candles

The Purpose of the Church

Concerning the preaching of the Gospel, Paul wrote that God’s intent was that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places … in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10-11).

The Lord is using us earthly benefactors of his cosmic victory to display to the angelic society of the heavenly realms, including now the defeated powers, the greatness of the Creator’s wisdom in defeating his foes. We who used to be captives of the Satanic kingdom are now the very ones who proclaim its demise. The church is, as it were, God’s eternal “trophy case” of grace and we are this because we evidence God’s brilliance and power in bringing about the destruction of his foes, and thus the liberation of his people.

On a natural level this plan appears absurd. For it is painfully obvious that the church is, and has always been, full of a great deal that does not in any way glorify God. Let us be honest: the church has always been a very human and a very fallen institution, exhibiting all the carnality, pettiness, narrowness, self-centeredness and abusive power tendencies that characterize all other fallen human institutions. On the surface we hardly look like trophies God would want to showcase.

What we must understand, however, is that far from disqualifying us from this divine service, this radical incongruity between what the church looks like and what God nevertheless uses it for is precisely the reason why God uses it. The church’s very weakness and vulnerability is what displays the strength of God in freeing us and in using us to finish up his battles (2 Cor 12:7-10). The enemies of God are mocked (Col 2:15) by his employment of their own former slaves to finish up the war.

This is consistent with how God has operated throughout history. He has always chosen to use the foolish and weak things of the world to overthrow the “wise” and “strong” in the world who resist him (1 Cor 1:18-30). Thus for the same reason that God chose to save the world through the “foolishness” of preaching about a crucified first-century Jewish carpenter (1 Cor 1:18), so the Lord now chooses to carry out his coup de grace of the enemy by the foolishness of his church, these weak, struggling, imperfect people whose only qualification for spiritual warfare is that they have said yes to the Lord’s gracious invitation to be set free.

The church not only is a benefactor of Christ’s cosmic victory but is also called to play a vital cosmic function in Christ’s victory. We the church, in all our foolishness, are called to manifest on earth and in heaven Christ’s kingdom-building ministry, taking what is already true in principle because of what he has done and manifesting it as accomplished reality by what we do. In this way “the wisdom of God in its rich variety” is declared to the principalities and powers.

—Adapted from God at War, pages 252-254

Image by beggs via Flickr

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