The Nature and Aim of the Church

by Justin Lonas

The church as we know it in Western society is such an established institution that it is often ignored by those who are not a part of it, and often taken for granted by those who are.

If we are to recapture the vibrant, living nature of the church (as Christ created her) from the staid and self-conscious organization it has become in our culture, it behooves us as believers to understand our purpose in the time we have on earth-not simply our individual callings, but the reason for our collective existence as the body of Christ this side of heaven.

In recent decades, the question of church identity and purpose has been answered by what we do. We who call ourselves Christians wage the culture wars on the battlefields of life issues, sexuality, morality, freedom for public expression of faith, etc., and we wonder why the fight is so hard and the victories so sparse. We provide a wide array of social services to the needy and misguided, and we wonder why we can't seem to break through to non-believers. We faithfully teach and study the Word to further our knowledge of God, and we wonder why our own children are slipping away from the church in droves as they grow up.

While our actions give voice to our identity, in and of themselves they are not who we are. If our beliefs only entail our outward displays of Christ, they are hollow and incapable of producing real change in our lives. The returns from our deeds are often more visible than the returns from our quiet devotion to Christ, but the long term result of performing works instead of striving after God's heart is a church with neither purpose nor passion. All the great achievements of the church are for naught, if not part and parcel of walking with Christ.

In a nationally syndicated July 7 column by Helen T. Gray of the Kansas City Star, Barna Group president David Kinnaman is quoted as saying, "Most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs, mainly because they lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faithThey say they are committed, but to what? They are spiritually active, but to what end? There is increasing pressure on Christians to bend and shape their views into something that's popular, something that fits the pop culture's view of what spirituality ought to beAnd why would so many Americans-seven out of 10-say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus but show so little evidence in their lives? For one thing, the church has failed to teach young people to think as Christians, so that many of them put Jesus on the shelf after they reach adulthood" (emphasis added).

What is the "holistic understanding" of our faith that Kinnaman speaks of? Micah 6:6-8 holds the answer. In contrast to the astounding acts of worship and repentance listed in verses 6 and 7, verse 8 shows that what the Lord really wants of us is "to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly" with Him. The New Testament restates that, painting "walking humbly" as knowing the person of Christ. In John chapter 6, several Jews who were fed by Jesus' multiplication of the loaves and fishes asked Him what they must do to "work the work of God." In verse 29, Jesus responded, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

Believers know that the whole of our faith lies in knowing and following God, but many of us cannot grasp the profound simplicity of that. We recite Micah 6:8, but we focus on the concrete nature of doing justly and loving mercy, rather than the not-so-defined walking humbly with our God. To know Christ and to walk humbly with Him requires the sacrifice of doing things (even the "work of God") in our own strength and according to our own plans.

If that individual calling is rightly applied to the body as a whole, it seems as though the purpose of the church has been largely missed-lost in a sea of policies and programs.

As a pastor, what is the church to you? Is the body of Christ (whether local or global) simply a source of social interaction? A provider of services to the sick and poor? A force for good in culture and politics? A counselor to the wayward souls that call it home? None of these models inherently has anything to do with the calling to know and walk with Christ. They should be pursued only as they flow from our primary purpose.

The nature and aim of the church is a single-minded devotion to Christ and bearing Him in all things. When we focus only on that, our actions then become truly the work of God. True revival can only come when we find that it is not our responsibility to bring it about.

Until collectively walking humbly with God is our true purpose, the life that is Christ will continue to escape our grasp.

Justin Lonas is publisher of Pulpit Helps.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad