The Purpose of The Church

There are many iconic staples that come to mind when we think of our American culture. Baseball, apple pie, and rock rock and roll, just to name a few. But no cornerstone has embedded itself into mainstream Americana like the fast food restaurant  McDonald’s.  Whenever we take a family road trip, it is inevitable that one of our kids will make their requests for chicken nugget or cheeseburger Happy Meals.

Founded in 1940, the fast food chain has become known for its hamburgers and golden French fries. McDonald’s even branded itself with child friendly characters such as the burger loving bandit “Hambuglar” and of course, the french fry loving clown, Ronald McDonald.

There is no doubt that the purpose of the  McDonald’s franchise is to sell burgers. For goodness sake, they even boast of how many billions of burgers that have been sold under their Golden Arches. It is certain that when you hear someone say McDonald’s, a nice greasy burger is the first thing that comes to mind.

In the late 1980’s, Mcdonald’s decided to alter it’s successful and proven image of being known for hamburgers and started to offer a new item, the McPizza. The McPizza was their version of a fast food pizza and it closely resembled a mini calzone.

McDonald’s marketing team began to push the McPizza in its advertising just as much as it did their burgers. No expense was spared in their attempt to add to their image. Of course this was done in hopes of reaching a new batch of consumers.

However, the result was very disappointing for McDonald’s. The McPizza failed miserably. With top pizza chains like Dominos and Pizza Hut already dominating the market, competition was extremely intense. But more than anything, the addition of the McPizza just was not consistent with the purpose that McDonald’s had always been known for. And that was great tasting burgers. As one person said, “People went to MacDonalds for burgers and fries, not pizza.”

Ironically in the mid 80’s, Coca Cola did the same thing as McDonald’s. They tried to alter their formula from the original, calling it “New Coke” in an attempt to reach a wider audience. And much like McDonald’s, their attempts to add to the original formula concluded with disastrous results.

When something is altered or changed, for better or worse, the original purpose becomes lost. The idea is no longer what it had originally set out to be, because even the slightest deviation from the origin causes a transformation.

To want to improve upon something is human. When results appear seemingly stagnant, the immediate knee jerk reaction is to change the status quo, even if it means altering the original purpose. In the corporate world, sometimes altering the purpose works. And sometimes, as seen in the examples above, it does not. Ultimately, the decision to change must be given approval by the man who is in charge of that particular organization.

In my previous two blogs, I touched on an ever growing deception that is infiltrating the modern day church. That being the man centered trend to attempt to improve upon God’s mandates for the church. We see this in the increasing emphasis of many churches to try and look, sound, and appear more hip than holy in an attempt to attract people with more worldly affinities.  In doing this, we basically are saying that the glorious Gospel of Christ is not attractive enough, and God needs us to give it a modern day makeover. Without saying it, we doubt the power of the Gospel with our actions.

My great fear is that this mindset of improvement has infiltrated the church to our detrament. R.C. Sproul once said that he believed less than five percent of pastors truly believed in the power of the spoken word of God to save men. This was the Lord’s original game plan for church growth.

To coincide with the analogy of the corporation, if the CEO is the only one who can change the purpose statement, then as Christians and church leaders, God is our CEO. And God has mandated that the only means to church growth and salvation is the preaching of the Gospel, and calling people to repentance. There are no other means.

Sadly as Dr. Sproul had commented, a great many ministries and their leaders have lost sight of the original purpose of the church. The preaching of the Gospel has not yielded the results (or numbers of members) that they had hoped for. And so, they begin to add to the Gospel. Sometimes they will even change it all together.

The Gospel is not enough, we need lights and smoke during worship.

The Gospel is not enough, we need comedians and story tellers instead of preachers.

The Gospel is not enough, we need more acceptance and less repentance.

The Gospel is not enough, we need an image that is less holy and more culturally relevant.

No church leader would ever say these things verbally, but by their methods of operating the church, actions speak louder than words. To be sure, it is very easy to rationalize their reasons for doing this. Plenty of church pastors have boasted of how many people are being brought to the Lord as a result of their pragmatic methods.

But are we really seeing people coming to the Lord as a result of our changes or additions to the Gospel? Or are we merely seeing more warm bodies that are seeking a worldly experience with God’s name stamped on it? To answer this question, just ask the congregation why it is that they attend their church.

Many have answered this question by saying they attend their church because it makes them feel loved. And to feel loved is a good thing. But the Gospel is not about what we feel, it is grounded in what we know. The reality of God’s grace in light of our depravity is what leads men to repentance. So knowledge, not emotions, leads men to salvation.

Many have said that the music style of worship or the relaxed atmosphere is why they attend a certain church. And while these things are well and good, they are not reasons for attending a church. Any reason other than the proclamation of the Word of God are faulty primary reasons for church attendance. Justin Peters rightly said, “We are letting the goats in and calling them sheep.”

This begs the obvious question, “What is the purpose of the church?” 

A brief study of the church in Corinth will be of great benefit to us in answering this question. The church in Corinth was founded by the Apostle Paul while on his second missionary journey. Corinth was a large trade city, so it had great wealth and was the location of many Olympic type games. The city of Corinth also was extremely immersed in the world, worshipping such Gods as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

Paul preached the Gospel in Corinth for almost two years before departing. The church was no doubt on solid ground while Paul was there. But very soon after he left, the church at Corinth began to depart from the Gospel of faith alone through Christ alone that was preached to them. They began to become enamored with different personalities in the pulpit, as some claimed they were followers of Paul and others Apollos.

But the most serious problem of the Corinthian church was worldliness, and an unwillingness to divorce the culture around them. Paul received word of many sins that the church was now accepting, and he addressed them in his epistles to the Corinthians.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Again, Paul did not write these words to pagans. He wrote to the church.

Obviously the message of repentance and sternly crying out against sin was not being preached. The church began to hold an attitude of acceptance of sin, not rejection of it. And with most of the society putting a great emphasis on love, as seen by its affinity for the goddess Aphrodite, apparently the church was influenced by the culture. The church was allowing itself to look more and more like the world in the hopes of being accepted.

The state of the church at Corinth is very similar to many churches today.  In an attempt to win the culture, they begin to dress, speak, and act more worldly. And with the growing number of evangelical preachers that only desire to preach love and acceptance while shying away from preaching repentance, its as if our culture has begun to worship the false goddess Aphrodite. Just like the Corinthians.

Therefore what happens is that these churches end up drawing the world to a similar version of itself, but not to Christ. Just because a church calls itself a church, doesn’t mean it is truly the bride of Christ. Because if the Gospel that is preached is not what is used to attract men, then its not the true Gospel.

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!” 1 Corinthians 1:8.

So the questions remains, “What is the purpose of the church?” Paul gives us the answers through his example.

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-16.

Too many churches believe the power of God unto salvation lies in the charismatic ability of the preacher. These churches tend to want the preacher to tell more entertaining stories rather than exposition of scripture. The mentally is that if the preacher is just the right mix of relevant and funny, then maybe people will be saved.

However, Paul didn’t believe this. And Paul for sure didn’t exemplify this. According to what Paul wrote, he was not an eloquent or gifted communicator (2 Corinthians 11:6). He was not worried about if people would like him or his message. Paul was concerned with proclaiming truth.

Paul came proclaiming the testimony of Jesus Christ only. He was not there to entertain or to promote himself. The proclamation of the Gospel was the only trick he had in his bag. Paul went on to talk about the church participating in the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11. The supper itself is a proclamation of the atoning death of Christ and the redemption of sinful man.

And in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul emphasized the baptism of all men, Jew and Gentile. Once again, baptism being a mirror image and proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Also baptism represents the shedding of man’s sins and new life in holiness.

There are many more verses that beautifully expound on the purpose of the church. But they all center on one God given and defined purpose. The purpose of the church was never to try and fit in with the world. And our goal given by Christ was never to seek acceptance from the world by attempting to act and look more like them. This is conformity, not separation. We are called to stand firm in our separateness.

“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,” 2 Corinthians 6:17.

The purpose of the church is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to edify & equip the saints through the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of the Lord.

As Christians as well as church leaders, our job is not to be the coolest church on the block. Our job is not to create an atmosphere where sinners can feel comfortable in their sins. And our job is not make sure congregants feel amused and entertained with their Sunday morning experience. Our purpose is to proclaim all of the scriptures, both the popular verses and the hard to swallow text. Our purpose is to proclaim the Gospel.

Are we hospitable and loving in our purpose? Absolutely we are. But not at the cost of altering or shifting the emphasis off of the purpose to which God called His bride. And not in an attempt to help God out by adding to the Gospel.

The lost cannot and will never be reached with worldly means. Both John the Baptist and Christ began their ministry by calling sinners to repent. They were not ashamed of the offense it might cause, because they knew that the Gospel was the only means to salvation.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Romans 1:16.

Do we believe this today? Or are we allowing the church to become a modern day version of Corinth? Is the modern day church influencing culture with its separateness from the world? Or is it being influenced more by its apparent conformity to the world? Remember, the definition of Holy is to be separate or set apart. Therefore a church that strives to look more like the world is not Holy.

“…without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14.

If what the writer of Hebrews wrote in the verse above is true, then conformity to the world should absolutely terrify us as believers. I fear that there are many modern day churches, much like Corinth, who should heed the warning that Christ gave the church in Ephesus.

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4.

For those churches that have strayed, Jesus gives words of conviction and comfort…

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5.

If your purpose is to serve hamburgers, then you cannot reach your customers by serving them pizza. Sure, you can add pizza to the menu. But you are no longer a hamburger joint. And if the preaching of the Word is not primary within the church, then it is not a church.

It was John Calvin who said, “The preacher has nothing to say outside of the Word of God.”

What is the purpose of your church? Is it image driven or Gospel grounded? Is your church more concerned with being relevant to everyone with its conformity to the world or glorifying Christ with it’s Holy separateness?

In Isaiah chapter 6, when Isaiah was brought to a state of repentance as a result of getting a glimpse of God, it was not that Isaiah saw the Lord to be so much like him that caused him to be in awe of God. Rather, it was the Holiness and separateness of God that led Isaiah to repentance. In the same manner, the church will be used by God to lead people to repentance not because of how similar we are to the world, but because of how separate we are from it.

The seraphim in chapter 6 of Isaiah were not declaring that God was “Relevant, relevant, relevant.” Rather, they cried out “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as they covered their eyes from His blinding glory. If the Holiness of God and His non conformity to the world is what leads men to repentance, shouldn’t we as the church embrace the same example?

If God has ordained that our purpose as the church is to reach the lost by means of His Gospel, then all other alterations and additions to it will be in vain. Never be ashamed of the Gospel. For it is our only hope, and the power unto salvation.

“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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. ”Matthew 28:19-20.

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