The first question asked by the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?”. Some of us know the answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In the Catechism itself, there are nearly a dozen passages of scripture provided to support the answer.
If you visit many of today’s evangelical churches, or even visit their websites, you might come away thinking that the chief goal of most believers is to fine one’s special purpose, dream destiny, or most fulfilling life while occupying planet earth. If you doubt my assumption, just listen to some of the sermons from the most popular broadcasters on Christian television, or visit church websites. Listen to almost any sermon/sermon series and what hear is all about you. Even when scripture is used to support a lot of these sermons, they still end up being all about you instead of expositing/exegeting/explaining the actual text of scripture.
And then there are church web site ‘vision statements’. I can’t tell you how many vision statements I’ve seem that set as a goal of the church to help you find your ‘purpose’, or discover your ‘destiny’ on earth. While you might find a ‘What We Believe’ section with sound statements of belief, sometimes you have to dig deep to find them. The church vision statement is often boldly stated on a home page while a belief statement is several layers deep. The church vision is clearly a higher priority than the core beliefs of the church. I suggest that what we believe is far more important than a ‘vision statement’.
While the find your purpose/dream destiny goal sounds great and definitely attracts people, is it a biblical goal for the church? What does the Bible have to say about priorities in the life of the church and in the lives of individual believers?
Interestingly enough, we have a particular passage that dates back to Pentecost, when 3,000 heard the gospel proclaimed, repented and believed in Jesus as the Messiah (were ‘saved’).
Acts 2:42 describes the principle activities of these new believers;
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (KJV)
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (ESV)
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (NASB)
Note the three activities of these new believers ‘continued steadfastly in’ or ‘were devoted to’:
- The apostles’ doctrine/teaching
Is it a stretch to assume that all three of these activities glorify God? The purpose of the church, made up of individual believers, is described in Ephesians, Chapter 4:
11 And he (God)gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We are told that God gifted the church with apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers (sometimes called the five-fold ministry) for specific reasons:
“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all (saints/believers) attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (emphasis mine).
Note for whom the gifts are given; “the saints”, believers in Christ. Note also that the gifts given to the church are “for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” There is nothing here, or anywhere else in scripture (trust me) about the church existing for non-believers. There is also nothing here, or elsewhere in scripture, that even remotely suggests that those with the aforementioned gifts are to help folks in the pews (or theater seats) have their best lives now, discover special purposes, or achieve dream destinies.
Would it be a stretch to assume that the purpose of those so gifted might be to teach the ‘doctrine of the apostles’, the object of devotion for the new believers in Acts? I think not.
How does that translate to today – the apostles’ doctrine? A no-brainer? It must refer to what is contained in scripture, that which was inspired (breathed out by God)!
So, getting back to the chief end of man and the purpose of the church. When the subject matter being taught by evangelical leaders becomes all about you, who exactly is being ‘glorified’? I’ll leave it right there.
Oh, there’s one other little thing. Something that Jesus said:
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’.” (Matthew 16:25)
I’ll leave that one there too. Any questions?
P.S. If you don’t know much about church catechisms, here is a link that lists some, along with additional links to the actual texts.