Summary: 5 of 18 messages on moving toward greater health as a church.
The Purpose-full Church:
I. Defining the Purposes of the Church
1. The primacy of worship
The story is told about a conversation between a pastor and young boy in a certain congregation. This particular congregation loved spending time with one another and always served coffee after the sermon. One Sunday the pastor asked a little boy if he knew why they served the coffee. He replied, “I think it’s to get the people awake before they drive home.”
Last week we began looking at the subject of the purposes of the Church. The bulk of that message was spent laying a foundation by answering the question, “Why be purpose-driven in our approach to ministry?” I gave you three important reasons: 1) to clarify the direction of the ministry; 2) to minimize the conflict within the ministry; and 3) to maximize the excitement for the ministry. We concluded by quickly looking at the five NT purposes of the Church as contained within the Great Commandment and the Great Commission: Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, Fellowship, and Service.
This morning we will begin by examining the first purpose and I will attempt to draw out some of its practical implications so that you won’t leave here feeling like you just sat through a systematic theology class.
Defining the Purposes of the Church
The approach I will take with respect to each of the purposes of the Church is to give you a brief definition that captures the essence of that purpose, and then I’ll break down the components of the definition and show you how it can be made into a meaningful experience in each of our lives.
We begin with the purpose of worship. I will be giving a very broad-based definition for worship this morning. It will be inclusive rather than exclusive in nature and will embrace all of the facets and activities associated with worship. This will come into sharper focus as we proceed through the message. I define worship in this way: Worship is celebrating God’s presence and honoring Him with our lifestyles.
Last week I read a quote from Rick Warren advocating the importance of churches being purpose-driven in their approach to ministry. Part of that quote read: “By focusing equally on all five of the New Testament purposes of the church, your church will develop the healthy balance that makes lasting growth possible” (The Purpose-Driven Church, p. 81). I want to go on record as saying that I fully agree with that statement. We must be careful to balance and equally emphasize each of the five NT purposes of the church. When we fail to do so, we become lopsided and unbalanced and run the risk of failing to be all that God has created us to be. I believe that.
But I also want to go on record as saying that out of the five NT purposes of the Church, I believe that God gives preeminence to the purpose of worship. I believe that the primary purpose or mission of the Church is to glorify God. And I would like to take some time to build my case before we dissect the key components of my definition of worship.
The Primacy of Worship
The Westminster Larger Catechism asks in Question one, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The desired response is, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy Him forever.” If this is, in fact, the chief and highest end to which a human can hope to attain, which I contend that it is, then it only stands to reason that the chief and highest end of the Church—an organism made up of redeemed men and women—would also be to glorify God, and fully enjoy Him forever. As Henry Thiessen emphatically maintains, “This is no more true of the individual than it is of the Church as a whole” (Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 432). Perhaps you simply brush this off as the opinions of teachers and theologians—you want to see what the Bible has to say on this subject. Good, I feel exactly the same way that you do, so we’ll turn to God’s word and find out if this is a valid position.
The Bible abounds in references to glorifying God or worshiping His as the primary purpose of the Church. Turn with me to Matthew 5:16 (p. 719). [Read] Here Jesus commands His disciples to live their lives in such a way that the world would be attracted to what they see and praise your Father in heaven or as it’s stated in other translations, glorify (NASU) or give glory to (ESV) your Father who is in heaven. In Romans 15:5-11 (p. 846), Paul stresses the fact that the Church’s involvement in different attitudes and activities is for the ultimate purpose of giving glory to God. He mentions three specific areas: in vv. 5-6, he prays for a spirit of unity for the purpose of glorifying God; in v. 7, he commands them to accept one another…in order to bring praise to God; and in vv. 8-11, he cites the example of Jesus’ earthly ministry as a servant to the Jews was so that the Gen-tiles may glorify God for his mercy.