The Multi-Purpose Church: A Concept of the Church

What is the church? When we think of the church many things come to mind; some may think of the Roman Catholic Church, some think of that building which they go to at Easter and Christmas, and some see it is the totality of believers spread throughout the world. Biblically when we read about the church it can mean a variety of things: it can mean the totality of the believers, as found in Matthew 16:18; it can mean the believers in a specific region, “the churches of Galatia” (NASB) in 1Corinthians 16:1; it can mean the believers in specific city, “the church of God which is at Corinth” in 1 Corinthians 1:2; and it can refer to a specific gathering of believers, “the church that is in their house” in Roman 16:5. Every time that we read “Church” in the New Testament[1] it is translating the Greek word “ε[smooth breather]κκλησία”. It can refer to “an individual assembly of Christians”; the capital C Church, “the totality of all congregations of Christians at all times”; and “the gathering of persons for a purpose.”[2] The question this paper intends to answer is this; “what is my concept of the church?” Using the first definition of the church, an individual assembly of Christians, I intend to detail what I believe is the mission and purpose of the churches that God has gathered together wherever they may be. Starting with the mission, goals, and motivation of the church I will then detail the three purposes of the church; ministry to God, ministry to believers, and ministry to the world.[3]

What is the mission of the church? I believe that the mission of the church is to fulfill God’s will in the world and to glorify His name.[4] Glorifying His name and fulfilling His will go hand in hand; when we fulfill His will He receives glory, and one aspect of His will for us is to glorify Him. We see a theme of believers bringing glory to God, or causing others to give Him glory, throughout the NT and the OT. In 1 Peter 2:9-12 we are told to proclaim God’s excellencies and, through our deeds, cause gentiles (unbelievers) to glorify God. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says to His audience; “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” These are just a fraction of the verses dealing with giving glory to God. Within this mission, with its ends in sight, I believe that there are numerous goals that the church looks forward to. The obvious goal that comes out of this mission is to see God’s will done and to glorify Him in every action of the church, both as individual members and as a gathered whole.  The next goal is to see each member of the church body grow. In Colossians 1:28 Paul writes to the church in Colossae that part of his ministry was to present “every man complete in Christ.” To do this he admonished and taught the men with all wisdom. The church must have this as one of its goals; to disciple believers into a mature faith and deeper relationship with God. The church also needs to equip each believer to be ready for ministry. Scripture tells us that each and every believer is part of a royal priesthood serving God (1 Pet. 2:19) and has the role of working out His will in the world. As well as being a royal priesthood the church is Christ’s body performing an extension of His ministry in the world[5] and each believer has a role in this (1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 27-31). The last goal is to see unbelievers saved. Evangelism, spreading the Gospel, has a large part in the ministry God has given us. We are not to sit in our secluded communities growing together without feeding into the surrounding communities. In the great commission Jesus commands the disciples, and by extension the entirety of the church, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We see this echoed also in Mark 16:5 and Acts 1:8. If these are the goals and the mission of the church, what is the motivation for the church to do them? I believe our motivation is found in what Jesus summarized as the two greatest commandments, to; “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH…” and to “…LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Mark 12:30-31). It is love for God that drives us to perform his will and it is love for our neighbors that drives us to respect our brethren and reach the lost. I have given what I believe is the mission of the church, and its goals and motivation, but how exactly is the church to fulfill this mission? This is where I believe the different purposes of the church come into play. God has given three main purposes to the church and by fulfilling these all the goals will be met and the mission of the church will be acted out. In his book “Systematic Theology,” Wayne Grudem explains that “We can understand the purposes of the church in terms of ministry to God, ministry to believers, and ministry to the world.”[6]

The first ministry of the church, ministry to God, is performed in one major way: worship.  In the New Testament this worship is portrayed in two primary ways; worshiping through song and worshiping with our lives. Through the testimony of the NT and the Old Testament we can see that worship through song, often as an assembly, has always been a huge part of ministry to God. In the OT many of the psalms were written to praise and worship our great God. We also see many worshipful songs appearing in the historical narratives of the OT after God delivers Israel from a battle or through some trial. In the NT we find that the believers gathered weekly to offer praises and worship the Lord[7]. In Colossians 3:16 Paul writes to his audience; “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms andhymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Ephesians 5:18-19 also gives instructions to “be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” The interesting thing that we find in the New Testament picture of worshipping God through singing is that “Although worship emphasizes God, it is also intended to benefit the worshiper”[8].  We see this in 1 Corinthians 14:15-17 as Paul instructs the Corinthians to sing with both the spirit and the mind, because if we sing only with our spirit it fails to edify the body of Christ. The fact that our singing praise has a place in edifying the body is what leads us to believe that worship also benefits the worshiper; through the bringing of edification.[9] Worshiping in the church gathered is not merely preparation for something else, but it actually fulfills a major purpose of the church.[10] The second way we see worship done in the NT is found in Romans 12. Paul writes to the Romans; “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Each believer worships God individually by presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice to God.[11] We are to daily worship God by serving Him; we are to present ourselves completely to His will. Offering our bodies implies we are no longer our own, but are completely the property of God.[12] Because this is a living sacrifice Paul conveys that “we are sacrificed to the Lord for this end,—that our former life being destroyed in us, we may be raised up to a new life.”[13] Our bodies are to be a holy sacrifice, and part of this spiritual act of worship is to pursue the holiness that God is calling us to (1Peter 1:15-16). Together worshiping God with praise and worshiping Him individually by offering ourselves fully devoted to His purposes comprises a large part of our ministry to God. Along with this ministry the church is also called to minister to believers.

The church’s ministry to believers is vital to a healthy and sound church. This ministry is performed in many ways, but its goal is to present each believer as mature in Christ[14] and to equip believers for the many facets of ministry. Wayne Grudem writes that “According to Scripture, the church has an obligation to nurture those who are already believers and build them up to maturity in the faith.”[15] Every believer has their place in the ministry, in Ephesians 4:11-12 we are told that “He [Jesus] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” The church is filled with believers whose ministry is to equip and train the rest of believers for their role in ministry. One of these equipping roles is that of the pastor and teacher. Teaching is a vital part of the pastoral role and, as such, it is appropriate that these two terms are grouped into one ministry.[16] Someone in the pastoral ministry is to shepherd the church and to teach them in right doctrine.[17] Along with this ministry, the spiritual gift of prophecy possibly has a role in the teaching of the congregation in Scripture. John Calvin, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, writes;

By this term [Prophets] he means, (in my opinion,) not those who were endowed with the gift of prophesying [in the sense of predicting the future], but those who were endowed with a peculiar gift, not merely for interpreting Scripture, but also for applying it wisely for present use. My reason for thinking so is this, that he prefers prophecy to all other gifts, on the ground of its yielding more edification–a commendation that would not be applicable to the predicting of future events. Farther, when he describes the office of Prophets, or at least treats of what he ought principally to do, he says that he must devote himself to consolation, exhortation, and doctrine.[18]

Along with the equipping and teaching of believers, so that they can better perform the different ministries of the church and so that they become more mature in Christ, the church is also to provide fellowship. Fellowship is key in the life of a healthy church and in spiritual growth. Throughout the NT we read of the church living in community with one another and growing together (Acts 2:42-46, Acts 20:7, etc.). One common way believer’s fellowshipped was by getting together and eating. Because of our mutual faith in Jesus Christ every believer has common ground to share in fellowship. In an atmosphere of fellowship and encouragement, “intercommunication is encouraged, authenticity is increased, intimacy is developed, freedom of expression is encouraged, mutual burden bearing is primary, and prayer becomes specific, creating a sense of belonging.”[19] One last very important part of the ministry to believers is church discipline. When a believer sins rebuking and forgiveness are in order (Luke 17:3-4) and if he is walking in consistent, unrepentant sin (like the man in 1 Corinthians 5) more severe discipline is called for. Referring to the former, Galatians 6:1-2 tells us “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” When the latter case is encountered scripture calls for a hasher from of discipline, but it is to be delivered with an attitude of love (2 Thessalonians 3:13-14). In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul instructs the Corinthians not to disassociate themselves from unbelievers who live in immorality, but when they encounter a professing believer who is immoral, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a idolater, or any such thing they are to disassociate themselves from him, they are not even to eat with him. God judges those outside the church, but Paul does not discourage judging the believers and instructs them to remove the wicked man from their midst. Fellowship, teaching, and discipline work together to exhort believers and form the ministry to believers.

The last ministry of the church, but far from the least important, is the church’s ministry to the world. This is the done in two main ways; evangelism and mercy. Evangelism itself is seen in two aspects. In the church there are those who are blessed with the God given gift of evangelism, who are able to go out into the world and evangelize unbelievers like the apostles. These would be the believers given to be evangelists in Ephesians 4. In the New Testament we only see two people described as evangelists, or attributed with this role: Philip and Timothy. Philip, in Acts 21:8, is called “Phillip the evangelist”, and Paul exhorts Timothy to do the “work of an evangelist” in 2 Timothy 4:5. The primary role of an evangelist is to preach the gospel. If the apostolic ministry ended with the apostolic age then it is the evangelists who take over the ministry that we see the Apostles doing in the book of Acts.[20] The other aspect of evangelism is seen in the life and ministry of the everyday believer. In his book “Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness,” Jerry Cook talks about what he calls “the Immanuel Principle”: bringing God to people where they are, not bringing them to God.[21] When everyday believers are Christ in the world, evangelism happens. In Jesus’ ministry we see him going into the world and having meals with the sinners and degenerates of society, because it was not the “healthy” of society that needed Him, but those who were sick and dying. In 1 Corinthians 5, in the context of church of church discipline, Paul instructs the Corinthians not to dissociate themselves from the unbelievers who are sinning, and not to judge them, because that would mean leaving the world (v. 10) God is the one who should judge them, not us Christians. One of the most powerful ministries we can have is not shoving the Gospel down the throats of unbelievers, but, instead, loving them and talking with them where they are at and showing them the difference Christ makes by loving other believers. In Colossians 4:6 Paul writes to the Colossians instructing them to “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” By conducting themselves wisely and speaking with grace (v. 7) they were to make the most of the opportunities given them to speak into unbelievers lives. It is by the way we are different that unbelievers will see who Christians are and find Christianity attractive. In John 13:35 Jesus declares that “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is a powerful tool in the arsenal of every Christian in the world. We are repeatedly told to love one another and that if we say that we love God, but hate our brother, we are a liar (1 John 4:7-21, 1 John 3:14-15, 1 Peter 4:8-11, etc.). It is by our love for one another that our love for God shows. The other ways the world will know us and be changed is when we do those things that are diametrically opposed to what the world teaches. It would makes sense for someone who is a slave to hate his life and do the worst possible job and despise his master, but Scripture says that a slave is to submit and show respect no matter if his master is kind and gentle or mean and brutal (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18-19). Someone in the world does not see a need to forgive anyone, let alone to repeatedly forgive, but scripture tells us that we are not to forgive once, not forgive seven times, but to continually forgive every time it is required (Colossians 3:12-14, Matthew 18:21-22). Scripture also tells us to love even our enemies, and pray for their blessing (Matthew 5:43-48, See Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12:9-21). These are just a fraction of the things that Christians are called to do that separate us from the world, and will make the world thing twice about Christ. By bringing God into the communities, and by acting the way that God is calling us to, we can evangelize unbelievers without standing on a podium delivering a sermon. The second part of the church’s ministry to the world is the ministry of mercy. There is a strong emphasis on taking care of the material and spiritual needs of those in the church throughout scripture (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor. 8:4; 1 John 3:17, James  2:14-17), but there is also a call to do the same for those in the community, who do not believe in Jesus. In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus tells his audience to lend to their enemies without expectation of reward, to do good things, and to be merciful just as their Father is merciful. In James 1:27 James writes that “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Pure religion involves social action, taking care of those who are unable to do so for themselves. Another mercy ministry, that we as Christians undertake, is being kind and praying for those in need. Jesus prayed for many to be healed, and those healed were not only the ones who declared Him as the messiah but simply those who were in the crowd. The examples Jesus set out “should give us encouragement to carry out deeds of kindness, and to pray for healing and other needs, in the lives of unbelievers as well as believers.”[22] This mercy ministry goes beyond simply meeting the needs of people when we meet them face to face, but also to influence governmental policies to be more in line with Biblical moral principles and to pray and stand up against injustices in our world.[23] The church’s ministry to the world is an often neglected, but highly important ministry. Helping those in need and modeling Christ in the world will go a long way towards glorifying God’s name in the world and to fulfilling his will on earth.

A church, if it intends to fulfill its mission, needs to have a balance of all three of these purposes; only then will it fulfill its calling. Without discipleship and discipline the believers in an assembly may not grow to be the mature Christians God is calling them to become, for they may not hold to sound doctrine and may not deepen in their relationship with God. If a church only emphasizes worship, it will not see growth and believers may remain shallow in their faith. A church that emphasizes solely teaching and edification will end up with a spiritual drought, thereby missing the life that comes from serving God in the world and giving him praise. Similarly, if a church places emphasis solely on evangelism it may grow, but those in that church will most likely end up immature in their faith and may not hold to sound doctrine. “[A]ll three purposes of the church are commanded by the Lord in Scripture; therefore all three are important and none can be neglected.”[24] This is the concept of the church that I have come to hold while taking the class Concepts of the Church, and I believe that it is this balanced approach with the mission of glorifying God that Scripture calls for.

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New testament: the Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Calvin, John. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Translated by Rev. John Owen. Vol. 19. 22 vols. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1979.

—. Commentary On the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Translated by Rev. John Pringle. Vol. XX. XXII vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1979.

Cook, Jerry, and Stanley C. Baldwin. Love Acceptance and Forgiveness. Second. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 2009.

Erickson, Milllard J. Introducing Christian Doctrine. 2nd. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.


[1] At least in the New American Standard Bible

[2] James Swanson. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[3] Wayne Grudem; Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 867.

[4]  I know this is quite broad, but this is intentional. I believe that within this broader mission God gives each individual assembly of believers a mission suitable for their specific niche.

[5] Milllard J. Erickson; Introducing Christian Doctrine. 2nd. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 343.

[6] Grudem, 867.

[7] Erickson, 349

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Grudem, 867.

[11] Douglas J. Moo; The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 754.

[12] John Calvin; Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1979), 451.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Grudem, 867.

[15] Grudem, 867.

[16] F. F. Bruce; The New International Commentary on the New testament: the Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 348.

[17] Ibid.

[18] John Calvin; Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1979), 415.

[19] David S. Dockery, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church et al; Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 837.

[20] Bruce, 346-347.

[21] Jerry Cook and Stanley C. Baldwin; Love Acceptance and Forgiveness. 2nd (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 2009), 81.

[22] Grudem, 868.

[23] Grudem, 868.

[24] Ibid.

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