Several platitudes purported for the proper church purpose confuse the new church member. Is the church simply to be relevant to culture or countercultural? How do church members interact with one another? What is the heart of a functioning church? Who is the head? Several other questions can be added to the growing list; however, this portion of the class is to understand the church’s role.

Before understanding the “what” of the role, the “why” must be clear. First, Christ is the head of the church. “The use of the word κεφαλὴν (“head”) has been disputed. “Head” could be used as the beginning of a river so to be interpreted as source[1]; however, as can be seen by the context, “the fullness of him” would be more than just the source, but the entirety. Also, most every time the word is used in Greek literature it is in reference to a physical head of a human or animal.[2][3] Therefore, under the headship of Christ (our source and fullness and control) the church acts.

Second, the Gospel beats as the heart of the church. The church cannot function apart from the appropriate Gospel: God is the creator of man who is morally responsible to Him (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:16-17, Rev. 4:11, Rom. 1:18-21, Acts 17). God is completely holy, He is separate from sin (Isaiah 6:5, Lev. 19:2, 1John 1:5-6, James 1:13). God is completely just and must judge sin (Ps. 9:7-8. 15:1-3, 50:6, 96:12-13, Rev. 20, Acts 17:31, Romans 1:18). Man is guilty before God ( Rom. 5:12, Exodus 20, Mt. 5-7, James 2: 10, 1John 1:8, Mrk. 12:29-31 (Rom. 3:10-18, 1Tim:1:8-10, Romans 3:19-20, Galatians 3:24, Eph. 2:1-3). Man is unable to pay his debt and thereby condemned ( Rom. 3:10-20, Mt. 19:25-26, Heb. 9:27, Rom. 1:18, 2:5-6, 3:23, 6:23). God is love (Romans 5:6-10, John 3:16). Therefore God becomes incarnate: Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 20:28-29, Luke 1:34-35, Col. 1:15-16, Phil. 2:5-8). Christ lived a perfect holy life making Him the only acceptable sacrifice ( 2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 8:3-4, Heb. 4:14-15, 9:22). In Christ’s death, God’s wrath for us was placed on Him (2 Cor. 5:21, John 1:29-30, 1Pt. 2:24-25, Romans 3:25, Eph. 1:7). In Christ’s Resurrection He defeats the death holding us (John 10:17-18, Luke 24:46-47, Romans 5:10, 1Cor. 15:12-20). This Gospel is the heart for the role of the church.
Understanding the foundations for the role of the church leads to proper actions of the church. Acts 2:24-47 provides an excellent prescription for the actions of the church. “This… is the kinds of things that happen when people start to walk with the Spirit and ask the Holy Spirit to affect every part of their lives.”[4] This passage of scripture best reflects the function of the church as practicing Biblical doctrine, practicing Biblical fellowship, praising God, and pursuing people. This passage in itself is not the Gospel, but it shows the fruit of the Gospel.[5]

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:24-47, ESV)

The first role of the church is to practice Biblical doctrine, which requires expository preaching. This requires proper homiletics which is, “the art and science of sermon construction and delivery that says the same thing the text of scripture says.”[6] Norman Geisler argues, “the authority of the visible church’s ministry was in the apostles doctrine.” After stating the Apostles have died, he goes on to say, “the functional authority rested in the church itself, led by elders and assisted by deacons.”[7] Therefore, the authority rests in the Apostles’ teaching that must be preached effectively by the pastor/elder/bishop of the local church establishment.

The responsibility of preaching sermons that reflect the Biblical text does not end with the pastor himself, but extends to the congregation. The congregation must apply the Biblical applications and doctrines to their lives. “…the Church “continued” in the apostles’ teaching—in other words, teaching did not render itself superfluous, and constant repetition was the very thing it required.”[8] This Biblical preaching forms the backbone to the church. “Where the Gospel is being preached, the sacraments are being administered, and the officers are caring for the flock, we may be confident that mission is being executed, the [marks] are being exercised, and the attributes… are being exhibited.”[9]

Second, practicing Biblical fellowship extends beyond the Fellowship Hall. Fellowship provides the energy for the body of believers. This section will also cover the ordinances of the church. Baptism maintains fellowship with the body. The person being baptized to proclaiming to the world, “I am becoming a part of the universal Body of Christ!” This proclamation instigates the position into membership of a local body. Also, John McRay in his book Paul explains how The Lord’s Supper is a form of fellowship (κοινωνία), “the real test of acceptance comes not in sitting in a building together because the law requires it, but in sitting together around a domestic dinner table.”[10] This is the joy of fellowship: throughout the New Testament, the borders of culture, ethnicities, and gender are crossed efficaciously by means of the cross (Gal. 3:28). However, unlike our postmodern culture, these borders are crossed without destroying or mitigating the differences.  These forms of fellowship are also unique to the body of Christ.[11] This fellowship intermingled with the Holy Spirit provides the encouragement and spurring to motivate believers to act in benefit to the local community (Rom. 12:2, 1 Cor. 12:21-26, Gal. 5:19, Eph. 4:32, Heb. 3:13, 10:24-15, 1 John 4:12).

Third, worshiping God cannot be contained within music of a particular service.[12] Worship provides the clothes[13] for the body of Christ. Worship is declaring the glory of God in every aspect of life. Within the special time of the church service this happens in two active ways for the congregation: worship in song and worship in listening. In most current church services, the congregation feels active in praising in song, but passive in listening to a sermon. This must not be the case. Listening to a sermon is an active role that requires participation.[14] Also, worship goes beyond participation in church services. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), and so are our lives. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:2). There is no secular/sacred divide. Everything must be done to honor God and show His glory: this is genuine worship. Therefore, the way believers worship is the way the body is presented to the world.

Finally, pursuing people is the hands and feet of the body of Christ. The primary role of the believers is not to stop unbelievers from sinning. The primary role is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.[15] This is done with unbelievers in two main ways: provision and proclamation. Daniel Akin marks how Henry Grady claims in the late nineteenth century how Southern churches provided the foundation of social order.[16] In this period, the church supplied the majority of the welfare to the nation instead of the government. As of recent, there has been a reform to change this issue, but to the wrong extent: provision in light of the Gospel without proclamation of the Gospel. The church is not to be a servant to social order or welfare, but should provide this willingly by the power and submission to God through means of other church roles (Biblical doctrine, fellowship, and worship). The proclamation of the Gospel “consists of preaching and teaching, announcing and testifying, making disciples and bearing witness. The mission focuses on the initial and continuing verbal declaration of the gospel, the announcement of Christ’s death and resurrection and the life found in him when we repent and believe.”[17] How does a believer turn a sinning unbeliever into the glorification of God? First, glorification is in the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Second, glorification is in picturing God’s grace given to all in provision for the unbeliever.

In conclusion, the role of the body of Christ can be pictured in an actual body. First we have the design of the body with Christ as the head and the Gospel as the heart. Second, Biblical teaching forms the backbone, for the church could not stand without being founded Biblically. Third, fellowship provides the energy for the body, for it spurs the believers to act according to the biblical doctrine. Forth, worship provides the clothes for the body, for it testifies how believers present themselves and God to the world. Lastly, evangelism provides the hands and feet for the body in traveling to the ends of the earth and the ends of the age to make disciples of all nations and providing for those who are in need.

soli Deo omnis gloria


[1] Stephen Bedale, “The Meaning of κεφαλὴ in the Pauline Epistles,” JTS, n.s, 5 (October 1954): 211-215

[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: an Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002), pg. 285

[3] Fowler, B. Jacob, “Understanding of God’s Power: An Exegetical Paper on Ephesians 1:15-23” (not published, Fall 2012), pg. 14

[4] Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs, Colo.: David C. Cook, 2009), 154

[5] Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 83.

[6] Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned Mathews, eds., Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 105.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: in One Volume (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 2011), 1176.

[8] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1979), 278-9.

[9] Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 899.

[10] John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 397-8.

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1979), 281.

[12] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! 2nd Edition, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 215.

[13] Clothes is used as “how one is presented” not as for mere covering of nakedness.

[14] John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: a Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005)

[15] Westminster Confession of Faith

[16] Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III, eds., Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), 194.

[17] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 59.