Why did God create the church?
In Ephesians 3:10 the Bible makes an incredible claim about God’s intention for the church:
[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…
Slightly earlier it says the ‘boundless riches of Christ’ have been ‘kept hidden in God’ (3:8-9). Now they are being made know ‘through the church’! The church exists to display ‘the manifold wisdom of God’ and ‘the boundless riches of Christ’! The ultimate purpose of the church is to give the world an accurate experience of God’s wisdom and riches in Christ – both when we are together and when we are in our ordinary lives.
If the church is meant to put God on display, what is it meant to be like to show God accurately?
What is the church meant to be like?
The New Testament has four pictures that describe the people called ‘church’.
The church is like a loving family.
The church is described as a family with us as brothers and sisters and God our loving parent.
I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters’ says the Lord Almighty. (2Corinthians 6:18)
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Matthew 12:49-50)
Sometimes the church is described as being the bride of Christ – Jesus is our husband and we, collectively his bride.
This is a profound mystery [marriage] – but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so to present you as a pure virgin [or bride] to him. (2Corinthians 11:2)
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7)
These both emphasis love, safety, acceptance and belonging. They emphasis the care of God and care of one another. The church should be a place that can embrace and accept people whatever their background or life experiences, even when there are substantial areas of disagreement or major differences in behaviour which we feel unable to endorse. The adoptive nature of God’s family means it should be multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-ethic and multi-faceted. All are welcome. Everyone is given space to belong, every contribution is valued, every life important.
Belonging to the church means becoming part of this family of God locally – committing to being loved by and being ready to love your new family. It means accepting God as your Father.
The church is like a fruitful farm.
For example the church is like an ‘orchard’ – either of grapes or olives:
I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener…you are the branches. (John 15:1,5)
…if the root is holy so are the branches…share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself superior to those other branches… (Romans 11:17-24).
Or a field of crops.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow…you are God’s field. (1Corinthians 3:6-9)
But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understand it. (Matthew 13:1-30)
I tell you open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest. (John 4:35).
These emphasis the church as a place of growth and fruit in both mission and maturity. A place ready to try all sorts of new initiatives and ideas. Farmers especially do this in a famine: diversify, try new techniques, and courageously experiment without losing sight of the main fruit – belief in Jesus. The church needs to be growing. The church needs to be able to adapt to changes in environment so it continues to be fruitful, taking risks and embracing change for the sake of gospel fruit. The church should strive for innovation and creativity as a movement seeking to win and mature people in Christ and influence society for good.
Belonging to the church means being committed to helping others know and grow in Jesus and desiring that for yourself. It includes accepting that the church will change.
The church is like a fortress of Bible truth.
For example the church as a building, temple or house.
You are…God’s building. (1Corinthians 3:9)
…you are being built into a spiritual house… (1Peter 2:4-8)
But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house. (Hebrews 3:6).
…you are…his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesian 2:19-22)
In 1Timothy 3:15 the metaphor of the church as a building relates to our approach to Bible truth.
…God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth. (1Timothy 3:15)
The church is described both as a pillar (holding the truth high) and a buttress (holding the truth firm). God is the Architect and Jesus is the ‘cornerstone’ – the building block that all others have to line up to for the building to be straight and true and strong. The church values the Bible, placing it central in its corporate and individual lives, aligning and submitting to its teaching even when that goes against the grain of society. Proclaiming it (a pillar) and defending it (a buttress).
Belonging to the church means being committed to the Bible – hearing it taught in church, seeking to be obedient to what it says, and doing our best to tell it to others.
The church is like a healthy, complete body.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…And so the body is not made up of one part but of many…As it is there are many parts but one body…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it. (1Corinthians 12:12-27)
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way…grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 1:22-23 & 4:15-16)
These emphasis the church unified because of the work of God the Spirit and our need to be dependent on him. It shows that all in the church have been given a gift by God to pass on to others so together we are whole.
Belonging to the church means being part of a unified body, doing our part to serve and complete the whole. It means realising all have something to contribute and being ready to serve with our contribution and gift. The church is constantly seeking to release people into the gifts. The Spirit is the gift giver and the unifying glue in this one body.
So to display God to the world (the reason the church exists) the church should strive to be:
- A loving family with God as Father with an ability to embrace, welcome and show hospitality to all.
- A fruitful farm with God as the Farmer with courage and creativity in mission, trying new ways to reach and mature people in Jesus from all walks of life, both in the UK and overseas.
- A strong fortress of Bible truth with God as the Architect and Jesus as the Cornerstone with the Bible saturating all aspects of our life together.
- A Spirit-enabled body with Jesus as the Head with Spirit-dependent living and serving others as hallmarks of our unity as one.
 I give some illustrative examples of the Bible verses behind each of these metaphors. There are many others we could also use.