What was God's purpose in establishing the church?
The church is the body of Christ—a group of people unified (Ephesians 4:1-3) under Christ, who represent and reflect Him to the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-17). The purpose of the church is to join people of different backgrounds and talents and provide them training and opportunities for God's work. It accomplishes this both internally, within the body, and externally, in the world.
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Acts 2:42 explains the internal function of the church: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Jesus entrusted the church with the task to teach the body sound doctrine. There are many influences in the world that claim to have the truth, but God entrusted His word to the church (Ephesians 4:14). Still, knowledge of doctrine is useless if it isn't used (1 Corinthians 13:2): "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV). Sound teaching leads to spiritual maturity which leads to building up the body of Christ.
The purpose of the church is also to provide a place to "break bread." Often, this means just eating together and living life together (Acts 2:42). Formally, we break bread at the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The practice of the Lord's Supper unifies us as it reminds us that we are all saved by Christ's sacrifice. Practically, it also provides an opportunity to reconcile differences and right wrongs as we examine our interactions with fellow believers (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).
The natural result of sound teaching and a unified body is that the members of the church will take care of each other. The most powerful way to care for others is to pray for them (Acts 2:42). Just as the early church prayed for each other (Acts 12:5; Philippians 1:3-4), so we should bring each others' needs before God (Philippians 4:6-7). Within the church we are also called to show honor (Romans 12:10), compassion (Ephesians 4:32), encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and love (1 John 3:11). And we are to meet each others' practical needs. James 1:27 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." One of the primary purposes of the church is to provide for the needs of its members (Acts 20:34-35; Romans 15:26).
Externally, the purpose of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:18-20. There is no nobler purpose for the church than to introduce others to Christ. We do this in part by making sure we faithfully represent Him and become who He has called us to be. Philippians 2:15 exhorts us to be "blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation." Whether we witness to people in our neighborhoods or send others to foreign lands, the church is called to manifest the Holy Spirit in us by embodying Jesus' character and telling others about Him.
The purpose of the church is to be the believer's spiritual family. It is through the church that God takes people with different personalities and gifts, unifies them as a single body, and equips them to care for each other and reach the world. We were not meant to live the Christian life alone; surrounded by the biblical teaching and loving community of the church, together we find our own purpose in life.
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