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 the church’s primary goal?
There are a wide variety of views.
The church’s primary goal, many argue, is to advocate and work towards a more equitable, just and fair society.
The church should especially be involved in helping the poor, caring for the needy, thinking creatively about how to create jobs for the unemployed and challenging unjust societal structures.
God has tasked human beings to rule over his world as his vice-regents.
The church’s primary goal 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.
Redeem the culture
The church’s primary task, according to this view, is to be God’s presence in the world to transform society by “redeeming the culture”.
The church’s primary focus should be to work towards the establishment of a Christian-majority government that will legislate various moral laws and good practices that in turn will bring more blessing and benefits from God.
The church is to be an advocate for better homes for the poor, better schools for the disadvantaged and better labour laws for workers.
Some of the proponents of this view will argue that as we transform society in this way the kingdom of God grows.
“Love in Action” is the great slogan for these churches.
The church’s primary goal therefore, according to this view, is to demonstrate to the world what authentic, sacrificial love looks like.
“Love your neighbour”
I consider none of the above as the primary mission or mandate given to the church.
All the above concerns are very important and deserve our energy and attention as Christians, but they mostly 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:
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 (as important as these might be!), 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 destined to an eternal hell.
The good news of the gospel is that God’s anger “has been turned away” (Isaiah 12:1) through Jesus’ death for us.
Sins can now be forgiven.
This was the glorious message Jesus mandated his followers to take to the world, starting in Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 12:4).
Keeping the main thing the main thing
We could build better schools, and our children can be better educated.
We could feed the hungry, and many more will have full stomachs.
We could have a Christian political party running the country and we could have more moral laws.
We could have all these things, and 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 world.
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. Advocating for good changes in society demonstrate our love and care for others. Being concerned for and seeking to change unjust structures in our world show that we value and respect people as created in the Image of God.
However, societal change is not the primary task of the church.
The church’s central task is to bear witness to Jesus so that 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, or perhaps more correctly, eternal.
Edited on 25 August 2020
Part 2 is here.