What is the Purpose of the Church?

A recent post on Confident Christianity‘s Facebook page read: “The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission. Yet we seem to have turned the church as a troop carrier into the church as a luxury liner. We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of peoples around the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world.”

Much has been and is being written about church growth–numeric and spiritual–and what exactly a biblical, healthy fellowship of Christian believers should look like. The persistence of emerging innovations has kept a rather lively discussion going about the merits and means of change in church tradition. I can’t help but think that we are in the middle of new era of theological thinking in the Church. As I studied theology in graduate school, a blaring omission presented itself. We have a solid case for the authority and reliability of the Bible. We have beautifully elegant Christology and painstakingly detailed formulas concerning salvation. We even think we know a thing or two about angelic beings and the last days. But what is sorely inadequate is a theology of the purpose and practice of the Church in community and society.

One might say that this theme is addressed throughout the pages of every New Testament epistle and so gets sprinkled into Sunday morning sermons. But such an important body of knowledge is not just icing on the cake! I believe we can go beyond individual church or denominational statements concerning the life of the Church and approach something nearer an ecumenical consensus. I also believe the Body of Christ is being faced with this very predicament in our day.

500 years ago, Protestantism paved the way for our current exigency. With so many diverse expressions of Christian faith and practice there must be some way to look at our history, common ground and the teaching of scripture to develop a clear and relevant theology of the Church at large. I believe several movements will inform this new theological renaissance. First, the Pentecostal revivals and charismatic renewals of the last hundred years certainly bring the supernatural factor into the mix, restoring the Holy Spirit, who is largely neglected in terms of theology, to a key role in ecclesiology. Second, the Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements will have a strong influence on the question of the place of scripture and the need for evangelism. Third, culturally sensitive movements such as Willow Creek and Emergent Village will serve as cautionary tape helping us to discern both the need for and pitfalls of a relevant and orthodox faith. Fourth, C. S. Lewis and the many apologists that have come on the scene in the last two decades will help bring balance to the Church reminding us to nurture the life of the mind. Finally, the explosion of “worship” onto the Christian music scene must lead us to think seriously about the theology behind using music in corporate worship and the implications of commercializing such a sacred craft.

I would like to eventually pursue a doctoral degree and increasingly I am drawn to this topic as a focus for my studies. In the absence of an essential ecclesiology, Christians around the globe are left to figure out for themselves exactly what a church should be. Who knows how many church mission statements and worship programs bordering on heresy go unnoticed! The Church has been in trial and error mode for the last few centuries, and we are now in a media climate where Christian traditions of every stripe are cross-pollinating. It may be just the environment necessary to come to an Ecumenical understanding, even if informally. If not, I hope that (should the Lord tarry) the Church universal will come to a deepening biblical understanding of what it means to love one another in the assembly of the saints.

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