(A review of the book, “With Reverence and Awe, Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by D. G. Hart and John R. Muether. Remember that in conjunction with our Wednesday night study, I am using this book and the principles taught in it to aid us in a study of worship.)
Chapter 2: The Purpose of the Church
For several hundred years the evangelical world has been divided over the purpose of the Church. What is the primary purpose of the Church? Both sides agree that the Church is instrumental in cultural change. The point of contention is, how does cultural change come about? This divide has been evident in the history of Presbyterianism in the United States.
Even within the eighty year history of our denomination there have been struggles to define what type of Church the OPC would be. Will the Church be one that is cause and culture driven? One that prominently addresses social ills, things such as alcoholism and drug abuse? Or, would this be a Church that primarily focuses on the Gospel and the limits of Scripture regarding the Church? Regarding worship, we talk about the regulative principle (only doing that which Scripture says in worship) versus the the normative principle (worship can contain anything Scripture does not prohibit).
Old School Presbyterian, James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862) wrote:
[The church] is not, as we fear too many are disposed to regard it, a moral institute of universal good, whose business it is to wage war upon every form of human ill, whether social, civil, political, moral, and to patronize every expedient which a romantic benevolence may suggest as likely to contribute to human comfort… The problems which the anomalies of our fallen state are continually forcing on philanthropy, the church has no right directly to solve. She must leave them to providence, and to human wisdom sanctified and guided by the spiritual influences which it is her glory to foster and cherish. The church is a very peculiar society;… it is the kingdom of her Lord Jesus Christ…. It can hear no voice but His, obey no command but His, pursue no ends but His.”
This divide regarding the purpose of the Church is even more stark today. Hart and Muether write, “The task of the church is to exalt its head, to teach only the doctrines he has revealed, to worship him as he has commanded, and to order its life by what he has ordained…The purpose of the church is not to save the world, but to save God’s people from the world.”
We are all very familiar with the words to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, “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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
In the context of Matthew 28, we understand the Great Commission is the task of the Church. Modern interpretations of Matthew 28, a belief that the Church is unnecessary or that the Great Commission is merely directed to the individual believer, rather than the Church, are recent innovations within the last two hundred years.
“The main verb in the Greek is not go (which is a modifying participle), but disciple (which is the imperative). The text literally reads, “as you go, disciple, by teaching and baptizing…“teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” This is the aim of the church’s ministry…
“Thus, it is the church, and specifically the church at worship, that fulfills the Great Commission. She is ministering to God by gathering a people before him in order to offer the sacrifice of praise. She is ministering to the body of Christ by nurturing it through the ordinances of Word and sacrament. And all of this happens before a watching world. It sees the church engaged in an odd ritual, speaking a strange language, worshipping the true and living God, and rejecting the gods of this world.” (Hart and Meuther)
As we gather for worship each Sunday we are engaging in the primary purpose of the Church. As you and I are nurtured and continue to grow as we are taught all that Jesus commanded, the culture will change. Changing the world begins, not with external programs and ministries (many of which can be helpful), but as the Church continues to be the Church. I encourage you to invite friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to gather and hear God’s Word each week.
How is the Word made effectual to salvation? Answer: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. (Question 89 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism)
The modern Church conforms to the world in order to draw a crowd. The historic and Biblical Church has always stood in contrast to the world. It has often been despised by the world. Light in the midst of darkness will be noticed. As the Spirit of God convinces and converts sinners through the proclamation of God’s Word, cultural change will be true and lasting and not merely superficial.