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What is the biblical purpose of the church?


I have been giving a fair amount of thought recently to the question of how to express in a single sentence the biblical purpose of the church. I am not trying to tell every church what their mission statement ought to be. I am really trying to explore what my church’s mission statement ought to be if we want to be fully biblical in the sense of including everything the Bible includes and nothing that it doesn’t. Ideally, the mission statement would be pithy, inspiring, and true – true in the compass sense of always pointing members to true biblical north.

Several things have instigated this quest. One is Anthony Bradley’s recent article The New Legalism which warns of the evangelical church’s tendency to be faddish, with each new fad constituting in effect a new legalism by which churches and Christians are measured. The two hot trends Bradley addresses are the “missional” movement and the “radical Christian” movement. Bradley wonders why it isn’t enough to live an ordinary Christian life as set forth in the Bible. Wouldn’t being ordinary in that sense in fact be extraordinary? Wouldn’t it in fact be what the church most needs – and for that matter what the world most needs and God most wants? Wouldn’t it also be the easiest and the hardest thing that any Christian could do? And isn’t that one of the distinctives of true discipleship – that it is the easiest and the hardest thing we will ever do? (Mat 11.29-30; 16.24-25.) I am extrapolating on Bradley’s article here, so make sure you read it for yourself.

Now before I go any further, let me say that about a year ago I preached a series on evangelism, and my biggest take-away was that I needed, and my congregation needed, to be much more ready with the gospel, actively looking for people whose doors are open even a crack and not passing by without doing our best to get Jesus in the door. So I take it as a given that I and my congregation need to have our feet better “shod with preparation of the gospel of peace,” which is how the greatest missionary ever put it. (Eph 6.15.) (Maybe I should start the “shod” movement. Is your church “shod”? I sense a need for Christian designer footwear. I wouldn’t try to profit from this, mind you – I just want to help the church. I am available, however, for book deals and conferences.)

The other recent event which prompted my quest was hearing Andy Stanley at Chic-fil-A Leadercast state that every organization needs a one sentence mission statement so everyone in the organization knows exactly what they are about and can fully engage. Stanley claims clarity is the most important thing in any organization. Growth tends to produce complexity which is the enemy of clarity and eats away at the health of the organization. Therefore clarity must be fought for all along the way.

Now, pulling these threads together, it seems to me that the problem with many Christian trends, movements, and emphases is not that they are unbiblical but that they unwittingly substitute a biblical part for the biblical whole. This is like taking mega-doses of one vitamin to the neglect of others; it may give you a burst of energy in the short term but it leads to health problems in the long term – which in turn fuels the quest for the next wonder vitamin. The end result is a lot of less-than-healthy, vitamin obsessed Christians – along with a few rich Christians in the vitamin business.

This phenomenon, present throughout church history but never more so than today, is part of what I think Paul was speaking to when he said that we need to grow up: “No longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine . . . .” (Eph 4.14.) Sure, Paul is addressing false doctrine, but he is addressing more, for “children” are characterized not only by gullibility, but even more so by insecurity and the attendant mortification of “missing out.”

So if I am looking for a mission statement that will give members not only clarity but constant alignment to true biblical north, I have to answer the question, What are the defining purposes of the church? I took up that question as part of my series on evangelism and concluded that there are three – witness, worship, and life. I will flesh this out later, but meantime here a nutshell version of what I came up with:

In the Great Commission, Jesus gives us one of the defining purposes of the Church – to make disciples of all the nations, converting them, baptizing them, and teaching them to observe all that he has commanded. (Mat 28.19-20.) Staggering in scope, the Great Commission is quite literally “mission impossible” apart from the foundation and the promise that go with it. The foundation is Christ’s kingship – his possession of all authority in heaven and on earth. (Mat 28.18.) The promise is Christ’s pledge to give us victory in the long run – that’s what it means for Christ to be “with us always, even to the end of the age.” (Mat 28.20.)

All of this makes the Gospel an inescapably royal announcement carrying equal parts pledge of royal mercy and demand of royal submission. There is no way for such an announcement to enter the world quietly and without a ruckus. It is especially important, therefore, that we who bring the royal announcement carry credentials proving our official position as well that of our message. (Paul describes those who bring the message as heralds, ambassadors, and stewards, all of whom must carry credentials (1Cor 4.1; 2Tim 1.11).) 

So along with the message, there must be an accompanying demonstration of royal authority. And this is where the other two defining purposes of the Church come into play. What are those defining purposes? Offering praise to God (1Pet 2.5, 9) and being God’s manifest wisdom to the world (Eph 3.6, 10-11). In short, worship driven by true love to God and body life driven by true love to one another. (Mat 22.37-39; John 13.34-35; 1John 4.7-12.) These are the only credentials neither the world nor Satan can counterfeit. These are the power of God in our midst and the power of God for our message. Bottom line: We dare not fail to bring the royal message, and we dare not bring it without our royal credentials.

My idea of a good mission statement would capture that in a single sentence. Here is my first stab: The Church, a community for living life as it was meant to be, worshiping God as He deserves to be, and serving others as they ought to be. Constructive criticism is most welcome.

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