There are thousands gathering all across America for this event. You decide to attend a gathering near you. As you arrive and follow the others in, you recognize many familiar faces. It seems like everyone you know is there. There is a moment of silence as the event begins followed by a song set fit for the occasion. Lee Greenwood songs are sung along with other national anthems. The crowd is urged to sing along with the lead musicians. Hearts are stirred and standing ovations happen repeatedly. Servicemen and women are recognized and honored for their sacrifices. Usually there is a speech from one of the leaders of the event proclaiming the virtues of honor, courage and laying down one’s life for someone. This is followed with more music celebrating the national holiday and a closing of blessings and fellowship. At first glance this sounds like a normal Memorial Day or Fourth of July event/rally at the public park or community center, but for many it is what they experience in church on Sunday every year when these holidays roll around. Questions: Should this be something happening within a church? Does God desire, require, or command such things from the church? Does such align with the nature and purpose of the church?
The Nature and Purpose of the Church
The easy answer to all the questions above is “No”. But why? and how have we, as Christians in America, come to expect, participate in, and be impassioned over such church services? First, the reason why those questions are answered in the negative is due to the nature and the purpose of the church. The church in general or the universal church is the collection of all who have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ from all places and all time. We have been united together into one body, with one baptism, by one Spirit under one Lord. This body includes “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Christianity transcends all boundaries, for “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). If you have been chosen, called, regenerated, and redeemed by the grace of God, then you have been united into the body of Christ. This is not only true on the universal level but on the local level as well. Every local manifestation of the body of Christ should be a reflection of the universal body. Diversity and unity are not competing characteristics of the local church but are united through the reconciling power of the gospel. The greater the gospel presence and understanding within a church the greater the diversity and unity will be. To ever begin to associate the gospel, Christianity, the church, Jesus Christ or God with a particular nation, people, etc. is to miss the true reality of the gospel itself and to misrepresent what God is doing in Christ today.
The second reason why those things mentioned above ought not to be so is due to the purpose or mission of the church. There are three main aspects concerning the mission/purpose of the church in the world. The first purpose of the church is, as the redeemed of God, to worship Christ. While He is ultimately deserving of our worship whether He had accomplished our salvation or not, we who have been purchased by His blood worship out of gratitude and love. Christ is to be our greatest treasure and should be shown to be so in all that the church does together. The second mission of the church is to proclaim Christ. This takes place corporately as well as publicly. When we gather together weekly we are to sit under the preaching of the Word, pointing to Christ as the ultimate fulfillment and illuminator of the Scriptures as well as reminding ourselves of the gospel, which is the foundation of all Christian thinking and living. Publicly, the church takes the message of Christ to the world. We are to seek to proclaim Christ with our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and all who God providentially places in our path in word and in deed, leading to the third purpose. The third purpose of the church is to minister in and to the world. With the message of Christ on our lips and the love of God in our hearts, we are to seek to care for, protect, and serve the needy in this world. As those who have been shown incomprehensible mercy we are to be merciful to others with our time and resources. The key to the purpose of the church is Christ. To sum up, the purpose of the church is to advance Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Since, at present, it is a spiritual kingdom it is spread through the changing of hearts by the hearing of the gospel and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Anything that is not in alignment with the worship of Christ alone, the proclamation of His Word, and the imitation of Him in the world is not only hindering Christ’s kingdom but is taking away from it, no matter how much it is rooted in church or national tradition.
Continue to Part 2.