Apologetic for the Church Article_Long

An Apologetic for the Church

By Natalie Long

“Wherever we see the word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a Church of God exists.”

-John Calvin

As the culture grows increasingly hostile toward Christianity and the church, Christians need to be equipped to give an accurate definition of what the church is and be ready to give a reasoned defense for the church’s purpose and relevance. This article will answer three important questions about the church:

  • What is the church?
  • What is the purpose of the church?
  • Is the church relevant?

To answer these three questions, we must examine the Scriptures and history.

What is the Church?

When we think, “church,” we probably think of a building. However, the church is more than a building. The church is the body of all true believers where Jesus Christ is the head and holds highest superiority and authority (Col. 1:18). Peter’s confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt.16:18) is the foundation on which Jesus builds his church. As believers come to Jesus in faith, his church grows.

The church isn’t just a New Testament idea. It has always been God’s heart that his people gather to worship. In Deuteronomy 4:10, God calls his people to gather together and worship him. He tells Moses to, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words…” 

“The Septuagint translates the word for ‘gather’ with the Greek term ekklesiazo, ‘to summon an assembly,’ the verb that is cognate to the New Testament noun ekklesia, ‘church.’ It is not surprising, then, that the New Testament authors can speak of the Old Testament people of Israel as a ‘church’ (ekklesia). For example, Stephen speaks of the people of Israel in the wilderness as ‘the church [ekklesia] in the wilderness’ (Acts 7:38).” [1] 

The true church is the body of all believers, gathered together to worship God, with Jesus as the head. However, there are false churches that claim to be a part of the true church. How can we tell the difference between a true church and a false church? As I mentioned above, the true church is made up of those who believe and confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Other marks of a true church are the accurate and faithful preaching of the Word of God (Matt. 28: 20) and the administration of baptism (Matt. 28:19) and communion (1 Cor. 11:24). A false church, on the other hand, is one that preaches a false gospel, a works-based faith, or that salvation is grace through faith. 

What is the Purpose of the Church?

One purpose of the church is to worship God through song, with a thankful heart. Paul says in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The church’s call to worship isn’t just reserved for weekly church service. Worship should be an ongoing part of the Christian’s life. Christ’s redemptive work on the cross should lead every Christian to praise and worship him continuously.   

Another purpose of the church is to love God and to love others. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s impossible to love God if we don’t know him. We know him through his Word. The highest priority of every Christian’s life should be the study of God’s word. As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of him, we’ll grow more like him. As we grow more like him, we’ll love others better.  

The church should also spread the gospel throughout the world. Jesus tells his followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20). As the church has done this, we’ve seen how the church’s love for others has positively affected civilizations for centuries. History teaches us that cultures have greatly improved because of the church’s influence. From Roman culture in the early days of the church to America’s declaration of independence from British rule to education, health care, human rights, arts, science, and music, the church’s faithfulness to be Jesus’ witness (Acts 1:8), proclaim the gospel, and live out the gospel has transformed civilizations all over the world. When the church lives out its purpose to love God and to love others, cultures change.

The church’s purpose is to worship God, to love him and love others. As the church is obedient to Jesus’ great commission command in Matthew 28, souls will be saved, and the church will grow.   

Is the Church Relevant?

The church is relevant today. It is where the gathering of the saints for corporate worship happens, where Christians are equipped for ministry, and where the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s word takes place. However, society’s view of the church has declined in recent years. Much of the blame is rightly placed on society’s evaporating Christian worldview. However, the church must accept some responsibility as the church’s view of itself has also declined in recent years. Many professing Christians believe that the church is not necessary for them to have a relationship with God. Christians often say things like, “I don’t have to go to church to worship God.” Yes, we can worship God outside of the walls of the church, and we should, but God’s word tells us not to neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25). God has always called his people to gather together to hear his teaching and worship him. When Christians declare they don’t need to gather with the saints to worship God, they are communicating to the culture that the church is irrelevant for worship. This idea stands in direct contradiction to God’s word. 

Another argument from within the church is, “I don’t go to church because the church is full of hypocrites.” While there may be “hypocrites” in the church, other people’s sins are no excuse for us to sin. Again, we are called to gather, and not to do so would be in direct rebellion to God’s word.

Church hurt is another excuse Christians use against the church. Church hurt is real. Different types of abuse can happen in the church leaving Christians feeling untrusting and bitter. We should acknowledge church hurt and seek reconciliation. We should also acknowledge the biblical reality that though the church is imperfect, it’s being perfected by the head, Jesus Christ. When we use church hurt as an excuse to dismiss the church, we communicate to the culture that personal experience is our only guide, and the church is irrelevant. Church hurt doesn’t dismiss the relevance of the church, though. Even if we experience hurt from within the church, true hope and restoration can only come from the truth of God’s word. The love and prayers of his people will help us move toward healing.

The church has also been quick to cast off the church’s relevance because we’ve become more individualistic and consumer-driven. Things like personal music taste, favorite preaching personalities, and what the church has to offer me, often determine whether we think the church is important. But, when we value our personal preferences over the biblical purpose of the church, we assume our preferences hold more relevance than the church does. This sends a message to the culture that personal preference and feelings hold the highest authority in our life. However, it is Jesus Christ and his gospel message that make the church relevant, not personal tastes and individual preferences. 

Another way believers contribute to society’s view of the church as irrelevant is by adopting the culture’s views. The culture is moving toward relativism where “truth” is based on subjective feelings. But the Bible, not the culture, is the source of authority for the Christian. The church should always stand on the Bible’s objective truth. Objective truth is unchanging, immovable, and not open to opinion. It is true for everyone, everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t shift or change. The culture’s influence on the church leads to confusion in the one place where the world should find order. The church is relevant because of its unwavering faithfulness to the truth which provides a steady and constant refuge in a world of chaos.

Conclusion

We’ve seen what the church is, its purpose, and its relevance. The church is the body of Christ, it exists for Christ, and it is built by Christ. Its purpose is to worship him, to love him, and to love others. It is relevant today, tomorrow, and forever. May we find ourselves faithful to proclaim these truths and defend the church from within and without its walls. And may we suffer well for the church’s glory when the hostile culture presses in.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999), 363-64.

[2] For further reading on this topic, see How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmidt.

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