A couple of years ago, when we were in the process of finding a new church, our counselor gave us some very wise advice. He challenged us to study the Bible to determine the purpose of the church, both universal and local, and then apply that criterion to our search.
Most of these were not new discoveries for us, but it was very clarifying to have them listed concisely, in order to reference the list as we searched and settled in to a new church home.
The logical starting point for both of us was Acts 2:42. This verse sums up the activities of the new believers directly after Pentecost.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
1. Apostles Doctrine
Simply put, the apostles doctrine is teaching, learning and obeying the Word of God. It includes the New Testament doctrines taught by the apostles of sanctification and justification and sin and redemption. It would not exclude the Old Testament. Most New Testament doctrines have an Old Testament foundation, whether in stories or typology.
Webster’s defines fellowship as a friendly relationship among people; the relationship of people who share interests or feelings. And that is true of the local church, isn’t it?
Fellowship in the local body encompasses the ideas of sharing, friendship, gathering, communicating, giving, talking, unity and even eating together. And all of these things could be said for a host of civic organizations or groups.
But, the church is far more than just a group of people with similar interests. We are a body, the body of Christ. We have fellowship and relationship because we are one in Christ.
3. Breaking of Bread
In its simplest form, this is the practice of eating together. But, it also includes our traditional “assembly” interpretation, that of the Breaking of Bread meeting. (aka the Remembrance Meeting or the Lord’s Supper).
Celebrating communion, the sharing corporately of the bread and wine, as we remember the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a purpose of the local church.
In the New Testament, there are many examples of group prayer and many exhortations in the epistles (written to churches and individuals both) to pray. We are to intercede in prayer, to worship in prayer, to give thanks in prayer-as individuals and as a group.
Praying as a group is a very vulnerable thing as it involves admitting weakness and need. Praying as a group binds together in oneness of purpose as we supplicate our merciful and almighty God.
Praying as a group is unifying, because it is much harder to fight with someone you are praying with and for. Praying as a group is effective and powerful. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)
Beyond Acts 2:42
Moving on from Acts 2:42, we found additional purposes of the church in other verses.
Another purpose of the local church is to collectively fulfill the Great Commission and to be a light in a very dark world. (Matthew 28:19-20; 5:16). In any local church body, there should be a desire, and concerted efforts to share the gospel with the lost.
Spiritual gifts have been given to each believer to use in the context of the local church. They have been given for the purpose of the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ, for the work of the ministry.
Use of our gifts in the local assembly will contribute to unity of faith, growing knowledge of Jesus Christ, development of Christ-like behavior, solid understanding of doctrine-a body working and growing together, built up in love to be more and more like Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-17) We serve in the local body for our combined good and for God’s glory.
Another purpose of the church is to pass the baton to the next (physical and/or spiritual) generation. Paul exhorted Timothy to commit the things Paul had taught him to faithful men, who would teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
Older women are given the charge of teaching the younger women (Titus 2: 3-5). Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep and lambs. This training and teaching includes practical matters such as how to love your husband and children as well as church traditions and practices.
This training includes discipleship, training believers to follow and serve Jesus Christ. This training can be done through preaching of the Word, Sunday School, one-on-one interaction, and Bible studies.
Commitment to the local church
When we know the purpose of the local church, it allows us to be committed to the local body, both in regular attendance and service. We are less apt to forsake the assembling of ourselves together when things get rough because we have an awareness that the church exists for a much bigger purpose than what makes us feel good on a given Sunday.
We persevere in fellowship, as we learn to consider each other to provoke unto love and good works.
What would you add to this list?