Why does the church exist. Ask that to twenty different people and I’m likely to get twenty different answers. Is it evangelism? Is it discipleship? Worship? Social justice? Focus on deeds not creeds? The opposite?
Obviously the church does more than one thing, so how about what happens in the worship service? Maybe we can be more specific there. Dr. Michael Horton, author of Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church has thoughts on the purpose of the church, and the worship.
For instance, it isn’t about us.
The church exists in order to change the subject from us an our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various missions to save the world to Christ’s mission that has already accomplished redemption. He sends us into the world, to be sure, but not to save it. Rather he sends us into the world to witness to Christ as the only Savior and to love and serve our neighbor in our secular vocations. Evil lies not outside us but inside; it is salvation that comes from outside ourselves, (pg. 141).
He then addresses a scenario where the church is its own subculture, which is a scenario played out in churches in a variety of denominations all across the United States.
The emphasis is on their work for God. The preaching concentrates on principles and steps to living a better life, with a constant stream of exhortations: Be more committed. Read your Bible more. Pray more. Witness more. Give more. Get involved in this cause or that movement to save the world. Their calling by God to secular vocations is made secondary to finding their ministry in the church. Often malnourished because of a ministry defined by personal charisma and motivational skills rather than by knowledge and godliness, these same sheep are expected to be shepherds themselves. Always serving, they are rarely served. Ill-informed about the grand narrative of God’s work in redemptive history, they do not really know what to say to a non-Christian except to talk about their own experiences and perhaps repeat some slogans or formulas that they might be hard-pressed to explain. Furthermore, because they are expected to be so heavily involved in church-related activities (often considered more important even than the public services on Sunday), they do not have the time, energy, or opportunity to develop significant relationships outside the church. And if they were to bring a friend to church they could not be sure that he or she would hear the gospel, (pg. 190-191).
This scenario is bearing fruit, but not the fruit that one would expect. “Instead of churching the unchurched, we are well on our way to even unchurching the churched,” (pg. 204). We see this in a emphasis on “self-feeding” and less emphasis on corporate activities. More emphasis on deeds and “doing more,” and less on receiving from God.
What do you think? Is this a trend you see? Do you agree or disagree, or do you land somewhere in between?
Update: Linked by A Pilgrimage Account