By Christopher VanDusen
In my last article, I went through a large number of New Testament descriptions of Christ’s church, in an effort to establish a proper definition of what that church is. As we continue this series, we must keep in mind always that when we refer to the church, we are referring to that body of people which consists of individual Christians. In other words, if you are a Christian, then all that we’re considering applies to your personal life, as well as to your interactions with your brethren in Christ.
In this article, then, we’ll consider what the New Testament teaches about the purposes of the church.
God’s Purposes for the Church
By “purposes”, I mean the ultimate purposes for which God has created the church — the “big picture”.
We begin with the #1 purpose of the church — to glorify God. This is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles, but have we ever stopped to think of what it means to glorify God?
In the New Testament, the word translated “glory” is usually, if not exclusively, the Greek word doxa, from which we get the word doxology. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses it to refer to the light that comes from stars. However, one of the best definitions of what God’s glory is is found in Hebrews 1:3, which says,
“He [the Son of God] is the radiance of the glory of God . . .” (ESV)
What does this mean? Well, the apostle John says in John 1:18 that Jesus “has explained” God the Father, and Jesus Himself says, “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father”. Connecting these passages together, we can conclude that the fact that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God” means that Jesus is the perfect picture of what God is like. This implies that “the glory of God” is God’s character, and God’s character is most clearly seen in Jesus.
Hence, when we speak of “glorifying God”, this simply means to manifest, or put on display, in some way, God’s character — who and what He is. This is important to understand when we think of the church’s ultimate purpose of glorifying God. It means that its purpose — and therefore, all Christians’ purpose — is to put God’s character on display.
The fact that the glory of God is the most important purpose of the church is clear when we consider what the New Testament says about it.
First, in Ephesians 3:20-21, the apostle Paul declares that God is glorified through the church:
“Now to him [God] who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (ESV)
Second, Paul says that the final redemption of the church is aimed at bringing praise to God’s glory:
“When you believed, you were marked in him [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.” – Eph. 13b-14 (NIV)
Third, he says that God saves His people,
“. . . so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” – Eph. 2:7 (ESV)
Fourth, Paul prays for the Thessalonians,
“. . . that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you . . .” – 2 Th. 1:11-12 (ESV)
Fifth, Paul says that he prays for the Philippians to be,
“. . . filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” – Php. 1:11
Now, how is God to be glorified through the church? Here are some of the main ways:
- Through Christ presenting “the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” – Eph. 5:27 (ESV)
- “To this he [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Th. 2:14 (ESV)
- “His [God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature . . .” – 2 Pe. 1:3-4a (ESV)
- “. . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” – 1 Jn. 1:3 (ESV)
- “To him [Jesus] who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father . . .” – Rev. 1:5b-6a (ESV)
This last purpose of being priests, or mediators, will lead us to our next point in this series.
Most Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
One Scripture quotation is taken from the:
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®