory and honor are desires that God has placed in humanity. Humankind was uniquely endowed with an understanding of these concepts because we were made in God’s image. God, throughout scripture, reveals to us His zeal for His own honor, glory, and name.

The church of Jesus Christ exists for Christ’s own glory. But before exploring a few of the ways the church glorifies Christ, it should be said that Christ doesn’t need the church to be glorious. He doesn’t need the church for his glory to be appreciated. Christ existed for an eternity before creation. Colossians 1:16 says “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him.”  A sunset can be glorious without anyone to watch it. We are still discovering new insects and microscopic life. All those years since creation and we are still making discoveries. What a testimony to the glory of our Creator!

Decatur’s conviction that the fewer the number, the greater the glory, can be applied to the glory that Christ receives through His church. The story of David and Goliath illustrates this point well. David, a type of Christ, won the battle on behalf of his entire nation. All the glory was his, and this turned Saul against him. In 1 Samuel 18, the women came out of the cities dancing and singing “Saul hath slain his thousands, David his ten thousands.”

Christ, much like David, won the war on behalf of his church. He defeated the curse of death and sin that had enslaved our race since the time of Adam. Jesus talked about a narrow way that few find (Matthew 7). The members of His church are glorified by being part of the few. Olympic gold is much more valuable than a Little League trophy. Why? It has to do with the amount of sacrifice required to earn it.

So what kind of sacrifice does it take to be part of the church? The church is the body of Christ. Christ’s body was crucified at Calvary because of his great love for us. When you truly love someone, you open yourself to rejection. We tend to put up walls when we experience pain in love, not wanting to open ourselves up to experience the pain again. Christ was filled with supernatural love that was strong enough to take Him to the cross for us. Through His great sacrifice we understand the depths of His love.   

The church is called to love with that same love. Christians are called not only to open their hearts to love, and possible pain, but to actively seek out the pain of others and enter it as Christ did for us. Jesus quoted from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

Christ’s mission, and now ours, is to redeem humanity from the curse and shame of sin. We are to bring the message of dignity, healing, and honor to the beggar, to the woman with the issue of blood, to the short, greedy tax collector. All the power from shame, sickness, blindness and captivity in our race is broken with Christ’s death and resurrection. The church is filled with the same Spirit that worked in Jesus.  Jesus said in Luke 24:48-49; “And ye are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”

Jesus spoke of being witnesses. To be a witness is to give testimony. I have often heard people in the church say, “We need to leave a good testimony.” Testimony is only good if it’s true. A bad testimony is bad because it’s not true, not because of bad behavior. What we are often really saying is, “Let’s be on our best behaviour.”

The true church is the body of believers who have a supernatural love that could only come from intimacy with Christ. They have been filled with the Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit then, the fruits of Christian service and sacrifice flow to the world. The church is Christ’s channel of blessing and glory to the world. As Adam was created to do, as Israel was called to be, and as Jesus was and is, so we walk.

But like the early church who needed to stay in Jerusalem until they had been filled with power from on high, we need to recognize the source of our ability to impact the world. Jesus himself did no miracles before the Holy Spirit descended on him at his baptism.  In Luke 4, Simon’s mother-in-law could not serve Jesus until He had healed her fever. The disciples would have been foolish to immediately go out and try to change the world for Christ. So also, is the church when it separates doing from being.

When creation was new, Adam and Eve glorified God in obedience and worship. God walked with man and was glorified through them. Satan, God’s adversary was out to destroy the crown jewel of God’s creation. Satan seduced them and their intimate relationship was marred. Man was separated from God by the curse of sin. God was no longer glorified in mankind. Jesus’ work on earth was to redeem that relationship.

The church is on the offensive now, actively taking the light to darkness, redeeming God’s most precious creation to its former glory. Jesus told Peter that Peter would be the rock for His church and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). He did not say the battering ram of hell will not prevail against the church’s defense.  Rather, the gates of hell are not strong enough to resist the onslaught of the church’s attacks.

The church then is a chosen few who God fills with His Spirit and equips for service. There is a ship that was taken, and it was the pride of the Navy. Instead of destroying it, the mission is to take it back and restore it. The enemy is fierce, cunning, ruthless, and cruel. There are few soldiers but the Captain is capable. He inspires His soldiers to board what was once theirs. He is willing to give His life for the ship, because He sees the glory that awaits Him.

Travis Travis Fisher is currently serving in Mexico as a church planter. He teaches Bible studies and enjoys brainstorming with the church there on ideas for financial growth. He also enjoys reading and his interests in study include theology and the Bible, agriculture, history, business and finance, and philosophy. He loves to compete, whether that’s in sports, board games, or debating his ideas and theories. Originally from Manheim Pennsylvania, he plans to return home in June of 2018, go on dates with Alyssa Beiler, work, and reconnect with family and friends. His long-term goal is to buy and manage a farm, raise a family, and invest in the church and the people of his community. Above all, his desire is to bend his will to the will of Jesus and become more like Him in every aspect of life.

References:

Kilmeade, Brian, and Don Yaeger. “Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates.”Audible.com: Audiobooks & Original Audio, 3 Nov. 2015, http://www.audible.com/pd/History/Thomas-Jefferson-and-the-Tripoli-Pirates-Audiobook/B0146TTE5W.

3 thoughts on “What Is the Purpose of the Church?

  1. Thank you for a great article Travis. I liked how you brought out that we should focus on being filled with the Holy Spirit and following His leading rather than on just doing good things.

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  2. Excellent article! It gives me great joy to see young men and women who can articulate (and flesh out) God’s truth.

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  3. Good article! It should be pointed out, though, that Peter is NOT the rock that the church is built on. Jesus was simply making a correlation between Peter’s name (which means rock) and the rock that He is calling the foundation of the church. That rock is Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

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