Society is rife with many issues that are given heed to at differing levels of interest by the church today. There are varying degrees of success – or failures. No matter the cause, opponents of the church will seek to undermine any positive influences and accentuate the negatives. In view of the current trend of secularism seemingly in control of popular opinion, what then is the role of the church in society?
In speaking of and about the church it is important to note that herein “the church” means the local church body made of regenerate members and not that of the universal church. The local church body is the point of contact of, and representative for the universal church. Local church bodies should be seen acting in concert with other local church bodies collectively and cooperatively. This is seen throughout Acts and in much of the other books of the New Testament as Paul sought the support of churches for each other and for the church in Jerusalem.
Luke’s account of the activity of the early church in Jerusalem gives the most succinct picture of the role of the church in society. Acts 4:32-37 shows 1) “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own…2) with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…3) there was not a needy person among them, for as…it was distributed to each as any had need.
First, the members of the church were as Acts 2:1 says “they were all with one accord” (KJV). As they gathered together they celebrated. As they celebrated they prayed. As they prayed they worshiped. They gave freely of what they had out of love for each other as they epitomized the greatest commandment according to Jesus (Matthew 22:37-39), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and carried through with the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Secondly, the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) was important for the public proclamation all Christians are responsible for giving. The early church had the privilege of hearing first-hand from the people that were with Jesus every hour of every day for three years. Today, we are blessed with the Bible that tells the same stories and expounds upon the same doctrines (the main purpose for much of Paul’s writings). Strong exegetical and doctrinally sound proclamation of the gospel is paramount for the church today if wishes to regain a positive role in society.
Thirdly, none in the early church of Jerusalem had any need. This is not so in most churches today. Despite increasing financial burdens and lingering illnesses necessitating being home-bound the members of today’s local churches do not seek to meet the needs of its own membership. Yet, those same non-internally reaching members will lay out literally thousands of dollars to go half-way around the world to do the very thing they neglect in their own church. The hypocrisy of our missions shouts volumes to society today and causes loss of credibility.
The role of the church in society has been in large part abdicated and can only be viewed as a hollow facade of what used to be a respected and sought after leader in our culture. As a whole, forfeiture of an active role has become the norm from community to community though some corners do seem to be able to grab some form of media attention and point to that as proof of an active role. The local church as become less important due to its lack of love and compassion for its own membership (assuming regenerate membership). Instead of the gathering place to celebrate God’s work in their lives, it has become the social club for conscious-salving “mission projects” at best and dark-room-meeting places for the ego-driven power mongers at worst. Church has become more about what-someone-else-does-for-me rather than the assembly of God-worshiping, blood-bought, born again, Christians.
The church must revisit the oft repeated Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 and its corollary of Acts 1:8. Matthew records that the church (implied) should teach all that Jesus had commanded. This carries the overt implication that the teachers would be obeying those very commands. Obeying Jesus’ words will strengthen the church in the rest of the commission to go and make disciples. The role of the church in society starts closest to home and moved outward (Acts 1:8).
Is there concern that the church’s voice is being drowned out by alternate influences? We can change that by hearing the voice of the needy in our own congregations. Is there concern that poor preaching and teaching is corrupting our congregations’ view of God? That can be changed by giving heed to those that only preach the gospel and teach the doctrines found there. Does the church’s lack of affluence diminish its presence? Taking care of each other will strengthen the right to be heard in our society.
The role of the church is to start being the church again.