October 26, 1990
An editorial, clipped from The Record a few years ago, tells about a local ministerial meeting. After reviewing ideas that the group tossed around concerning joint activities, the article ends with the editor’s suggestion: instead of discussing theology or projects, they ought to get out and do something for the betterment of the community.
Obviously the church is not what a lot of people think it should be. While average non-Christians can hold higher standards for it than do most Christians, different views are sometimes more a matter of priorities and personal felt-needs.
A few people focus on the importance of drafting theological statements because doctrine is related to life; what we believe affects how we act. For that reason, an important task of the church is to make God’s truth known so as to counter the errors of sinful attitudes. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Thus, some think the church should concentrate on its message.
Others consider the primary purpose of the church is to meet practical needs by serving those who are in need. They point to Scripture such as, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others....”
A third focus is the matter of education. Parents take or send their children to Sunday school to learn about God. North American schools began through the work of the church and some private schools try to continue their tradition. Jesus invites even adults to “come and learn of me....”
Some think the church is a place for encouragement, the “refueling depot” at the end of a busy week. They want a boost to their personal progress and sense of hope. Paul wrote a local church and said, “Encourage one another and build each other up....”
Another perspective on the purpose of the church is gathering money and other material necessities for the poor and needy. Paul commended the church at Corinth for excelling in faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness and love, then added they “also excel in this grace of giving.” Thus, because of the inequalities of life, the church is supposed to share.
One more focus people take is related to organization. For the church, this is an internal matter (church affairs need to be organized) but it is also important to the church’s reputation in the community. Regardless of the many other things that churches might do, if they are done in chaotic, disorganized fashion, they will not be honoring to God. The Bible says “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
Perhaps the most important perceived and valid function of the church is the expression of compassion. Whatever else Christians do, this is the one thing that is expected of us, both from outsiders and from within. Life hurts; most people need personal and emotional support at some time or other. We readily admit social service programs cannot heal our hurts but much of the time we fail to understand that proclamation, having our practical needs met, teaching, many forms of encouragement, money, and organization do not do it either.
Perhaps that is why some think the church is irrelevant; doing good things but not the right things, at least not the right things in the minds of those who have written it off. All of us need to take another look at the list. The capacity to do, and to benefit from, all these functions is there, in the church.