Why does the church exist?
Vision Series: Sermon 1
Why does the Church exist?
We’ve just read through passages from Scripture which talk about why God brought the Church into being.
Here’s some words and phrases that stood out to me:
To be Christ’s ambassadors
To be a ministry/agents of reconciliation
To be built together as God’s household
To do good works, prepared in advance for us
To declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
To be my witnesses
To let your light shine…so that others may glorify God
To be salty
To be a royal priesthood
Bride of Christ
Family of God
Which of these stands out to you most? Which do you find hardest to understand? Or easiest?
The common thing about most of these statements about why the Church exists, is that they are not about places, but people. God’s first concern is to be in relationship with us. The Church is God’s way of drawing people into relationship with God and with each other.
‘This question is fundamental because when we understand its nature and essential functions, we are free to reimagine what it means to be the church for the people God has sent us to.’ (JR Woodward, The Church as Movement)
The New Testament word most often used for church is ekkeslia which means ‘to call out of’. So the Church is the ‘called out ones’. ‘In other words, the Church is not a building, a weekly gathering or a programme, but a people God has called out of the world and sent back into the world to redeem and renew the world.’
How we express being the church should flow out of our theology of who we are as a people. It comes from our understanding not of what the Church does, but who WE are together with God.
So let’s unpack who we are as a Church together with God. The great arc of Scripture shows that this takes place in three ways:
Firstly, we are in communion with God. God wants to dwell with us. He wants to live with us. We see this in the Old Testament - right from the Garden of Eden, and later as God comes to live in the tent in the middle of the Israelite camp, or even later still, in the tabernacle or temple. In John’s gospel, we hear what Jesus does: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). The word dwelt in the original Greek is the same root word as ‘tabernacle.’ Jesus pitches his tent with us. He is Emmanuel: God with us. And then, at the day of Pentecost and beyond, God’s Holy Spirit makes its home within each of us. As a Church, we are invited into a life of community with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
“Communion is not merely a meeting. It’s learning to live in the life and dance of God throughout our ordinary life. Gathering to commune with and worship God certainly helps us to live in God throughout the day and week, but communion and worship go beyond a mere meeting. It’s a way of life; a rhythm of life.” (JR Woodward, The Church as Movement)
Together as a community, we are God’s family. In the early church in Acts we hear that everything was held in common (koinonia). People prayed, shared, ate, laughed and worked together. They were not like family; they were family. “Every day they continued to meet together…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:46).
This is an existence of radical community in which all are welcome around the table: male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. ‘The table symbolised that God’s Spirit was shaping a new social existence…under the lordship of Christ.’
The other word used to describe the early church is ‘oikos’ which is the Greek word for household (Ephesians 2:19). The most common early gathering of the church was one household together, which actually in the social structure of the day consisted of groups of 20-50 people gathered for worship, community and mission. They do daily life together AND they gather in the temple together. Temple, and household. Ekklesia and oikos.
Our communion with God, and our community with each other is not just for us grasp and hold onto. Otherwise, we become cosy and insular and we cannot grow. Our purpose is much bigger than this: in the words of one of my favourite songs, Build Your Kingdom Here: “you made us for much more than this.” We are co-missioned to go out into God’s world. God wants to partner with us, to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to make our world amazing. What an exciting, frightening, humbling adventure we do together, with God.
“We have been commissioned to proclaim good news to the poor and to release the captives. We are called to be peacemakers, reconcilers, activists, stewards of creation…”
“We have been gifted and empowered by the Spirit to live as gift-shaped interdependent communities co-missioned by Christ to make disciples who seek the renewal of all things.” (JR Woodward, The Church as Movement)
Everything about who we are as a Church flows from our understanding of who we are firstly in Communion with God - we are invited into relationship with the very creator of the universe. It’s from there that our care for each other as family in community, and we are co-missioned in service to the world.
Some of us know this as UP, IN and OUT. We go UP in communion in worship to God our Father; IN together in a community of disciples, learning how to follow Jesus and care for one another; in order that we go OUT in loving service to a hurting world.
So, based on all of this, if we were to write up a statement of purpose for St Michael’s, what would we write? Take some time in your group now to craft one sentence about why our church exists. You might like to begin with:
‘St Michael’s exists to…’
Remember that a Statement of Purpose needs to be Biblically-based, coming out of our relationship with God, is not about programmes or events. Other than that, there are no right or wrong answers! What will come out reflects the lenses we bring. We will put these ideas up on the wall for others to read over the coming weeks.