Christ loves His church, and so must all those who profess to follow Him (Eph. 5:25). That is why the doctrine of the church was not a secondary concern for the Protestant Reformers. Understanding the nature, marks, offices, and purpose of the church according to Scripture was one of their chief goals.
Today we will begin looking at the purpose of the church. The purpose of the church for the Lord is easy enough to discern—its purpose in relation to the Lord is to bring Him glory. But God also established the church for the good of His people, and understanding our Creator’s purpose for the church in relation to His children will help us seek the good He has for us and help maintain His intent for His body.
The first purpose God has for the church that we will consider is for the church to be the arena of spiritual growth. In today’s passage, Paul explains why God gave His church Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers: so that we would be equipped for ministry, understand true doctrine, and grow to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:12–14). Our Lord does not redeem us from sin and then stop working in us. No, His intent is that we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). And He brings us to maturity primarily through the instruction provided by the officers in the local church and the fellowship we enjoy with one another as we study God’s Word together. Personal, individual study is well and good, even necessary for our spiritual growth. However, we will attain maturity in the faith only through our participation in the local church. In the context of the covenant community, the Lord works through the faithful preaching and teaching of His Word by His appointed officers.
In our individualistic age, when too many Christians think church membership is optional and that they can grow spiritually just fine on their own, the comments of John Calvin on today’s passage must be heard: “The church is the common mother of all the godly, which bears, nourishes, and brings up children to God, kings and peasants alike; and this is done by the ministry. Those who neglect or despise this order choose to be wiser than Christ. Woe to the pride of such men!” Our Savior has established the church as the arena for Christian growth. If we neglect its ministry, we will remain immature and undiscerning.