Why on Earth Did Jesus Establish the Church?

For as long as the church has existed, Christians have argued over its primary purpose. This tension was present when those initial 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem and is evident in church history or any local church you belong to. 

 

If this tension isn't managed well, it can lead to extremism, which causes fractures and disunity in the local church and blunts its effectiveness in communities. 

So, why on earth did Jesus establish the church?

 

Answers to this question are as varied as they are fascinating. They often reveal people's preferences, experiences, and gifts. Prayer people will answer by making prayer central and frequently citing, "My house shall be called a house of prayer." Musical people will say it's singing, citing "sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." Evangelism people make it evangelism, citing "go make disciples," and on and on it goes.

 

We can group any answer you think of into at least one of the following categories: 

 

Corporate Worship (What happens when Christians meet) 

 

Prayer, singing, speaking in tongues, prophesy, healing, etc. 

 

Discipleship

 

Pastoral care, fellowship, mentoring people to know more about what's in the Bible, practically helping each other, etc.

 

Evangelism

 

Alpha courses, street preaching, practically helping the communities they are a part of, supporting missionaries, etc. 

 

 

What makes this tension very hard to resolve is that you will find verses throughout the Bible that support each one of those activities. You can use those verses to argue why worship, discipleship, or evangelism must be central. 

 

However, even after you do that, you are left with having to answer the question, what about the other two? If discipleship is primary for you, what will you do with evangelism and worship? 

 

To lay my cards on the table, I believe the Bible teaches that the church is here on earth primarily for make disciples, that is, to spread the message of Jesus to all corners of the world, starting with your neighbourhood.

 

 

What has convinced me was paying attention to the church's macro-context.  

 

Why and what do I mean by context? 

 

Context is the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea; macro means the big picture.

 

Always remember that "a text without a context is a con". 

 

A friend of mine sent me a picture message of a bottle. 

 

 

 

Any idea what he meant by it?

 

It could mean all sorts of things, maybe he wants me to drink more water or recycle more!

 

Unless you are telepathic, it's impossible to know what my friend meant by sending that picture message of a bottle. Context matters significantly in interpretation, and this is why John H Walton says: 

 

No aspect of human existence escapes context: from unrecognized subtleties to the most blatant idiosyncrasies, people live in context, learn in context, and can only communicate in context. Interpretation must therefore take stock of context.

 

So, let me put you out of your misery, and let me explain what my friend meant by sending that picture of a bottle.

 

The sports team that I support, Arsenal, had just lost a football match 2- 0 in the Premier League. Due to this, my friend was communicating that I support a team of 'bottlers'. Bottling is getting so nervous that that you can't perform under pressure. 

 

So, having argued for the importance and necessity of context. I now want us to consider three (macro) contexts. 

 

 

Context 1: Genesis 1 &2 

 

Genesis 1:31 (NIV)

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 

Genesis 2:25 (NIV)

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

 

In this context, how is God's creation described? 

•     Very good.

 

And what else wasn't present in Genesis 1 & 2? 

•     sin 

 

 

Context 2: Revelation 21 & 22

 

Revelation 21:27 (NIV)

27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

 

In this context, can you see what else isn't there?

•     sin

 

 

You can make a good case for worship and discipleship to be central in Genesis 1 and 2 or Revelation 21 and 22, as there is no sin. However, those are not the contexts we live in. We live in the period between those two contexts. I call this context mission. 

 

 

Context Mission

 

In context mission, sin is still very much present and is sending people to eternal destruction by the hour. In Galway City, the city I live in, less than 1% of the population are Christians, and of that number, some are just identifying as Christian out custom.

 

In this context, the majority of people hardly think about Jesus unless they use his name as a filler word at best and, at worst, use his name as a curse word. It is these people that Jesus desires for them not to perish, and he sends this church to reach them as their primary purpose. 

Fulfilling this primary purpose fueled those 120 believers in the book of Acts. 

 

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

 

 

 

What about worship and discipleship?

 

Yes, they are necessary and essential; however, they aren't to be done in a vacuum, as if you are in the context of Genesis 1&2 or Revelation 21&22; rather, they are to be done in the context of mission. 

 

It will mean praying in the context of the mission, preaching and teaching in the context of the mission, singing in the context of the mission, etc. 

 

To take just one example, to do your church services in the context of the mission will mean that you pray in plain language so that all can understand, your services won't be too long as to discourage newbies, your choice of Bible translation will consider those who are Bible illiterate, etc. 

 

 

Having worship and discipleship in the context of the mission will help us do these activities without abandoning the church's central mission. This is easy to do, given that the people the church is called to reach are never present when key church decisions are being made in leadership and membership meetings.

 

If you still struggle with the concept of worship and discipleship in the context of mission, answer these few questions:

 

  1. When people are planting churches, what are they hoping to achieve?
  2. When churches close, what hasn't happened?

 

The answers all centre around reaching new people with the message of Jesus. People start churches to reach people; however, somewhere along the line, that clear primary purpose gets lost, and this is never good for anyone—not good for the people already in the church and, indeed, not good for the people God has called the church to reach in the community around the church. 

 

As CS Lewis says: 

 

the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.

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