The Church’s Chief End

An Article by Peter Barnes, From The Banner of Truth

There  is  much  debate  in  the  modern  church  about  what  exactly  is  her  mission.  Often  the  answer  that  is  given  is  not  so  much  wrong  as  lop-sided,  and  exaggerated  implications  and  conclusions  are  drawn  from  that.  There  are  probably  three  main  views:  the  Church  exists  to  glorify  God;  the  Church  exists  to  build  up  the  saints;  and  the  Church  exists  for  mission,  to  evangelize  the  world.  These  three  views  should  not  be  played  off  against  one  another,  and  a  grasp  of  each  one  will  prevent  us  from  misinterpreting  any  one  of  them.

The  Church’s  first  task,  surely,  is  to  glorify  God.  Paul  says  that  ‘whether  you  eat  or  drink,  or  whatever  you  do,  do  all  to  the  glory  of  God’  (1 Cor.10:31).  Earlier  in  1 Corinthians,  Paul  had  said,  in  the  context  of  sexual  ethics,  that  we  are  to  glorify  God  in  our  bodies  (1 Cor.6:20).  The  unbeliever  is  meant  to  see  the  good  deeds  of  the  Christian  and  go  on  to  glorify  God  (1 Pet.2:12).  The  Psalmist  tells  us  of  God’s  attributes  and  character  in  such  a  way  that  we  are  meant  to  glorify  and  worship  our  creator  and  Lord:  ‘Your  righteousness,  O  God,  reaches  the  high  heavens. You  who  have  done  great  things,  O  God,  who  is  like  You?’  (Ps.71:19)

In  fact,  ‘Great  is  the  Lord,  and  greatly  to  be  praised,  and  His  greatness  is  unsearchable’  (Psalm 145:3).  This  is  to  be  reflected  in  our  meetings  together.  They  are  not  just  to  be  where  we  are  encouraged  or  learn  something  that  is  handy  for  daily  living.  The  priority  is  not  that  we  ‘get  something’  out  of  the  service.  Rather,  it  is  that  God  is  glorified  with  true  adoration  and  praise.  Paul  holds  out  the  hope  that  an  unbeliever  or  outsider  might  enter  the  meeting,  and  be  convicted  and  called to  account.  The  secrets  of  his  heart  are disclosed,  and  so,  falling  on  his  face,  he  will  worship  God  and  declare  that  He  is  present  (1 Cor.14:24-25).  Fellowship  is  to  be  found  amongst  Christians,  yes,  but  also  with  the  Father  and  the  Son,  Jesus  Christ  (1 John 1:3).  This  takes  us  out  of  ourselves  when  we  pray,  we  hear  the  Word  of  God,  and  we  sing  His  praises.  We  are  meant  to  be  glorifying  God  more  than  satisfying  our  needs.  There  is  an  ever-present  danger  that  expedience  or  the  desire  to  be  relevant  may  entice  us  to  follow  Nadab  and  Abihu  in  offering  up  profane  fire  to  the  Lord  (see  Lev.10:1-3).  The  Psalmist’s  perspective  must  be  a  constant  corrective:  ‘Not  to  us,  O  Lord,  not  to  us,  but  to  Your  name  give  glory,  for  the  sake  of  Your  steadfast  love  and  Your  faithfulness’  (Ps.115:1).

The  Church’s  second  task  is  to  edify  the  saints.  Dietrich  Bonhoeffer  declared  that  ‘The  essence  of  the  church  is  not  to  practice  theology  but  to  believe  and  obey  the  word  of  God.’  Christopher  Ash  interprets  Bonhoeffer  to  mean  that  the  Church’s  task  is  to  build  itself  up  by  the  Word  of  God.  In  Ash’s  words:  ‘We  reach  the  world  by  preaching  to  the  church.’  Certainly,  the  New  Testament  places  much  emphasis  on  the  spiritual  growth  of  those  who  are  Christians.  For  example,  in  the  epistles  at  least,  Paul  prays  more  frequently  for  the  sanctification  of  those  who  are  professing  Christians  than  he  does  for  the  conversion  of  those  who  are  not  (e.g.  Eph.1:15-23;  3:14-21;  Phil.1:3-11;  Col.1:9-12;  2 Thess.1:3).  In  keeping  with  this  approach,  Paul  was  concerned  that  all  Christians  would  see  the  progress  in  Timothy  (1 Tim.4:15).

In  Jeremiah’s  day,  God  promised  a  repentant  people:  ‘I  will  give  you  shepherds  after  My  own  heart,  who  will  feed  you  with  knowledge  and understanding’  (Jer.3:15).  Jesus   told  a  restored  Peter  that  his  task  was  to  feed  the  sheep  (John 21:15-17).  Part  of  meeting  together  is  to  stir  up  one  another  to  love  and  good  works  (Heb.10:24-25).  Christ  gives  gifts  to  His  people  in  order  ‘to  equip  the  saints  for  the  work  of  ministry,  for  building  up  the  body  of  Christ’  (Eph.4:12).

The  third  task  is  to  evangelize  the  world.  In  1839  Alexander  Duff  preached  at  the  ordination  service  of  Thomas  Smith,  who  was  leaving  for  work  in  India,  from  where  Duff  had  just  come  and  to  where  he  was  just  returning.  The  sermon  was  published  with  the  title  ‘Missions  the  Chief  End  of  the  Christian  Church’.  It  was  based  on  Psalm  67:1-2  (which  the  published  edition  mistakenly  identified  as  Psalm 47:1-2):  ‘God  be  merciful  unto  us,  and  bless  us;  and  cause  his  face  to  shine  upon  us.  That  thy  way  may  be  known  upon  earth,  thy  saving  health  among  all  nations.’  Duff’s  opening  sentence  was:  ‘The  Royal  Psalmist,  in  the  spirit  of  inspiration,  personating  the  Church  of  the  redeemed  in  every  age,  and  more  especially  under  its  last  and  most  perfect  dispensation,  here  offers  up  a  sublime  prayer  for  its  inward  prosperity,  and  outward  universal  extension.’

God  gives  us  some  flexibility  in  doing  this,  in  that  we  are  to  become  all  things  to  all  people  that  we  might  save  some  (1 Cor.9:22).  Some,  however,  have  combined  this  with  the  evangelistic  commission  to  the  point  where  the  unbelieving  world  almost  dictates  what  takes  place  in  the  church  buildings  on  Sunday.  A  better  and  more  biblical  approach  would  seem  to  be  that  the  Church  as  it  meets  ought  to  desire  three  things:  to  glorify  God,  to  build  up  Christians,  and  to  evangelize  unbelievers.  These  three  aims  need  to  be  kept  together.  As  Scripture  says  in  another  context,  a  threefold  cord  is  not  quickly  broken  (Eccles.4:12).

3 responses to “The Church’s Chief End

  1. Reblogged this on Wings of the Wind and commented:
    There is a popular false doctrine, among others, that is being taught in many “churches” in our day. It is called “Dominion Theology.” It is the belief that the “church” will take dominion (control) of the earth before Jesus returns. This “belief” maintains that the world should be brought under (reconstructed) the lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas: social, moral, political, judicial, military, family, art, education, music, etc. The problem with this idea is that certain men will supposedly be used of God to accomplish this feat.
    This may sound wonderful but it is found nowhere in the Bible. Instead, we find Matthew 24 which describes a great tribulation on earth. We also find that, before Jesus comes, an evil ruler will gain great power and will deceive many. Some, including me, think that along with a government ruled by this evil man will be a one world religion of sorts. The Beast will have his false prophet.
    The Bible teaches that when Jesus returns HE will rule and reign. It will not be a group of men using the name of Jesus (along with other “great teachers”) to influence and control others.
    So, what is the mission of the church? Dan has found an excellent article originally posted at The Banner of Truth. I thought I would share it with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are absolutely right. It’s an old heresy that has gained prominence across evangelicalism. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With A Mission played a huge role.

      Liked by 2 people

      • How these people look at our world and think that somehow they will take control of it in the name of “religion” is beyond me, Dan.
        All indicators seem to be pointing us in the direction of a tribulation instead of some kind of man-directed conquest.
        I had heard bad things about Bill Bright but didn’t remember it related to this topic. Thanks for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

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