What is the essential work of the church? What is its purpose? What is the activity must not be neglected at all costs? The New Testament church did many things. It worshiped, sang, prayed, baptized, participated in the Eucharist, gathered, taught, preached, comforted, and served. But I believe the New Testament vision of the essential work can be captured in one word: witness. Peter puts it this way:
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
And Paul explains that God’s
intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph 3:10-11).
I am using the verb “to witness” is the broad sense of “to manifest.” The church works to manifest as best it can for all to see and hear on earth what is going on in heaven. It seeks to embody in the present time the kingdom of God that will come in its fullness in the future. The church teaches, proclaims, worships, embodies, and lives to make known the character and will of God in the world. The church witnesses to the truth and reality of God to itself and to others. It must not let the world go into the night with an easy conscience or a despairing heart. Even if it must be a lone voice calling to a “disobedient and obstinate” people (Isa 65:2). Even if no one listens, even if the church finds itself persecuted, the church never ceases to call the world to acknowledge its creator and its Lord. It says,
“The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice” (Psa. 97:1).
“The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake” (Psa. 99:1).
Bearing witness to the love, glory, goodness, and greatness of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ is the essential work of the church. In all it does it must never forsake this task. In its works of mercy and justice, in its worship, teaching, and preaching, in its work with children, teens, young adults, families, and seniors, and in its use of funds and of property, its work of witness must never be displaced or forgotten.
Excellent—I love the language “to manifest” here. It is so deeply intertwined with the original God-imaging vocation set forth for humankind in Genesis 1-2. Thus, the resurrected individuals of the church go out and image God to the world in their lives, in their love, and in their community.
Years ago, we were in a seminar with Knofel Staton. His main teaching was that God’s children were privileged for a purpose. After that, during a reading through the Bible, I marked P&P everywhere this was mentioned in some form. It is amazing how many times this occurs throughout the entire Bible. God’s people are to proclaim Him to the world!
Thank you Sandra for this confirmation!