We live in a day and age of dysfunctional ecclesiology.
That is, there are many who don’t understand why the church exists. I recently talked to a church planter who informed me that his church was for those who are tired of church. Another pastor has made recent comments about doing church while surfing. And surveying the many different churches in any specific locale will reveal that churches often seem more interested in entertaining people, defending social justice, making political stances on (unimportant) issues, or meeting people’s felt emotional needs.
Thus, it is helpful to ask a very simple question: Why does the church exist? Does it exist to defend a political party? Does it exist to entertain you during worship? Does it exist to be a brand or cultural icon? Does it exist for social reasons? Does it exist for it’s many programs or opportunities to plug in? Does it exist for business advancement? I think when the question(s) is framed like this, most would emphatically say: “No.” But defining what the church is not and what it looks like practically, often produces contrary thoughts. And simply saying: “The church isn’t this or that,” does little to define why the church exists.
Our Westminster Confession of Faith describes the work and ministry of the church in chapter 25. As to why the church exists, the confession teaches: “Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto” (par. 3; see also Ephesians 4:11–16).
This is an incredibly helpful explanation of why the church exists: For the gathering and perfecting of the saints. Now this gathering and perfecting of the saints comes through what the church has been given, and that is the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God. But how do we understand this?
Reformed ecclesiology stresses this truth: The church gathers and perfects the saints through the ordinary means of grace. That is, a faithful church is one that faithfully preaches the Word, administers the sacraments, and prays. One is a faithful church member who attends upon these ordinary means of grace with due preparation, prayer, and practice. Christian maturity is found in continually making more and more use of these means for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. This is why the church exists. And this is why Christians need to be members of the church.
And whenever the church steps outside of (faithfully) fulfilling her high calling of gathering and perfecting the saints through these means, she flirts with adding unnecessary, and often unhelpful and counterproductive, aspects of church life that cloud the glory of Christ as he has promised to manifest it through preaching, sacraments, and prayer.