Why does the Church exist?

This week I am working through some material from Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998).  He was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, about a fifteen minute train ride from Durham.  He became a Christian while at University and later went to serve as a missionary in India for over thirty years. Upon his “retirement” he returned to the UK to serve churches in areas of mixed religious backgrounds.  He was a firm believer in sharing Christ’s love with people who were not only nominally religious Christians, but also from Hindu, Muslim, or other backgrounds.

He was a firm believer the idea that the Church is to be used by God to reach the poor in pocketbook through social action and reach poor in spirit with sound preaching and teaching.  He saw that each local congregation existed to minister to the people around the world at right in their neighborhood.  He firmly believed that the church should have in mind the needs of those who not yet know the Gospel.

I love a story he shares about the purpose of the local church:

“In the meeting of Elders after [a confirmation] service I asked the naughty question, ‘What is this church for?’.  There was, of course, a long and embarrassed silence and then I received the answer, ‘It caters to the needs of its members’. ‘Then’, I said, ‘it should be dissolved.’  The Church does not exist for its members.”

Care for the members of the church happens in the context of missional service. The Church must resist the urge to turn inward and be comfortable tending to its own needs.  God sent Jesus to minister to those who were lost, poor in spirit, in captivity, and had no hope.  He told the people of the Church that he was sending them to do exactly the same thing in John 20:19-21

“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’”

In same way that Jesus served the least, the last, and the lost, we are sent to do the same.  In what ways have you seen the local church live out these commands?  I would love to hear your practical examples of the way God is at work.

–Rob

Quote taken from Newbigin, Lesslie. Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian: A Reader: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2006, page 133.

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