Part 1: What Is the Church and Why Does It Exist?
As I drove down the road to an appointment, this sign jumped out at me from its place in the yard of a small local church. The date for “Back to Church Sunday” was given, but nothing else. No explanation, just an advertisement seeking to entice former and current members of the church to be there on a particular Sunday.
Statistics relating to church attendance are well documented. The average American church has fewer than 100 members. This well-known statistic sits adjacent to another well known statistic: some 65% of Americans self-identify as “Christian.” This means, simply, that many people calling themselves Christian don’t attend church regularly.
But numbers are not the primary concern facing the American church. A clear lack of understanding of what the church, and why it exists is a clear and present danger to the American church.
What is the church?
I posted the church’s sign on social media with my encouragement for people to run far away from such a church. That started a conversation with friends from all over about the intentions of the church and whether having door prizes was a good idea. Some viewed this as a good way to “attract” people to church so they could hear the Gospel. The thought was, get them in the doors and share Jesus with them. If they get saved then it was worth it. The opposing thought was that this church was cheapening grace and the Gospel with enticements.
Well-meaning people are on both sides of the issue. I respect those people and don’t wish to argue the matter. But I do want to have a conversation about what the church is and why it exists. This conversation is particularly critical in an American landscape that values entertainment and self-esteem gurus.
The first thing to understand is that the church is the body of Christ. This means, by definition, that the church is composed only of those people that have been divinely called by God to be the recipients of His saving faith and grace. The main worship service of the church, then, is a gathering of the body for the purpose of prayer, praise, worship, and study of the doctrines of Scripture. This is important because there is a misunderstanding that the main worship service of the church is for the purpose of evangelism.
Because many well-meaning churches have the wrong idea that the main worship service is for evangelism, it has given rise to the attractional, feel-good, seeker-sensitive method of “doing church.” Churches employ the latest trends and foolproof methods for getting the unsaved in their doors using “high-energy praise” and the “something for everyone” promise. In doing so these churches miss the primary purpose for the main worship service.
The primary purpose for the main worship service is for the body of Christ to worship God. This time of worship is comprised of singing praises, sermons and teachings on the various doctrines of the Bible, and observing the Lord’s Supper. The primary purpose of the main worship service is not for the purpose of evangelism. For this reason, unsaved people will – and should – feel a little out of place. When we sing of God’s grace the lost will not quite understand. When we speak of the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus the lost will be a little…lost. And when we observe the Lord’s Supper the lost should be excluded altogether. The intent is not to alienate unbelievers, but to come together as a community of believers and worship our God. By nature this will cause unbelievers to feel a little out of place because they are not part of the body of Christ.
The purpose behind what we do is two-fold. First, we worship in accordance with the teachings of Scripture. We are adhering to the blueprint laid out for us in the Bible. Second, we are seeking to create an environment where the lost will be drawn to Christ.
The well-meaning attractional church that seeks to make lost people entirely comfortable in every aspect of their services is committing a critical mistake. They are watering down the Gospel and cheapening grace by creating an environment in their main worship service that does not draw lost people to Jesus. Make no mistake, lost people are drawn, but it’s not to Jesus. They are drawn to good music, a great show, a dynamic speaker, and many other aspects of the church, but they are not drawn to Jesus. This explains much about the average American Christian. This explains why few read their Bibles daily why so many have weak prayer lives; why so many cannot explain or defend their beliefs; and why a large number confess beliefs that are either unbiblical or even anti-biblical.
In seeking to make the lost feel perfectly comfortable, many churches have watered down their message, excluding the cross and blood of Christ, avoiding the cost of discipleship and calling people to die, and ignored the deep doctrinal truths of Scripture. These have been replaced by “talks” that are “empowering,” and filled with “motivational” content designed to help people achieve their best life right now. Glaringly absent from the message is the Gospel of Jesus.
Before you get riled up because I said the main worship service was not for evangelism and then said it should contain the Gospel, let me explain. The Gospel message is not just for the lost. The Gospel message is for believers as well. It is the message that brings the lost to the saving knowledge of Jesus. But it is also the message that keeps believers centered in their relationship with Jesus. For this reason, the Gospel message should be present at every main worship service every week. We should never grow tired of hearing about the cross of Christ. In fact, we should earnestly desire to hear it often.
…Part 2 of this post will appear tomorrow