Question: What is the main purpose and role of the church, as a collection of believers? And does this purpose affect the form and function of worship? Note the two sides of this issue are typically: 1) “edify the body” and 2) “reach the lost.” Be clear whether the church has one or multiple tasks, and which one is primary and which is secondary.
Ecclesiology is the study or doctrine of the church (374). One of the early church father, Isidore of Pelusium, defined the church as “the assembly of saints joined together by correct faith and excellent manner of life” (377). Luther stated that a church’s identity is tied to the preaching of the gospel taught by the apostles than to be an organization that descended from them (382). John Calvin taught that a true church rightly preached the gospel and rightly administered the sacraments (383). For Calvin, the church was the body where God brings about the sanctification of the elect (383). In the twentieth century, Karl Barth taught the church was a gathering of called persons united with Christ whom he has commissioned to serve the world (387).
The church is the corporate gathering of elect (Eph. 1.4). The church is the representative body of Christ on earth (Eph. 1.23). Jesus Christ is the head of the body and the one who keeps every member connected and organized for his purposes (Eph. 4.16). The purpose of the church is to worship God, to nurture believers, to proclaim the gospel, and to show Christian mercy to the world (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 867).
God created all things for his glory. In our union with Christ we are to bring him praise and glory (Eph. 1.12). The church is to gather together regularly (Acts 19.39; Heb. 10.24). Corporate gathering is the place where we come together to pray, sing, and worship the Lord with all our hearts (Eph. 5.19). We bring God glory through our praises when we gather together in one place with one spirit to worship him as the one true God.
The church is the organization which is tasked with the nurturing of believers. Church is the gathering where the sacraments are taken (Acts 2.47, 20.11). It is the place where believers gather to study the Scriptures and the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2.42). The church is to provide education by developing leaders and teachers who can communicate the gospel and sound doctrine (2 Tim. 2.2). The goal of this education is to make mature disciples (Eph 4.12-13; Col. 1.28). The church is to provide welfare for the physical needs of its members (Acts 2.45, 6.3, 11.29; 2 Cor. 8.4; Gal. 6.2; 1 Jn. 3.17).
Jesus commanded the church to proclaim the gospel. The church is commanded to go into the entire world to be witnesses of the truth of the gospel (Matt. 28.19; Acts 1.8). The church also is referred to as salt and light (Matt 5.13-16). The church is “salt” by bringing the cleansing and healing message of Jesus. The “light” refers the enlightening work of the Spirit through the church when the gospel is proclaimed. The church is who God has called out to proclaim the message that brings spiritual light to dark and damned world (1 Peter 2.10).
Jesus came to meet man’s spiritual and physical needs. Jesus died for the church to redeem her from her sin (Eph. 5.25). The church should imitate the mercy of God toward all men (Luke 6.35-36). The church will show the love of God both when the gospel is proclaimed and individual’s physical needs are met.
The church has multiple tasks that it is challenged to undertake as it fulfills it purposes. The diversity in these purposes for the church necessitates a prioritization of those purposes. The first priority of the church is the worship of God because the church was created by God for God. The church is God’s bride and this symbolizes the primary relationship between God and the church (Eph. 5.22-33). The second priority for the church is the edification of the body. The church is the organization which builds itself up for God. The church is a diverse organization of members whose goal is the unity and the growth of the whole body (1 Cor. 12.12-31). The third priority is the proclamation of the gospel to reach the lost world. The church is commanded to declare the gospel to the entire world because the preaching of the word is God’s means of salvation (Luke 24.47; Acts 20.21; Rom. 10.14).
Practically, the church must be formed and organized to meet all the purposes for which God has created it. God has gifted the members of the church with different skills and abilities. God has given the church instruction about how to organize itself to complete its missions. Some are called and gifted to praise God while others are called to teach the body. Some are called and gifted to proclaim the gospel through evangelistic means while others are gifted with the ability to other’s needs. The members of the church must seek unity in purpose and spirit so that it can efficiently and effectively complete its mission in this age.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th Edition. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.