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For believers, the church throughout history has been the driving force of the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ said himself before his death and resurrection that, “upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-18). In the Old Testament there are many predictions made concerning the church or the Kingdom that was to come to the New Testament. Pentecost marked the beginning of the church set forth in the New Testament. The church today is in more than 200 countries and have over 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion (Pew Research Centers). This growth of Christ’s church did not happen without Christ fulfilling his purpose through the church throughout the last 2,000 years. One can view throughout the New Testament that the purpose of the local church is to be the external and visible manifestation of the universal body of Christ.
Unfortunately the New Testament scripture does not provide an exact definition of a local church, but it does describe the normal features of a functioning local assembly. It is from these regular characteristics of local assembly are that we can formulate at least a descriptive definition of the local church. Though there isn’t a single verse that defines the purpose of the church, there is scripture such as Acts 2:42 which gives a general synopsis of what the church should consist of. We can see this very fact when Luke writes, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We see this church in Acts is to be about teaching Gods word, fellowship, and prayer. There are many other scripture passages in addition to Acts 2:4:42 in the New Testament that add to what Luke writes and also sheds light on other important aspects and values of the church. These additional characteristics seen in scriptures are characteristics such as worshiping God, studying the Word, prayer, loving each other, helping one other, baptism, Lord’s Supper and spreading the Gospel. These characteristics of the New Testament church played an important part in the local church becoming the external and visible manifestation of the universal body of Christ to the world. Each of these characteristics brings glory to God and also helps enriches the church. Charles Ryrie summaries these characteristics of the church well when he describes what the church is when he writes, “we see that the local church is an assembly of professing believers in Christ who have been baptized and who are organized to do God’s will” (Ryrie 49). Ryrie shows us that the church is those who believe in God, are baptized, and who are pursuing God and His Will that is laid out in the Scriptures. Additionally, it is also important to understand that the local church in the New Testament has always been the body of believers not a building (Eph. 1:22; 3:10; 5:23; Col. 1:1). This is important in understanding purpose and meaning of why the individual believers are vital to growth of the church and the mission that the church has.
The Apostle Paul saw the church as the foundation for unity of the body of Christ. He says, “no one can lay another foundation of the church other than the one that is laid, Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Paul speaks of the “fellowship” in 1 Corinthians 10:16 as sharing in Jesus blood and Jesus body, that is, in his death. This sharing establishes the fellowship of the church: “because there is one bread, that the many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17). Through this unification of the body of Christ believers are able to participate in the Lords Will through the local and global church through the unification of the body of Christ (Vischer 68). This unification of the body helps the church live out its mission of reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One can see that the New Testament church arise only as a result of the gospel. The gospel helps give the direction, meaning, and purpose of the local church. We can observe from the Gospel of Christ that the fundamental purpose of the Church is best expressed in the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20 demonstrations that the purpose of the church is to make disciples. “Making disciples” involves winning people to faith in Christ and helping them grow into mature, reproducing believers. Everything that the church does should contribute to this end. This form of evangelism involves sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ with those who have not yet received Him by faith. This understanding of the church being missional in reaching those who don’t know Christ, and developing and building believers to be disciples helps us understand that church is not only about the body but those who are not yet apart of the body. Authors such as John Stott describe the church as:
“The church is God’s new community. For his purpose, conceived in a past eternity, being worked out in history, and to be perfected in a future eternity, is not just to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his glory. Christ died for us not only “to redeem us from all wickedness” but also “to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Stott 19)
Stott points out that the church is Gods redemptive plan for man and is something that God had already known of before time began. God works through the church to reach others and challenge them to discovery Gods Word and will for their life. Challenging believers to reject their sinful life to live a life worthy of God and free from wickedness. Giving God their life in worship to Him.
As stated earlier, worship has great value in the local church and it desire to fulfill its purpose of being the visible manifestation of the universal body of Christ. The purpose of worship has two important purposes. First purpose being that God is glorified by the display of the faithful believer worshiping and praising Him. The other purpose of worship is for the benefit of the believer so that they can be enriched by God Spirit. Both of these purposes are mentioned in the instructions of the New Testament when Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts unto God.” (Colossians 3:16). Paul sees the significance of Baptism since it allows new believers to publically declare their new life in Christ and becoming a part of the community. This allows believers to identifying with Christ in his death and resurrection to such an extent that it may be also described as our own death and resurrection. Both worship and baptism help edify the body of Christ and being the visible manifestation of the universal body of Christ.
All in all, we see that scripture teaches us that the purpose of the Church is to be the visible manifestation of the universal body of Christ to the whole world. Throughout the New Testament we see churches embracing this call through many different forms such as baptism, the Lords Supper, prayer, spreading of the gospel and much more. The result of this is that God is being glorified and the World being able to see the gospel of Jesus lived out through the church.
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