The Fellowship Purpose…
It would seem from Paul’s letters to the Ephesian and Colossian churches that the implicitly-stated function or purpose of the form referred to as the body of Christ, or “the church,” is to be a place where gifted Spiritual leadership secures a Spiritual home or environment, where truth is spoken and God’s children are Spiritually birthed and, both as individuals members and as a Spiritual whole or family, are empowered to grow up and mature into “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:28-29).
Very simply put, at Fellowship, we describe the New Testament’s church’s function this way: the biblical purpose, or function, of the form known as the New Testament church is: to create the biblical, Spiritual environment that encourages Christ-like Spiritual birth, growth and maturity.
A More Detailed Explanation of the Church’s Purpose…
The New Testament Greek word for church, ekklesia, can also be translated assembly. Ekklesia is derived from two Greek words: ek or out and kaleo, to call, and much like a state’s governor issues a call for a special legislative assembly, so the church’s head, Christ, through His Spirit, calls out his saints or holy ones—which have been set apart to God– to become an a united whole—an assembly of the faithful in Christ (Eph. 1:3ff; 2:10).
So now that we have a New Testament lexical idea of what the form known as the church or Christ’s body is, and if, as we said in our introduction, if most all forms are determined by their intended function, then what is the purpose or function of this form referred to as the church? In other words, what was the church designed by God’s Spirit to do or accomplish? What is its purpose?
If we are to have any chance of discovering the church’s biblical purpose, we must return, as recorded in the New Testament, to the church’s beginnings, and while there is no specific gospel, document or apostolic letter that explicitly states the purpose of a church, there are some very strong indications of just what the church’s purpose is.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: You are a Spiritual One in Christ. Now learn to act like a Spiritual one!
During his first Roman incarceration, around AD 62, the Apostle Paul, in the first half of his letter to the Ephesian church (which was located in present-day western Turkey), makes the powerful case that two groups with two very different approaches to life and religious practice, believing Jews and believing non-Jews or Gentiles (i.e. Greeks and Romans for example) through their joint trust and belief in Christ’s atonement for their sins, have, in essence, been Spiritually birthed, chosen and brought together by God’s Spirit to form a new Spiritual household–Christ’s body, the church (1:22; 3:10, 21). With Christ Jesus Himself as this new home’s Spiritual cornerstone, it is a Spiritual house or dynasty and built upon the foundation of both the (Old Testament) prophet and Christ’s apostles (the authorized messengers of his story) 2:19ff.
Then, on the basis of everything Paul has written about this new joint-family relationship through trust in Christ’s divine atonement for our sins, beginning in the second half of his letter, Paul exhorts these two formerly very different religious-cultural groups to set aside their religious, cultural and moral differences and to unite as one man, so to speak, becoming the one Spiritual body that they have been called to be in Christ (Eph. 4:1ff).
Paul then goes on to describe how the body’s head, or Christ, has gifted or equipped his functioning one Spiritual body, the church, with Spiritually-gifted leadership (in this case, apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and teachers) for the Spiritual purpose or function of equipping (or preparing) God’s people for the work of meeting others’ Spiritual growth needs, much as a state’s “representatives,” in our previous example, seek to serve the people they represent (vv. 7-12a).
And what does this Christ-gifted, leader-empowered, collective Spiritual effort supposed to accomplish in the end?
“The building up (or strengthening) of Christ’s body “(12b).
And what does this “strengthening” look like?
Paul writes that the gifted leadership are to continue to equip the saints for the meeting others’ Spiritual growth needs “until we all attain (or arrive) to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.”
And what does “attaining (or arriving) to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” look like?
Well, is “faith” to be taken specifically, i.e. our trust in the Son of God’s sacrificially atonement that results in one’s divine forgiveness for his sins or Spiritual rebellion before God, or it is to be taken more generally here, i.e. everything that goes along with our faith and trust, including the church’s Spiritual and theological growth, purpose and maturity?
And what is “the attaining of the unity of the… knowledge of the Son of God”? Could it be a restatement of “the faith”?
I am not fully sure, but what we do know is, it is a together thing. Do we ever achieve this in this life, or is this an abstract unity that will never be fully achieved until the bridegroom, Christ, returns for his bride, the church (Eph. 5:22ff)?
Perhaps. Again, I am not sure. But what I do know is that it does have something to with the training, preparing, teaching, correcting and rewarding a body’s many diverse parts to function as a unified whole together to accomplish a much greater purpose, a purpose or functioning that is in sync with the mind or head’s intent, much like pianist’s mind drives a pianist’s’ body, and especially his fingers, to accomplish the mind’s intent. The same would apply to a refined and trained athlete or dancer or a skilled craftsmen. Has the body been trained over time and through trial and error to follow the mind’s intent, and in doing so bring to the head or person a greater glory or honor?
Paul compares this “attaining or arriving to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” to that of “a mature man.”
And what kind of mature man? One that is saturated in Christ, for Paul goes on to add unto a stature or maturity measured by Christ’s fullness (v. 13). And let’s not forget, while no doubt the parts must mature, Paul’s application is directed towards the entire body, meaning the entire body is becoming mature through the head or Christ’s fullness within the body.
And what does this stature or maturity measured by Christ’s fullness look like? Paul continues: as a result of the church’s maturing or growing up into a mature man, saturated by Christ, we will no longer be a non-unified collection of immature, self-centered children that, through the man’s deceitful cunning, are easily and naively tossed here and there by every wind and wave of doctrine (or false teachings) v. 14.
In other words, this “mature man” has several characteristics to begin with: 1) a “unity of the faith” (or trust) on behalf of the body; 2) “an attaining to…the knowledge of the Son of God,” and 3) Spiritual discernment in not easily being led astray by false teachings or doctrines or men’s deceitful scheming.
Paul adds one more characteristic to this description of the body’s Christ-like maturity. He contrasts v. 14’s childlike naiveté and immaturity with a more mature “speaking the truth in love” that leads the body to grow up in all aspects of its head, Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (vv. 15-16).
In other words, the body’s parts, as opposed to deceiving or lying to each other (v. 14), are to tell each other the truth (v. 15), and in so doing, they—it–will “grow up” in all aspects unto its head, Christ, AS each part does its job or function, causing the entire body to “grow” in love…love for its head, love for God, love for each other and love for those it seeks to serve.
In other words, as it is being equipped by gifted leadership, the purpose of Christ’s body, the church, is to provide a place for its individual members, as they speak the truth in love and work together as one Body, to grow up, be strengthened and mature in the body’s trust and understanding of its head, Jesus Christ, so that it honors the head that directs it, just as the human body honors the head or mind that directs it.
In addition, written at about the same time as his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes to the church at Colossae his own divinely-inspired purpose: “We proclaim Him (Christ… and this mystery [v. 27], the church, his body [v. 18], or Christ IN YOU (plural or the collective “one”) the HOPE of glory [v.27]), admonishing every man and teaching every man with ALL wisdom, so that we may present every man complete (or mature) in Christ. For this PURPOSE also I labor, striving according to His power which mightily works within me” (Col. 1:28-29).
Bottom line, it would seem from Paul’s letters to the Ephesian and Colossian churches that the implicit-stated function or purpose of the form known as the body of Christ, the church, is to be a Spiritually safe place, where truth is spoken and gifted Spiritual leadership builds a home or creates an environment, where Christians, both individually and as group or collective one, are able to grow up and mature into “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:28-29).
Very simply put, at Fellowship, we say it this way: the biblical purpose or function of the form known as the New Testament church is: to create the biblical, Spiritual environment that encourages Christ-like Spiritual growth and maturity.
And how do we do this? Again, Scripture holds the clues for four very basic ingredients required to create the biblical, Spiritual environment for sustainable Christ-like Spiritual growth. We call them the Ships.