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





7 comments
  1. This is just one person's opinion. I would be more interested in what God's idea is for the local church…what does scripture have to say about it?

  2. I think we see things TOO MUCH from a human point of view. So, we try to turn “the church” into a “human institution”. But, really, I don't believe that is what the Lord really intended. To know the purpose of the church we have to hear Jesus. I guess I would like to answer with the Lord's prayer, “Our Father, who art in Heaven hallowed be thy name…. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

    I think we have a “fallen mentality” – “slave mentality” when really we should not think that way. God's will is that we bring His kingdom of Heaven to earth. So, our purpose on earth is to bring the kingdom. How?? Well, I think we have to remain spiritual and not get into “this world thinking” that ends up trying to institutionalize a Heavenly kingdom – and thus contain it – thus limiting it when God wants the kingdom to be dynamic, expanding, alive. The kingdom is LIFE – a spiritual life and substance and essence of being.

    I think we have to just throw caution to the wind and free our minds to think in entirely new directions. For example, we are to bring the kingdom of Heaven on earth. That could be “mindbending” – and we might have LOTS of different, actually carnal ways that we think because we keep thinking from a “fallen mindset” and a “slave mentality”. We cannot think so Heavenly we are trying to leave earth and enter Heaven. That is not our commission. We are to be on earth and bring the kingdom of Heaven TO earth. So, I think if we go back to the Garden, before man fell from grace – that is what we are trying to be restored to, I believe – because it is the kingdom of Heaven on earth. We need personal restoration to that personal relationship (I'm writing a lot – it's the way I am… I'll quit when I feel the question is answered… and I've finished the thought… :). That is our first goal of restoration. Then we move in community to restore community. Then we move to fulfill the commandment to take dominion over the earth, etc. – and to reproduce. Now, to reproduce would mean, possibly, to win souls and to disciple others into the fullness of this restored relationship and this restored community of faith – in which we have full fellowship with God and one another in Perfect Love.

    If anyone says, “too lofty a goal” – I disagree. All things are possible. This must be our goal and purpose. Personal relationship with God, personal relationship with others – and expanding the kingdom so that others have personal relationship with God – and personal relationship within our community and family of faith – and our goal must be LOVE. These are the commands of Jesus Christ – this is the kingdom coming – and this is the restoration of all things – restoring us back to the Garden state. Of course, when we love like this – there will be miraculous healing, blessing, deliverance, and all of the promises of God will be made manifest. But we must focus relationally, imo, in love – and if we care about community and others and expansion of the kingdom – we will not have to be “plied” to give or care for the poor. It will be without thinking and from the heart with strong impetus. And, of course, we shall be so powerful a force personally individually and as a united community of faith in love – we will of course reform our societies culturally and politically. The kingdom will come.

    So that's my answer (though it's long). By the way, this is what is coming. A Great Awakening. 🙂

    Grace.

  3. The church, from what I can tell from 1st century actions, was about the fostering of real community and a place to live out and develop the kingdom of God ethos. It's the place where God meets us – in our hearts and we develop movement amongst one another and in bareing each other up as brothers and sisters. Without the focus on community and becoming this very thing – I don't think we have church per se – but some cheapened version of it we settle for.

  4. When you look at how the Pauline epistles are written, there is a structure in every one:

    1. Doctrine: (Who God is, what He has done, and who we are in Christ)
    2. Doxology: (Worship and praise God for who He is, what He has done, and who we are now in Christ)
    3. Deeds (flowing out of love, not duty)

    The church would function differently that way don't you think?

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