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The Church: Identity and Function; Nature and Character; Mission and Purpose
The Body of Christ
The Identity and Function of the Church
The Church is described as the community of God’s people. They are a people who have been called to serve God and called to live together in loving relationships with one another as a testimony of the integrity and values of the kingdom of God. The Church is the messianic community who has recognized that Jesus is the one and true Messiah. This messianic community confesses Jesus as Lord and proclaims His gospel throughout the world.
The Church is the people that God has chosen to use in order to accomplish His will. God has chosen not to accomplish His will without us. He calls us into partnership with Him. It is a partnership where God is the senior partner and we are junior partners called to fulfill the role He tells us to fill. In this partnership, God has given authority to His people. We are given the keys of the kingdom to bind or to loose; in other words, we have been given the authority to open doors into heaven. Our authority then is seen in that we have been given the ability to lead people into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:13-19). The authority given to us is so that we may execute His plan of reconciling all things in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:10; 3:10). Therefore the Church is His representative, chosen to bring all things, and most of all, all people of the earth under the dominion and lordship of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:10-11). The Church and God’s universal plan to reconcile all things in Jesus Christ go hand in hand, they are undividable (Eph. 1:10).
The Church has been called to execute His plan according to His standards and way, in His name. According to Snyder, “the Church is the only divinely-appointed means for spreading the gospel.” The Church therefore is the agent by which God chooses to reveal Himself to the world and the primary method of fulfilling His mission on the earth. Jesus, the Head of the body has commanded the Church to go and make disciples, completely immersing people in the full reality of the Trinitarian universe (the kingdom of God). This was His earthly mission, He came preaching the Kingdom of God, and know He has appointed the Church to continue fulfilling His mission on earth. As we share the reality of the Kingdom of God we help people fall in love with the ravishing glory of the kingdom and then we invite them to follow along. After following along, then they may be persuaded into accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and receiving His salvation.
The Church has been called to teach the people who have received His invitation to join in loving relationship with Him and the Father, through the Spirit, to observe (to live out) all that Jesus commands us to do in the new authority that they have been immersed in. The Church has been given the task to make disciples, to make followers, students, apprentices of Jesus Christ. Disciples’ primary role is to obey what the Master (Jesus) tells us to do because they are His apprentices.
The Church has a destiny they have an appointment in heaven. In the creation account of Genesis mankind was given the task of dominion over the earth, God by reconciling all things in Christ Jesus and placing all things subject to Him, has given this task over to the Church. God is training people up to be His partner. Because the Church’s destiny includes being given authority to judge (1 Cor. 6:1-3); to rule and reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:11-13); having authority over nations (Rev. 2:26); sitting on His throne with Him (Rev. 3:21); and reigning with Him upon the earth (Rev. 5:9-10), God is looking for people who are trained to partner with Him and then rule with Him. But most of all, God is looking for people who have learned to rule like Jesus.
How did Jesus rule? He humbled Himself and took the role of a servant, taking on the form of man and dying on the cross for others (Phil. 2:1-11). Jesus obeyed the Father at all times (Heb. 5:8, 9). Jesus only does what the Father does – He does the Father’s will (John 5:19). Jesus only did the things which pleased his Father (John 8:28). Jesus only spoke and initiated the words that his Father gave him to speak because the Father has words of life (John 12:49, 50). Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, teaching His disciples the role of a servant, and that this is what they were called to do – serve one another in love just like He served us (John 13:1-18).
God is looking for people who are trained to partner with Him and then rule with Him. The people God is looking for will have learned to rule in Jesus’ name. They are people who are: unconcerned with position, privilege, power or rights; people who obey and naturally want to do His will; people who know what the Father is doing and then do just that; people who seek to do what’s best for others, even if it costs them their life; that people who understand that serving is not a way to become great in God’s kingdom, rather it is what great people do! In other words, God is looking for people who have become like Christ.
The Nature and Character of the Church
The nature and character of the Church is summed up in the words: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. According to Van Engen, “the words expressed both gifts and tasks and so might define the idea of the Church as emerging toward the full manifestation of its true nature.” Thus the gift that the Church’s nature is one, expresses the task of moving itself toward unity (Eph. 4:1-6). The Church is called to be one in purpose and to live as one body, completely surrendered and subject to its Lord. The gift that the Church’s nature is holy (set apart) and must fulfill the task of being a holy nation, so that we can do what we were called to do (Eph. 4:17). We are holy, because He is holy, and we belong to Him (1 Peter 1:15). The Church’s task is to demonstrate this holiness in their actions and in this way their lives may be a living testimony to the world of God and His kingdom. The gift that the Church’s nature is catholic means that the church is all inclusive, everyone should be welcomed (Eph. 2:12-22). In its universality, catholicity, the Church’s task is to grow in the entire world regardless of culture, race, or gender. The Church’s task to grow also holds with it the idea of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. All its members should being grounded in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus as they move out into the entire world, making disciples of all men. The gift that the Church is apostolic reveals its exclusivity in proclaiming that there is only one Lord and his name is Jesus (Matt. 16:15-19). In its task of being apostolic the Church has the duty to proclaim Jesus’ Lordship; the church that does not reach out and give this message is not a church!
Van Engen in his book, God’s Missionary People makes the following comments regarding these four words used to describe the nature of the Church, “the one Church of Jesus Christ would be seen as a unifying force; the holy Church of Jesus Christ would be seen as a sanctifying force; the catholic Church of Jesus Christ would be seen as a reconciling force; and the apostolic Church of Jesus Christ would be seen as a proclaiming force. Only in the Church are truth and certainty available and the offer of structure and stability finally practical. The Church is the fellowship of disciples who know, love, and serve each other because they know, love and serve their Master” (p. 69, 70). When these four words are described in the following way, they are not solely describing the actions or activities of the Church but they are defining the essence and the totality of the Church’s existence.
The Purpose and Mission of the Church
Before we state what the purpose and mission of the Church is we must define what is God’s master plan and what does it entail and whom does it include? In Ephesians 3:10 and 1:10 the Bible clearly states that God’s eternal and mysterious plan has always to glorify Himself by reconciling all things in Christ Jesus. God’s purpose in this plan is so that all His creation may be reconciled to Him and be able to share in the loving relationship of the Trinity. The emphasis of His plan is the reconciliation of all things, the restoration of all His creation. God’s plan was not an afterthought after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. God’s plan was laid out since before the foundation of the world. It was not an ambulatory rescue, but His original intent of reconciling men to Him through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross (Rom. 5:10). This plan not only includes mankind but it includes all of creation, everything is brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Ro. 8:19-21). This is God’s purpose, “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on the earth” (Eph. 1:10). At the center of God’s plan is the redemption of all mankind (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). This is the message of the Church. The Church has been commissioned with this message (logos) and with this ministry (diakonia) of reconciliation. God’s cosmic plan is now unfolding, and the Church has been given the task to carry out His plan until the consummation of all things. And even though the “fullness of time” has come (Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:10), it has not attained total fullness. The Church now as the “eschatological community” is called to live under this reality that Jesus is Lord.
The Church, composed of Jesus’ disciples are co-laborers with Christ. Through the Church, “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). God’s mystery not only reconciles Jews and Gentiles both to God and to each other through the blood of Christ, but it extends toward all mankind and encompasses all relationships (Col. 3:10-11; Gal. 3:28). The Church has been given the task of being ministers of reconciliation. Therefore, the purpose of the Church is to be agents of God’s entire cosmic plan (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). The Church is the agent of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God. It is the place or sphere where God’s authority and influence is released and people submit to it. The church is composed of a community of God’s people who are under God’s rule.
God’s people live under God’s influence in every sphere of their life (house, church, work, etc.). The Church should be the embodiment for the effective reality of God’s economy. The world must be able to see in the local church the embodiment of the kingdom of God. The fullness will come at the end of the age, but until then the Church is God’s agent of the kingdom. The Church should show the world what the Kingdom is like. The Church is not the full expression of the kingdom, but the Church’s presence should announce the Kingdom. The Church is called to be the herald, the agent, the embodiment of the Kingdom and its purpose is to immerse the world with the reality of the Kingdom of God.
According to Van Engen, “when missionary congregations begin to see themselves as branch offices of the kingdom of God, they are often led to examine more closely their role and function in the world and to study the passages which show Jesus’ mission, work of revelation, reconciliation, and lordship” (p. 119). Jesus fulfilled in His mission and ministry the office of Prophet, Priest, King, Healer and Liberator. The Church is called to continue His mission. Therefore, the Church must learn to fulfill its function in the prophetic by preaching and teaching God’s love and justice to the world, and warning of His coming judgment. The Church must fulfill the call of its priestly function by consoling, comforting, accepting, forgiving, and caring tenderly for its members. The Church must fulfill its function in its Kingly assignment by administering what God has given to the church in a wise and effective manner. The Church must also move answer the call of bringing healing to the nations, this is encompasses the whole of a person, not just the soul. Finally, the Church must take on its function as liberator from the forces of evil as they bring good news, offer justice and mercy to the oppressed, and love the outcast.
The Church’s life in the world is also of great importance. Four words are used to describe the Church’s reason for being: Koinonia, Kerygma, Diakonia, and Martyria. Koinonia describes the Church’s command from Jesus to “love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus followers are to love like Jesus loved, willing to lay down their lives for one another. This new commandment embodies the love of the Father and Son and extends this loving relationship to the fellowship of believers. Jesus Christ is present in the loving fellowship (koinonia) of the disciples and this constitutes the Church. Without Christ’s presence, there is no Church. The Church is the living example of God’s love to one another and to the world. Without the love factor, the Church is nothing. The Church, as stated earlier is the community of God’s people who live under the reality that Jesus is Lord. This is “Kerygma.” Jesus is Lord is the confession of our faith, without it the Church does not exist. The truth that Jesus is Lord is the moving force of the Church, its reality gives purpose to the Church to proclaim this message to the world and draw all men to Christ. The Church exists in loving fellowship, when it serves one another in love. Diakonia: “the least of my brethren,” reminds the Church of its call to serve one another the way that Christ served. The call of the Church is to humbly serve as the Master who gave His life as a ransom for many. Lastly, the Church’s purpose is also defined by the word Martyria: “You shall be My witnesses.” These are Jesus’ final words to the disciples before His ascension to heaven. It was His call to the Church to be His witnesses by being a living testimony of Jesus’ presence in the world.
In conclusion, the Church’s purpose is to be the extension of His love to a lost and dying world. God’s people should be people that love both in deed and action by preaching Jesus’ words and living by His example through the power of His Spirit in us. In essence, the Church’s purpose is to be conformed to the image of Christ – and extend itself as “little Christ’s” to a hurting and confused world. By fulfilling its purpose, the Church brings glory and honor to the Father.
Snyder, Howard A. The Community of the King. Downers Grove, Ill.:Inter-Varsity, 1977.
Van Engen, Charles Edward. God’s Missionary People:Rethinking the Purpose of the LocalChurch. Grand Rapids, MI.:Baker House Company, 2001.
The Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible