Mary, Queen of Scots, asked John Knox — the only man who could make her weep — “Who shall I obey then, you or the Pope of Rome?” Knox replied, “Neither, Madame, ye shall obey God as He speaks in His Word, for the Holy Spirit is never contrarious unto Himself.”
As I write this, as a Presbyterian (PCA), I endeavor not to show too much bias towards a particular denomination. I have several Lutheran and Baptist friends that I would hate to offend, though I do enjoy picking on the latter. Regardless of your denomination, as Christians we must come to the Word with open minds about the Church, it’s roles and responsibilities for her members and the world.
Church in Greek means “that which pertains to the Lord” or “the house of the Lord”. In a Hebrew equivalent it’s a congregation, assembly, or company of followers. Whenever the word is used in Scripture, it signifies a group of specific people selected from among others for a particular purpose (especially when used in respect to Israel); but never in regards to a building.
To the Jew, church meant a theocratic society whose members were the subjects of a heavenly King. To the Gentile, church would suggest a self-governing free society. The church of the New Testament is seen, in many ways, as a theocratic democracy; that is, a society of those who are free, but who are always conscious of that freedom being bound within an obedience to God.
It was Jesus Himself that established the Church, He had to shift his apostles from thinking about a Kingdom (Israel) and instead understanding a new independent body of believers; followers of the way, as they would become known as in Rome. The Church was built upon Peter’s confession: “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Those who understood this essential truth of the deity of Christ, being the One and only way, became the first members of His Church.
A writer by the name of Joseph Angus said that we can gather information from Acts and the epistles about the character and order of the first churches. As the apostles gained converts, they taught them at regular intervals in Christ’s name, instructed them in Christian ordinances and appointed suitable ministers to feed and guard the flock (Acts 2:42; 6:1-6; 14:23; 20:7,18,28-32). The church is a divine institution and combines the advantages of every form of society into which humans have been gathered.
At this point you may be asking (hopefully) for what purpose(s) did our Lord found His church? Simply put, He united His people into a visible brotherhood for the worship of God, the ministry of His Word, and the duly ministered sacraments; for mutual edification, administration of discipline, and the advancement of His Kingdom. These are the foundational primary purposes of the Church’s creation.
To expand upon this, one church historian puts it like this: “Very early in the ministry of Jesus Christ we observe indications that He intended to found a society, based upon principles of the kingdom of God, in which the members should be held together by outward and visible ties of fellowship in addition to a common belief and the observance of certain sacraments.” That is the Church of Jesus Christ.
We may find additional purposes of the Church in the outworking of the primary. In other words, the grace we receive from God, often finds expression in the grace we give to others. Grace is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit and finds expression in our gifts (natural abilities and talents) and giving. For example, the use of our money or individual gifts for others is one of the ways grace can be expressed. The grace of God is His compassion for the unworthy and this grace is given without regard to merit. Likewise our grace in respect to giving should follow the same pattern, even to the point of giving our life for another (John 15:13). God is more concerned with our spiritual well-being than our physical possessions, and our gifts and giving leads to the means in which the primary purposes of God’s church can take place. The Lord provides, but we are His hands and feet.
The Church is a distinctively spiritual institution, existing mainly for the maintenance of spiritual worship and gathering of souls. The Devil, however, has done well in placing the world in the church by perverting it’s purposes and obligations. The Church has an obligation primarily to the Head and Founder, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church also has another obligation, nearly as important as the first, and that is the Truth of God’s Word. Lastly, it has some obligations to the world.
The Church is God’s possession, and as Christ is her Lord she is obliged to obey and honor Him above all else. In His parting words our Lord said that they (the first leaders) must teach men and women to observe all the things that He had commanded them. Therefore, the paramount obligation of the Church is to discover the commands of her Lord, obey them, and then proclaim them fearlessly, urging the world to duly observe the same. If the Church is to wield any spiritual influence among the nations, such an instruction must be followed.
If there’s one thing the Lord can hold against the modern Church in the final days is the fact that she has been derelict to her obligations regarding the Truth of God’s revealed Word. The Scriptures form the sole pillar and ground of truth, and as such been committed into the guardianship of the Church. The Church must guard the Word’s precious contents from its foes, cloaked as friends, as they would attempt to mutilate the Truth and to convince others to “accept a different gospel from the one you accepted” (2 Corinthians 11:4).
Lastly, I would address the Church’s obligations regarding the world in which she sojourns. First obligation, preach the Gospel in every part of the world so that Christ’s redemptive work might be fully known among all men. Second obligation, draw a sharp line of demarcation and live opposite of the world. In this way it’s members stand apart; in denying ungodliness or worldly lusts, they may contribute to the first. Finally, holding its members to account for personal holiness, reverence, and home-life. The rise or fall of any church depends upon its individual members. The Bible insists upon the Church to keep ourselves right — “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Church discipline has fallen to the wayside, and has done her no favors in fulfilling her obligations to the world.