Summary: The purpose of the church is to become: 1. A Faith-centered community. 2. A God-centered community 3. A World-centered community.
As I read Erwin McManus’ book on the church entitled An Unstoppable Force, I have to say I was hit hard by a statement near the beginning, where he said: “The indictment that we must receive is that the Christian faith as we express it is no longer seen as a viable spiritual option. Masses gave the church a try and left wanting. We accuse them of not being willing to surrender to God; they accuse us of not knowing him. People are rejecting Christ because of the church. Once we were called Christians by an unbelieving world, and now we call ourselves Christians and the world calls us hypocrites. Is it possible that it wasn’t the nation that was becoming dangerously secular but the church? We were neither relevant nor transcendent. We have become, in the worst of ways, religious. We are the founders of the secular nation.”
What an indictment But I believe that he may be putting his finger on where the problem possibly lies. The world is drawn to Jesus (as we saw when millions went to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ), but the world is often put off by the church. We have to take an honest look to see why this is happening. Are we fulfilling the mission and purpose of the church, or have we missed it in some significant way? Are we turning people to Christ or turning them away from him? It is an uncomfortable question we must face.
In order to answer the question we have to ask ourselves what the purpose and mission of the church is, and then ask ourselves if we are fulfilling that purpose. I see at least three purposes of the church in the passage that we are looking at today. The first is: We are to become a faith-centered community. Let me begin with the word “community.” We are not called to be a group of individuals who happen to meet here on Sunday morning and who otherwise lead our own lives and do our own thing. We are called to be a community. To break the word apart, we have a common unity. We do not live just for ourselves or our own particular family, we live for, and with, each other. We share a common love for God and each other. We have a common goal of modeling the Christian life for the world and attracting the world to God. We were individuals who have now become a community, and are becoming more of a community with the passing of time. We live for each other as well as for Christ.
It does something to you when you realize that these are the people with whom you will be spending eternity. We are part of a spiritual family with God as our Father. So if you think you can be a Christian by yourself, without a community, a spiritual family, you are mistaken according to the Word of God. The Bible gives us this amazing statement: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5). You do not belong to yourself, but to the body of Christ. We can never fully have a relationship with others unless we are fully committed to God. But we can never be fully committed to God unless we are a part of a faith community.
But this community is nothing if it is not a believing community. In the scripture today, the very people who were supposed to believe the message rejected it. Listen again as Paul says, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). Why did Paul always go to the Jews first? Because they were the community that was supposed to believe the message and live it out in the world. Instead, they not only rejected it, they fought against it. When a community does that, they lose out on the eternal life that God wanted them to have. They did not reject the message because they could not understand it, because Paul was proving to them from the Scriptures every day that Jesus was the Christ. The writer of Acts tells us that it was not because of misunderstanding Paul’s words that they became hostile to his message, but because of their jealousy that everyone was being drawn to Paul and the message that he had come to bring.
We need to be discerning, but we want to be careful not to reject God’s truth just because it is coming from someone else. We want to be open to everything God has for us. We don’t want to resist faith, we want our hearts to be open to believe God whatever he has to say to us. We do not want Jesus to say to us, as he said to some: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken ” (Luke 24:25). The interesting thing in this story is that the people who were supposed to believe did not, and the people who were not supposed to believe did. It says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:47-48).