The Church’s Intended Purpose

I wrote this article for my friend and former student, Maddie Stiles, for her blog, and I’d love to share it with you. Make sure to check her out her writing and support her!

You can’t do life alone.

We know this, deep down inside of our souls. We have this deep desire to be in what we call “community”: a group of people rallying around a common idea.

As I mull around the thought of togetherness within our world, clearly my mind shoots straight to how the thing we know as “Church” should operate. Being a person who’s been around church my whole life, both as a member and a leader, it’s become my whole life. There’s nothing more that I want to do other than serve in the church, because, as Bill Hybels says, “The local Church is the hope of the world.” It’s the one thing that has and will withstand the test of time, and the one thing that holds this crazy life in balance.

But, if we’re honest as we think about the Church, it’s clearly strayed from what God intended it to be.

When God established the Church in Acts, it operated all in unity, no matter how far west it spread. Today, we seemingly operate toward a common goal in massive division, whether over theology, practice, or interest.

God didn’t create denominations. We’ve set points of contention all throughout our bylaws and constitutions (yes, churches DO have constitutions and governing laws).

The Church used to rule culture. Now, culture determines how churches can and can’t operate.

We’ve strayed far from the original design of this beautiful, wonderful, crazy, and massive institution. And that breaks my heart.

So, let’s answer these questions in the following words: how did God intend the Church to operate? How can we achieve that in this day and age?

How It Should Be

To see how the Church should actually operate, we have to go back to start of it all. Now, if you haven’t spent much time around this thing called church or don’t really know much about how it all started, let’s take a short crash course to catch you up.

The Church was started as a new chapter in God’s beautiful story of restoration, redemption, and rescue. This “chapter” can be found in the latter half of what we call the Bible, a compiled two-volume history of close to everything: how the world was created, how everything got messed up, what life was like back then, how God set aside a people to bring back to Himself, how those people kept messing up, how God actually brought a remedy to the problem, and what we’re supposed to do now.

So, in this transformative history book, towards the end of the second half, called the New Testament, we get to the installment of The Acts Of The Apostles, or “Acts.” Acts was the second of two history books written by a guy named Luke, an early 1st century physician who spent a LOT of time with one of the main characters of Acts, a guy named Paul. If Luke’s name sounds familiar after looking through the books of the New Testament, it’s because he wrote a first book that bears his namesake, Luke. Luke is about Jesus, God’s Son whom He sent as the remedy to the problem, and Acts is about how the world first learned about the remedy.

Okay, that SHOULD be a basic crash course to get you caught up to speed. As we open up the book of Acts and see the early church forming and getting started, the biggest qualities that stick out can be found here:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37)

So, here’s what we find:

  • They were of one heart and soul.
  • No one was selfish.
  • They had everything in common.
  • No one had any needs.

This is what the Church was intended to be: a place where people belong and are taken care of. God’s design for the Church, a physical gathering of His people, was meant to reflect the way that the Trinity, the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, operated in harmony.

Now, I get that that’s a big idea to comprehend, even for the wisest, most learned scholars. But, it’s necessary to take into account that the Church is simply a shadow cast by God Himself, meant to turn us toward His heart and mind as we gather together.

In Christ, we belong. In Christ, we’re taken care of. And it’s only appropriate that, in God’s family and in the Church, the same thing happens.

How It Can Happen Now

These seem like pretty straightforward goals for the modern-day Church. It seems pretty easy to just be welcoming and take care of other people, right?

Well, on paper it’s easy. In theory, it’s simple. But, when it comes to execution, at least for me, it’s pretty complicated.

If we want people to feel like they belong, it takes more than just a simple, “Great to see you today!” as they walk through the front doors of the church. Coming from the inside, it takes years and years to build a culture that communicates that everyone is welcome.

If we want to take care of people, it takes more than just a simple, “What can I get you?” when we see someone in need. Our culture has politicized this notion, whether by putting it in the government’s hands or putting in the person in need’s hands. And, when our own preferences and human selfishness gets in the way, it seems like an uphill battle just to muster up the courage to step outside of our comfort zones to help someone who isn’t like us.

You see, over the years, the Church has gone through a major, unfortunate transformation. At one point, for thousands of years, the world around it sought insight and information on how to establish major tenets of science, government, and geography. As a result of the Church’s influence, the earth became round, the sun became the center of the universe, and kingdoms rose and fell. The Church changed the world.

But, as the Renaissance Period ushered in anthropocentric thought and man-driven beliefs, the Church’s role was shifted to the peripheral instead of remaining in the center. Humanism, the cultural movement that turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought, put a whole lot of emphasis on the goodness of people over the importance of supernatural matters. Rational thought trumped divine dependence, and the Church was marginalized to a portion of society, not a driving factor.

So, as we’re living 300 years after this shift, our minds have been conditioned not to be very focused on the original intent of something that our world has said is a commodity instead of a necessity. This history has made our execution of God’s intended purpose of the Church so complicated and so difficult.

Where do we fit into this massive narrative? How do we, knowing that the culture has been pushing the Church to the margins, make waves in culture to bring the Church back towards the center?

There are 3 practical things we can do to achieve the intended purpose that God designed for the Church. Now remember, they’re practical, not easy, so it’s going to take discipline and determination in order to make strides.

Know the God of the Bible.

You can’t effectively carry out something that someone wants without knowing the person. You can’t do what God has commanded His people to do unless you’re in a growing, deepening relationship with Him. Your relationship with Him cannot deepen unless you are pursuing a deeper knowledge of Him. Before you can do anything worth accomplishing, you have to know God. You have to read His Word. You have to seek after Him. That’s non-negotiable. But, as J.I. Packer writes in his aptly titled book, Knowing God, “If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.” Knowing about God isn’t an end, it’s a means to the greater end of God Himself

Live out what you believe.

Just knowing about God is part of the equation. Our knowledge should drive us to action, and the biggest action we can take is living out what we believe about God. If we believe that God is loving, we must strive to be loving. If we believe that God is kind, we must strive to be kind. If we believe that God is impartial, we must strive to be impartial. If we believe that God is light, then we must strive to be light. Our lives must reflect God and His character, which means that our character must be above reproach; we must seek to have high integrity and live up to a higher standard.

Teach others about God.

Finally, as we seek to know God and know more about Him and live out what we believe about Him, we must teach others to do the same. We have not learned what we’ve learned in order to keep it to ourselves. Jesus’ last commandment is to make disciples. Historically, we’ve made this command synonymous with “evangelizing people.” That’s just the first step in the process. The whole idea of discipleship can be found in the way that Jewish priests were trained and apprenticed. They devoted their whole lives to learning about the position, learning the laws, and learning everything in between. That’s what we must do as we make disciples: bring people into the family, then walk the journey with them.

As we pursue bringing about the intended purpose of the Church, and as we seek to know God better, I end the way I started: you can’t do life alone.

While it’s possible to get through life on your own, truthfully, you’ll never live up to your full potential and live out your true design if you live isolated.

Church was never meant to be a solitary institution. Neither is it a spectator sport. That’s why, in order for us to achieve the goal that God set for His Church, we can’t sit on the sidelines by ourselves. We have to work together, and we have to work hard.

Every ounce of effort is worth it, and every step of the way will bring heaven here to earth.

You can’t do life alone.

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