What is our purpose as a church?
Let us understand that Jesus had a purpose.
We will look at the gospel to the poor, Jesus' vision statement and our freedom in Christ.
When churches neglect the poor
Some Christians say they take the Bible literally, but then twist Jesus’ teachings about the Gospel for the poor (Luke 4:14-21) into spiritual poverty and preaching the Gospel alone without lifting a finger to help. We ought to take Jesus’ instructions about the poor more literally, because a part of bringing the good news is to live it out here and now. Half of Americans will experience poverty at some time. Income is declining for everyone except the very wealthy. A quarter of Americans earn poverty-level incomes. Educational costs are becoming impossible and yet low education causes poverty. Single and abused women are more likely to be poor. Only about a third of disabled people are able to find work. Jesus brings good news for the poor, and he expects us to deliver it not just in words alone.
What Jesus said about the poor
Jesus said the Gospel is good news for the poor (Luke 4:14-21). What else did he say about them? He told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), that we always have the poor but not him (Matthew 26:11), that the poor are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Luke 6:20), giving to the poor cleans us on the inside (Luke 11:40-41) and provides us treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). We should invite the poor to our parties (Luke 14:13) and the poor can be more generous than the rich (Luke 21:1-4). Some of us just play church, warm a pew, or pray and await a spiritual experience. And some of us know that real worship is taking good news to the poor.
Jesus’ vision statement
Many churches have a vision statement. After months or even years of discussion, that vision is summarized in a few succinct words. Jesus also gave a vision statement of sorts, and he quoted parts of Isaiah 61 to do so (Luke 4:14-21). He implied that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, because he had anointed Jesus to preach the gospel to the poor. He had sent Jesus to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Is that a part of our vision as well? Is our primary purpose to preach, heal, deliver, give sight and liberty, or are we so tied to our ways that we are unwilling to follow after Jesus?
Jesus’ homecoming debut
Homecomings can be awkward. Old friends find it hard to accept the new you. You have finished your education and are now a respected professional in your field or worse, a preacher. Preachers find it hard to pastor their home churches, because a prophet is not without honor, except among his own down home neighborhood folk. So what was Jesus going to do for his homecoming debut before a familiar crowd (Luke 4:14-21)? Would he shrink back and pretend he was not on a special mission from God or would state his purpose plainly and bluntly? Imagine the gasps and whispering as he told it like it was! The prophecy that Jesus read from Isaiah was fulfilled in their presence that day. He was not ashamed of it. He was not bragging. He was simply declaring a mind-blowing fact.
Free or squashed
A lady visiting a church was told that only prostitutes wear makeup. She never went back. A man was told that tattoos defiled the temple of the Holy Spirit. He thought that he was decorating the temple. A preacher once danced to Cossack music and was criticized for not acting dignified. A churchgoer practiced hard to become a champion poker player. Some people gossiped saying he had a "gambling addiction." They had a "gossip addiction." The judgmental, restrictive yoke that many churches have become, tends to squash people into a prison of negativity and discouragement. Are we free in Christ, or in a religious prison, squashed, oppressed, and stunted? Let’s take the freedom that Jesus gave us! We are free to be who God made us to be, so forget the criticism of others (Luke 4:14-21). Let’s live free!
Free from ungrace
Since coming to mainstream Christianity I have experienced much wonderful grace. Superintendents, mentors and guides have accepted me with open arms and overlooked my many faults. I remember such wonderful grace in my grandmother and in my father in his old age. However, I spent years in a more legalistic part of the Evangelical world which rarely understood such wonderful grace. In discussion, one former district superintendent suggested that the theological basis of depravity prevented some Christians from seeing the good in people. Thankfully, some Protestant churches have retained our ancient heritage of remembering what God said of the original creation, that it was good. That foundation of goodness from creation sets us free from the prison of judgmentalism and oppressive negative thinking prevalent in some Christian denominations. Coupled with God’s forgiveness we are truly free indeed (Luke 4:14-21).
Human nature good or evil
Is human nature good or evil? It depends where we start. If we start with the fall of man, then naturally we would be inclined to call human nature evil. However, those who say that human nature is good start earlier than Adam’s sin. They start with God’s original creation when he concluded that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Catholics and Orthodox and mainstream Protestants say that the human nature that God gave us is “very good” and that claiming human beings are in “total depravity denies the image and likeness of God in mankind.” On the other hand a positive theological anthropology sees that even in the vilest of human beings there is good. Such a worldview proclaims freedom for those held imprisoned by a negative perspective and freedom from depression and cynicism (Luke 4:14-21).
Jesus was concerned that the gospel went especially to the poor. What is the purpose of our church. Is it not to take the gospel to the poor, freedom for prisoners and setting the oppressed free?