Let me ask a question that some may struggle to answer. What is the purpose of the church? To answer that, as we always should do, let’s turn to Scripture. Acts 2:42 provides a clear answer: And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. What we glean from that passage is that there are four key activities carried out by the church, for the church, in the church: learning (and teaching) Biblical doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread (communion and celebratory meals) and prayer. Although these were the priorities of the early church, these same practices should be considered normative for the church today. To the believer who is solidly grounded in the Word of God, the thought of permitting the church to be tossed to and fro by false doctrine is unthinkable. Yet, more and more we see the church accommodating the vain philosophy of man. For what purpose? To be accepted by the world.
Satan has worked hard for many years to distort the clear witness and teaching of the church. In many ways, his goal is to ensure that when the world looks at the church it sees not the church, but the world. Sadly, his strategy has been wildly successful, particularly in this Laodicean church age. Take for instance a recent news article which sought to address the decline of faith in the United Kingdom. The article read, in part: “A poll of Anglican clergy found a desire for significant changes in teaching on sex, sexuality, marriage and the role of women to bring the church more into line with public opinion.” Let me emphasise that – they found a desire for significant changes in order to bring the church more into line with public opinion. Is that God’s desire for the church? No! But it certainly is Satan’s desire. Again, he wants the church to look and sound exactly like the world. A W Tozer once said this: “Religion today is not transforming the people – it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society – it is descending to society’s own level and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender.” How true those words continue to be.
Whatever successes and failures we can attribute to the church in relation to its witness to fellow man, the often-forgotten purpose of the church is that God uses His work through the church in order to reveal His manifold wisdom to His holy angels. Ephesians 3:10 says this: to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. So, exactly who are these principalities and powers? They are angelic beings – some say both the holy and unholy angels, but I want to focus on what the holy angels are witness to. You see, the church is not just a marvelous spectacle upon the earth, but also in heaven. The Apostle Paul alluded to this in 1 Corinthians 4:9: For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We also read in 1 Peter 1:10-12 (emphasis added): Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.
You see my dear reader, salvation in Christ is so great, the blessings so tremendous, the transformation so tremendous that angels want to study it intently. Unsaved men and women may scoff at it and reject it, but the matter of salvation is profoundly interesting to the angels. Until the point that God’s plan for the church was revealed, imagine what the angels must have witnessed throughout the history of the universe. They certainly knew about the power of God as seen in His creation. But the wisdom of God as seen in His mysterious creation (the church) was something entirely new and fascinating to them. This wisdom is also revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says: But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. What a marvelous truth to behold! There was wisdom manifested when God’s plan was formed; wisdom in the timing of the Redeemer; wisdom in the live-giving atonement of the Redeemer; wisdom in the means of justification; wisdom in the means of sanctification and wisdom in the means of our soon glorification. You see, God’s plan through the church reveals His glorious omniscience. In fact, what the writer of Ephesians makes clear is that God uses the church to manifest His wisdom before the angels who are then eager to offer even greater praise to God. And so should we! In the full unveiling of His plan, God is glorified, Christ is exalted, Satan is defeated and the church is enthroned in Christ to rule and reign with Him. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
But it’s not all good news for the church. We have an enemy who works tirelessly to distort the witness of the church. The method? Primarily the introduction of false teachers and false doctrine. The reason? He wants to send a clear and unmistakable message throughout all of the universe to the seen and unseen realms that God’s purpose for the church is failing – that He is not wise after all, but foolish. Part of God’s purpose for the church is to exalt Jesus Christ by the way it chooses to live, by what it does and by what it teaches. How can the church to expect to exalt Christ and man at the same time? Because that is what some in the modern church are promoting, particularly as seen in the aforementioned news article. If a church desires to operate according to public opinion, its god is man, not the Lord and it should therefore change its name to “the church of public opinion” rather than the church of the Risen Saviour.