What is the Purpose of the Church

Last week I wrote that the church exists to display the glory of God. I quoted Charles Bridges, the 19th century Anglican pastor, who wrote: “[The church] is the grand scene in which the perfections of Jehovah are displayed to the universe.”

Bridges goes on to mention another, equally important purpose of the church. He argues that the church and its ministers exist for, as he puts it, “the regeneration of the world.” In other words, the church exists for the glory of God AND for the joy of all peoples. As we pursue God’s glory, our presence and ministry here will bless our community.

But it is crucial that we not get these purposes out of order. If we put our focus overmuch on bringing blessing to people, we will inevitably begin to neglect the glory of God. There are multiple reasons for this. Even as Christians, we still battle that fallen tendency to reject God’s supremacy and diminish His glory. Plus, it’s much easier to bless the world than to glorify God (when those two ends are opposed, which is not always the case). And it’s certainly much more popular. Everybody wants to be served, and everybody likes to have another gracious, need-meeting organization in town.

If we lose focus on the glory of God, we will inevitably redefine people’s needs and mistakenly assume they need a happy life more than they need to be reconciled to God in Christ.

We will adopt methods that attract attention to something other than the Savior: “Great music!” “Beautiful building.” “My kids have so much fun.” “Thanks for the donut.”

We will start to measure our success by sight rather than by faith, becoming enamored with big numbers, lots of new faces, and the affirmation of even unspiritual, unregenerate people. But why would unconverted people ever enjoy a Christ-centered church? The Bible says that the aroma of Christ is not pleasant to those without the Spirit; in fact, it smells like death (2 Cor 2:15-16).

We will tend to neglect as unnecessary the self-denying but God-exalting hard work of prayer and evangelism. After all, why should we agonize in prayer when people seem so happy and everything is working so well already?

All these will be the sad results of elevating people’s needs over God’s glory. But if we pursue God’s glory and reflect it to the world, only then will we be in position to bless our community in the many ways they need us most.