Stephen Baker, Manchester
Why did God create the church?
Firstly, it is good to remind ourselves that the concept of the church was not developed by believers. It was given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself.
When we read the New Testament we discover that the ‘church’ is spoken of in two different ways. The first mention by the Lord Jesus is in Matthew 16. 18. He speaks about it as ‘His church’, i.e., it belongs to Him, see also Eph. 5. 25; Acts 20. 28, ‘the church of God’. The church in this setting is made up of every believer in the Lord Jesus, i.e., all the ‘living stones, see 1 Pet. 2. 5, and it is not found in any one location. It is composed both of believers on earth and of those that have ‘fallen asleep’ (died) and gone to heaven, Eph. 3. 15, ‘of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named’. It is invincible and will never be destroyed, for the Lord Jesus said, ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’, Matt. 16. 18. This means that all the power and authority of the unseen spirit world (the devil, the fallen angels, the powers of darkness) cannot hold back the advancement of the church which the Lord Jesus is building. This is an immense encouragement to believers as they face weakness and difficulties.
In the Epistles of Paul to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae we see the truth of this aspect of the church further developed. In Ephesians the emphasis is on the fact that the church is the ‘body of Christ’, see Eph.1. 23; 2. 16; 4. 12-16; 5. 23, 30. In Colossians the main point is that the Christ is the ‘head’ of the body, the church, see Col. 1. 18; 2. 19. He is the authority under which the church operates and the One upon whom the church is essentially dependent.
The second way that the church is spoken about is also first mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. In chapter 18 the Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples and He starts to talk about settling disputes where one believer has sinned against another. Ultimately, the Lord says, if the problem cannot be resolved privately then bring it to the church. Now this is obviously not the larger aspect of the church but the local. This is a group of believers who meet in the name of the Lord Jesus, Matt. 18. 20. His name is their reason for meeting. He gives them the authority to meet, He is their motivation for meeting and it is each individual’s relationship with Him that brings them together. It is interesting to note that the circumstances described are those of sorting out a problem and disciplining a believer who has sinned. If the Lord Jesus promises His presence in these circumstances it would seem obvious that we should be conscious of His presence, and are indeed guaranteed it, when we meet on far more pleasant occasions.
Finally, to summarize some of the reasons that the church exists:
- to bring added glory to the Lord Jesus, Eph.1. 21;
- as the dwelling place of God through the Spirit, Eph. 2. 21, 22;
- to witness to a godless world by words and works, Phil. 2. 15, 16; 1 Thess.1. 8; 1 Pet. 2. 9, 12;
- for the growth and development of believers, Acts 2. 42; Eph. 4. 15;
- to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God – to worship, 1 Pet. 2. 5.
- to educate angels about ‘the manifold wisdom of God’, Eph. 3. 10.
It would be God’s intention that we will learn to value the ‘church of God’ in the same way that He does.