Problems Permeating Churches (Part 2)

The following is the second of a four-part series addressing particular problems that seem to plague many fundamental and evangelical churches today. If the true church is to be honest with itself today, it must be willing to examine and evaluate its own beliefs and practices in light of the unchanging truth of God's Word and make any necessary changes for the good of the church and for the glory of God.

Problem #2—Failure to Understand the Purpose of the Local Church

Why do believers meet together on the Lord’s Day and at other times throughout the week? What are Christians to do when they leave the confines of the church building and live life at home, at school or at the office throughout the rest of the week?

One of the greatest problems permeating fundamental and evangelical churches today is a failure to understand the purpose of the local church. As a result of this misunderstanding, churches are riddled with Christians who possess a shallow understanding of Scripture and a lack of purpose. This shallow understanding of God’s Word and lack of purpose often leads believers to look no different than the world. It causes God’s people to meander aimlessly through life and even become “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” that comes along (Eph. 4:14). Clearly, this cannot be God’s will for the lives of His children.

The local church plays a vital role in equipping believers to avoid such aimlessness and instability. Yet in order for Christians to fulfill God’s will of glorifying Him and shining as lights and testimonies to the world, the leadership of the local church must clearly understand God’s will and His directives for the local church body.

Several misconceptions exist as to the purpose of the local church in the world today:

1. Some believe that the purpose of the local church is to meet the perceived needs of those in the community. The contemporary trend in planting new churches is to survey the community and discover what the citizens of the community feel they need. Then, the church leaders pattern the new church after the perceived needs of these unbelievers.

2. Some believe that the purpose of the local church is to “save souls” or to “win people to Christ.” The major focus of such a church is to pattern the church service to seek and welcome those who are unsaved. Consequently, the majority of the sermons are evangelistic and the leaders of the church continually seek to find new ways or programs to fill the pews with those who do not know Christ.

3. Some believe that the purpose of the local church is to rally for cultural and political reform or renewal. Leaders in these churches focus the energies of the congregation on changing or “Christianizing” the culture by stressing the need to boycott, pickett and vote according to a particular platform. These churches are often “issue-oriented,” and most sermons center around the need to “take back” America or renew culture.

Of course, other churches have different ideas concerning the purpose of the local church, but what does God’s Word teach concerning the purpose—and thus the focus—of the local church?

1. We must realize that, ultimately, the purpose of the church is to glorify God. Our purpose for existence as individuals is to bring glory to God, and because the church is comprised of individuals, the church body as a whole exists to bring glory to Jesus Christ. “Unto Him (Jesus Christ) be glory in the church” (Eph. 3:21). Paul told the believers in the church at Rome to be likeminded so they could “with one mind and one mouth glorify God” (Rom. 15:6). Clearly, everything accomplished by the saints in a local church foremost should bring glory to God.

2. We must realize that the focus of the local assembly is to equip believers to do the work of the ministry. Paul told the Ephesian saints that God gifts the local church with pastor-teachers who then equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). The local church is to be a training ground for believers. And, of course, the food that is to be fed is the Word of God (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 5:2). In fact, the very epistles of the New Testament were letters written to local churches, and such letters were to be studied, taught and obeyed by the saints.

3. We must realize that the “Great Commission” is a charge to make disciples, not just “get people saved.” Evangelism is an important part of the Great Commission, but it is only one part (Matt. 28:19-20). God saves, not man. We are responsible to be witnesses of the person and work of Jesus Christ and allow God to work in the hearts and lives of men, women and children. Yet the responsibility of the church goes beyond evangelism. Discipleship is of paramount importance, and such discipleship takes place within the confines of the local church fellowship (2 Tim. 2:2).

God’s Word makes it clear—the purpose of the local church is to glorify God by equipping the saints to go out into the world and be the church in the world. — Matt Costella