Critical Issues Facing Today’s Churches Part Two
A critical question believers must ask themselves today is, “What is the nature, purpose, and function of the church?” To reach the unsaved, must the church conform to the world’s concept of relevancy? The answer, of course, is that it must conform to God’s concept of relevancy.
God intends the church to be different in nature from the world system, which means He never intended it to pander to the unsaved or to use a market-driven philosophy to attract unbelievers. Unfortunately, many churches today are falling away from God’s ideal. Yet He has revealed in His Word what He intends the church’s nature, purpose, and function to be.
Clean, Pure (Eph. 5:25–26). The word translated “cleanse” means “make clean, cleanse, purify.”1 In the Old Testament, the word most closely related in concept to the word for “holiness” was the word for “purity.”2 To the people of the Near East in Bible times, purify meant to “make free from impurity or evil.” Purity played a “highly important role in worship,” and purification included “avoidance of everything repugnant to the deity.”3 Ephesians 5:25–26 indicates that to be clean of the world’s defilement, or to be pure, the church must avoid whatever would offend God and His holy nature.
Glorious (v. 27). The word glory in the Bible refers to what is impressive or influential concerning a person or thing. “In relation to God it implies that which makes God impressive to man, the force of His self-manifestation.”4 The expression “glorious church” indicates the church is to function exactly as God wants it to function, so when unsaved people observe it, they will be deeply impressed with God and Christ. The Lord can then have life-changing influence upon them.
Spotless, Without Wrinkles, Unblemished (v. 27). Spots and wrinkles are imperfections that spoil something’s appearance. Any defilement of the church’s nature or any failure in its functioning the way God intends spoils the impression of God and Christ that the church is to make on the world.
The word translated “without blemish” means “without reproach” or “blameless.”5 The church should strive to be continually blameless in nature and function “before the judgment of God and Christ.”6
Purpose and Function
Ephesians 5:27 indicates that the church’s primary purpose is to glorify God and Christ. This involves such things as (1) doing God’s work the way He wants it done, (2) displaying God’s wisdom, and (3) doing good works for the saved and unsaved (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:9–11). It was, after all, God’s wisdom that provided a way to remove the enmity that existed between people (such as Jews and Gentiles) and thereby bring them together as equals in one body with mutual respect, harmony, love, and concern (Rom. 15:5–9; Eph. 2:11–19; 3:4–6, 9–10).
Biblically, the function of the church involves at least the following items:
Worship (originally “worthship”). Worship is to be God- and Christ-centered, not man- or self-centered. It consists of telling God and Christ how worthy and deserving they are to receive honor, reverence, homage, adoration, praise, commitment, obedience, and service. The means of worship involves studying and teaching God’s Word, willingly accepting and obeying His Word, testifying, praying, giving financially to God’s work, being baptized, partaking of communion, and expressing worth through music.
Evangelism. Evangelism declares to the unsaved the gospel defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1–8.
(See also Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8.) It is true some churches that use the world’s market-driven philosophy of conforming the church to unsaved people’s concepts of relevancy do become huge. But that approach prompts some significant questions: How many people in those churches are truly saved?What is the spiritual depth and biblical knowledge of those who are saved? Have the natures of those churches been corrupted or defiled, contrary to the holy nature God intended for the church?
We should keep in mind that what appears to be great success is no guarantee that right methods were used. God told Moses to speak to the rock to obtain water. Instead, Moses struck the rock. God gave the right result. He provided the water. But there was a consequence. Because Moses used the wrong method, God judged him by preventing him from entering the Promised Land (Num. 20:7–12).
The market-driven approach is not the way God intends the church to grow. His ordained method for numerical growth is through evangelism. Each local church should develop and consistently carry out an aggressive program of evangelism.
Training, Equipping the Saints (Eph. 4:11–21). Equipping the saints to do God’s ministry involves several factors.
- Helping believers discern how they have been gifted for ministry and training them to use their gifts effectively. Every believer has received at least one spiritual gift (ability to minister, 1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Cor. 12).
- Systematically teaching the saints all the doctrines and books of the Bible (Acts 2:42; 6:4; 20:27; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:16–17). This solemn responsibility should be the priority of pulpit and Sunday school ministries, including those for children and youth. Tragically, many churches purposely avoid teaching doctrine and the books of the Bible because they consider them controversial. Instead, they emphasize making people feel good about themselves. And, ironically, some people think that children and youth, who are amazingly capable of understanding complicated computer programs, are not capable of understanding the doctrinal teachings of the Bible.
- Administering the ordinances of believer’s baptism and communion (Acts 2:41–42; 10:47–48; 19:1–5; 1 Cor. 11:23–26).
- Fellowshiping (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 8:4; Eph. 3:9; Phil. 1:5; 1 Jn. 1:3, 7).
- Praying (Acts 2:42; 4:31; 12:5; Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2–3; 1 Th. 5:17, 25; 2 Th. 1:11; 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:8; Jas. 5:14–16).
- Maintaining a benevolence ministry (Acts 6:1–7; 1 Tim. 5:1–16).
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., “katharidzo,” A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed., rev. and aug., 1952 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 388.
- Otto Procksch, “qadosh,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:89.
- Helmer Ringgren, ”tahar,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, trans. David E. Green, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Alten Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 5:288.
- Gerhard von Rad, “cabod,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2:238.
- Friedrich Hauck, “doxa,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 4:830.
- Ibid., 831.