Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Practical Purpose Of The Church

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. — Ephesians 3:20–21 (NASB95)
The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their trust in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others he has designed. The church is messy and inefficient, but it is God’s wonderful mess – the place where he radically transforms hearts and lives. – Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 116.
There are at least two ways in which the church demonstrates that it has fallen into the trap identified in the quote above from Paul David Tripp. The first is the fault of preachers and teachers. The problem is the idea that we need to preach and teach in a way that makes academic theologians out of the folks in the pews. Don’t misunderstand. We surely need to educate people with good theology. But folks in the pews need something better.

The other fault lies with the folks in the pews. Too many of them think that all they need is to learn the facts and figure taught by the teachers and preachers. The problem is that there is a great difference between just knowing a lot of Bible, and living a lot of Bible.

Our particular religious heritage, the American Restoration Movement, has a long history of studying the Bible, pleading that we should go back to the Bible, and correctly saying that we need God’s word instead of all the theology books in the world. But we also have a colossal failure on our hands. We can study things to death and leave people right where they were in terms of how they live.

This is no anti-intellectual argument. Quite the opposite. It is a plea use our academics for a higher purpose. What I mean is that excellent scholarship is necessary, but not just so we can know more and more. God has a purpose behind our knowing. What we learn must shape our lives. There is no theology exam to get into heaven. But there are daily tests of faith that give us opportunity to use what we have learned.

The end result of our efforts to preach and teach is to convert the lost, encourage confession of Jesus as God’s son, call sinners to repent and find forgiveness. That’s our practical purpose and it’s so much more useful than a head full of facts.