A Seaman's Quest

One man's search for truth


Purpose of the Church

What is the  church?

The church is a visible representation of God's presence on earth.  It illustrates the authority of God in human life.  The Bible uses the term, "Kingdom of God", to contrast this with the authority of human empires.  

The church is the community of God's followers.  It is a human organization that spans all cultures that is built around a common understanding of the Gospel.  This belief adheres to the Nicene Creed, which has been the basis of our faith for the last 1700 years.

The church is a human organization made by humans for humans.  This means that it is far from perfect. When God is directing the church his authority is in charge (and his will is done).  But there are often times when the people in charge reject God's will in order to meet their own selfish goals.

This war between two kingdoms occurs in every human arena, throughout our private lives, schools, businesses, government, communities, and even the church.  The human conflict over whether to pursue God's will or the selfish goals of people rages at every turn. Some decisions are made in favor of God's will, while many are made to gain more power and wealth for the people involved.

The war exists in every arena but takes on a special meaning in the church.  Within the church there is an attempt to pursue the human goals while claiming to act with the authority of God.  This is clearly a deception and it undermines the legitimacy of the church itself. As leaders seek wealth and power they demonstrate that they are not pursuing the will of God.

When the church is following God it is the greatest hope for humanity because it is "God with us". But when it is subverted and corrupted it is the single biggest threat to our survival, because it threatens God's will in the earth.  A corrupt church in the hands of evil men is the worst thing that could happen to humans.

Natural Conflict

There is a part of us that wants to pursue God's will, but there is also a part that doesn't.  We will do almost anything to get our way. This is true in both our private lives and our public lives as we interact with others.

There is a fundamental conflict between the will of God (God's kingdom) and the will of humans (kingdom of self).  This conflict is played out daily in both our public church lives and in our private spiritual lives. There is constant tension between our will and the God's will (our kingdom and God's) over who is in charge of our choices.  Is it any surprise that there is a great deal of conflict in the church?

Sin is moving from wholeness to corruption and is based on rebellion to asset our will.  A small amount of sin has a dramatic influence like yeast in a loaf of bread or arsenic in a cup of coffee.  Sin is not the bad behavior, but the bad deeds are the result of sin.   Sin is the willful rebellion against the will of God and leads to harmful actions.

When God's will is done then transformation occurs.  Both our private and public lives are transformed by God's presence. Transformation is moving from corruption to wholeness and is based on yielding to God's will.  Redemption happens by transformation on the inside leading to changed behavior on the outside.  If our behavior is not changing them perhaps there is no transformation or redemption taking place.

The Bride of Christ

In the New Testament the church is characterized by the image of a bride.   This speaks to the tremendous love and affection that Jesus has for his people, like what a groom would have for his bride.   All of the flaws and corruption and ugliness are not visible to the the groom.  Instead he sees the perfect life that could be lived and the ideal woman that will bring him ultimate joy.  This is how the resurrected king sees his people.

Jesus told his disciples that he would put his Spirit within them to instruct and guide them daily.  While the person of Jesus was God's visible presence for the purpose of living a sinless human life, God's presence lives in his people today through the Spirit.  This is a profound mystery, that the Spirit of God lives within us to empower, guide, and instruct us in real time.

The Spirit lives within each of us individually and when we gather together, he makes his presence known.   When God's people gather we are the church.  God's kingdom authority is demonstrated in the roles of Discipleship, Serving, Community, and Worship.  When these areas are submitted to the will of the Spirit then we can say that the kingdom of God has been demonstrated.

Four goals of faith

Faith involves our private spirituality and our public expression of faith in the church.  True faith touches on many areas of our lives and helps us learn how to live according to God's will. There are several different aspects that collectively teach us to follow God.  These can be thought about as the goals of faith or arenas that must be addressed.

Each goal has both a public and private expression.  The quality of our private spirituality is determined by how well we embrace each of these areas.

What is the purpose of the church?

The church is the public expression of faith while spirituality is the private expression of faith. The church is the demonstration by God's people of what his will is for all humans.   This has four main parts.

As God's people gather together, these activities should be clearly visible.  Everything else should take a back seat.  As I look at the church in America I see many of these element missing. That is a sign that we are missing out on experiencing the kingdom of God and the freedom that it brings.

So far we have looked at the nature of the true church.    This is the people of God gathered together to experience the will of God.   But this leads us to the burning question ... Is God's will always accomplished?

Born in Conflict

It is human nature to be overly concerned about our own well being while gleefully ignoring the needs of other groups. The more that people are unlike us, the more we believe that they do not matter.

I joined the church in the middle of the 70s. At that time there was a huge amount of generational conflict in the church.  This simply mirrored the conflict of society that creating chaos accross the world.  The church had become an institution that was created and run by and for the previous generation. And the largest generation (by percentage of population) was becoming adults in record numbers.

The church culture worked well for anyone over 50 but was quite irrelevant to anyone under 30.  Young people were viewed with suspicion and required to adopt the veneer and social protocols of the old folks. This culture was viewed as largely out of touch with reality by the younger generation of young adults.

The environment was very uncomfortable to young people.  Everything from the King James Bible to hymns that were written 500 years ago and meaningless rituals devoid of real experience … it was completely alien to regular life. What brought comfort to old people repelled the young.

The young had a choice - either leave church life completely or build our own church from scratch.  I was in the group that understood the critical value of church to my personal journey in Christ.  I am also drawn to innovation and love an adventure.

During the 60s we saw the emergence of the charismatic renewal that brought pentecostal practices into the mainline church.  During the mid 70s we saw the Jesus People movement, with Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel, gain tremendous popularity. John Wimber extended this further to create a movement that combined supernatural power with authentic relationships.  The Vineyard became known for cultural relevance while preserving biblical integrity.

This is the stream that Stacie and I were drawn into at age 20. It embraced the fundamental truths of the gospel while avoiding the weirdness that was so common in the pentecostal and charismatic churches.  We examined each practice that was a part of our life together and rejected anything that didn’t work.  Over time we innovated and redefined what church life would be by going all the way back to models that we found in the early church.

This was happening all over the world.  It felt like we were part of the first century church just trying to find our way.  The truths is, that we reinvented a lot of things that we might have learned from the old church.  But because we felt isolated and alienated from their practices and legalistic leaning we discounted them as being irrelevant to our journey.

During this time the typical age within the Vineyard was between 20-40.  There were a sprinkling of people in their 40s or 50s.  Most of our leaders were in their 20s and 30s.  The main qualification for leadership was to be able to support yourself while you pastored.  Very few pastors were full time.  Almost all pastors worked full-time jobs outside the church.