Understanding the Purpose of the Church, Part 1

Republished from Baptist Bulletin March/April 2017 with permission. © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved.

By Paul R. Jackson

Soon after entering the ministry, I heard a man who had graduated from a modernistic seminary say, “The primary business of the church is to equalize the wealth of the world in the hands of the people.” He may have had good motives, but he had poor theology! He did not find this objective for the church’s ministry in the Book. Even the Lord Jesus said, “For the poor always ye have with you” (John 12:8). Certainly Christians should do all that is possible to comfort and relieve poverty and suffering, but the primary ministry of the church is not social and economic. Wonderful social and economic reactions result from a Biblical ministry, but they are the by-products of lives transformed by divine grace as the church preaches the message of personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Probably nothing about the church is more confused in the minds of men than its objective. What is the purpose of the church? Why did the Lord build the church?

The liberal, with his social gospel, has certainly missed the purpose of God. Our Lord did not send the church forth to raise social standards and make unregenerate people happy in the midst of their sin. He changes people. Then conditions change because the people are different. Mankind’s problem is sin. It has cut them off from God and His blessings. No amount of education, culture, economic security, or religion will restore mankind’s peace and happiness. They must be reconciled to God. Sin must be dealt with on the basis of the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins.

The social gospel is commonly heard in a majority of liberal churches. It is socialism in religion. It is falsely called “the Kingdom of God” by such theological liberals as the late E. Stanley Jones and G. Bromley Oxnam.

Leaders of the National Council of Churches of Christ call this “social action” and foster lawlessness in the form of illegal actions in marches, sit-ins, and the like. Colin W. Williams, former NCCC leader in the field of evangelism, told a news conference in Miami Beach, in December 1966 (Crusader, March 1967), “It is no longer possible to distinguish between a personal conversion experience and a change of social attitudes.” (In context, this referred to such social action as that mentioned above.)

We need to be awake to these errors, for they are totally opposed to the Biblical ministry of the church. It is urgent that we be familiar with the divine objectives in this age if we are to be intelligent workers together with God.

God forbid that we should be lacking in compassion toward the needy. With acts of love we can melt many hearts that have remained as flint under the preaching of truth. But may we never forget that without the truth, even a melted heart can never be saved.

While many aspects of responsibility are laid upon the church, we believe its ministry centers in three fundamental duties: evangelization, edification, and glorification.

Evangelize the Sinners

Evangelizing sinners is basic in the very nature of Christianity. It is a missionary faith. No denomination or individual church has ever flourished long without an evangelistic fervor. It is necessary to keep this aspect of our ministry in balance with other responsibilities, but it must never become secondary!

A burden for the salvation of others is one of the first and finest evidences of salvation in one who has just confessed Christ. This concern to share with others the good news that has just transformed his or her life is a logical reaction; but it is more than that. It is a supernatural reaction in the regenerated heart, produced by the Holy Spirit. The burden goes beyond carnal enthusiasm to sacrificial devotion. Soul-winners will bear united testimony that this is true. There is reason to question the spiritual comprehension of a new convert who fails to react in this manner. This work of the Spirit in the hearts of His people is excellent evidence, even though it is secondary evidence, as to the Lord’s purpose for our ministry.

The commands and instruction of the Word form the primary evidence of His will. “Go ye therefore, and teach [literally, make disciples of] all nations” (Matt. 28:19). “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47, 48). “Ye shall be witnesses unto me … unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). (See other portions, such as Romans 10:2–15.) Acts 13:2, 3, 38, and 39 record the Holy Spirit’s action in sending out Barnabas and Paul and the vital evangelistic message they preached. There can be no doubt as to the command of the Word. Neither can there be doubt that the apostles and the early church understood this command and followed it. We submit a few examples of the evidence from the Bible:

Christ Himself set the pattern for evangelism both to individuals and to the multitudes. The four Gospels bear abundant testimony to this fact.

The examples of the apostles and the early church demonstrated evangelism to be a primary ministry of the church.

Peter denounced sin and offered salvation in the major messages recorded in Acts 2, 3, 4, and 10.

In Acts 8:5 and 6 “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and  preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed.” In verse 26 of the same chapter, he was sent to the desert to lead the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ.

Paul, brought to Christ on the road to Damascus, became one of the world’s greatest evangelists. While it is true that he had a great burden for the edification of the church, it is also true that he burned with missionary zeal throughout all his ministry. He declared boldly, “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Throughout the rest of the book of Acts, we see that Paul’s zeal never diminished. Whether beaten, stoned, or imprisoned, he seized every opportunity to witness in the next city and the next country “that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:5).

Paul had a tremendous burden for the salvation of Israel. He was willing to be accursed for them (Rom. 9:2, 3). His “heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel” was “that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1). He declared that he was a minister of the gospel, as well as of the mystery (Col. 1:23–29). Paul was a pioneer missionary; he sought to reach where Christ had not been preached rather than to build upon another man’s foundation (Rom. 15:19, 20). In the beginning of the epistle to the Romans he cried: “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel… . I am not ashamed of the gospel” (1:15, 16).

Much more is recorded in the Bible, but surely this is sufficient to arouse us from lethargy and to reveal the fallacy of those who imply they have no room in their important ministry for the gospel message! The great apostle to the Gentiles, with all his revelations and teaching ministry, rejoiced in the closing hours of his life that he was appointed a gospel preacher (2 Tim. 1:10, 11).

It is a primary responsibility and a holy privilege to evangelize the lost. Each believer needs to evaluate the measure of his own involvement in this work. Are we seeking opportunities to reach people with the gospel? Are we working in the visitation programs of our churches? Are we witnessing to relatives, neighbors, and associates in business, school, or social life? Are we supporting enthusiastically the missionary program of our churches? Failure in this vital activity may indicate that we have lost our first love for Christ or are out of fellowship with Him because of sin.

Edify the Saints

The lack of concern about a teaching ministry for building up the saints is tragic and widespread. One frequently hears sincere but mistaken people say: “Get people saved. That is the important thing. The Lord will take care of them.” But these enthusiastic remarks will not diminish the responsibility laid on us in God’s Word. It is crucial that people be won. But there is no reason to suppose we can improve upon God’s method and win more souls by majoring on part of God’s will and neglecting the rest. The Lord is as able to save people without the ministry of His servants as He is to edify the saved without such ministry. The fact is, He has chosen people to be His instruments both in winning the lost and in edifying the saints! We are responsible.

The same Lord Who said that we are to make disciples said in the same breath that we are to baptize them and to teach them to observe all things that He has commanded. This was the method used by the early churches as witnessed in the book of Acts. The truth prospered; the churches multiplied; vast numbers were saved during that first century as the apostolic message was proclaimed with apostolic methods.

The apostle Paul was not satisfied to conduct an evangelistic campaign and then leave it up to the Lord to care for the babes in Christ. Churches were established (Acts 14:23), and subsequent care was given to confirm and establish these local churches. Paul traveled extensively to see personally that this was done (Acts 15:41; 16:4, 5). This, of course, necessitated that the converts first be baptized, and this he also did (see Acts 16:14, 15, 30–34). Peter, too, observed this principle. At the house of Cornelius he commanded them to be baptized after they confessed faith in Christ (Acts 10:47, 48). Philip was also faithful in this, both at Samaria and with the eunuch (Acts 8:12, 38, 39).

It is not enough to lead people to Christ! That is primary; but there is more! Christ said: “Feed my lambs… . Feed my sheep… . Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17). God has committed to us the care of His flock! “Take heed … to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). It is true that the Lord is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25), but He has committed the care of His flock to us in certain respects, and He will hold us responsible for His sheep.

Our responsibility to edify one another may be considered in four ways.

Paul R. Jackson (1903–1969) served as pastor of Regular Baptist churches in California and Michigan, president of Baptist Bible Seminary, and National Representative of the GARBC. This article is an excerpt from his classic book The Doctrine and Administration of the Church, published by Regular Baptist Books, now in its third edition.

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