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The Purpose of the Church
Elder David Huffman
The local church is a temporary tool established by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the expansion of the Kingdom of God!
The story of the Christian church is remarkable. It began with a handful of young disciples to become a global movement of a few billion people 2,000 years later! Just prior to his ascension, Jesus promised the Christians present, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
That promise was made to 120 people, and they took it to heart. You and I, and Redeemer Church are a result of that—we are here because they did indeed take their witness to the “end of the earth.”
The book of Acts describes the first accounts of the congregated church, and also records the growth and expansion of the congregated church into more churches. It is a popular book for church planters. It is popular for pastors. And, up until recently, if you were to ask me what the book of Acts is about, I would have said, “Its about the local church. The birth, growth and expansion of the church.” But, today, I'd suggest there's a bigger picture if we look closely:
After His great suffering and vindication, He showed His apostles that He was alive—appearing to them repeatedly over a period of 40 days, giving them many convincing proofs of His resurrection. As before, He spoke constantly of the kingdom of God.
— Acts 1:2-3
The Kingdom of God
So right away we see something that jumps out: for 40 days, all Jesus talks about is "the Kingdom of God." That is kind of interesting isn’t it? Instead of giving instructions on how to organize a gathering, or structure a church government, or how to be more effective in their culture, and how to win friends and influence people... Jesus instead spoke for 40 days about the Kingdom of God.
In fact, the Kingdom is one of the most discussed topics in the entire New Testament—it's used over 100 different times in 16 different books throughout the New Testament! If Jesus says something once, listen. Two or three times, take it very seriously. But over 100 times, in 16 books? Good golly miss Molly....pay attention!
So, after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, He immediately goes to Capernaum and begins to preach what? Matthew 4:17 “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand!” So Jesus’s earthly ministry was bookended with talking about the kingdom of God.
The book of Acts also book also ends with the Kingdom of God. Acts closes with Paul talking for two years about the kingdom of God.
For two full years, he lived there in Rome, paying all his own expenses, receiving all who came to him. With great confidence and with no hindrance, he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the ultimate authority—the Lord Jesus, God’s Anointed, the Liberating King.
— Acts 28:30-31
So, Acts opens with the Kingdom of God, closes with the kingdom of God, and—in the middle—talks about the birth of the local church. How does that fit together? Here’s how: the local church is the gathering place to teach people about the King, to disciple them in Kingdom living, and to send them out to expand God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth.
In other words, the local church is a temporary tool established by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the expansion of the Kingdom of God!
And what has happened is many have taken their eyes off the Kingdom of God, and focused them on the church. We have lost sight of the big picture, the Kingdom, which is why the church was born in the first place!
It's important for us, as we are studying the topic of "the church," to not lose sight of the big picture. The Big picture is not the church as an organization or entity—it's the reality of the Kingdom of God! That’s the big picture! The church is simply a tool established by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the expansion of His Kingdom. It is His chosen method to make the Kingdom of God known everywhere throughout the earth.
Now, keeping in mind that the Kingdom of God is the overarching theme when discussing the purpose of the local church, let's look at a handful of images that Paul, and other New Testament authors, use to depict the local church.
Biblical Images of the Church
The Bible explains the profound mystery of the church (Ephesians 5:32) using many different images and illustrations. Some of the most recognizable, and weighty, illustrations are the church as the building, the body, the bride, and the family of God:
Building of Christ
Christ is building his church and even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). He is the CORNERSTONE (Matt 21:42; Acts 4:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:6-7). And he promises he will complete the building he is making (Eph 2:21-22).
Body of Christ
Christ is the Head of the church which is his body (Eph 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23). Each member serves a vital role within the Body (Rom 12:4-8 ; Eph 3:6 ; Ephesians 4:4-5;11-16)
Bride of Christ
Christ saves and sanctifices his people through his sacrifice on the cross, which serves as the model of the relationship between a husband and a wife (Eph 5:25). Christ’s self-sacrificial love for his bride continues as he feeds and cares for her and one day will be presented to him as a spotless bride (Eph 5:29; Heb 12:23)
Family of God
God’s adoption of the lost and unworthy children of wrath into his family is paramount (1 John 3:1-2). This adoption leads to astounding privileges of being fellow heirs with Christ. This household is indeed the church universal. As adopted Children of God, we believers are bound by familial relationships as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers (1 Tim 5:2)
So, those are some commonly used and referenced images of the church. And as we move forward and looking at characteristics and advancing of the local church, you will see why.
Characteristics of the Early Church
In Acts 42, we observe the first gathering of believers:
The community continually committed themselves to learning what the apostles taught them, gathering for fellowship, breaking bread, and praying.
Everyone felt a sense of awe because the apostles were doing many signs and wonders among them. There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust.
They sold any possessions and goods that did not benefit the community and used the money to help everyone in need. They were unified as they worshiped at the temple day after day. In homes, they broke bread and shared meals with glad and generous hearts.
The new disciples praised God, and they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people of the city. Day after day the Lord added to their number everyone who was experiencing liberation.
— Acts 2:42-47
Now, there is argument as to the nature of the book of Acts in regards to literary genre. For instance, there are historical writings, poems, prescriptions, etc. that argue the book of Acts is prescriptive as to how church should be organized. However, there are others who argue it is only descriptive of what God did, and that we—today—don’t have to do church as it's depicted in Acts.
At Redeemer, we believe it's both. Acts is the first descriptive summary of the activities of the early church:
Breaking of bread;
Giving and sharing of earthly possessions.
So, again—looking at the big picture—if the church is the tool by which the Kingdom of God is expanded, these initial characteristics are vital to the expansion as well! That's not to say the above are necessarily prescriptive: not every church has to practice the above; but, if the disciples who literally saw Jesus fly into the sky felt that these things were important enough to document, perhaps we should see them as vitally important as well.
Other characteristics of the early church also depicted in Acts include:
Members met in homes and rented spaces (Acts 19:9-10; Romans 16:5);
Members gathered together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2);
Members partook of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-33);
Members blessed one another with spiritual gifts (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:24-26); and
The ministry was lead by a hierarchy of elders and deacons (Acts 6).
While I don’t think that everything here is necessarily prescriptive, it does seem that the Bible gives us a basic blueprint of ecclesiology, and yet there is still some freedom left in areas not mentioned. What you won't find is a blueprint on finance committees, children and youth ministries, or denominations. Those things aren’t bad at all—they're just not there.
In fact, some of those things are really valuable in our 21st century context. For example, a finance committee is a useful tool in our day and age because—unlike the early church—we have to give an account to our government on every cent that is given to the church, and to balance our expenses.
So, while there is a basic blueprint for some aspects of how the church can operate, there's also freedom for the local church leadership to decide how they can best leverage the resources they've been given to execute the purpose of the church: to expand the Kingdom.
Advancing the Church
Frankly, the early church was NOT perfect. How many times have you ever heard the phrase “We want to be an Acts 2 church?” That’s not a bad phrase so long as we remember that it was a group of imperfect people worshiping a perfect God. Not everything they did was amazing. But what they did developed deep roots for the church of God that lasted for 2000 years. God is still expanding His kingdom through the church.
42 AD Mark Goes to Egypt
49 AD Paul heads to Turkey
51 AD Paul heads to Greece
52 AD Thomas heads to India
54 AD Paul goes on a 3rd missionary journey
174 AD first Christians reported in Austria
280 AD first rural churches emerge in Italy (Urban movement til now: pagen (biblical word for redneck)
350 AD 31.7 Million Christian Romans (53%) of Roman Empire
432 AD Patrick Heads to Ireland
596 AD Gregory the great sends Augustine and team of Missionaries to England
635 AD the First Christian Missionaries arrive in China
740 AD Irish Monks reach Iceland
900 AD Missionaries reach Norway
1200 AD the Bible is now available in 22 different Languages
1498 AD First Christians reported in Kenya
1554 AD 1500 Converts reported in Thailand
1845 AD Leonard Destin settles in the Florida Panhandle
2015 AD Redeemer 30A launched by a small group of Christ followers in a local home
And so on... and so on... and so on.
All this is to show that God is doing exactly what He said He’d do. The Church has not slowed down or been killed out, oppressed out, murdered out, legislated out, pressed out, tortured out. Contrary to popular opinion, the Kingdom of God is thriving and advancing through local churches. Unfortunately the vast majority of them are just not here.
A book by a guy in the UN about the Christian Resurgence in the world takes the math of Christian growth and projects that in 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa, 640 million in South America, and 460 million in Asia!
This is what's happening all over the world! And based largely off of my history of traveling worldwide, I am convinced that the reason for the gospel to be advancing in other countries is largely based on their commitment to and vision of the kingdom of God (big "C” Church), rather than isometric vision of little “c” church that is so commonplace in America and developed nations. We like to strategize and institutionalize.
1857 was the last great awakening on American soil! I pray that God brings an awakening of His Kingdom here that sweeps across the nation. Lord, let that begin in our hearts here at Redeemer.
So, what can you expect from Redeemer 30A in light of the Bible's definition of the purpose of the church, and its depiction of the early church?
It is our hope and prayer that we are church about the KINGDOM first and foremost. NOTES
It is our desire that we take our basic blueprint from Scripture. We want to be a church that is devoted to:
Learning God’s word
Breaking of Bread
We also want to take into account an ecclesiological structure that is reflective of the context in which we live. For example, we will need finances.
That said, it is our prayer that we would be a church that advances the Kingdom of God both locally and globally.
A community of Christians each multiplying the gospel by going, baptizing, and teaching in the context where they live every day. Is anything else, according to the Bible, even considered a Church?
— David Platt, Radical
We may do things similar to what you are used to, and we may do it different. Please have grace with Josh and I as your leaders. Please pray for us and each other that we would be a people reflective of the early community that encourages and equips each other, even when faced with differences.
Nobody gets the church they want.
We all have preferences in regards to church. We all most likely have been a part of a church at some point, and we must realize that our preferences are directly linked to our experiences. We may have liked how a church did something, and we may have not liked other things. That means we may have preferences and presuppositions of what Redeemer should look like. But we must try and realize these presuppositions, and shelve those for the sake of God’s preferences. I have already had to shelve some desires and preferences that I had walking into Redeemer.
None of us can get the church we want; but, all of us can pray that the Lord gives us the church we need.