The church . . . Why is the church here?
What is the role of the church in the world?
Until the consummation, what is the church supposed to be doing?
Like so many, I’m currently asking these questions as if to analyze the current American church. I love the church, and I remain hopeful while at the same time, I am quite unimpressed with her. More specifically, I am unimpressed with the mindset of seeker-sensitive or non-denominational church. It not only has no clue as to the answer, they are quite loud about the wrong answer.
The Double Responsibility of the Church: (from R.B. Kuiper’s The Glorious Body of Christ)
Some time ago the wife of a minister said that in her opinion the sole task of the church is to preach the gospel to those who are outside the fold. There are whole denominations, some of them large, which have impressive missionary programs but do next to nothing for the building up of their own membership in the faith. Not only is this view of the church’s task extremely one-sided, it is decidedly pernicious. At least two serious errors underlie it. It fails to take into account the children of the covenant, who are members of the visible church and beyond all doubt are in need of Christian nurture, an important phase of which is their indoctrination by the church. And it loses sight of the significant truth that salvation is not merely a momentary occurrence but a continuous process as well . . . Therefore, the church must zealously proclaim to its members the truth of God, for through it God is wont to sanctify His own (John 17:17) . . . He who would evangelize those outside of the church while neglecting the building up of those within the church is a good deal like the head of a family who is moved with deep compassion for the emaciated children of his neighbor but neglects to feed his own, forgetting the startling warning of the inspired apostle: “If any provide hot for his own, and specifically for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” (I Tim. 5:8).
In attempt to answer a questions at the top of my post, I would simply say that the church is here to be the agents of reconciliation between mankind and their Creator. With great passion, godly conviction, and biblical instruction, the recent movement in Evangelicalism of taking the word to the streets has become the obsession. It is, to agree, the role of the believer. It is not, however, the role of the “church” understood as the assembly of the people of God. What do I mean?
In the word “church,” I simply want to distinguish, not separate, but distinguish between the individual “church” (invisible, the people who make up the body of Christ) and the corporate “church” (visible, the assembly of God’s people for the purpose of worship and instruction). I argue from about 14 or 15 years of first-hand witness, that there is a plague within the church in the West to blur the two together to the place where the “Great Commission” is something that ought to take place from the mouth of the pastor from the pulpit to the unbelieving seeker or new believer.
As innocent as the motive and as passionate the godly conviction may be, it is sadly misguided. It simply is not the biblical pattern. As no surprise, it has failed. I personally know of several Christian organizations, including the mission-sending churches and schools, who are wont for fruit. They are sending out email and asking for my feedback. There are conferences who, in follow-up immediately after their events, send out a survey. “How are we doing?” In essence, I’ve noticed so much shameless “Is it working?” questionnaires because the church has recognized so much frustration.
There’s enough topic here to fill a few books, but in brief, the church has two fronts, not merely one to the exclusion of the other. The local church that you and I attend is not for the unbeliever. The sacraments offered there are not for the unbeliever. The songs of praise and worship that we sing at church are not for the unbeliever. The sermon delivered from the pulpit is not for the unbeliever. Pastors must engage their flock as stewards of the truth. You pastors are the apostle to the believer. The believer is to be the torch-bearer to the lost. The true front on the Great Commission is the 15 obedient and godly members of our churches who are starved for a good meal.
As Piper puts it, we are tired of the soft gospel that overemphasizes kindness and tolerance and under emphasizes the Rider on the White Horse. When we have seen so much injustice in the world, we will wonder if there is any justice in God if He does not strike down the enemy. Then, there is so much blood spilled that it comes up to the bridle in the mouths of our own horse. When the times are tough, we will want a theology that has some steel in it.
For the last time, stop counting. It makes not a bit of difference what size your flock is if there is no fruit. For the last time, put your pride aside. For the last time, be the apostle and you will not be able to stop the Timothys and the Tituses from invading the darkest places of the world. They will, like a pestilence, infiltrate the sick little corners of our communities in ways that the pastor up front never will.
For the last time, pastor, identify the Timothy and the Titus in your flock, be a faithful steward, and train them to replace you. To many of you, this means you yourself need to be trained. You yourself are a victim of soft-gospel. You yourself have been let down by the so-called leaders of your churches. Get discipled yourself and then train them. There is more power in the message than there is in your crafty little sermon.
One more bit from Kuiper:
The church that only takes and never gives back is sick unto death (compare the Sea of Galilee with the Dead Sea: one flows into the other). “The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” (Prov. 11:25) (The Glorious Body of Christ. Ch. 24)