Every entity has a purpose. The church is no different, the reason we are not zapped into heaven once we submit our lives to Jesus Christ is because we have a job to do, a role to play, a mission to fulfill.
But what really is our role?
I continue to challenge the notion that the totality of the mission of the church is to evangelize, as many believers seem to think. Now, preaching the gospel of the cross is very important, but I humbly submit that the end product of evangelism, salvation and spiritual rebirth, as precious as it is, does not bring the believer or the church as a whole to a place of maturity. It brings us all to level one in the kingdom of God, that of milk, burping and diapers. If all the church does is preach the gospel every week, this is where all believers will stay, infants piling up in the lobby of the mansion of the kingdom of God, never attaining to the deeper things of God’s house. The outlining of the fivefold ministry, in Ephesians chapter 4, adds to the width of the role of the church with pastors, teachers, apostles and prophets being placed alongside evangelists; but these still seem haphazard and superficial when placed in the context of the weight of history, identity and purpose.
Any core role, I submit, would have to be time spanning, and could not suddenly begin at Pentecost. The description of the role of the church must take into primary consideration that the Gentiles, which we are, were adopted into the family of God and are not originals ourselves. The family business, i.e. the mission of God, started prior to our arrival and ingrafting. Paul in Romans chapter 11 reorients us to our proper historical grounding through the use of an analogy of a plant and the work of a gardener. He describes the gentiles as a wild olive branch that has been grafted onto the original plant. Interestingly, he implores us to not think of ourselves higher than the Israelites, but to understand that part of the purpose of grafting us into the preexisting plant was that they may be jealous and want to be reattached, having been broken off previously due to unbelief. Even the word ‘church’ (ekklesia in the Greek) in the biblical text, first used in the New Testament in Matthew chapter 16 verse 18, was used in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy chapter 4 verse 10, where it is translated ‘assembly’. Therefore, the historical aspect of our role must, therefore, stretch further than AD33. The role of the church in a collective sense is first described in Exodus chapter 19 verse 4, when God met his people face to face for the very first time, calling them “kings and priests”. In contrast, the function of evangelism came on the scene in the year Jesus was resurrected. Evangelism just doesn’t hold the historical weight that the role of the church would have to, as the church spans almost the entirety of time.
The concept of being kings is a rich one. It is relationally dimensional in ways that seem to get to the core of our existence, one which is the direct result of the love of God. God reached into the pit of sin and pulled us out by His own goodness and grace and transformed us on a fundamental level. There are three ways that someone can become part of a royal family: birth, adoption and marriage. The Messianic Jews who received the Lord Jesus and continue in the tradition of the saints can be considered to be those royal by birth. They are in the line of the original recipients of the holy covenant, in the lineage of Abraham, Moses and David. We, the gentiles, have been bought into the royal family of God by adoption, much like Moses encountered with Egyptian royalty. We have been grafted into the family of God and have the right to be called sons and daughters of God, just like those who are royal by ‘birth’. The core identity of every believer is that of a son or daughter; we are sons and daughters of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Father of all. By nature, we are therefore kings and queens in the Kingdom of God, brought into the family business and seated with Christ in heavenly realms; given authority and power. This deep-seated love of the Father, because of His supremacy, endows on us a royal role through sonship, that of being kings.
The third route through which one is endowed with royalty is by marriage. It is no surprise then that throughout scripture, the church is called the bride of Christ. Marriage itself is a living breathing metaphor of Christ’s relationship with the church, described as Christocentric and “a profound mystery” by Paul in Ephesians chapter 5 verse 31, which demonstrates roots in Genesis chapter 2 and while alluding to presenting the church to Himself as a radiant bride refers to the Wedding of the Lamb spoken of Revelation chapter 19! Interestingly we see cross linkages with the nation of Israel in this regard as well. In Isaiah chapter 62 verses “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” And regarding the Lord’s return in verse 11 ‘See, your Saviour comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’ This is echoed in Revelation chapter 22 verse 11, and the response is in verse 17 “The Spirit of the bride says come”. Seeing the time-spanning nature of this amazing marriage metaphor one can understand God’s hatred of fornication, adultery, divorce and same sex marriage! The church is the bride, and the reason marriage exists is first and foremost to allow humanity to see the relationship between God and the church, his bride.
We could speak for hours on both sonship and the bridal paradigm of Christ but the point is well made, we are royalty, kings and queens onto God from either angle.
But what of purpose?
Dr. Daniel Thomas is a medical doctor and Christian Advocate who loves the Lord deeply. He is married to Grace-ann Thomas the love of his life and currently leads a youth organization called the Love March Movement; which is committed to empowering the youth to fight for sexual purity and the family in Jamaica.