Recently I had a leader that I work with in Western Canada ask me what the purpose of the Church is? Interesting question – a good question – from someone who is leading a local church and has attended church all of her life. She is looking for a way to revamp the way they do church. In other words, the way the weekly gathering flows – the various things that should go into the weekly “church service.”
The New Testament does not give us a template for a weekly church assembly. It seems that every local church – Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Rome, Jerusalem – functioned as they were led by the Holy Spirit. Most, of course met in private homes. A few used a local school or met outside. But, we are not given a lot of insight into what they did. And, the insight we do gain from the occasional verse is not a set pattern to follow. It is simply what that particular local church did. For example – in Jerusalem …
Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
So some people will choose a verse like this and then design the whole weekly assembly with these elements prominent in the expression of the life of that church.
The leader who asked the question was quoting a verse – expressing that this was the only verse they could find that expressed the purpose of the church assembly. You know the verse…
1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
Again, this was Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth. The format he was suggesting was as a result of the issues they were having when they gathered together – people living in immorality, drunkenness at the services, unruly behaviour. And, if we were to apply this verse and the seven verses following explaining how they would work in the service … then we must also apply the next verse
1 Corinthians 14:34 “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission…”
Remember now, the person who asked the question is a woman who leads a church. Whoops!
You simply cannot take a verse or two out of content and its environment (who it was written to, why, and when) and use it today to base a format on. Not good use of the Bible and not what the Lord meant for us to do.
The only expressed purpose of the Church – every local church – is found in Ephesians 4:11-16:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Again, please note that there is no set pattern for the local church assembly or worship service to follow. But, the purpose of the local assembly is clear – leaders are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
Ministry is what happens out where believers live. So, they are to be equipped to minister to the lost so that they can be touched by the love of God and come to the foot of the cross and be saved. What goes on in the service or assembly is really “maintenance” as we are ministering to one another and taking care of those who are already sheep and part of the sheepfold. So, as we gather the purpose of the gathering is to equip the saints to reach the lost. This fits with the only call or mandate that the Lord gave the church… “Go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19).
And, we call the local assembly a “worship service!” So, really, is it? What is worship anyways? More on that next time.