NT Part 6: Why the Church exists
I began this lengthy series of blog posts on the Bible with the question, “How does this ancient book relate to people in the 21st Century?” So much has changed since the original words were written. How can the writings of this book be pertinent when our cultural and historical context is so very different from that of the Bible? As a person reads the Bible there is often one thought that is often missed:
The Old Testament was written to a fledgling nation, a theocracy, whereas the New Testament was written to a group of people called out from all nations to play a special role in the purposes of God.
As a result of this distinction the Old Testament themes often have different flavors than the New Testament themes. The OT is obviously more nationalistic (Israel) where the NT revolves around more personal faith.
In my last blog I talked about “The Church,” a group of individuals called out from the rest of society by God. A primary image of that group is that they are “The Body of Christ,” a unique assembly of people who follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. As with any body, it is a living and moving organism.
Following this metaphor of The Church being the Body of Christ certain things stand out. First it is essential that the body be in good communications with the head of the body. Our world is full of examples of wonderful people whose body and head don’t communicate very well for a variety of reasons. Muscular Dystrophy, ALS, and Parkinson’s diseases are examples. In like fashion, those who become part of The Church, The Body of Christ, need to be in touch with the head who is Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15, 16). We stay connect with Christ through prayer, reading and studying the Bible, our times of worship and Christian fellowship.
A second function that stands out in this metaphor is that just as each part of the body has a unique function so each person in The Church, the Body of Christ, has a unique function. A church should not attempt to make everyone conform to a human model. Rather within the Church each person should work to discern, develop, and then deploy their God-given uniqueness. The most extensive discussion of giftedness within the Body of Christ is found in 1 Corinthians 12.
Finally, as with any body…any person, the Body of Christ must have a purpose. Without a purpose there is no reason for the body to exist. Another way of saying this is, “If then church is an assembly of people called into existence by God through Jesus Christ, why has God called them into being?” Is our purpose Christian narcissism, i.e., we exist only for ourselves and the rest of the universe exists for us as well? If we look at the New Testament we find a very different picture of why The Church exists. Let me share just a few of its teachings.
First purpose we have a members of the Body of Christ is to love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). In these two commands all the other rules of religion are summed up. How do we do this? By studying how Jesus loved God and loved neighbor.
Second we are be salt and light in our world (Matthew 5:13-16). Now what does that mean? In the ancient world there was no refrigeration and few disinfectants. Salt served both those purposes. Salt was used to make jerky so meat could be used down the road. Salt was also used to cleanse a wound and begin healing. So, as part of the Body of Christ we are to find those areas where there is decay and destruction taking place and work for hope and healing.
I might also add there are many Christians who understand that being salt is not just for individuals but also for the preservation and healing of the social order as well. I have several deeply Christian friends who as lawyers work seeking justice for those who have been abused in a wide variety of ways. Some do this within the US criminal justice system. Some are doing that as best as they are able on a global scale. They understand their role as being people who rub salt in the wounds of a legal system that has wronged the innocent and vulnerable.
Jesus also said his followers should be a light to the world. Light allows people to see clearly the road that is laid out in front of them. It is another way of presenting the truth. The Body of Christ should be people who strive to discover the truth, grow to learn and know the truth, commit to live the truth, and are not ashamed to share the truth. There are times when this type of lighting the world is well received. It is often the case that in being presented with the truth people attempt to blot it out because they have grown so accustom to their darkness (John 1:5; 3:19).
a final purpose The Church, the Body of Christ has, is the commission to help people become disciples of Jesus. This was the last directive the head of the body, Jesus, gave to his disciples before he ascended back to heaven. In Matthew 28:18-20 we are told,
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The emphasis in this passage in the Greek text is different than how we read it in English. For generations people have heard the command, “Therefore GO…” But that is not how the Greek reads. The command in this passage is “MAKE disciples.” The word translated “GO” is a participle and should be translated, “as you are going…” In other words, “As you are going through life, make disciples, followers, students of Jesus. This is the greatest purpose of The Church. This is the ultimate WHY of why we exist.