by Guest Blogger David Wentz
Why did God invent the church? Scholars have advanced various ideas. My own thinking goes back to the very beginning, and it builds on the way Jesus most often referred to God: as Father.
I have sometimes considered developing what I call a “theology of fun,” based on the idea that God created the universe just for the fun of it. Certainly nobody could force God to create! But I think there must be more to it.
Let’s start at the beginning. Not Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created. . . . I want to get behind that, to why God created. To do that we have to look at God himself.
How many ways can you think of that God is described in the Bible? God is great, God is just, God is holy, God is good, God is merciful. God is our refuge and strength and salvation. God is a spirit and a consuming fire. All these are descriptions of God. But one verse is not a description, it’s an equation. 1 John 4:8 says, God is love. Love is God’s essence. It’s who God is.
What is the greatest characteristic of love? Love wants to share. It’s a relationship. Love must be shared, or it isn’t love.
Since eternity, God has shared love in the Trinity. One of the most basic understandings of Christianity is that there is only one God, but this one God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son (who came to earth as Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. Without this community of divine persons to share love, God could not be love.
God, who is love, has been sharing love since eternity. But God’s love is not only eternal, it’s infinite. It’s overflowing. God’s love wanted to overflow the Trinity.
What provides the greatest opportunity for an ongoing expression of love? A family – different personalities living together, adapting to each other, adjusting to each other, caring for each other, putting each other first. A family creates infinite possibilities for love. So God decided to create a family to share his love, with God and with each other.
God could have created us so that we had no choice but to love him, but that wouldn’t be real love. God could force us to act like we love him, but that wouldn’t be real love. Love is only real if it is freely given. God wanted to share real love. So God gave us free will.
Unfortunately, our free will doesn’t just give us the opportunity to freely love God. It gives us the opportunity to cause a lot of trouble as well. We see this in the very first human beings God created.
Adam and Eve shared love with God for a time. Genesis 3 implies that God used to enjoy walking with them in the Garden of Eden. But one day they exercised their free will to disobey God, and that time of innocent family fellowship was broken.
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the LORD God among the trees. Then the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” – Genesis 3:8-9
God experienced the heartbreak of a father whose children turn against him and get lost in the world. Adam and Eve’s disobedience broke up God’s family. The whole rest of the Bible records God’s plan throughout history to bring his children back.
For a while God tried to relate to the whole growing human race, but they turned from God and became so wicked that God had to destroy them all in Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-8). He tried again with Noah’s descendants, but instead of trusting God, they built a tower and put their trust in it. They were unified, but not in God. To keep it from happening again, God confused their language, and the human race scattered across the earth (Genesis 11).
So God changed strategies. He decided to relate in a special way to one group of people, who would get to know and love him. Then they could invite the rest of the world into God’s family. God chose the children of Abraham, the nation-family known as the Hebrews, Israel, or the Jews.
King Solomon understood. He prayed at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do (2 Chronicles 6:33).
God’s desire has always been to live among his people. When Israel wandered in the wilderness, God told Moses, Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them (Exodus 25:8).
When the Hebrews conquered the Promised Land and started living in houses, God approved David’s plan to build a house where God could live. It was called the Temple, and God filled it with his presence (2 Chronicles 6:1). For the next thousand years, a series of temples in Jerusalem were the focus of God living among his people.
Unfortunately, somewhere between Solomon and Jesus the Hebrews lost their understanding of what it meant to be God’s chosen people. They forgot God chose them as messengers to invite the whole world into his family. Instead, they began to believe God chose them to be the only members of his family. Instead of welcoming other nations, they scorned them.
So God started again, with Jesus. But this time membership in the family wasn’t by genes but by choice. The Bible says, Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children (Romans 9:8). “The children of the promise” are the church.
The church – all people, of Jewish or non-Jewish descent, who put their faith in Jesus – is now the family of God. And our loving Father has commanded us to bring as many people into the family as will accept the invitation. When we do that, we become the fulfillment of God’s desire to live among his people. Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16). Where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20).
God so longs to live among his people that when we die, God takes us to live with him until the end of time. And at the end of time, when everything is put the way God wants it, where will God live? With his people.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” – Revelation 21:3
God is not looking for a place to live in. He has that in heaven. God is longing for a group of people to live with. God’s plan in creating human beings was that we would be his family. Fulfilling that plan is what the church is all about.
Like any father, God desires a home where he can rest and be himself. Like any father, God desires to raise up children who will be like him. And because God is the ultimate and infinite Father, God desires for his children to bring other people to become part of God’s family – ideally, every other person in the world!
These three desires of God show us the three purposes of the church.
First, the church exists to create a loving family home where God can rest and be himself. Arise, O Lord God, and enter your resting place (2 Chronicles 6:41). The way we do this is traditionally called worship.
Second, the church exists to raise God’s children to be like their heavenly father. Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children (Ephesians 5:1). The way we do this is traditionally called discipleship.
Third, the church exists to equip God’s children to bring other people into God’s family. Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The way we do this is traditionally called evangelism.
Everything we do as a local church – in fact, everything we do as Christians – should contribute to fulfilling one or more of these three purposes. How does your church stack up? Top of Form
The above is taken from the first chapter of Pastoring: The Nuts and Bolts, by David Wentz. A comprehensive, theologically and culturally neutral compendium of practical options and best practices for being a pastor and leading a church, Pastoring is being used in pastor training courses in Africa and Asia as well as the US. It is available in print or e-book at www.books2read.com/pastoring. Scripture verses are from the New Living Translation.
About guest blogger David Wentz:
Serving as a pastor since 1981 has honed David’s passion for helping people connect with God and make a difference.
Add a varied church background, a first career in engineering, and graduate degrees from three very different seminaries (charismatic, mainstream and Wesleyan-evangelical) and you can see why he expresses God’s truth in ways everyone can appreciate.
Raised in the Episcopal church, David has also been part of Nazarene, Pentecostal Holiness, and non-denominational congregations. As a United Methodist pastor he has served small, large, and multi-cultural churches in rural, small town, suburban and urban settings. David served as a regional church consultant in the Maryland – D.C. area and has led workshops for pastors in Turkey. In 2015 he retired to the rural Ozarks, where he writes, works in God’s great outdoors, and continues to pastor part-time.
David earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia; two Masters of Divinity, one from Melodyland School of Theology and one from Wesley Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary.
In his spare time David enjoys playing sax and flute in jazz and blues jams (though those are hard to come by in bluegrass country), and writing worship music with his guitar.
His heroes are John Wesley, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (And for you old baseball fans, Brooks Robinson.)
Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com