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Friday, June 19, 2009

Doing Church - Purpose

Sticking with a theme here, I want to examine the question of "Why?" Why are we here? What is the purpose of the church?

If you ask the question or just observe and infer, you'll likely get something along these lines: We're here to spread the Gospel. That, my friends, is largely the entire answer. Every church service has a Gospel invitation. Every sermon has a Gospel aim. The church is there to "proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). I mean, isn't that commonly understood? Why would you even ask?

Funny thing, but that's not what I find as the biblical function of church. First, nowhere will you find the command "Go into all the world and make converts." It's not in there. We can find "proclaim the gospel" as I indicated above, but "make converts" isn't there. What is "The Great Commission"? "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20). Boiling that down to "make converts" is a serious breach of text. It's not what He commanded. There is "go" (literally, "as you are going"). There is "make disciples". There is baptizing. There is teaching. There is no "make converts". No, no, this Great Commission is a broad command to spend your time wherever you may be bringing people along as genuine followers of Christ, baptizing them and teaching them the whole truth. You may call it "mentoring", but the easiest, biblical concept is "discipleship".

Now, to be completely fair, that is a command to Jesus's disciples. It's an individual command, then, to all who would follow Christ. How does that relate to doing church? Well, according to the Bible, the function of church is to enable individual followers of Christ to be disciples. Where do I get that?
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph 4:11-16).
He (Christ) has equipped the church with the tools that we need to ... what? "Equip the saints for the work of ministry." Why? "For building up more converts." No, no, that's not at all right. "For building up the body of Christ." And what is the goal? "Mature manhood." The goal, according to Paul here in Ephesians, is to build up the body of Christ to maturity in love.

Funny thing ... I have rarely found a church who views its primary goal as building believers in maturity. I know of precious few churches who see their primary function as making disciples, of teaching "all that I have commanded you". It just doesn't seem to be a common perspective in most churches of which I'm aware. Some will focus on evangelism. Fewer, but not an insignificant number will focus on "serving the community" -- the "social gospel". Fewer still will focus on preaching the Word, which is really a good thing -- a start on this purpose statement -- but not the whole picture. But I know of extremely few churches who see their purpose as making disciples, building mature believers, "equipping the saints".

So I ask ... are we sure we're doing church right? What we're doing may be good and all that (there's certainly nothing wrong with evangelism, serving the community, or preaching the Word), but is it biblical? Are we doing church like we are intended to?


Dan Trabue said...

Excellent points and good questions. Good observation of the Text, too.

Along those lines, I have wondered (have I done so here? I can't recall) what it was that Jesus' disciples taught when they "proclaimed the good news?" What WAS that good news they proclaimed when Jesus sent them out, two by two?

Obviously, it wasn't that Jesus came to live and die on a cross for the remission of sins, since Jesus had not yet died. Or IS that obvious?

When Jesus explained why he had come, he quoted Isaiah, saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings [good news] to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." (Luke 4)

Was this the flavor of what his sermons/outreach would have looked like?

When John the Baptist was in prison and sent friends to ask Jesus if he was The One, Jesus replied...

"Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM." (Luke 7)

But what did Jesus mean by "gospel," or "Good News" that was preached to the poor? Why so consistently is it mentioned specifically "To the poor," I think is another good question.

Stan said...

According to the Gospels, Jesus's first message ("gospel") was "Repent" (Matt 4:17). Interestingly, it was also Peter's first sermon (Acts 2:38).

I think there is often a disconnect in our modern minds between "repent" and "good news". We think, "You can't tell them they're wrong and have it be 'good news'. You can't call on them to repent and have it be 'gospel'." I would disagree with that notion. (No, you didn't say it, so, no, I'm not disagreeing with you.)

Dan Trabue said...

I agree - repenting (ie, agreeing with God that THIS is wrong and turning from THIS to THAT) IS very good news.

For instance, for the man who is drowning in the trappings of wealth, repenting and letting go of that wealth (as in Jesus good news to the rich young man) would be an incredibly liberating thing. Good news, indeed.

Dan Trabue said...

Do you think most/any of our sermons today look like Jesus' sermons found in the Bible - the sermon on the mount/plain, for instance?

Do you think it would be good if they did more often?

I've been looking a little trying to find some online source (or book) that separates general teachings of Jesus from any actual sermons he preached (again, the Sermon on the Mount/Plain, that seems clearly to be more of a sermon, but a lot of the teachings seem more like general conversational teaching moments he had with his disciples, the Pharisees and/or others).

Are you familiar with any such source?

Stan said...

I'd have a hard time differentiating between His "Sermon on the Mount" sermons versus all the other teaching He did. It seems to me that His style ranged from gentle to fire-and-brimstone, from "it's all good" to "you're on the very edge of damnation!" So I would have a hard time deciding if today's sermons are more or less like His.

Stan said...

Simple question, Dan Trabue, not intending lengthy discussion or debate. Just a question for information. You keep coming back to this "poor" thing (or the mirror image of "the man who is drowning in the trappings of wealth"). I'm wondering. I know you consider violence a sin. Do you consider wealth a sin? If so, how would you define "wealthy" (that would be considered sinful)?

Like I said, don't look for a debate from me on this. I'm just asking.

Dan Trabue said...

Nothing to debate, I don't think.

1. I don't think wealth is a sin, in and of itself;

2. I think there is a large and quite clear body of biblical opinion warning strongly of the dangers of the trappings of wealth. ("Woe to you who are rich," "Is it not the wealthy who oppress you?," "God fills the starving with good things, and ends the rich away empty," "Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries...," for instance);

3. I think the message is SO strong and SO constant throughout the whole of the Bible and from the words of Jesus hisself, that we ought to be wary of wealth, but absolutely NO, I don't think wealth is a sin itself;

4. Contrariwise, I do also note the constant and strong biblical witness on behalf of the poor and marginalized and think that how we treat the poor and how we deal with wealth is probably one of the 1-3 most talked about topics in the Bible and worthy of our consideration;

5. It is for this educational reason that I often bring up or quote some of these many passages in conversations - one way of keeping it in my mind and on the church's mind.

Thanks for asking.

Dan Trabue said...

His style ranged from gentle to fire-and-brimstone, from "it's all good" to "you're on the very edge of damnation!"

It may be helpful to consider his audience for his messages as a clue to what our messages should look like. I could be wrong, but I think each and every one of his (certainly most) "You're on the edge of damnation!" type messages were to the religious and/or religious hypocrites of his day, not to the harlots, the tax collectors and "sinners."

To be sure, he corrected these "sinners," too (telling the woman accused of adultery, "go and sin no more"), but I don't believe any of the harsh rhetoric exists in his dealings with "normal sinners."


Stan said...

On the "poor" question, how would you measure "poor"? (You know ... most of the world would define all Americans as "rich".)

On the preaching question, I would think that the rhetoric would be aimed exactly at the need.

Dan Trabue said...

Poor, as in having a difficult time meeting basic needs (food, water, shelter, health care).

Although I don't make much by US measures (until recently, fairly solidly lower middle class and recently becoming more solidly just middle class), I certainly count myself among the wealthy and it is with alarm and deep concern that I read Jesus' words, at least at times.

Dan Trabue said...

I know you consider violence a sin.

Just to clarify, I would probably suggest that violence tends to be sinful, especially deadly and/or oppressive violence, especially when innocents are harmed.

There may be exceptions when I would not consider violence a sin (responding to an assault on a child, for instance, even if one used violent actions, I would not call that a sin).

Just for clarity's sake...

Stan said...

Thanks for the clarification, although my comments was intended as shorthand, not a comprehensive description.