I think this comes from a misunderstood concept of what God’s purpose and place for the church is. For many the sole purpose of the church is evangelism, for others it is to care for the needy while others simply think it is a place to be refreshed for another week of living in the world, I would add living like the world. I am sure there are others but these are what come to mind right now.
The mistaken idea that the church is here solely for evangelism comes from a misunderstanding of the Matt 28:19-20. The call in Matthew is not to evangelize but to disciple and not only disciple but to teach those that are disciples to obey all that God commands. While it sounds spiritual to be all about evangelism it often leads to a truncated Gospel that stops at the cross. Often this view stems from an eschatological view that sees the end coming soon and thus saving souls is of prime importance but I can assure you over the course of history many have thought the end was near. Another issue that can stem from this view is that churches will do whatever it takes to have people make a verbal profession of faith even if it is not a true profession. In doing this, the church becomes more focused on the desires of the world than God so as to accomplish its desired result, professions. So while seeing evangelism as important is a good thing it is not to be the sole focus of the church.
How about the call to care for the needy? Well that is also an area the church is to be involved in but not at the exclusion of other things. As with evangelism it is not to be our sole goal. Some have even minimized the sharing of the Gospel so as to have the ability to get into areas to help those in need. The issue here is that helping one with physical nourishment is of little effect if their spirituals needs are not taken care of. The result here has been seen before and leads to the social Gospel and again truncates the Gospel. So we as believers should be intent on caring for the needy, first in our local church and then outside the walls of our church. Remember that when we read the NT the letters we read are in large part written to local churches and it is in those letters that the writers deal with caring for those in the local church and then moving to others
As far as the church being a place of refreshment, it should be. But as with the others if this becomes the main focus the Gospel and teachings of Christ will be marginalized or softened. There are churches and pastors that have stayed away from talking about sin due to a concern that it may upset their flock and in the process truly hindered the sanctification process of those they are to build up for the work of the ministry. This in the end makes the church more of a social club than a gathering of those called out by God to be separated from the world in both thought and deed. When the goal of the local church is to have its members and attendees feel good about life and themselves there are many difficult and convicting parts of scripture that will be avoided.
I do not want this to simply be about bashing the church but to help us see we have such a great purpose and calling in this world that to miss it is to miss the greatest joy we can have. So again what is the place of the church in this world, It is the same as the first calling of all those who are truly children of God and is stated most clearly in the answer to question one of the Westminster Shorter and Longer Catechism: Man’s chief end is to glorify God (Psalm 86; Is 60:21; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 6:20,31; Rev 4:11) and enjoy Him forever(Ps 16:5-11; Ps 144:15; Is 12:2;Luke 2:10; Phil 4:4; Rev 21:3-4).
This glorifying of God is a result of living as He calls us to live by the power He supplies to live as such. When we live as we are called we will be the light we are called to be. Yes, we will often be disliked as we dispel darkness and make those that enjoy darkness begin to squint at the glory of God. This living is not to be by our finite understanding but is to be guided and directed by the law of God, yes the law of God. Many people are intent on saying the law is not relevant to the NT believer but that misses the beauty of the law. The beauty is that when we live by God’s standards as expressed in ALL of His word we will be used by God to change the world we live in.
Even as early as Genesis 12 we see how Abram lived in such a way to make a statement as he set up altars to the one true God in a land that was intent on worshiping a multitude of non-existent god’s. It was this living differently that God was to use to both condemn and reveal Himself to the world Abram pilgrimages in. God does that today and I think this leads to the place of the church today.
The church is to be a people that stands out and in doing so is used by God to call others to Himself. We are called to be pilgrims and a peculiar people. We do this simply by being obedient to the call of God and in doing so we will be the light we are called to be. The actions of the church will not change people’s hearts but is a means by which God changes people. So when we become involved in the world we are in (the City of Man) but live by the standards of God (The City of God) God will be most glorified and His name will be magnified.
So the place of the church is to change the world. Not by our power but by God’s power. To be used by God we need to be obedient and follow His law. The Apostles lived by the word of God they had and that was the OT so we are not to minimize or worse discount all that it says but to realize that the NT lets us see that we, by the New Covenant spoken of in Jer 31:31-34, are able to live as God calls us to live. Let us be the change agents that God desires us to be. Let us realize that this is God’s world and live as such. Lastly, let us live as a church that truly sees itself as the bride of Christ.
I pray this was clear as I have such a great love for the church, as we all should. My desire is not for the church to conform to my view but to be conformed to the One that we are called to be the bride of. We need to see that it is not the place of man to dictate what the church should look like but it is our job to see what scripture, again ALL of it, dictates the church is called to be. So let us be a church that changes the world and not one that is changed by it. Let us proclaim the victory of Christ and not live as if we have been defeated and thus need to live by the rules of the world.
Also, let me add, I do not have this all figured out and am constantly finding myself doing what I think is best and not necessarily what God commands. Even though I did not grow up in the church and actually was not called by God until later in life (28) I have ideas and concepts of the church that have come from what I have seen and experienced that often do not align to God’s call for His church. So it takes a constant, conscious effort to change those default concepts that have become ingrained and one way to do this has been to write on the church.
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