It is surprising, and sometimes puzzling to Church leaders, that the New Testament nowhere provides a definitive description of the Church. Rather, the Bible speaks profusely on the nature and mission of the Church but always in models and illustrations, never in straightforward definitions. The clearest understanding can be gained from three primary images that have informed Church leaders over the centuries, but for lack of space, we will concentrate on one; where the Church is sometimes pictured as the people of God. This concept has the roots in the Old Testament. God made a covenant with the people of Israel, and they became God’s own people (Gen 12:1-3; 17:1-8). Israel understood God’s expectations of them but had trouble abiding by them, just as Christians sometimes have difficulty living faithfully by the teachings of Christ.
Upon the faithfulness of Jesus, early Christians declared, God made a new covenant in fulfillment of that foretold by Jeremiah (Rom 11:27) and Joel (Acts 2:16-21). God had not called a new people but transacted a new covenant with his people. They were to be no longer Israel “after the flesh” but Israel “after the spirit” (Rom 9:6-13). Thus the followers of Jesus Christ, like Israel of the Old Testament, became the people of God – a people charged with the responsibility of sharing the Word that can restore the broken relationship between sinful humanity and a just, loving God.
It is therefore appropriate to clarify the purpose of the church. This clarification is important, because without clarity in biblical and theological foundations for ministry, techniques and methods can become detached from the very vision that birthed them. As a result, a Church can drift away from its reason for existence and become a religious Country club.
The Church is to be a community of persons who are wholeheartedly committed to doing what God wants to be accomplished on earth. This most certainly includes the great commandments, loving God supremely and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39). If the Church accomplishes it’s purpose, the result will be more love for God and for humanity. Love of God should result in prayer, devotion, commitment, a sense of piety, and growth in one’s spiritual life. Love of neighbor should result in caring, giving, confronting evil, admonishing, seeking justice, and working for the common good. A Church that suits the above description is the purpose driven Church. Jesus added another commandment at the Last Supper, asking followers to love one another in order to be a positive witness to unbelievers (Jn 13:34-35).
Put together, these commandments suggest that the purpose of the Church is to engage in activities consistently described in Scripture that increase the love of God, neighbor, and brothers and sisters in Christ. These activities are often referred to as the functions, or tasks of the Church: worship, proclamation /evangelism, education / Discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. If any Church operates outside of these key activities, it misses the mark, for it may even be a very busy Church, but will certainly fail in its witness to Christ. Blessings.
The Very Rev. Canon Michael Mukhwana