The purpose of the church

November 16, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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I have been thinking about this for awhile, but it becomes more apparent the more I study the scriptures. I’ve studied Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, 1 John, and now I’m doing a study on the spiritual gifts. In every study, I’ve seen a picture of the church, and when I compare the picture I see in the scriptures with the one that I see in America, they don’t match. It seems like the church in America (and other countries) no longer understands its purpose. No one seems to know what the church is about and this leads to a lot of busyness with nothing substantial to show for it. There are numerous churches who have many ministries and events but to what end? Certain churches are growing and the numbers are increasing but is this a proper gauge? When did it become all about the quantity of “Christians” in the church instead of the quality of the Christians as shown by the way they live their lives?
So, what is the purpose of the church? Well, first, you have to understand what the word church means. The word church is found only in the New Testament. It is the Greek word ekklesia and it means: church, congregation, assembly; a group of people gathered together. It can refer to the OT assembly of believers, a riotous mob, but usually to a Christian assembly, a church: as a totality or in a specific locale. In the NT a church is never a building or meeting place. So what does this mean? It means that the church is not the building you meet in whether it’s an actual church building or someone’s house. Instead, a church is the group of believers that meet in that building. Nowadays, it seems like people are more concerned about the state of the building than the state of the people meeting there. It is important to understand that it’s not just anyone who meets, it is the believers who meet. Those who are not believers are not part of the church.
Now that we have a simple understand of what the church is, what is its purpose? There are a few things that the church was designed for. The main purpose of the church is to glorify God. Many people would say that it is seeking the lost, but I disagree. As believing individuals, our main purpose in life is to glorify God. Why would that change when we gather together? If we do not glorify God, then it really doesn’t matter what we’re doing does it? There are other important purposes for the churches existence as well. A few of these can be found in Ephesians 4:11-13.
and He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists,
and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service,
to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the
knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs
to the fullness of Christ.
There are some interesting things to note here. First, there are specific reasons why God gave the spiritual gifts and none of them have to do with someone becoming rich and famous. It’s not the point of this blog to go into whether or not some of these gifts still exist or not (I believe they do) so I’ll leave that for another time. Second, the church is for the equipping of the saints. It is not for sinners. That may sound harsh or unorthodox now, but it’s the truth. The church and its purposes completely revolve around born-again believers. But, today this is not what we see. So many churches have gone to “church growth methods” like the ones at Willow Creek or Saddleback in order to get numbers. In doing so, they’ve gone out to the non-Christians to ask them why they don’t come to church and then tailored their “churches” to suit those who are lost. It seems to be a very weak and very dangerous substitute for evangelism. Instead of going out into all the world to preach the gospel, many try to lure them in with wordly entertainments preach the precepts of men as the doctrine of God.
The fact that the church is for believers becomes even more specific though. There are many churches who are filled with believers, but they are still not fitting the purpose that God intended. Why? Because the saints are being entertained instead of being equipped. The churchgoers come to service on Sunday and hear a sermon series on the summer blockbuster movies or popular music icons (like U2) instead of hearing the unadulterated Word of God. They don’t hear the truth or how they can apply it to their lives so that they can grow in holiness. They don’t get the scriptures they need to defend the faith and fight the good fight. The sad thing about all of this is that it is now commonplace. If things don’t go this way, it is an anomaly.
The purpose gets still more specific though. The saints are to be equipped for the work of service. What service? Simple. Going out to preach the gospel to all creation, baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and teach them to observe all the things that Christ commanded us. The equipping of the saints also facilitates the building up of the body of Christ so that we are unified in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God. This too has not happened. There are numerous denominations and each one of them is going to heaven while the rest are going to hell. We are obviously not unified in our faith. Thousands of Christian brothers and sisters are spurned and treated unbiblically because they don’t fit in the right clique. They are not able to exercise their gifts to glorify God because they aren’t related to someone in charge or because they don’t have the right kind of clothes, the right salary, or the right kind of car. Not only are we not unified in our faith, we’re not unified in our knowledge of the Son of God! There are many people who claim to be Christians who have a false view of Jesus or the gospel. They don’t believe that God is in control, that Jesus is the only way to heaven, or that the Trinity exists. Some don’t even believe that Jesus is God! And these are supposed to be BELIEVERS! Many churches have tossed aside what scripture says in order to embrace a man-made system that provides them the money, power, and prestige they want while neglecting the needs of the church and the lost!
From what I see in scripture, this is not how it’s supposed to be. The church is supposed to be like this. You are saved and you become part of a local church. The pastor-teacher teaches you the truth and shows you how to apply it to your life so that you can glorify God and grow in holiness. You are taught about the spiritual gift(s) that you have from scripture (not man made doctrine!).You then begin to use these gifts to glorify God. The church also makes it possible for you to learn how to evangelize and tell others about Jesus. You do this either by becoming an evangelist (if that’s your gift!) and traveling the world preaching the truth or by taking the opportunities presented to you daily as you go about your life. When someone responds to the gospel in repentence and faith, they become part of the church and the cycle continues. There is nothing about entertaining the lost at church. There is nothing about catering to those who hate God, but this is what is happening.
Part of the reason our country (and world) is in the condition it is in is because the church has left its purpose in order to pursue worldly things. Many “pastors” today seem to hope that the one or two lines they sneak in about Jesus in the middle of their sermon series on the Spice Girls will somehow be absorbed by osmosis. They seem to think (erroneously) that it’s enough. It’s not enough. Until the church gets back to fulfilling its God-given purpose and loses all of the other things that it has taken up in hopes of inflating its membership, it will never accomplish what it is supposed to…

Chasing the gifts

February 4, 2008 at 10:58 am | Posted in Christianity | 1 Comment
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In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul exhorts his readers to pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Looking at the church today, it seems like we’ve gotten things backwards.

I have never seen a clamoring for the spiritual like I see now in the church. I have seen churches that were middle of the road on spiritual things all of a sudden begin chasing the “spiritual” with single-minded abandon. The charismatic churches seem to be growing will most others are losing members. Is this a sign of God’s favor or is it something else?

It seems like the thirst for the spiritual things has become a priority in many churches today. If you aren’t fully committed to the spiritual things, then you may not even be saved (not true). If you desire something above spiritual gifts then you are obviously missing some vital scripture that no one seems to be able to find.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the spiritual gifts and see them as necessary. But, in all that I read in scripture, I don’t find them promoted and placed like I see being done in the modern church. Many of the people promoting the spiritual gifts like this don’t even seem to have an understanding of the gifts. They don’t seem to have taken the time to study what the Bible says about the gifts. Instead, they just mimic other men and women who have gigantic ministries in hopes that they will have the same result. I see this as both dangerous and a down right shame.

I am going to broaden my rant a little bit. I don’t want to talk about the spiritual gifts by themselves, although I will be using them as an example. When I’m talking about the spiritual gifts, I’m implying the veritable explosion of gluttonous hunger for all things spiritual and airy.

I’ve seen people that are otherwise grounded go completely nuts over the spiritual things. I’ve seen others who (unfortunately) so desire to be seen and to have a ministry that they’ve latched on to spiritual things in hopes of inspiring awe and spirituality in those around them and thereby improving their image. They speak in tongues with every breath. Every time they talk about anything to do with scripture, it was “a word from the Lord” or something “God spoke to them”.  I wonder if people would be so quick to do all this if the Old Testament laws were still in effect? If someone were to be stoned to death for falsely speaking on behalf of the Lord, I daresay that there wouldn’t be near as many that would be so quick to do it…Not only that, I would think that those who preach the gospel would take it a lot more seriously than many seem to do now.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “But, didn’t Paul say to earnestly desire spiritual gifts?”

And my answer would be: “Yes.”

But taking just that scripture doesn’t give us a proper picture of what the spiritual gifts are for.

If we look in Ephesians 4, we begin to see a bigger picture concerning the spiritual gifts. In this chapter, Paul is talking about how God has gifted some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. He then gives the reasons why this was done. These gifts were given so that the men they were given to might equip the church for the work of service and to build up the body of Christ.

Sadly, that’s not what the gifts are being used for in most instances today. Instead, they are dividing the church. They are being used selfishly for personal gain and prestige. The one that speaks in tongues in a group of people without an interpretation is misusing a spiritual gift. Paul even says in 1 Cor. 14 that the one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself. He goes on to say that if that tongue isn’t clear enough to be understood, the person speaking will be like a barbarian to the one being spoken to and vise-versa. Is that edifying? Most of the people I’ve heard speaking in tongues were mumbling or speaking so fast that I couldn’t understand what they were saying. And, I have yet to hear someone interpret in the instances I have heard tongues.

It’s not just tongues either. Like I said earlier, it seems that a whole new “crop” of prophets has sprung up and they all are speaking the “word of the Lord”. The odd thing is, they contradict each other a lot. They also seem to gain personally for it and are glorified for their “office”. When I look in the bible, I don’t see that to be the case. Look at Isaiah or Ezekiel. Look at some of the other prophets. There were prophets like Daniel who were placed in high positions, but he didn’t ask for it and it wasn’t his goal! Look at John the Baptist. He was a prophet for the coming Messiah. He didn’t seem to be all that prosperous in the world’s eyes…

All of this reminds me of another prophet and a situation that he faced in his life. The prophet is Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah confronts the people with the truth. Either God is God and follow Him, or Baal is god and follow him. The people don’t respond. So Elijah has this test set forth and has King Ahab call all 450 prophets of Baal. They are given an oxen and Elijah gets an oxen. Elijah then challenges them. Both are to build an altar and put wood on it. They are to prepare the sacrifice and put no fire under it. They are then to call on their god and the Elijah will call on the name of the Lord. The one that answers will be the true god.

They start this in the morning and the prophets of Baal go first. They go all throughout the morning leaping around their altar and shouting, “Baal answer us”. I can’t help but see this as a reflection of the modern church. Our buildings are filled with people who are leaping and shouting in “worship”, hoping that “God” hears them and somehow answers them.

At about noon, Elijah begins to mock them saying that they should shout louder. He says that their “God” might have gone aside or on a journey or may be sleeping. So the prophets of Baal being to shout louder and cut themselves until blood started gushing out on them. Again, I can’t help but be reminded of the modern church. When “God” doesn’t answer us, we don’t look to see if it’s something in our lives, we shout louder! Obviously, we just haven’t done the right things yet to get Him to answer us.  If we offer ourselves as a sacrifice (in a way that is not in accordance with the Word of God), then surely He’ll hear us!

The prophets rail and rave until the time for the evening sacrifice and there is still no answer.

Then, Elijah begins his effort by doing something that the prophets of Baal never thought of doing. He looks at God’s people and tells them, “Come near to me”. Then, this one old man begins to rebuild the altar of Lord. He takes twelve stones (one for each tribe of Israel) and builds an altar to God. He then digs a trench around the altar that’s deep enough to hold two measures of seed (this is actually believed to be as big as the amount of land it takes to sow two measures (six gallons) of seed). He then lays out the wood for the offering and prepares the sacrifice properly. The sacrifice is then arranged on the wood and the entire thing is doused with a total of twelve pitchers of water (so much that it filled the trench too). By now, it is time for the evening sacrifice. Elijah cries out to God to answer him and show the people that He is the One True God. Then, fire from heaven comes down and consumes the sacrifice, the altar, the stones and even the water in the trench. The people fall on their faces and turn their hearts back to God (part of Elijah’s prayer). Elijah then commands the people to rise up and capture every prophet of Baal. Elijah takes them to the brook Kishon and kills all of them there…

I’m not calling for the death of the men and women who have put the spiritual above everything else. What I am calling for is that the people of God return to Him and seek to rightly understand His Word, the way He meant it to be understood. Elijah was answered because he did things God’s way! If were are to be truly obedient, then we need to stop doing things our way and start doing things God’s way. The spiritual gifts are important because they build up the church. But the most important thing that the church needs is to be founded on the truth of the Word of God the way God meant it!

Your thoughts?…

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