Over the last several years I have been asked to answer, from many different perspectives, “What is the purpose/priority of the church” and “What makes a true disciple?” (this post is the first question). Most of the time the answer to this question comes from what our culture says, and not from what Scripture says, but it’s not all that hard to answer the question properly from Scripture.
To answer that, this post is filled with two-by-two’s. There are two questions posed to answer the question about the church, two photos representative of the answer. The text standing for a formal seminary conclusion, and the photos representing a tangible aspect of that answer. I love the photo above, at least to me, this is the result of the work of the church, that is, the love of Christ, sent.
Which habits of the early church are still practiced today?
We read about the earliest formation of the church, and what they consistently practiced, in the first few chapters of the book of Acts, specifically in Acts 2.42-47. This is one of the first summaries given to us in the book of Acts. As a summary, they were first and foremost devoted to the Apostles teachings (Scripture), fellowship (Gk. koinonia or participation and sharing), breaking of break (the Lord’s Supper and larger fellowship meals), and prayer (in houses and the temple). These would be the priorities practiced in the earliest church body. In addition to those, verses 45-47 give us a little more detail as they were selling their possessions, attending to the temple, and praising God.
One difference between the church in Acts 2 and the church as it proceeded through history is how many times it has now fractured into another set of beliefs or understandings (denominations), yet still being a part of the same body of believers. In Acts, they were said to have been “together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2.44), but it didn’t take long before differences started to tug at the church. This can be see as early as Peter in Acts 10, but today we almost have to define the church first since some churches seem to not have any understanding of Acts 2, let along put any of these items into practice. With that understanding, a true body of believers will still consistently practice all the items in Acts 2. Most churches who hold Scripture as inerrant will be consistently devoted to the Word (the Apostles teaching), fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, the church building itself, and to small groups (meeting at the home). If there was one among the list in Acts 2.42-47 that is most neglected today it would probably be “selling their possessions” and making sure the brethren lack for nothing. This is more of a nationalistic thing today (meaning it’s different in each country), and in the U.S. the church has given way to the government as the “helper” of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Is the priority of the church to engage the laity in ministry and witness?
The priority of the church must be the summary outlined in Acts 2.42. This is what the earliest tradition stated, which was founded on the immediate resurrection and ascension of Christ who put this summary in place. Therefore, the priority of the church should be (1) being devoted to Scripture, (2) fellowship, (3) breaking bread, and (4) prayer. In short, this means the church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” until we reach maturity in faith (Ephesians 4.12-13). The question above combines two pieces (ministry and witness) that the author of Ephesians doesn’t necessarily make in 4.12-13, though the importance of being a witness for Christ is made in other areas of Scripture. In this context, the priority of the church, as seen in Acts 2 and Ephesians 4, is to use the spiritual gifts given to the saints, to build up the saints, so they can then go out beyond the church and become effective witnesses.
In essence, that means the church is not necessarily here to bring in scores of the unsaved and the faithless so as to then convert them from within the church. The equipped saints are to be working as witnesses, and then bringing in those who have responded to the call of Christ in their life. This practice of alter-calling has been a long-standing use of the church, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the priority if the church is to follow the example given to us by the book of Acts. The best way to do this would be to discover, develop, and use the spiritual gifts given to us as listed in Ephesians 4.11; Romans 12.6-8; 1 Corinthians 12.7-10, 28-30; and 1 Peter 4.8-10.
The last set of two in this post are the actual photos themselves. The photo above is the church, in fellowship and worship, and the photo at the top is the result of that love.
 Darrell W. Robinson, Total Church Life: How to be a First Century Church in a 21st Century World (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1997), 108.