Christianity 201

April 12, 2018

Why Does Your Church Exist?

by Clarke Dixon

Why does your church exist? Why does any church exist? What is our primary purpose? There may be quite a number of answers to this question based on mission statements and what you see churches do. But is there a purpose which is common to all churches whether they think they are accomplishing it or not, whether they articulate it or not in their mission statements?

There is. Jesus get us on the right track on discovering it by his prayer in John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come; . . .”. Given that this prayer occurs just before his arrest, trial, death, burial, and resurrection, what might you expect next? Perhaps ” . . . save Your people, reconcile Your people to Yourself”? What he says is, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Of all the great things we can say about the work of Jesus on our behalf, his primary purpose is the glory of God. Of all the many things we can say about churches and what they are and do, their primary purpose is the glory of God. If God’s glory is central to Jesus, it is central for us!

We are reminded of our primary purpose most Sundays as we conclude our worship service. Those who attend our church will know that I tend to use this same benediction:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis added)

I might have chosen the “Aaronic Blessing” as my favourite, the one that goes, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .”, but I have not. And for a reason. We tend to think that we attend church to glorify God, then we leave with the expectation that God will bless us in the week ahead. I think we have it backwards. We are blessed as we gather to worship, and we leave to bring glory to God with the week ahead. Even as we hear my favourite benediction from Ephesians, we may still be wrapped up in us. We may concentrate on what God can do in our lives; that is, “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” While that is important and sometimes we will need to focus on that, we can remember that God’s power in our lives is not the central thought of this benediction. The glory of God is.

But doesn’t “glory in the church” mean “here in this place”? There were no buildings referred to as “churches” when Paul wrote this, so no. The word refers to the people. This is not “glory in the church building”, but rather “glory in the people who are the church.” Snoop Dog gets it right with the opening words of his latest album; “Church, say Amen”. He is speaking to people, not a building or an organization!

How do we bring glory to God as a church? What does that even mean? To roughly quote one Bible teacher; “the very existence of the Church brings glory to God”. The existence of a rescued people brings glory to God. The existence of a redeemed, forgiven, Spirit-filled people gives glory to God. There are many small churches like our own which may feel quite beat up over not being able to offer this, that, or the other program. There is no shortage of guilt in smaller churches for not measuring up and giving proper glory to God. However, the existence of any group of Christians, no matter the form of worship, or how well they are organized, or how many programs they can offer, already brings glory to God! That is not an excuse to not pursue excellence. But it is an encouragement.

That being said, is Ephesians 3:20,21 a prayer or a resolution? Do we hear this benediction and think, “God, we pray You make Your glory happen in us this week?”, or do we think “God, our resolve is to make Your glory happen in us this week?” Let us think again of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. God in His sovereignty made it happen. Jesus was arrested, suffered, executed, buried, raised, and he ascended, all by the sovereignty and to the glory of God. However, Jesus was also resolved to stay the course as we learn from his prayer later in Gethsemane:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

We do well to make our benediction from Ephesians a prayer in dependence upon God while we also watch for opportunities to participate in God’s work as His glory unfolds.

We do have some guidance while we watch for those opportunities. One definition given for glory is “giving God his proper place”. We cannot do that if we are trying to take his place. We have bad examples of giving glory to God in Adam and Eve who were quick to want to be just like God. We have good examples of giving glory to God including John the Baptist who pointed beyond himself to Jesus (John 1:27,303:30). Unfortunately, we often find it easier to talk about ourselves than about God. In the same way, we likely find it easier to talk about our church than God: “we have the best music, the best programs, the least boring pastor, try us, you’ll love us”. While we will want to aim for excellence, we do not want our tag-line to be “I’m lovin’ it”.  We will not give God his proper place if we are trying to get into his place, and take the glory for ourselves. God is glorified when we take the place he has prepared for us. Our best opportunity to glorify God is not in the loudest and most professional sounding rendition of the hymn “To God Be the Glory”, but in often-quiet, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-filled lives.

Why does our church [or your church] exist? It exists for the same reason as every other church, which is no less that the same purpose for which Jesus did all he did – for the glory of God!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

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