Another excerpt from my NWA seminar.
Stanton helpfully responded to the first excerpt querying whether it is correct to say that the purpose of the church is evangelism. He doesn't think so, neither do I. I think the purpose is making disciples so that God is glorified and his grace magnified and wondered at all over the world, and into eternity. Evangelism is not THE purpose, it is a subset of the purpose, in as much as evangelism is a subset of disciple-making. Evangelism is always contingent on (a) us being in this world - there won't be any in the New Heavens and New Earth and (b) God's purpose to bring himself glory. But because evangelism is essential in this world to bringing him glory through conversions it is inaccurate to say that it is secondary to the purpose of the church. It is a primary means of fulfilling the purpose of God because it issues the primary call to be disciples.
I was reflecting with a friend earlier today about what we think of a variety of new types of activity that say they are missional and talk a lot about community (good) but not much about core gospel content. I have to say I am positive about the contemporary recovery of an emphasis on community and very positive about church that engages the culture with the gospel in relevant ways with relevatn methods. However contentless community merely creates nice community, even if it calls itself church. Maybe community with a purpose if some purpose is clearly defined. But just having community doesn't necessarily make disciples unless the gospel is defined among them and their purpose is defined according to it.
Community that isn't formed around core gospel commitments and clear gospel purpose and proclamation will always stand in danger of merely becoming a nice group to be with. Even if there is a clear gospel purpose among the first generation, unless it is the focus and centre of the community, it won't be in the next. All too many fresh works fall apart in the second generation because people joined on the basis of good community, not on the basis of gospel vision for bringing God glory through the word of his grace in Christ.
Anyway, enough of a rant. Here is the excerpt:
Pause for a minute to consider this question: What do you, or people in your church, normally say when someone asks “why do you go to church?”
Obviously the first thing to say is that it’s the wrong question. It immediately puts centre stage a wrong definition of the church – a building you visit or organisation whose meetings you attend rather than a body you belong to. Not a people with a purpose. Not a family on a mission. Now when a believer – or a church – buys into the wrong foundations, it will develop the wrong sense of what it is for. I recently spoke to a conference of young ministers and about to be ministers and I asked them what the church is for. I was slightly surprised that few could give me a short, clear, biblical answer.
Here is a short, clear, biblical answer: most simply put, the purpose of the church is to go into all the world, making disciples of Jesus, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28). And he will be with us to the end of the age. Luke fleshes it out a little more when he says that we go into all the world with the message of repentance and forgiveness for sins. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus more and more closely and participates in the Matt 28 purpose of the church. A local church is a group of disciples who make disciples who follow Jesus more and more closely and participate in the Matthew 28 purpose of the church.
Your church has a purpose. Pause and take a look at 1 Peter 2:9-10
Do you see the identity of the church – the called out people, the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation. That is who we are. But that is not our purpose. Our purpose is to declare his excellencies to the world. If we get the two confused we will think that just being inward looking for our own spiritual care is the purpose of being the church. We will “go to church.” We won’t be the church with biblical purpose. God has called us and put us together to achieve something. Disciples who make disciples. That’s why the local church is the hope of the world. It is designed by God to be just that. It is his team, his weapon, the implement in his hand for making disciples. It isn’t arrogant to say it, its arrogant not to, if that is what God is doing.
You can see why God is passionate about the church. You can see why he calls us not only to wholehearted commitment to Christ, but to the church as well. And you can see why he is grieved and Bible writers are grieved when there is disunity. Disunity destroys the critical sense of purpose and takes the focus off bringing God glory in all the world by declaring the gospel and puts it on other worldly things.
I want to finish this post with another question: what prevents people in your church seeing themselves and the local body of believers through this grid? What stops them thinking of themselves as a people with a purpose, a team for God's glory? And how might you help tear down the false assumptions and thought processes that allow them to remain with a false view of belonging to the people of God?