You may be surprised to know that this is a hotly debated subject in Christian circles. One would assume that church leaders would be more united in answering this vital question.
Why does the church exist?
What is our main goal?
There are a wide variety of views out there.
The church, some argue, exists to demonstrate and work towards a more equitable and fair society.
Therefore, the church should especially be involved in helping the poor, caring for the needy and thinking creatively about how to create jobs for the unemployed.
God has, according to this view, tasked human beings to rule over his world as his vice-regents.
The church is to work towards a sustainable and environmentally sound lifestyle, to inform its members of the “biblicalness” of recycling, and stand against the international corporations that exploit the creation.
Transformation of the City
The church, according to this view, has been mandated to be God’s presence in the world to transform society by “redeeming the culture”.
The church should working towards the establishment of a Christian government that will legislate moral laws that in turn will cause more blessing from God.
Part of transforming society is helping to build better homes for the poor, better schools for the disadvantaged, and ensure more access to libraries. Some of the proponents of this view will even argue that as we transform society in this way, the kingdom of God grows.
The motto for one church in our area is “Love in Action”.
Previous conversations with this church’s leadership have shown us that they are more interested in showing authentic, sacrificial love to the community than speaking the gospel or studying the Bible.
All we need is love, says proponents of this view.
“Love your neighbour”, said Jesus!
I consider none of the above as the primary mission or mandate given to the church.
Of course, all the above concerns are important and deserve our energy and attention as Christians, but they fall into the category of loving our neighbour (i.e. the ethical command placed on each Christian as followers of Jesus), not in the category of the church’s mission in the world.
Let me explain why I say that:
Last words are normally quite significant.
Christians have always considered Jesus’ last command as recorded by the gospel writers as important to our understanding of the church’s task in the world.
Luke, in his account of Jesus’ life and teachings, gave us his version of the Great Commission:
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47)
Interesting that Jesus last command was not to build schools, feed the poor, plant vegetable gardens or establish Christian governments; but to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins.
The chief concern of gospel ministry is not social action, political renewal, helping the poor or societal transformation, but that people’s sins are forgiven through repentance and faith in Jesus.
Our chief problem as human beings is not poverty or political insignificance, but that we are due to face the anger of God for our sin and therefore destined to a Christ-less eternity.
The good news of the gospel is that God’s anger “has been turned away” (Isaiah 12:1) through Jesus’ death for us. Now sins can be forgiven.
This was the glorious message Jesus’ mandated his followers to take, starting in Jerusalem, to all nations (cf. Isaiah 12:4).
Keeping the main thing the main thing
We can build better schools, and our children can be better educated.
We can feed the hungry, and many more will have full stomachs.
We can have a Christian political party running the country and enjoy more biblical laws.
We can have all these things, but people will still die and face God’s anger.
Jesus has tasked his church to take the verbal message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to the nations.
The church’s mission is to take God’s Word to God’s world.
Don’t hear me as saying that social concerns are not important – they are extremely important. They show our love and concern for others, but they are not the primary mission of the church.
The church’s central task is to bear witness to Jesus so people may be saved from hell for heaven forever. Cf. Acts 1:8
Thus the nature of the church’s central goal is not medical, physical, philanthropical, psychological or political; but spiritual.
Edited on 20 August 2018.
Part 2 is here.