Name: Greyson M. Gambrell
The Main Purpose and Role of the Church
There are so many different commands and teachings in the Scripture about things the collective body of Christ should be about; it is difficult to sum them all up in a brief paper. Grudem sums them up in his systematic theology to three functions: worship, edifying the body, and ministry to the world—which includes evangelism. First Love is underlying all things pertaining to the mission of the church. We are instructed to love God with all our hearts, mind, body, and soul. And we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourself. Without love we are missing the tutelage of the Old Testament. Christ commands us to love one another. And even to love our enemies. Therefore we are to love up toward God, love in toward our brothers and sisters, and love out to the world. This love is to be basic in the church and expresses itself in ministry: to God, each other in the church, and toward the community by evangelism and works for the community. This expression takes form in worship, edification, and evangelism and ministry.
The Great Commission directs us to make disciples of all nations. This involves both evangelism and edification. However the church on Sundays or on the Sabbath is involved in worship more than evangelism. Hopefully the word is preached with edification in mind, but a large part of Sunday or Sabbath services is worship.
Much is said about praise and worship of God and it is one way we show direct love and praise of God. Singing psalms and songs and making melody to the Lord in our heart is something we are commanded to do (see Col 3:16, Eph 4:12–13). A large part of the time when people gather for church is for worship, and that is how it should be. We who are saved are to be to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:12). In Revelation it shows how we will be in the future and worship will be part of our life forever. It should be part of a Christian’s life now, both individually and in the collected body.
When Jesus gives the command of the Great commission, He did not have just the evangelism of the world in view. First is to make disciples and baptize them—evangelism, but next is teaching them to do all that He commands—edification. Each individual in church must be growing and becoming more like Jesus. This is only achievable by instruction, reproof and rebuke. All these things should be done in love, but we are commanded to edify one another. We are to individually become mature in Christ by the warning and teaching of each other (Col. 1:28). The church should equip the saints for ministry, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12). Edification means building up and this means building knowledge and faith. The faith of Christians should come to unity be teaching and edification. The aim is for the body of Christ to become mature as members in the church become mature in faith. This is done by each member living their part of Christ growing and functioning in the body as pertaining to their part and by others correcting and teaching that member until they are mature.
The church is needed for this because rebuke and correction come from others. Teaching also comes from those who have the gift of teaching. Teaching and preaching are ministries that the church has in it for the building up of the saints for maturity, both individually and collectively. Also, help and encouragement is given by each other in the church to continue to move forward. Just like an army is stronger than independent warriors, the church collectively is stronger and helps members in particular.
Lastly the church should not just be introverted. By logic the church is just one generation from extinction. It is necessary that the body be looking outward to evangelize the lost world. The Great Commission again can be cited as Jesus commands us to make disciples and baptize them. Obviously this commission is not only to edify existing Christians but to lead them to be born again in Christ. Christ also told the apostles that they would receive the Holy Ghost and must be witnesses throughout the world (Act 1:7,8). Christ’s aim for the church at this time was certainly looking out. He wanted His body to come alive in the whole world. To neglect the mission of evangelism is to neglect an essential command and desire of Christ. The church in America is maybe in a different position due to being a Christian nation so long that people are at least nominally Christian. But the reality is that so many are lost in this so called Christian nation that right here in America, the gospel needs to be shared to those in each church’s community. Without evangelism a church becomes introverted and isolated. It is clear that the church should look to save the lost, as that is the heart of God Himself (Jn 3:17). It is the joy of the church when the lost are saved and come to the Lord, and that is part of God’s design that our joy be made complete in Christ when new people come to the Lord.
Ministry such as looking after the widows and orphans is also part of reaching out to the community. Taking care of the poor is part of the ministry of a church and a command of the Bible. This was the desire of the apostles (Gal 2:10). This shines the light of Christ because the deeds are clearly recognized and it is difficult for the world to speak against the good deeds of a church ministering to its community.
Now, as to which of these is most important, it must be said that a healthy balance is required. Some churches are cold toward outsiders and can become legalistic and introverted. The other side of the spectrum is that the church is so lost seeking that edification and carrying the work of discipleship farther is sacrificed for evangelism. Both extremes must be avoided. If one must be greater than the other it is hard to say. The great commission by Jesus commands the full process of making disciples and baptizing them and teaching them as He commands. Individual churches may lean one way or another, but both are essential to Christ’s command.
When considering worship as necessary it is very important that music and praise do not override edification from preaching. It is important though that music and praise are not lacking. The church needs to express love and admiration of God through worship. All three functions of the church are vital and none should be sacrificed in order that the church remains healthy.
These functions are not all inclusive, but include major roles of the church—its purpose. Making disciples, instructing and edifying disciples, and worship of God by disciples are functions of a church that is following the commands of Christ and the Scriptures.