Apostle’s Doctrine Fellowship Breaking Of Bread Prayers
“To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:21).
One cannot correctly answer the question, “What is the purpose of the church?,” without first asking, “What is the purpose of my life as a believer?” If you feel free to live according to your own preferences, you will find that it is easy to feel open about whatever way the church functions according to convenience or custom. However, if it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), then your purpose of life will be that of being an obedient disciple. Be a believer who lives with the purpose of pleasing God above every other consideration. This will also guide you in answering the question for yourself, “Why did God establish my local assembly?”
The proper functioning of a spiritual community of believers is an extension of God’s purpose for individuals. Together we can do certain things that we cannot do as well, or not at all, as individuals. Therefore, we should not conceive of the church’s activities in terms that do not reflect the purpose of God. For example, consider the following descriptions of the local church, and ask yourself how they reflect God’s thinking. Is the church an exclusive club for a limited group? Is it a lecture auditorium where we hear good speakers? Is it a center for social work and community development? Is it an entertainment center offering, at times, tickets for admission? Is it a political action center? Is it a kitchen and dining facility for social reasons? If it is none of these, what then is God’s purpose for the local church?
1. Pictures Of Our Purpose
Our purpose together is pictured by three descriptive terms for the church in the book of Ephesians.
The Body of Christ. It is
His body and Jesus is the Head (Eph. 1:23). It is
one body (Eph. 4:4). It is built up by members using their spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:12). Its members are like Christ’s flesh and bones (Eph. 5:30). First Corinthians 12:12-27 expounds the function of the members as interdependent and varied.
B. The Bride of Christ. This expression is most clearly given in Revelation 21:2,9, but the truth is fully expounded in Ephesians 5:23-32. Christ’s love for the church is like the ideal husband’s love for a cherished wife. Affection and intimacy are strongly in view. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2).
The Building of Christ. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.. .a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:20-22). As also stated in 1 Peter 2:5, we are living stones, being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. The idea of a worshiping community, replacing the literal Temple at Jerusalem, indicates the presence of God in a particular way in the church.
From these illustrations we learn that our purpose as the Church is to build up the people of God, to be in intimate relationship with Christ as a community, and to worship together as holy priests. Is this the way we see ourselves? Is this the way those outside the Church perceive us?
2. The Essence Of Our Purpose
The local church which has a mission to please the Lord should do these things:
Glorify God by representing Him in His holy, loving, and gracious manner before the world. Those outside of Christ should see the magnificent glory of God and His Son in the lives of the people. In a special way, God is glorified through His Son (John 17:1,5). All who honor the Son, honor the Father (John 5:23). Those who display in their lives the moral likeness of the Lord Jesus, and give Him the credit, glorify God. We should show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The Church should exhibit the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) and the grace of God (Eph. 2:7) extended to us poor sinners who are but specks of dust on one tiny planet in space. Our activities should glorify God. Our lives should reflect His character. Do others see God’s glory displayed in us who profess to be His holy people? Will they fall on their faces and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among us (1 Cor. 14:25) because they see His life in us?
B. Worship God in spirit and in truth. That is what the Father seeks (John 4:23,24). We are to worship in spirit an invisible
God; not idols, images, or material objects said to represent God. We are to worship in truth, according to His plan, remembering His work for us, and the precious blood which was shed to provide the ground of our acceptance. We should worship daily as individuals. We are also called to worship Christ collectively. For this ministry, the first day of the week especially is set apart. Heaven’s worship centers on the Lamb that was slain for us (Rev. 5:11-14). It should be done likewise on earth as the assembly worships. The value of worship is seen in that Satan covets it (Matt. 4:9). Angels and devout servants of God refuse it, knowing that it is only for God. Therefore, no church should neglect what is preeminent with God in its own activities.
C. Obey God in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19,20). The commission is called “great” precisely because it exceeds other responsibilities. We are to go and make disciples, baptize them and then teach them to observe everything the Lord commanded. In the power of the Spirit, we are to be His witnesses, beginning at our “Jerusalem” (the immediate community around us) and extending to the most remote part of the world through missionary work (Acts 1:8). Local churches are represented as
lampstands (Rev. 1:20), indicating a light of testimony to those around them. Israel failed as a light to the nations. As a local church we must not fail in this responsibility. When we are not witnessing fervently as the early church did (Acts 5:42), we have ceased to be the evangelizing force. Ours is a missionary, evangelizing faith. The church is not to be a place of convenient meetings for a select group. If the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few, we should both pray and work to remedy the deficiency (Matt. 9:37,38). God is concerned about every lost soul (2 Pet. 3:9). How can we justify apathy about a perishing world?
3. The Fulfilling Of Our Purpose
What happened in the earliest meetings of the local churches? Acts 2:42 says, “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” In other words, they were studying and obeying the Word of God, strengthening one another in spiritual fellowship, observing the Lord’s Supper and praying regularly and collectively. We can analyze the purpose of the church in a larger way by utilizing various Scriptures. Acts 2:42 does not exhaust the subject.
A. Teach God’s Word, in season and out of season, if people are to be delivered from Scriptural malnutrition and ignorance (2 Tim. 4:2). This should involve listening to the whole counsel of God, not simply selected portions (Acts 20:27). The lack of systematic teaching in the whole church community has been a blight for many congregations who only hear random and assorted passages from their leaders who do not feed their souls. An earthly altar was the center of worship in the Old Testament. Our altar, the cross on which the sacrifice of Christ was made, can be seen only through effective teaching and reception of the Word. To hear and obey the Word of God is a mark of those who are heaven bound. It is superior to practicing impressive religious rituals (1 Sam. 15:22). People need more than warm, religious feelings, coming through rituals performed by a priest or minister. They need to be taught the Word of God faithfully, and shown how to study the Word of God by themselves (Acts 17:11).
B. Shepherd God’s People through spiritual leaders. Both the Lord Jesus and His apostles taught the importance of pastoral leadership (John 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 5:2). This can only be accomplished when people assemble in flocks and are tended by faithful undershepherds of the Great Shepherd. Shepherding involves the loving care of those within the flock, beginning with the new born believer, a babe in Christ (1 Pet. 2:2). The word
babe applies also to the carnal Christian (1 Cor. 3:1-3), one who remains immature, not growing on the solid food of the Word that should have been applied to his soul (Heb. 5:12-14). Such a person will not live a lawless life, an impossibility for a true believer (1 John 3:4-9). Carnal Christians have never grown out of spiritually infantile behavior. Proper shepherd care helps believers to mature, rather man live childishly in spiritual and emotional behavior. Sheep are commanded to obey their shepherds. They in turn must give account for their souls to the Lord (Heb. 13:17). This presupposes that the sheep have not isolated themselves from churches. Some believers operate as free-floating individualists without a clear commitment to any local church, something for which there is no New Testament sanction. Shepherds of the flock have a serious responsibility for their charges, and failure will be noted by God. Israel’s leaders failed in this area and came under divine condemnation (Ezek. 34:2-10). The quality of shepherding care for God’s people by elders or pastors will bring them either reward or loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Cor. 3:13-15).
Fellowship with God’s People in a community gathering, as seen in Acts 2:42. Fellowship in the church is primarily spiritual, not social. It majors on enjoying the presence of the Lord in the midst of His people. It includes speaking to Him in collective prayer and worship. Here we can give thoughtful attention to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word. When we forsake the assembling of ourselves together, we are inviting a drift from God and a weakening of spiritual life (Heb. 10:25). It is a serious mistake to lose the stimulus, encouragement, and accountability inherent in an active participation in the life of the assembly. Attending church meetings will not automatically guarantee spirituality by any means. Hypocrites and hearers only also go to meetings. Neglect of church attendance usually signals a downward spiritual course.
Edify God’s People through the mutual function of gifted people. That is why the Cord gave spiritual gifts to His people when He left this earth (Eph. 4:10-12). Such gifts are divine enablements given to each believer to build up others in the fellowship so they can better serve God. Whether it is a speaking gift such as teaching, or a serving gift such as helps or mercy, God’s object is to help others, not to fulfill personal ambition. Gifted people function like parts of the human body in variety, interdependence, and contribution to the whole (1 Cor. 12). By their very nature they operate in a group setting. The gifts mature as they are used properly, and languish when neglected. Every believer has at least one gift, and all are important to the total functioning of the church. Building up the believers involves training them for service within the church. Certain gifts operate to carry out this function. Training the twelve and others was a great part of the ministry of the Lord while He lived on earth. Training of believers to serve the Lord is as important as training children to live in the world. The New Testament does not present the idea of delegating such training to outside institutions or ministries. Rather, it is a responsibility of the church to provide training for all who wish to learn. There are, of course, certain areas of training which may require specialized help for which the church is not equipped. But as much as possible, the church needs to provide all that is necessary for the healthy growth of each member, including leadership development.
Conclusion And Application
These considerations should remind us of the broad scope of responsibilities given by God to the local church. The individual believer is called to function as a useful participant in the local Body. This community and its leaders should assume responsibility for the proper care and growth of its members. This includes requiring spiritual cleanliness or holiness for the members. God’s purpose is to have a glorious church, not having spot, wrinkle, or any such thing (Eph. 5:27). All the parts should work together in a manner which continually matures and builds up in love (Eph. 4:16). It is a company which demonstrates that it has emerged from the darkness of a sinful world. It is separated unto God’s purposes, not man’s ambitions. Then it is a true
ekklesia, a called-out assembly of Christ. It glorifies Him.
Lesson 2 The Purpose Of The Church
1. List the three corporate figures of the church mentioned in the notes.
In your own words, explain how they picture our purpose.
2. Explain one major way that a local church can glorify God
as a group. (Read 1 Thess. 1 as an example.)
3. What can you do as one believer to help fulfill the Great Commission in your local fellowship? Commit yourself to take one practical step in this direction this week. What do you plan to do?
4. When, or in what way, do you become aware that you are truly worshipping God in a church meeting? Be personal and specific. Give an illustration.
5. What do you expect from the shepherds of your local church in caring for your soul?
6. How are believers
truly edified in the local church 4:11-16)?
7. Opinion: What trends in our own church have the greatest potential to lead us away from our purpose?
8. After reading the notes and completing the study guide, do you have any unanswered questions on this lesson?