By LOU TISCIONE
Samuel J. Stone wrote “The Church’s One Foundation” in 1866 which was inspired by Ephesians 2:20. His first verse is: “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word; from heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride; with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.” The church of which he wrote and of which the Bible speaks is both invisible and visible. The church is an organism, the body of Christ and an organization.
The visible church is the one we see. She is the body of all who profess the Lordship of Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, and their children. The Protestant Reformation described the true and visible church as every local congregation that preaches the pure gospel, administers the two Sacraments as ordained by Christ and exercises biblical church discipline. Both the invisible and the visible church submit to Jesus Christ who is the Head and King.
God has given the visible church a purpose and a mission. God revealed His organizing of the visible church in Ephesians 4:11. “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherd-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” (Ephesians 4:11-12.) God’s revealed order in the Church is His means by which His purpose and mission are fulfilled.
The purpose and the mission of the church are distinct but connected. The God-given purpose of the church underlies all of the things that she does, which is her mission. Before we can consider mission, we must understand purpose. By definition, purpose is concerned with being rather than doing.
What then is the church’s reason for being or existing? Or to phrase the question differently, “What is the purpose of the church? We appeal to Scripture for our answer. God’s purpose for the church was revealed in the Old Testament, (Leviticus 11:44.) This very same purpose was repeated in the New Testament, “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” (1 Peter 1:16.)
Simply stated, the purpose of the church is holiness. In other words, the church exists to be holy. The basic meaning of holy is unique and set apart. The church is God’s called out people set apart to Him. Understanding the biblical purpose of the church eliminates man-centeredness. The meaning of holiness also includes purity and perfection, which stand against the tendency to make the church look like culture in order to please men.
In Chuck Colson’s “Against the Night”, he observed that the church had become just like the world. D.L. Moody once compared the visible church to a ship in the sea. He said, “The place for the ship is in the sea, but God help the ship if the sea gets in it. Just as the place for the church is in the world, but God help the church if the world gets in it.” The Bible uses the metaphor of a bride to describe the church. She is the bride of Christ. She is the holy Jerusalem that the Apostle John was allowed to see coming down from heaven. Jesus Christ died for the church, Ephesians 5:25 to make her holy.
For the church to be holy, all its members are likewise to be holy. The individual members of the church were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy, (Ephesians 1:4.) God doesn’t leave this to the will of men. God sanctifies each and every believer. That is, He makes every member of His church more and more like Christ. He does so by the power of His Spirit who takes His word written and applies it to our hearts so that we might live holy lives for His glory.
This, by God’s design, is to take place within the visible church. 1 Peter 2:4-5, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The church does not exist to entertain us or to make us “feel” good about ourselves. The church is to be the place where the people of God are instructed to pursue godliness in the power of the Holy Spirit who works in concert with the Word.
Lou Tiscione is pastor Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).