Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 39, PAGE 3,10b-11a

The Purpose Of A Church

Harry W. Pickup, Jr.

Everything which God has made serves a purpose. To use God's creation for another purpose is sin. God expects his creation to fulfill its divine purpose to the full extent of its ability.

A church is a creation of God, a relationship of saints made possible through obedience to the teaching of the gospel of grace. A church has divine purposes assigned to it. God is glorified and man is benefited when a church fulfills its divine purposes. A church has ability. God is pleased when a church strives to serve "according to ability."

It is quite possible today that God's churches are not fulfilling their divine purposes. It is most doubtful if many are serving to the full extent of their ability. Most churches are aware of this and are alert to the danger involved in such a failure. Many lessons are brought in an effort to "stir up" the brethren. But it is equally important to be sure that a church understands its God-given purposes. In this lesson I would like to particularly point out the primary purposes of a church. And also to demonstrate that each church is perfectly capable of itself to please God "according to ability."

These lessons should make it abundantly clear why it is so vitally important for Christians to participate personally in the affairs of a church. Understanding the true and real purposes of a church should be an encouragement to every Christian to become more deeply involved in these matters. And this in turn, should make it possible for a church to realize a greater potentiality and thus plan and act accordingly. The realization of and activation upon these truths will tremendously benefit each Christian in a given congregation and will benefit those who are to reap the rewards of a church's "sounding forth the word of the Lord."

Let us remember that a church of Christ is an association of Christians in a locality to carry out particular God-ordained purposes. This involves Christians who constitute a church. These are men who have become sons of God. These men live in a certain community and associate themselves in order to act together. God has assigned certain purposes to be carried out (which we shall particularly mention later on) as these Christians act together as a church.

The church at Philippi is a perfect example of this definition. Paul tells us this church is composed of saints who lived in that city. Some of these saints served as "bishops and deacons." While bishops and deacons are indispensable to the full growth and maturity of a church, they are not indispensable to the existence of a church. Let me add this comment: any church which believes it can fulfill its God-ordained purposes better or just as well without bishops and deacons is sadly mistaken. God knows best. His ways are always right and best.

The saints in Philippi acted together. They were partners and had been such for as long as their conversion to Christ. "I thank my God.... for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now." (1:3, 5) Paul urged them to continue living worthy of the gospel with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel. (1:27) The word "striving" means "to strive together." The tense of the participle is present which means they were presently striving together and he was urging them to continue. They acted together in those matters which furthered the gospel. (1:5)

Paul referred to the church at Corinth as the "fellowship of Jesus." (1 Cor. 1:9) The fellowship of Jesus is a spiritually acceptable relationship established by Christ. The word "fellowship" necessarily implies the acting together of men as partners. As we read the book of Corinthians it is impossible to escape the idea that Christians have God-given purposes to fulfill together. Acts 2 tells us that those men who "received the word and were baptized" "continued steadfastly.... in fellowship." (V. 42) Verse 44 tells us the believers were "together." James 2:2 definitely establishes that the assembling of Christians was regular and ordinary. 3 John 6 shows us that Christians assembled together and discussed matters of mutual concern.

The personal and working relationship which Christians sustain to each other, in a local church is analogous to a family. In 1 Tim. 3:5 Paul implies this analogy. "But if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" A bishop's being able to "take care of the church" is compared to the similar duty of a man's ruling his family well. Intimacy and dependency are vividly seen in this illustration. The well ordered family is a closely knit family. The people in a family are close to each other because of what they have in common (physical kinship); of what they share in common (the benefits such as security, love, etc.); of what they do in common (the wonderful, unique purposes which are served in a family).

A church is the family of God in a given locality. God's family is also a closely knit family. The ties which bind it together are not pale and insignificant ties of this world. They are ties which are spiritual and not material, enduring and not temporary. These ties are not strengthened by participation in the social affairs of a material society. They are strengthened by attention to and participation in the matters peculiar to the realm of salvation.

God's family are close to each other because of what we have in common, "all of one," Heb. 2:11; a common faith, Titus 1:4; a common salvation, Jude 3; what we share in common (such benefits as remission of sins, trust, Heb 2:13, etc.); of what we do in common (worship, furtherance of the gospel, etc.).

The closeness of a church and the need for each Christian to be a real participant in a church is seen in another analogy. The church is compared to a body, a living organism. This definition of an organism is given in Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary: "A body composed of different organs or parts performing special functions that are mutually dependent and essential to life; an organized or living being."

This definition suggests these points: (1) an organism has different or varying parts; (2) these parts have unique and needful functions to perform; (3) the various parts are dependent upon each other for the complete life for which the organism p designed.

1 Cor. 12:12-31 makes application of these points to the church in Corinth. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally (the margin says: 'members each in his part') members thereof." (V. 27) All members....Christians....have necessary functions to perform. All members are dependent upon each other. ....That there should be no schism, in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another." (V. 25) What affects one affects all. "And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (V. 26)

We must add to these thoughts that uniquely in Christ's body life and growth are dependent not upon each member's being joined to other members but by each member directly holding fast the Head of the body, Jesus Christ. "....May grow up in all things into him who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love." (Eph. 4:15, 16) The essential thing for life in Christ's body is for each member to be joined to Christ, the head. In Him is life, direction and security. But it is most needful, beneficial and therefore necessary for Christians to "care one for another."

This point shows us the real reason for the existence of a church. The primary reason for the joining of Christians together is not so that a church may do what is often called the work of a church. For the Lord could have had Christians acting independently of each other to do these things which are done through the support of a church. Christians associate with each other essentially for the help they may live to each other, for the benefits they so desperately need and can receive in their assembling.

Perhaps we can best grasp this point by an illustration. Why did God create Eve for Adam? Not essentially to procreate the human race. This is a result of their union. Eve was made for Adam because God said it was not good for him to be alone. So He made her as an "help-meet" for him, Gen. 2:17.

By analogy it is not good for Christians to be alone. They need the help and encouragement of other Christians to sustain their faith, to assure proper growth and development, for the joy which such association naturally brings.

My fellow-Christian, if you are not personally and deeply involved in the affairs of a church you are missing a great blessing and you are preventing a church from acting to the full extent of her ability. — 1161 Boston Avenue, Aurora, Colorado