Much has been said in recent years about the purpose of the church. Some churches are intentionally guided by five ideas outlined in Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, others follow after John Piper’s doxological model. Some follow after Lenski and find purposes in Acts 2:42. Still others derive their purpose from the Great Commission in Matthew 28.
I believe all of these efforts are laudable when they base their study on New Testament instructions to the church. Churches need to carefully evaluate their purpose. However, some of our good efforts become unbalanced when we declare one purpose as more important than all others. For instance, our own movement has suffered when (in earlier days) we pursued unfettered revivalism, and then (later) may have abandoned our evangelistic zeal in favor of a teaching ministry. In isolated cases, churches in our movement allowed one ministry (busses, Christian schools, soul-winning) to take over nearly all of their time and resources.
I am grateful for the wise model of my home church in Toledo, Ohio, who long ago sponsored an Institute for Balanced Church Ministries, led by pastors who discussed the purpose of the church long before the topic became trendy.
I believe Paul has intentionally left us with an answer to the “which is most important” question by following his instructions on church meetings with a clear declaration of the gospel. He began 1 Corinthians 15 by saying, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you” (v. 1), then he added, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 3, 4). Paul’s priority was to evaluate everything (“as of first importance”) in light of the gospel.
Myron Houghton agrees, beginning his systematic theology lectures by saying, “As a theological method, an authentic evangelical theology will examine every doctrine in light of the gospel.” I believe this is also a sensible and laudable goal for us to consider as we evaluate our church meetings. Can we examine every activity of the gathered church “in light of the gospel”?
Here I recall Houghton adding a challenge when imploring his students to form a gospel-centered theology: “This has yet to be done!”
- Read the main article, “When the Church Gathers“