The other day, as I was cleaning, I was thinking about the church. Not my church, specifically, but THE church as a whole. What is its function? Why was is created? If Jesus himself set about creating it, then surely it must have been brought about to have a huge impact on the world. The more I thought about it, the more clearly I heard God speaking to me on the matter. You see, so many churches these days seem to have gotten it all wrong. They focus on growing numbers, ear-tickling sermons, or being exclusive and catering to their elite members; but are those the reasons the church was created? All these thoughts swirling around in my head led me to take some time to closely study God’s word on the matter. Two primary passages stood out to me as I studied, and those are Matthew 28: 18-20 and Acts 2:40-47. While I will reference a number of passages, I will be focusing a great deal on those two passages throughout this post as I believe that together they highlight what a healthy church should look like and what it’s priorities should be.
So, without further ado…
The 4 Primary Functions of the Church
- Outreach and Evangelism. I truly believe this one is the most overlooked, and it really ought to be the most important one! I read innumerable articles on the subject of the purpose of the church, yet this one was either not talked about or was way, deep down in the list of priorities. I see a real problem there. If we look to Jesus as the standard by which we should live our lives as we are commanded to, then it becomes pretty clear that spreading the gospel should be of the utmost importance to us. Based on my study of scripture, I cannot think of anything more important to Jesus than bringing others to the knowledge of his Father. Jesus says this in Matthew 28:18-20:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” It’s called The Great Commission for a reason! Jesus was tortured and deprived and then hung on the cross and left there to die for the sole purpose of assuring me a place in heaven; I don’t know about you, but I WANT to tell others! It shouldn’t even need to be a command because our hearts should be bursting with gratitude and the desire to sing his praises it to the world!
- Baptism. Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 can be broken into three parts. As I already covered above, part one tells us to make disciples. In part two, Jesus specifically tells us to baptize new believers. Why is this? I believe that the importance of baptism is in its symbolism. It’s not only an outward display to the world of an inward change in our hearts, but it’s also a physical representation of a spiritual event. Romans 6:3-4 says the following:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Water baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – all of which were done for our salvation. We go into the water as our old, sinful selves. Sin is death; likewise, going into the water represents Jesus’ taking all of the world’s sins upon his shoulders and dying for them. The immersion in water represents Jesus’ burial, as well as our burial of our old selves. Coming out of the water represents Jesus’ resurrection. We come out of the water as new beings, free of the bondage of sin and washed clean by the shedding of Jesus’ blood. When we are baptized, we are saying to the world that we have accepted that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that we are fully embracing his freely-given gift of salvation.
To further stress the importance and significance of baptism, check out Acts 2:41-41:And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
After hearing Peter’s words, the crowd accepted salvation and were immediately baptized!
- Building-Up of Believers. The last part of the Matthew 28:18-20 command is to teach believers. If you continue reading the account of Peter’s sermon in Acts chapter 2, the same pattern is followed: make disciples, baptize, teach.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42,46-47)
After we have led people to the knowledge of Christ, we need to equip them and continue to edify them so that they are able to go out into the world and make more disciples. We accomplish this edification by teaching, rebuking, encouraging, and through fellowship and worship together. We were not designed to grow in faith alone, but in unity. Together we learn (1 Peter 2:2), hold one another accountable (Romans 15:14), encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 5:11), worship together (Colossians 3:6), partake of communion (Luke 22:19-20), and discover our place within the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). The most important thing we do in fellowship is to love one another (1 John 3:11).
- Serving Others. Jesus himself was the ultimate example of servitude. In following Christ’s example, the church is meant to serve others. Individuals make up the church as a whole, and each individual has special talents God uses to help others and to further his plan (1 Corinthians 12). Every single person’s unique spiritual gifts are necessary to God’s plan, and a big part of God’s plan is to serve one another (Galatians 5:13). Looking once again at the model church outlined in Acts 2, we see that meeting needs was something they all valued and prioritized:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (Acts 2:45-46)
We may sometimes find it easy to help out our fellow believers who are in need (Galatians 6:10), but it can be easy to forget that our duty to help others does not end there. The church is called to be his hands and feet whenever there is a need that can be met, not just under special circumstances (Matthew 25:44-46).
Ask yourself, what are the priorities of my church? Does my church focus on all of these things, or only a select few? Are they striving to follow Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20, or do they only exist to grow the numbers and financially prosper? Do they focus only on providing for the believers within the church, or do they also prioritize serving the community? Does my church have the mindset of bringing the unsaved to the gospel, or bringing the gospel to the unsaved? Is my church modeling itself after the examples set by Jesus and the early church, or after modern crowd-pleasing trends?