Is your local church Purpose driven or Spirit driven?
Early on in my Christian experience, I was taught by an evangelist, some of the dangers of church planting. One of the more memorable things that he said was that every church denomination begins with a man, turns into a movement and eventually becomes a memorial.
It was the goal of this evangelist to preach the gospel and see local churches planted that are answerable only to the Spirit of God. This is very different than one man or a centralized body of men in making all of the decisions. This approach increases the likelihood that the working of the Spirit of God would not become merely a memorial to a man or a movement of men.
This evangelist was always careful not to stay in one area too long so that the newly formed church did not become dependent upon him, but rather as capable elders were raised up and appointed by the Holy Spirit, the Christians would learn for themselves to depend upon the Spirit of God to guide them into all scripture. This would equip them to fulfill God’s present purpose on the earth through them.
We make a mistake to assume that the purposes of any local church are automatically purposes that are taught by the Spirit of God Himself. It is currently very popular to emphasize the purpose driven church. What does this mean? In the product description of the book, The Purpose Driven Church written by Pastor Rick Warren, it says,
“…The Purpose-Driven Church shifts the focus away from church building programs to emphasizing a people-building process. Warren says, “If you will concentrate on building people, God will build the church.”
The description also states that the achievement of this goal is through: “a five-part strategy that will enable your church to grow…Warmer through fellowship – Deeper through discipleship – Stronger through worship – Broader through ministry – Larger through evangelism.”
This appears to be reasonable and worthwhile approach but it raises questions for me. First, is people building the same as equipping the saints and building them up in the faith? There are a lot of programs from inside and outside of local churches that offer to help us become better versions of ourself, but this is very different from the biblical teaching to put off the old man (Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:22) and to put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27; Romans 13:14)
Second, how does this five part strategy align with the three fold purposes of God for His church? Lastly, is the purpose of the church to establish the Kingdom on earth presently, or is it to prepare souls to be heirs of the Kingdom to come?
In this series, it is my desire to examine the scriptures regarding some of the hindrances to church fellowship and growth that we may inadvertently or sometimes deliberately impose. In this first part, I want to introduce the reader to the three fold purpose of the church as laid out in Scripture. My goal is to challenge the reader, as I am challenged, to determine to what degree the local church that I attend is acting consistently with these purposes.
To What Purpose?
It is largely believed by those that consider themselves Christian that the church’s purpose is to build God’s Kingdom on earth now. For many years, I thought this also. What I have found though is that a consistent interpretation of scripture reveals that this is a mistake.
Consider this, We are all very familiar with what is commonly referred to as the Lord’s prayer. It was given in response to His disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. So, it is really the disciples prayer. In it, we are instructed to pray specifically regarding the Kingdom. If the Kingdom is already here and we are charged to implement it now, why did the Lord teach His disciples to pray for the Kingdom to come?
It might be argued that the Lord’s instruction here is to pray that the kingdom would grow into its fullness through the Holy Spirit in the church. However, His instruction also requires that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is clearly not happening today as the result of church growth.
In heaven there is no resistance to God’s will. In the church on earth there is intense resistance to the will of God because our sin nature readily responds to the activity of Satan. The Kingdom to come is marked by an end to that resistance in three ways:
First with the binding and incarceration of Satan (Revelation 20;2);
Second, everyone baptized into Christ during the church age will receive redeemed bodies without a sin nature (1 Corinthians 15:42-44);
Thirdly for those born during the Kingdom, they will still possess a sin nature and there will be immediate judgment on sin. (Psalm 67:4)
Furthermore, if the Kingdom is now, why did Jesus declare to the Roman Governor, Pilate:
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
John 18:36 KJV
Is He saying that as a result of the Jews rejection of Him as Messiah, that His Kingdom is no longer from here?…Or is He saying that the Kingdom is not from here now? Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven revealing that it cannot come from man’s military effort, but it comes from an entirely different source – a heavenly source.
The church has its origin and existence from the Holy Spirit. Although it is sourced from heaven, it remains a spiritual organism rather than a physical kingdom. The Kingdom that Jesus offered the Jewish nation is that which was promised to Abraham with real geographical boundaries, a temple and a King.
Since the Jewish nation via her leadership rejected her King, the Kingdom on earth was not cancelled but postponed. It will not be realized until a new generation of Jewish leaders will recognize Jesus as Messiah saying, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 23:39)
The Physical Kingdom that will be established on the earth does not have its source from earth, but from heaven. As the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar of the great Babylonian empire confessed, God is the King of heaven and His kingdom is from generation to generation. (Daniel 4:34-37)
If God’s Kingdom on earth is present now, why did the prophet Daniel declare that the Kingdom of God would be established in the days of the ten kings that comprise the last form of world empire?
“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, [but] it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
Daniel 2:44 KJV
If the church is supposed to be the establishment of God’s Kingdom, what ten kings can we identify as reigning over the whole earth at the start of the church?
If the Kingdom is present now, why is not until the future period of the Great Tribulation when the seventh angel sounds that is it declared…?:
“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15 KJV
In addition, at this same time it is proclaimed that this time is the start of His reign:
“Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.”
Revelation 11:17 KJV
While the Church is now part of the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven, since most of the church is now in heaven, establishing the Kingdom on the earth is something that only God Himself can do.
Bestselling author Hal Lindsey warned what could happen to the church in the last days if she began to see herself as the establisher of God’s kingdom: he says,…
“The last days of the church on the earth may be largely wasted seeking to accomplish a task that only the LORD Himself can and will do directly.” [The Road to Holocaust, 269]
So if the implementation of God’s Kingdom on the earth is not the purpose of the church, then what is?
There are basically three purposes laid out for us by the Holy Spirit in His Holy Scriptures. They are as follows:
To Glorify God
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21 NKJV
To Equip the Saints
“And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…,”
Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV
To Evangelize the World
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Local church gatherings are essentially focused on three efforts: Worship, Ministry and evangelism. It is easy to see how these three efforts broadly align with the three fold purposes of the local church. Fellowship and Discipleship are essential elements of Christian life but these are the products of the three primary purposes.
The challenge to each of us is this: Are my life purposes in line with these Spirit driven purposes to which God has called believers? Is the church that I am in fellowship with working toward fulfilling these three purposes? More importantly, is our worship, ministry and evangelism consistent with God’s revelation of Himself and His purpose of calling out a people to inherit His Future Kingdom on earth?
In the following articles, we will explore each of these purposes in a little more depth.
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