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The Purpose of the Church
By David A. DePra
The purpose of the church is to BECOME a living witness of Jesus Christ, and thus, glorify Him. Everything else, including evangelism, is to be the outcome of this fundamental purpose. Thus, if this purpose is NOT the goal of my church, then it has the WRONG goals and purpose.
Jesus announced this purpose right from the beginning:
But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
Notice that we are to BE witnesses. Not just be people who DO witnessing. There is a vast difference between the two. To BE a witness unto Christ means that YOU ARE the evidence that He is alive. That goes far beyond merely telling people He is alive.
If you want to know the definition of a successful church, we find it right here. A successful church is not one with lots of money, and a growing membership list. It is not one that is happy with itself. It is one that, both corporately and individually, is LIVING EVIDENCE of the risen Christ. If my church isnít at least in the process of becoming that, then something is wrong. And in the eyes of God, there is no success.
Dependence and Devotion
When we think of being a witness unto Christ, often we think of the MESSAGE of the gospel. Or perhaps we think of good works. Certainly, we are to let our light shine before men so that by our good works God may be glorified. But really, someone bound by legalism can do good works, too, and yet completely misrepresent Jesus Christ, and the gospel. So there must be more to being a witness than the things we do.
Rather than focus on good works, the core of a true witness unto Christ is a personís relationship to Him. For a Christian, we are to be characterized by our relationship to Jesus. Two primary components of this relationship are DEPENDENCE upon Him, and DEVOTION to Him.
Dependence upon Christ is evidence that I have surrendered to Him. It is also evidence that I am in the process of being made MORE reliant upon Him. The Christian life is never one in which I am made stronger. No. It is one where I am made weaker Ė so that I may depend on HIM. Thus, we have the story behind Paulís statement, "For when I am weak, then I am strong."
One of the greatest weaknesses in the church today is that we are all too strong. This is, of course, tragic irony. We operate in the power of religious flesh. We think knowledge and brain power equal spiritual health. This is error. The problem is that there is no on-going work of the Cross. Indeed, many Christians donít even know what that is.
Get that. Few Christians openly defy Godís desire to make them weak. Rather, most donít even know about it. And God doesnít disturb them. They wouldnít be able to take it.
This is primarily the fault of leadership. It is with leadership that God would start a real work of the Spirit of God. Leadership ought to be the first in line in being made dependent upon God. But it doesnít appear that this is going to happen on a wide scale any time soon.
The other trait that ought to characterize our relationship with Christ is DEVOTION to Him. But so often, we are devoted to other things. At the top of the list, many are devoted to their church. Or to their ministry.
DEVOTION to Christ means that I live for Him. I belong to Him. I work for Him. It means that there is no personal agenda in ministry, or in church. It means that I will suffer any cost for the sake of obeying Him, and keeping things pure.
Now, having said all of that, everyone would surely agree that a true witness unto Christ would be characterized by their dependence and devotion to Him. But the question is not whether we think this is a neat teaching, or a clever way of talking about Christianity. The question is whether we really ARE dependent upon Christ, and unconditionally devoted to Him. The whole point is whether we have BECOME these things in relationship to Christ.
If you have the Holy Spirit in you, He will be working unto this end: That you BECOME dependent and devoted to Christ. If we would understand this, it would explain much. It would tell us what God is in, what He is doing, and why what He is doing often seems so contrary to what we are doing. Godís priority is not to bless churches as organizations, or a ministry as a THING. He wants people who would BECOME witnesses unto Christ. Without that, the rest will never be right.
The church isnít a THING that exists. It is PEOPLE. Thus, the spiritual health of the church is only that of the composite health of the individual people. If you have a group of people who are not dependent upon Christ, the church isnít going to be dependent upon Him. If the people are more devoted to wanting to have a church so that they can be proud of themselves, then this will characterize the church as a whole. This will destroy devotion to Christ, no matter how much the people walk around talking about devotion to Him. Again, the church is people Ė and it will be the relationship those people have with Christ that determines everything.
We need to understand that dependence and devotion, indeed, becoming a witness unto Christ are not merely doctrines to talk about or teach. These are relationship words Ė and are only real when they characterized our relationship with Christ, both personally and corporately. In my personal life, for example, how dependent and devoted am I upon Jesus? Ask that question with regards to each person in my church, especially leadership, and you will discover the REAL spiritual condition of your church.
It is common practice for people to get together on Sunday morning and, "have church." We all sort of ACT a certain religious way. For some, it is traditional and standard. For others, there is an effort to, "break the mold," and be untraditional. But it is nevertheless an act Ė a pattern carved out for the sake of being, "different." Yet the pattern is irrelevant if the people are not walking in the Truth; are not dependent and devoted to Christ everyday of the week. Christianity is HIS LIFE in us. It is not having church on Sunday morning.
What this all means is that the church as a Body MUST believe, obey, and worship God in all that they do, and all that they ARE. Yes, as imperfectly as we all are. At least the INTENTION must be there. The seeking. That means not only walking in the Truth, but seeking the Truth in every situation. Instead of holding to our opinions, position, and pride, we must be willing to be totally adjusted to something else if that proves to be the Truth. There will be NO POLITICS and NO POWER plays in such a church. Devotion to Jesus will wash all of that away. Politics and power plays are always the product of being devoted to myself and my agenda, rather than to Christ.
A church that is dependent upon Christ, and devoted to Him, will absolutely refuse to compromise with the Truth. The Truth will be upheld even if it would mean the end of the church. For you see, if upholding the Truth does mean the end of the church, this is evidence that the church was never built on the Truth.
But you see, in order for a church which is NOT devoted to Christ, to GET devoted to Christ, there must be major upheavals. People must be dismissed from leadership positions, and many will be offended. There will be loss of attendance and money. In short, the church must be willing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Experience teaches us that if a pastor attempts to achieve such a change for the glory of God that he will either be fired or forced to resign. And if someone who is not a pastor tries to introduce this kind of thinking into a church that needs it, he will either be ignored or considered a troublemaker. Why? Often it is because people simply donít know Godís mind. They really donít. The blame comes if God brings His mind and His will is rejected in favor of something else. Many donít want the trauma of Truth. They donít realize what God is trying to do for them.
There is only one solution for these problems: Devoted leadership willing to lovingly, yet without compromise, put themselves on the line for God. One of the amazing things about people who are devoted to Christ is that they will be despised by all who are NOT devoted.
There are, of course, churches out there which are devoted to Christ, and dependent upon Him. But few and far between. This is a sad commentary since Christ always intended His entire Body to be characterized by these earmarks of a healthy relationship with Him.
The early church had POWER. If it had nothing else, it had that. Read Acts. This is a church that shook the very atmosphere Ė because of their relationship with God. Indeed, they shook the world.
Why? What was the secret? And why donít we have that today?
Devotion to Jesus Christ Ė at all cost Ė was a big key. Back then there was nothing about church except Jesus. HE was the reason for being. Indeed, there was everything to lose, and nothing to gain by belonging to a church. Most who met together did so because they believed.
And the teaching? Well, it was about how to walk with God Ė to His glory. It was about living HOLY LIVES, and about how to walk in the reality of what Jesus had done in His Redemption. It was about how to experience the Truth and how to become a living witness.
If your church is not teaching these things, it is not teaching the Truth. It is off the track. Church is not supposed to be about itself Ė not about, "what a wonderful thing we have here." It is about Jesus Christ.
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)
You will not find a single word, teaching, example, or mention, in the entirety of the New Testament about how to grow a church. You wonít even find that God is concerned about it. Never is such a thing spoken of as being the responsibility or focus of Christians. Instead, Christ said, "I will build My church." And Acts says, "And the Lord added daily to the church."
What God did say was this: Give yourselves to ME. Fall into my hands. Without reserve or compromise. Absolutely refuse to compromise with the Truth. And I will bless you. Not only will you personally BECOME my witnesses Ė become evidence Ė but you will, as the result, impact the world in a way that will turn many from darkness to light.
But notice something here. When God tells us to never compromise with the Truth, we think He means never to compromise with our doctrinal position. Ok. Thatís included. But what He really means is that we are never to PERSONALLY compromise with being adjusted TO the Truth. In other words, we must allow God to make us LIVING WITNESSES to the Truth. Now, that is much easier to compromise with, isnít it? Sure. For it will be costly to become adjusted to the Truth. Yet if we are not made into personal witnesses of the Truth, we are not witnesses unto Jesus. And if we are not that, then we really arenít witnesses at all.
A living witness unto Christ isnít just someone who preaches a good message. Rather, it is someone who AFFECTS people for Christ Ė in any number of ways. How does my life, my presence, and my attitude IMPACT the spiritual lives of others? For Christ? Or maybe just for me?
True ministry isnít only teaching. It is IMPACT. That is why the Bible uses the word EDIFICATION. It means to, "build up." If I am a witness unto Christ, my life will have a spiritual impact upon others who are open to the Truth -- that of building them up in HIM.
Impact is either there or it isnít there. Someone can claim to be called of God, but if there is no spiritual impact for Christ, God isnít in what they are doing. Of course, it is also possible for people to have the wrong idea of what God desires, and therefore, claim they are having an impact, when they are not. But Paul spelled out very clearly what the impact and purpose of the church should be:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: (Eph. 4:11-13)
You will notice that Paul did not say that God gave the congregation to mature the pastor or teacher. No. God gave the pastor and teacher to edify the congregation. But this is often turned upside down today. And there are enough bad pastors and leaders to justify it.
Having said that, however, notice the purpose Paul thought central in the mind of God for His people:
The maturing of the saints for the work of ministry.
For the edifying of the Body of Christ.
UNTIL WE ALL COME TO:
The unity of faith.
The knowledge of the Son of God.
Being a mature man (in Christ)
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; (Col. 1:18-19)
Is this the focus and practice of your church? Is Christ PREEMINENT?
Our prayer ought to be that the church today would focus on getting its own house in order Ė upon BECOMING LIVING EVIDENCE or a WITNESS unto Christ. This starts with leadership being personally dependent upon, and devoted to, Jesus Christ. Then our evangelism and impact upon the world would be real.
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