“Our Theological Vision:
Why Does Faith Presbyterian Church Exist?”
Matthew 28:16-20 & Ephesians 4:11-16
March 6, 2022
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
The Reading of the Word
This morning, we pause our series in the Gospel of Mark to begin a sermon series that I announced back in January, on our theological vision as a church.
The goal of this series is to lay out some of the key elements of our theological vision, as a congregation, as we move forward. Tonight, in our evening service, I’ll say a bit more about what a theological vision really is, and how it helps us avoid a number of temptations, including the temptation to modern pragmatism on one end, and historic idealism on the other end.
In this series we’ll ask three questions:
- Why does our church exist?
- What are some of our core values as a church?
- And what are important areas where we know we need to grow as a church?
These are important questions to consider in general, as we seek to be faithful in applying our historic biblical values to the new challenges and opportunities of the coming generation. But they are especially important for us in seasons of transition – as we now enter the beginning of the fourth year of the senior pastor transition, and as we move forward from the upheaval of the last two years.
And so we begin, this morning, by considering our core purpose – by asking: why does Faith Presbyterian Church exist?
With that question in mind, we turn to the Scriptures.
Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.
First, from Matthew 28:16-20, as Jesus commissions his apostles (and with them, his Church), we read:
28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
And then from Ephesians 4:11-16, as the Apostle Paul explains Christ’s work in and through the Church – we read:
4:11 And he [that is, Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray …
Prayer of Illumination
Lord, like the psalmist,
we ask you to give us life according to your Word!
Teach us your ways,
help us understand your precepts,
make us to meditate on your works.
When our souls melt for sorrow,
strengthen us according to your Word.
Help us to cling to your testimonies,
and enlarge our hearts,
that we may run in your ways.
We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:25-32]
Our question this morning is: why does Faith Presbyterian Church exist?
Why are we here? What is this institution – this body – for?
It’s a good question to start with.
But to answer it in a meaningful way, we need to ask one preliminary question, and then two practical application questions.
So first, we need to ask: what do we mean by “Faith Presbyterian Church?”
Second, we can consider our main question: why does Faith Presbyterian Church exist?
And then, to bring this down to the ground level we need to ask why that answer matters for us as a church, and why it matters for us as individual Christians.
What Do We Mean By “Faith Presbyterian Church”?
So, we begin with the question: what do we mean by “Faith Presbyterian Church” in this context?
When we speak about “the Church” people can have a number of different things in mind, because the Bible itself speaks about the Church in a number of different ways.
So what, specifically, do we mean in this context?
Well, some of the distinctions will be obvious. For our purposes this morning, we are speaking about the portion of the Church here on earth, not the portion that is already in heaven. We are focusing on the local church – on our particular congregation – and not the universal Church across time and space. And we are speaking about the visible church – made up of those who profess faith and their children – the church we can see and know, not the invisible church, of those who have embraced Christ from the heart, known only to God.
So to begin, we are speaking about Faith Presbyterian Church as an earthly, local, visible church.
But a fourth distinction, which is also very important, and may require a bit more explanation, is that we are talking about Faith Presbyterian Church as an institution.
Now, what do I mean by that?
As the Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper has pointed out, the church is both an institution and an organism. It has both a structured aspect and a more organic aspect. And both aspects are important.
The church as an institution reflects the fact that we exist as a formalized, structured, body. We have designated officers: pastors, elders, and deacons. Based on the Bible, we have people designated in certain official roles, we function in certain formal ways, and we have a particular authority structure, not only at the level of our congregation, but in our presbytery and in our denomination. In these ways, our church is clearly an institution, and was established by Christ as an institution.
But it’s also an organism – or, we might say, an organic community. And that aspect of the church is established by Christ as well.
When a bunch of Christians gather for a meal or a social event, we could rightly say that “the church” is there – but not as an institution, as an organic community. When a number of people from our congregation organize to do something, we could say that “Faith Presbyterian Church” was there, and they did that thing, even though it didn’t happen here on our property, and even though there may not have been an official church officer in sight. Because “Faith Presbyterian Church” was there as an organic community – as an organism – not primarily as an institution.
In fact, the very same group of people gathered here for worship or a congregational meeting, as an expression of the institutional church, can be taken somewhere else, gathered for a picnic or to assist in another ministry, and would there be an expression of the organic church.
There is much we could say about how these two expressions of the church relate – the institutional and the organic – but let’s highlight two things at this point. One is that their callings are not identical. Another is that in many ways, the institutional church is called on to feed and nurture – to minister to and equip – the organic church, so that it can then go out and minister to itself and to the world.
We see this in one of our texts – in Ephesians 4:11-12. Paul begins speaking of the institutional church, in the form of its officers. These officers are given to the church as an institution for a few things, one of which, Paul says in verse twelve, is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The institutional church equips the church as organism to go and do ministry in the world.
And so, for example, “the church” is called on to bring just practices into the business world – to redeem, for Christ, the world of work and economic life. But we don’t do that by having the pastors or the session start or try to run different businesses. We do that by having the institutional church, through its ministry, equip the Christians in the pews so that they can go out, as the organic church, living in ways that are faithful to God’s grace and justice – including bringing those important truths to bear in their work lives and economic lives.
Similarly, “the church” is called to be engaged with the civic and political life of our society. But we do not do that by having our session take over our city council, or by having our pastors use their office to promote political candidates. That is not the calling of the institutional church – the institutional church is called instead to equip God’s people – to equip the organic church – to go out and to engage with political life as faithful disciples of Christ.
These distinctions are important. And they become especially important as we consider the “purpose” of our church. We’re not asking what the purpose of our organic Christian community is here. We are asking why the institution exists – why this church, as an organized, structured institution, with various officers, with bylaws, statements of faith, meetings, and formal ministries – why do we exist as an institution?
That is what we’re asking.
And so, with that in mind: why does Faith Presbyterian Church exist?
What is Jesus’ purpose for it?
Why Does Faith Presbyterian Church Exist?
Our answer is that Faith Presbyterian Church exists to be God’s instrument in making, maintaining, and maturing disciples for Jesus Christ.
Let me say that again: Faith Presbyterian Church exists to be God’s instrument in making, maintaining, and maturing disciples for Jesus Christ.
That is what we see in our texts this morning.
First, take a look at Matthew 28. There we have Jesus commissioning his apostles, and with them the whole Church. And what does he give as their charge?
They are to make disciples. That’s what we read in verse nineteen. And how is the Church to do that? By baptizing and teaching them. Baptism marks the beginning of the process, and the teaching them to observe Christ’s commandments is how the Church helps them to persevere and grow in their faith – how they are maintained in their relationship to Jesus, and how they mature in their Christian walk: they learn his Word for their lives, and they live it out. The Church’s purpose is to make, maintain, and mature disciples of Jesus.
But the Church doesn’t make that happen on its own – the Church is not the power behind that process. Jesus is. In verse eighteen he tells them that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. And in verse twenty he promises, in his power, to be with his Church always. God the Son is the one who makes, and maintains, and matures disciples – but here he appoints the Church as the instrument by which he will do that work.
We see the same thing in Ephesians 4. In verse eleven Paul tells the people that God is the one who gave the institutional Church, with its structures and its offices, to the people of God. And in what follows, he explains what he gave it for.
He gave it to help preserve God’s people – to help them maintain their discipleship in Christ – as we read in verse fourteen – to keep them from being “tossed to and fro” by false teachings and human schemes. To help them persevere in the face of such temptations.
And second, Paul says that God has given the institutional church to the people of God to help them grow in their discipleship into spiritual maturity. To “equip them” so that they can do more and more of “the work of ministry” and “build up the body of Christ,” as we read in verse 12. To help them grow in attaining spiritual maturity, “the unity of the faith,” and “the knowledge of the Son of God,” as we read in verse 13.
And once again, the source behind it all is Jesus. Because it is Jesus who gives these gifts, as we read in verse eleven. The Son of God is the source – the Church is just his instrument.
And so, drawing from these passages, the Westminster Confession of Faith – the confession of faith of our church and our denomination – says that Jesus Christ has given the visible Church the blessings he has for “the gathering and perfecting of the saints” in this life – a task which Jesus makes effectual “by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise.” [WCF 25.3]
Our Book of Church Order similarly says that “The Church which the Lord Jesus Christ erected in this world” he has established “for the gathering and perfecting of the saints.” [BCO 1-2]
The gathering and perfecting of the saints.
Combining that with the language of Matthew 28 and Ephesians 4, we might say that Faith Presbyterian Church exists to be God’s instrument in making, maintaining, and maturing disciples for Jesus Christ.
That is the answer to our main question this morning.
Why Does the Answer Matter for Us as a Church?
Now … why does that matter?
Why does it matter for us, as a church? And why does it matter for you as an individual? Those are the next two questions for us to consider.
So, first: why does that answer matter for us as a church?
Well, in short, it tells us what the primary purpose should be behind everything we do. And if the things we do here begins to be more about something else other than about making, maintaining, and maturing disciples for Jesus Christ, then we might need to be concerned.
I like trying to preach clever, thought-provoking sermons.
But if the main reason I write a sermon, or you come to listen to a sermon, ever becomes for me to present clever new ideas, or engaging thought-provoking concepts – if the primary purpose of the preaching here at Faith Presbyterian Church ever becomes increasing your general knowledge and enjoying engaging mental stimulation, then we have lost our way.
The primary purpose of the sermons in this church must be to make, to maintain, and to mature disciples for Jesus Christ. The sermons can do other things in the process, of course – they can present interesting ideas, they can shift our perspective in new ways, they can engage and even entertain us. But those things must always be means to that larger end or distant secondary purposes. The primary purpose must be to make and equip disciples.
We value and love thoughtful liturgy and beautiful music here in our worship. We love our music and our musicians. We love our choir. We love our hymns. We love the structure and the spoken elements of our worship. And that’s fine.
But if our music or our liturgy ever becomes primarily about aesthetics, or artistic expression, or musical skill, or poetic beauty, then we have lost our way. Our worship and our music should be poetic, and artistic, and skilled, and beautiful – but always in service to something much greater – always in service to the making, maintaining, and maturing of God’s people in their discipleship through worship. That must be their primary purpose.
Our diaconal work and mercy ministry is the same. God has appointed many means of mercy and justice in society – the family, the state, the work of Christians in various charitable organizations. Our congregation does not expect to replace those. So why do we carry out diaconal work and mercy ministry? More specifically, why do we do it as the institutional church, rather than just tell you to go off and love your neighbor on your own?
Well, we do it in part to maintain disciples – to provide for Christians in need, to support them when they are struggling, and so to encourage them in their life and faith. We do it also to mature Christ’s disciples – by calling on them to give to those in need, through the church. And we do it to makedisciples – to serve as a witness to nonbelievers in the hope and with the prayer that they too will come to know the Lord.
We could go on and speak of the same themes in our commitment to Christian education, to our Sunday school ministry, to Vacation Bible School, to our Women’s Ministry of Faith and more.
We do many different things as a church, and they can look very different from each other. But if they are ministries of the earthly, local, visible, institutional church that is Faith Presbyterian Church, then their primary purpose is to be the Lord’s instruments in the making, maintaining, and maturing of disciples for Jesus Christ.
That is how we must evaluate the many different things that we do.
And if we are not thoughtful about that – if we do not regularly remind ourselves of that, then we can be in danger of losing our way. Churches that lose their focus on the gospel – that stray from God’s calling – can do that in a number of different ways.
The pattern we tend to think of is of a church rejecting what is good to embrace what is bad and worldly. But more common, I think, at least at the beginning, is not a church rejecting the good for the bad, but a church misordering its callings. This is when the church takes what should be good, secondary things for the institutional church, and makes them primary – makes them higher than its main calling. That kind of mistake can sneak up on you. And being clear about our primary purpose, and reminding ourselves of it, and evaluating our ministry according to it, is how we resist that kind of mission drift when different voices, on different ends of the culture, are telling us that we, as an institutional church, should be prioritizing something else over our call to make, maintain, and mature disciples for Christ.
And so when we, as a session, asked what our church’s needs were, and what our vision should be for our congregation going forward, our primary purpose as a congregation – as an institution – had to be the driving force behind those decisions: How would we work to maintain and mature in the faith those who are already here? How would we prepare ourselves and parents in the congregation to make disciples of the next generation of covenant children? How would we equip the saints to build one another up and bear one another’s burdens? How would we equip God’s people to go out in mission?
Our plans for the year ahead – whether about staff or small groups – must be motivated by this purpose that we have. That is what this answer means for us as a church.
Why Does the Answer Matter for You as an Individual?
But why does that answer matter for you as an individual?
Is all this just good information for the pastors and session to know as they make staffing and budgetary decisions? Or does it matter for you too? And if it does, then how does it matter?
There is a lot we could say here. But for now, let me briefly identify three flawed ways you might be relating to our congregation, which this truth, about the purpose of our church, should overturn.
Not a Platform for You
First, this means that each one of us should see the church primarily as a mold to shape us, rather than a platform on which we can perform.
What do I mean by that?
Well, many of us can hear a sermon like this, and hear that the purpose of our church is to make disciples, and then think of ourselves first and foremost as the ones called to make disciples of others. We think of ourselves primarily as the ones doing the ministering – whether ministering within this congregation or out in the world. When we hear that the purpose of our church is to make, maintain, and mature disciples for Christ, we say “Ok, well I guess I better get to work making disciples and helping other Christians mature in their faith.”
But if that is where you start, then you have fundamentally misunderstood your relationship to the church.
I don’t care how old you are. I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian. I don’t care if you’re a teacher, a leader, a deacon, an elder, or a minister here. None of us here are first and foremost disciple-makers. Every one of us (myself included) must primarily come to the church in order to be shaped into disciples ourselves – in order to grow in the faith, and to be preserved in the faith.
We are the disciples Jesus says need to be made and taught in Matthew 28. We are the saints that need to be matured and grown and preserved in Ephesians 4. Yes, we are to do the work of ministry too, but that is always secondary, for every one of us, including me. We need the church to disciple us.
The church is not primarily a place for us to shine – it is primarily a place for us to be shaped.
And our struggle to recognize that reflects a larger cultural pattern we can fall into.
The Jewish thinker Yuval Levin has written an entire book on this topic, which he identifies as the tendency to treat institutions as platforms for us to perform and shine when they should be treated as molds to shape us into certain kinds of people.
It used to be, Levin explains, that most people primarily entered institutions to be shaped – whether it was a school, or a vocation, or a particular employer, or a political or civil institution. You went in as an outsider to that way of life, and you hoped to be shaped into an insider by becoming part of the culture that existed within it, and then internalizing certain patterns of thought and action, and ideally certain virtues, that were believed to be at the center of how those institutions functioned.
But Levin points out, that is no longer the common expectation or perspective. Today, across our culture, from our jobs to our schools to our different levels and branches of government, people enter institutions not to be shaped in new ways, but to get a better stage on which to shine – for a greater platform from which they can perform. Institutions are not joined to shape one’s heart and identity, but rather to help a person display their heart and identity as it already is. Most people join institutions assuming that those institutions have little to teach them, little of value to provide in shaping them. They join instead in the hopes that it will put them in a better position to pursue the goals they already have, in the ways they already have in mind.
And that perspective has also infected how Christians view the Church. We assume that we are mostly fine, and we look for a place to shine: for a place to pursue what we’d already like to pursue – for a good place to be who we already are.
But the church is no one’s platform, except for Jesus Christ. The church is here to mold us and shape us – all of us, from the little children in Sunday school up to the leaders and officers. We need to be shaped – we need to be grown and matured in the faith. And Christ has appointed his Church – including this church in particular – as one of the means by which he does that. And that must be the foundational way we all relate to this church.
The first reason that the core purpose of the church matters for you as an individual Christian is because it means that this church is not primarily a platform for any of us to serve, or a stage for any of us to shine, but it is first for us a mold – an instrument to shape us more into the image of faithful disciples of Jesus.
Not Just One of Your Content Providers
But second, on the other end of things, maybe you don’t relate to the church as a platform for you, but as a provider of content.
Because it can feel like that sometimes. The church puts out sermons, and Sunday school lessons, and children’s classes for you. It literally distributes some of that as a podcast. But the church is not just another one of your podcasts.
A second implication of this understanding of the purpose of the church is that we must recognize that the church – that our church – is also not just another content provider in your life.
First, the church is primarily an embodied gathering. Now, in extreme circumstances, that may be suspended, or some individuals may have unusual circumstances that keep them at home.
But outside of those extremes, the church is meant to be an embodied gathering. And so, if there is nothing serious keeping you from being here in person, but your main connection to the church has been online … then you may be kind of treating the church as merely another podcast. You listen to our services, maybe you give online, and that’s that. But that is not the kind of institution the church is. That is not what Jesus made it to be.
And even if you attend in person, you can still fall into this way of relating to the church.
If you are new to our church, and still just kind of feeling things out, and not really involved beyond the service, then we are just glad to have you here this morning. But if you’ve been coming here for a while now – if this is, effectively, your church – but you mostly dart in as the service starts, and get out once its over, and have no other real connections to the people here, then you too may be treating the church as a mere content provider in your life.
Faith Presbyterian Church is not here just to provide you content – interesting sermons to ponder, beautiful music to sing and listen to, and so on. We exist to make disciples. And making disciples means getting involved in your life.
It means that people in this church know you, and know what is going on in your life, and so can play a meaningful role in helping you follow Jesus – in bearing your burdens and helping you persevere through trials, and also in challenging you and building you up and helping you grow and mature in your relationship to God. It means that pastors and leaders know enough about what is going on in your life to have a role in that.
Now, we know this is an area of needed growth for us. That is what is driving so many of the decisions we have made for the year ahead: It’s why we are going to hire an additional pastor to provide more pastoral shepherding and discipleship. It’s why we want to start a small group ministry to provide a structured setting and easy onramp for you to get more involved in one another’s lives. It’s why we want to rethink the role of the elders in providing shepherding and care.
We don’t want this church to just be a place where people show up on Sunday, listen attentively to a sermon, and then go home. We are called to more than that. We are called to make, maintain, and mature disciples for Jesus. We want that to continue to drive how the church approaches you. But it also needs to shape how you approach the church. Are you ready to let the church – to let the people of God around you – get more involved in your life? You need to be.
And part of that involvement will mean an increased call to serve. That’s what we read in Ephesians 4:12 – as the church equips each one of us, we are called to then go and do the work of ministry: to build others up and bear their burdens. That is part of what it means for us to mature as disciples of Christ.
And so, if you are not serving in the church already, you should be asking where God is calling you to that. There are opportunities now – especially in our children’s Sunday school program. There will be more opportunities to come, especially when we begin our small group ministry. But even before that happens, you need to consider where the Lord is calling you now to build up the Body of Christ.
The church is not just another content provider in our lives, but it calls us both to open ourselves up to let others get involved in our lives, and to serve others, as part of our discipleship.
Not a Replacement for You Living a Life of Discipleship
Third, and finally, one more implication of the church’s core purpose is that the church is meant to shape us as disciples, not to be a replacement for our calling of discipleship.
The church can build you up, and help you bear the burdens of life, as you seek to follow Jesus … but it can’t follow Jesus for you. The church can try to help you better follow Jesus’s calling as a Christian husband or wife … but it can’t make your marriage healthy for you. The church can try to help you grow as a Christian parent in how you raise your covenant children in the faith … but it can’t raise your covenant children in the faith for you.
The church is not meant to be a replacement for your faithfulness in following Jesus, but to be an instrument to help shape you into a more faithful follower of Jesus in all the areas he has called you to – in your own spiritual life, in your relationships, in your family, in your work, and beyond.
Do you sometimes hope for a replacement though?
Are there areas of your life where you find yourself hoping that, rather than you having to do the hard work the Lord has called you to, the church – its programs, its leaders, its ministries – can come in and take your place?
The church is not called to do that. The church is not equipped to do that. In some ways, the church is called to the opposite of that in your life.
Yes, we are called to minister in the life of your family, if you have one, that is true … but not as a replacement for you.
Instead, if you will accept it, we are called on to try to help mold you into a more and more faithful disciple of Christ, so that you can do what God has called you to as a Christian disciple, as a Christian spouse, as a Christian parent, and more.
The church is not called to be a platform for your Christian performance, but a mold to shape you as a disciple. The church is not called to be your impersonal content provider but to get involved in your life of discipleship, and to call you to serve others. And the church is not called to replace your roles in the lives of others, but to equip you to better fulfill them, as a disciple of Jesus.
Making, maintaining, and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. That is why our church exists.
But if you’ve spent any time here and gotten to know folks … if you’ve spent any time getting to know our leadership … if you’ve spent any time getting to know me … then you should already know that we, as a human institution, are not at all cut out for that high and holy task.
But that’s okay.
Because we are not called to be the power behind that work. We are merely called to be the instrument that God uses.
For that is what God promises. And he delights in using weak instruments to do great things.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. We should seek to be as good and effective of an instrument as we can be, humanly speaking. God gave us earthly gifts and we are called to use them. And our plans for the year ahead are aimed at just that.
But at the end of the day, our confidence in the success of our mission lies not in us, but in Jesus’s promise that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and that he will be with us, his church, always – to the very end of the age.
And so your commitment to this church should not be rooted in the human capacity you see here, but in the One who promised to use our weak human capacities for his purposes. Which means that, at the end of the day, you are called to commit yourself to a particular local church, and submit yourself to a particular local church, by faith, and not by sight. Not because you see the capacity in the people who lead or make up that church … but because you see their commitment to Christ, and you trust that Christ will be faithful to his promise, so that through the church he will make, and maintain, and mature you and your family as his disciples.
For that is why our church exists.
This sermon draws on material from:
Clowney, Edmund P. The Church. Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.
“Faith Presbyterian Church Clarified Vision & Strategic Plan 2021-2022.” Adopted by the Session of FPC in September 2021.
Kuyper, Abraham. Rooted & Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution. Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman. Foreword and Introduction by John Halsey Wood Jr. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2013.
Lencioni, Patrick. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2012.
Levin, Yuval. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2020.
Mere Fidelity Podcast. “What Is an Institution?” September 29, 2020. https://merefidelity.com/podcast/what-is-an-institution/
PCA Historical Center. “The Historical Development of the Book of Church Order Chapter 1 : The Doctrine of Church Government; Paragraph 2: The Church.” St. Louis, MO. 2017. https://www.pcahistory.org/bco/fog/01/02.html
Smith, Morton H. Commentary on the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America. Third Edition. Greenville, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1998.
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