To talk about the need and the purpose of there being the Church, it’s a good idea to look at it from God’s perspective rather than from man’s. It’s easy to look at our need and why we want or don’t want to “go to church,” or whether it benefits us or not, and what kind of church we want to attend. But let’s be honest, it’s a bit selfish to care primarily for the way we want things done.
If we look at the reason for the Church from God’s perspective, it all begins to make sense. Why does He need it? What does He want to do with it?
Let’s go back to… almost the beginning, where Lucifer (who was created as the Daystar and was meant to be the head of of all the angels) rebelled against God. He desired to be equal with God and wanted his own worship as well. This created a problem for God because His authority had been challenged and He didn’t have the full headship over the universe which affects the way that He would carry out His eternal purpose.
So God then created us in His image with the purpose of having dominion over everything created (Gen 1: 26), so that we could deal with His enemy. (Just a side note, it’s highly likely that God isn’t going to lower Himself to the level of a created being such as Lucifer in order to defeat him; He does it through us created beings which is a far superior testimony to His greatness). But just having created human beings doesn’t imply that they are under God’s authority and are people who can carry out His judgment on satan as those with God’s dominion.
The real need is for these created people to receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit so that they can become the Church on the earth, Christ’s Body. So now the Church is in existence on the earth. But what is it really? Well, to say that the Church is merely a group of saved people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit isn’t really enough. The Church is more than this. We were made with the view of having dominion over God’s enemy, so the Church needs to be ones who carry out God’s authority on the earth. This means that they need to be subject to His authority in every way. Looking at places where Jesus spoke about the Church, there’s only two occasions in the gospels that I know of; Matthew 16 and 18. After He spoke about Him building the Church in Matt 16:18, He said to Peter that He would give Him the keys of the Kingdom. So the Church is very much related to the kingdom, and the kingdom implies God having authority since it is a realm where He can rule and reign in and amongst people.
To me it seems that Jesus’ speaking about building His Church and then giving the keys of the kingdom are related; it implies that for the Church to be built up, those members of the Church need to come under His authority as the head to be in His kingdom. So to turn it around, if you have Christians in the Church who refuse to be under God’s authority and are their own head, then Christ will probably struggle to build His Church. Ephesians 4:15-16 says ”…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV).
Perhaps this is a reason Christ has delayed His second coming for so long, because His Church hasn’t advanced to come under His authority to be His kingdom on the earth. Maybe all this has got something to do with the way we view the Church, as I said at the beginning. Are we just in it for ourselves and for our preferences, or do we care for God’s need and His purpose and that He wants His Church to defeat satan by being His kingdom.
I believe that God wants and needs the Church so that His kingdom in heaven could be brought to earth. But is this the case that we see today though? I’m left to imagine what it would look like on the earth if God’s dominion was fully brought to earth through the Church as it’s meant to be. Well, what would happen is that His Church would be built up and matured tremendously, but along with that I believe that satan would be so much more restricted in his activity on the earth – What a testimony and joy to Jesus that would be!
In the new heavens and new earth (after Jesus returns in glory), God’s dominion will be fully brought to earth. Until then, Jesus and his kingdom (of disciples) must take up their cross (Mt. 16:24). When Jesus tells Peter he is going to suffer and die at the hands of the Jerusalem hierarchy, and Peter forbids this to happen, Jesus addresses him as “Satan,” because he is on the side of men (who want to save their lives and overthrow the evil in the world, like that in Jerusalem, so they can rule instead) (Mt. 16:21-23). The mystery of the kingdom now is that much of the world rejects it, indeed persecutes it. Only in the end will Jesus come and rule over all, repaying (judging) everyone for what they have done (Mt. 16:27).