Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Missional Church & The Early Church (3)

This is part 3 of Dave Mc's helpful reflection on the subject!

The Church’s Purpose

What then was the purpose of the church? The church is the house of the living God, the place where God dwells. The church is where God’s people worship and glorify Him. The church is the house of prayer, the place where people bring God’s will and kingdom to the earth by their prayer and living faith. The church is where believers are built up and made to be disciples of Christ. Yet surprisingly, the church’s emphasis seems not to be on creating believers but building up believers. However, this doesn’t mean the church didn’t preach the gospel. Its purpose was also to reach the lost, and obviously it did. But as was mentioned, the believers went outside of the church to bring the gospel to the unbelievers and then added them to the church once they believed. If you want to catch fish, you go where the fish are.

Having said all this, does this mean that we should not preach the gospel in a church meeting? Actually, I believe such a question is an example of the problems some have had in returning to New Testament church practice. Some would say, “since we can’t find the preaching of the gospel in the early church meetings, then we shouldn’t have such a practice in our meetings today.” This is actually what the early Church of Christ denomination did in regard to musical instruments. Since they couldn’t find reference to musical instruments in the New Testament (although mentioned throughout the Old Testament), then they concluded there shouldn’t be musical instruments in church meetings today. But I believe that is a mistake. In our case, the issue isn’t whether or not the church practiced such a thing but what did they practice and why? And once we understand that, then we have greater clarity regarding what it means to be “New Testament.”

At the church’s beginning, virtually everyone who was in the church was a born again believer and there was no need to preach the gospel there. Not only so, in most cases the church met from house to house (there generally was not a central meeting place) and thus was somewhat decentralized. Formalized gospel meetings within the church to which unbelievers could be invited would have been less effective than simply going out to where the unbelievers were. And as was mentioned earlier, there might have been a great reluctance on the part of the unbelievers to visit a church gathering. Thus, the circumstances suggested that there was no need to preach the gospel in church gatherings. But our situation is much different today.

Firstly, there are many who attend church meetings but are not saved. In the case of grass roots, missional style congregations, it is more likely that the majority of their members will be genuine believers. But in most churches today, even evangelical assemblies, a large number of those attending are not regenerated believers. At least this is the view of many prominent church leaders. And there are distinct reasons for this (which we don’t have time to get into here). To such congregations, the preaching of the gospel certainly makes sense. But the gospel would need to be tailored to an audience who believes they are saved but are not and bringing them to a place that they can truly see their situation and their need for true repentance and salvation through the blood of Christ.

Also, there is less reluctance for unbelievers to attend church gatherings today. Thus, unbelievers could be invited to attend a church meeting in which it was determined in advance that the gospel would be presented. Or, in many cases, just the atmosphere of a church meeting might draw some to the gospel—assuming of course that the Holy Spirit is indeed present. This is why I don’t believe it makes sense to create a rule that says we shouldn’t have gospel meetings in the church since it doesn’t appear that they had them in the early church. The important thing is that we understand why the church did what she did so that we can properly make application to our present situation. Having said that, I do want to make it clear that though we can make such statements in light of church practice, this is not the case regarding doctrine. The truth is the truth and will not change over time. But church practice must be flexible to meet the present need of the culture being reached—but done so without adopting a secular world view in the process. This is, in part, what has resulted in churches today being filled with members who are not genuinely saved.


1 comment:

John Lynch said...

Dave, I love these posts!

In this one, you wrote: "What then was the purpose of the church? The church is the house of the living God, the place where God dwells. The church is where God’s people worship and glorify Him. The church is the house of prayer."

I suspect you're using words like "house" and "place" metaphorically; but I'm not sure. Biblically, the "ekklesia" is the assembly of Christ-followers & could be used in local & universal senses. Historically, theologically, & even grammatically, the biblical "church" always refers to the people of God, never the place in which they gather or the institutional model into which they organize themselves. I think that helps address the question of purpose.

So when we ask "What was the purpose of the church?" what we're asking is "What was the purpose of the people?" That's a question with a much broader gamut of possible answers!

Great question for us to work out together! Thank you!