Jesus told the apostles, "and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). He would establish His church, and nothing would prevent its being established. The establishment of the church was of paramount importance in the Lord's mission to this earth.
The church is repeatedly identified as the "body of Christ" (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-13, 27; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:14-16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16: 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18, 24; 3:15). It should not be surprising, then, that Christ is designated as the "head of the church" (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23; Col. 1:18). He is also identified as "the Savior" of the church (Eph. 5:23). That is illustrated in the apostle Paul's statement that "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph. 5:25). Such profoundly personal association of the church with Christ should impress us with the obvious importance of the church in God's scheme of things for mankind.
So, just what should the church be doing? Polling people at large could leave a person pretty confused. Some believe that the church should be a political entity, but the scriptures never, ever portray the church in that way. Through teaching the principles of the gospel, the church can have an influence on the morals of society. But that effect is indirect, the result of teaching the gospel, not of taking a political posture.
Many seem to view the role of the church as being largely social. They see the church as being responsible for feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing and even subsidizing the needy. Certainly, the church has work to do in the area of benevolence. The scriptures offer many accounts of benevolent acts undertaken by Jesus and the apostles. The Lord gave a lengthy treatise on the importance of ministering to the hungry, the stranger, the naked and those in prison (Matt. 25:31-46).
But benevolence is certainly not the primary focus of the church. After Jesus fed the 5000, and they tried to make Him their king (Jn. 6:15), He rebuffed them (vs. 26-60), emphasizing that His primary mission was to give them spiritual food (teaching), not physical food. When John's disciples came to see if Jesus was truly the Messiah, He told them to "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard...the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Lk. 7:19-22). Jesus stated, in effect, that there will always be poor people (Matt. 26:11; Mk. 14:7). His mission, though, was "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Lk. 19:10).
The church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). It is "the truth" that will set people free from the condemnation of their sins (Jn. 8:31-32). It is the teaching of the gospel message that holds "the power of God to salvation" (Rom. 1:16). God's "eternal purpose" for the church is to proclaim that gospel message throughout the world (Eph. 3:8-11; Mk. 16:15-16). The church can, and should, do good where appropriate as we go about teaching the gospel. But feeding somebody, building them a house or giving them money will not save them! Only by teaching them the gospel can we help people have their most pressing need met, their eternal salvation. As the church, may we stay focused, and always be about our primary work of teaching God's word...
Gary L. Hutchens