“The church is the mirror that reflects the whole effulgence [i.e., brilliant radiance] of the Divine character. It is the grand scene in which the perfections of Jehovah are displayed to the universe.” So begins Charles Bridges’ classic book The Christian Ministry—with an emphatic statement on the purpose of the church.
Before you read further, ask yourself: why do you believe the church exists? To get people saved? To change lives? To encourage Christians? To teach the Bible? To change the culture? To keep getting bigger and bigger?
Bridges would counter—and I believe he is correct—that none of these reasons rises nearly high enough. The primary purpose of the church is to display the glory of God in the world. Many rival purposes are put forward these days as to why the church exists in the world, but this is the essence of the matter.
How clarifying it is to get the church’s true purpose properly defined in our mind! Suddenly, we are equipped to evaluate a good church. We simply ask: do I see the resplendent glory of God when I watch that church in action?
We also understand what the church must do, once we grasp what the church truly is. Bridges says it like this: “The means employed in the building of the Church are equally illustrative of the wisdom of their great Author. The exhibition of Almighty ‘strength made perfect in weakness’ effectually secures the important end—‘that no flesh should glory in his presence.’” Here is a vision of the church at work that comports with its true purpose: people who are weak, made strong by Christ. Results explicable only if God is at work.
This utterly annihilates any vision of the church that operates on mechanical principles, gimmicky methods, powerful personalities, or worldly management techniques. The biblical church is humble, holy, prayerful, and spiritually powerful. When we understand these spiritual dynamics, it’s easy to see what the church must do to accomplish its mission: namely, preach the gospel, practice the ordinances, pray down God’s power, love one another in community, live in holiness, and minister in mercy to outsiders. These are the only methods that are expressly God-given and uniquely God-exalting.
What are you wanting from your church: a deep and satisfying impression of the glory of God? Or something less, like a cool weekend show, a fun time for your kids, and a few tips for a happy life?