A favorite movie of mine is The Princess Bride. One character likes to use the word “inconceivable.” At one point a character calls him on his use of that word, saying, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Unfortunately in modern American Christianity there are words that we are guilty of using in an ignorant way: church, love, unity. Just to name a few.
I would like to wrestle with a simple question today: What is the church’s purpose?
The first thing to discuss in determining the answer to this question is: what is the church? Revelation 7:9, 13-14 says
After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. . . . Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Here we see very clearly that the church is those who have been purchased by Jesus. It is not a building. It is not a list of events to get people in the door. It is not even a list of events to draw us closer to each other. The church is a group of individuals who want nothing more than to worship Jesus Christ with all they are for eternity.
But this causes us to ask, “What does worship look like?” I would like to posit that it looks like giving all of our attention to Christ and the Word of God while we’re gathered in corporate worship. Nothing else should take our attention from this most important of tasks. Especially if we claim to be biblical people doing biblical things in the biblical way, we absolutely need to fix our eyes on Christ and not get caught up in lesser things in our worship services. I love Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel.
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Unfortunately too often we idolatrously put these two commandments on the same level. The greatest and most important command is to Love God; the second is like it, but not the same. The Greek is pretty clear. The Greek word “homos” means “exactly the same,” but the word “homoios” means “similar but different.” The word in the above quoted passage is “homoios.”
When the Nicene Creed was being prepared the church argued over these words, deciding that Jesus is homoousios (“of the same substance”) as the Father instead of homoiousios (“of a similar substance”). It is interesting to point out here that, according to the decision of the church, if you believe that Jesus is not of the exact same substance as the Father you can’t be regarded as an actual believer. Knowing and loving others rightly is not as important as knowing and loving God rightly.
If our church events take away from rightly loving and worshipping God, then we are in sin, and we need to look at ourselves and repent before we hear: “Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).
So what should our attitude look like in church? Ephesians 5:24 says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to ⌊submit⌋ to their husbands in everything.” With this said, we could also say, without changing anything, “As wives are to submit to their husbands in everything, so is the church to submit to Christ.” How does the Bible describe wives submitting to husbands? First Corinthians 14:35 says, “And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.” Now before I explain, let me just point out that too many people get all up in arms about these verses and miss something very simple that I would like to point out.
Women (“wives” is same word) are not to speak in church. The church is to submit to Christ in the same way. We should not be talking during worship or preaching. We should not be planning our post-church lunch during worship or preaching. We should not be partaking of PDA during worship or preaching. God is the reason we are there; fellowship, love for believers, and unity-building comes second. God built the church by sacrificing His Son. Do we worship Him or do we worship ourselves?
Pastors, I must throw in a question for you as well if you are reading this: “Do you take Paul’s advice seriously in Acts 20:28?” Paul wrote, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.” If you let the horizontal aspect of the church eclipse the vertical aspect of the church, you are failing to keep watch on the flock, and your people have every right to call you out on it—Matthew 18 style. If you don’t listen to the criticism, and at the very least pray about it, you are dangerously close to being an overbearing pastor. Please understand the heart and concern behind this; just because you’re a pastor does not mean that you are infallible like Catholics claim of the Pope. (Please call me out if I’m wrong here as well.)
It is inconceivable that Jesus smiles down upon our worship services when we forget to keep Him first. Idolatry is likely more clearly evident in our worship services than it is anywhere else in our lives. We must repent and strive to take hold of Christ and keep Him first in EVERYTHING, especially the things that occur in our worship services.
For the Church
Soli Deo Gloria
 Justo L Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: the early church to the dawn of the reformation (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010), 189-190.