Why does the church exist? What is the purpose of it? What is its work? To find out, we will go to God's Word.
First of all, let us observe that the church is not to be in secular business. It is not to run hospitals or to publish books for the purpose of making money. These things may be good. Individual Christians certainly have the right to do them. However it is simply not the work of the church. More and more the religious world has come to such activities.
They are just taking another step away from God's purpose for His people.
Through God's Word, we will find that the work of the church is threefold: (1) Preaching the Gospel, (2) Helping those in need, and (3) Edifying the church. Let's notice them one by one:
PREACHING THE GOSPEL:
Christ taught the apostles, just after His resurrection and just before His ascension to heaven, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:19-20). "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16). Later, Paul told young Timothy,"preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). Other verses could be given. These show clearly the Lord's desire for the Gospel to be taught.
Now what did the church do in the days of the apostles? The members did what the Lord asked them to do. They preached the Word. The book of Acts is full of examples of this. In all of the cases of conversion, a preacher was on hand to teach the Will of the Lord. Read Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, and 16. But who did the preaching and teaching? After a great persecution came upon the Lord's people in Jerusalem, the record says, "They therefore that were scattered abroad, went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Next, what did they preach? All you have to do is to read the cases of conversion in the book of Acts. You will see for yourself. But briefly, they taught: (1) Christ was the Son of God, (2) what one should do to be saved, (3) the importance of the church, (4) the items of worship, (5) the importance of the Christian's life, etc. Paul summed it up by saying, "For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Beside the fact that the Lord commanded that His Word be preached, Paul says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Again Christ said, "and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Again, "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher" (Romans 10:14)? All of this is to say that a man is lost (Romans 3:23; 6:23). The love of God must be preached (Romans 5:8). It shows that man has a Savior (John 3:16). Through obedience to God, man can be saved from his sins (Romans 1:16-17; Mark 16:15-16). Those who are ignorant of God's will or who do not obey it, will be lost (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Thus, God's Word must be preached.
HELPING THE POOR:
The Bible shows us that the church was concerned about those who were in need of help. They were helped as there were means to do so. In Acts 2:45, we read, "and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need." This was on a free will basis, of course. But, again, in Acts 6, we read of an argument that came about between the Grecians and Hebrews. The Grecian widows were neglected in their daily care. The apostles called the disciples together. They had them to choose seven men from among them. They were appointed to handle this part of the work of the church.
We read of Paul going to Jerusalem to help the poor saints there. He goes on to say, "But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem." (Romans 15:25-26). So Paul writes to the brethren at Corinth, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come." (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
Who is to be helped? The needy in the church, first of all - that is the poor, old people, widows, cases of emergency, orphans of Christians, and so on. We read, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10). But not just everyone is to be helped. In 1 Timothy 5, we see that an individual is to be helped only when (1) that person cannot help himself or herself, (2) that person has no relative that can help, and (3) when that person has been proven to be a faithful Christian. So the Lord's money must be used wisely. It is not just to be handed out to anyone who asks.
Not only are members of the church to be helped. All people who are deserving of assistance can be helped. Read James 1:27 and also James 2. This is a way of reaching people with the gospel.
But from where do the funds come for this type of work? They come from the members, as they are willing to give (1 Corinthians 16:1,2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). If Christians fail to give, the church is not able to help those who are in need.
EDIFYING THE CHURCH:
To edify means to build up, to strengthen, to encourage. It is to help the members of the church grow spiritually. What are some of the things that edify? God's Word, fellowship, engaging in worship, helping one another, good works, love, etc. Read these passages: Acts 9:31; Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 14:26; 2 Corinthians 12:19 and Ephesians 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
Many people wonder how the church can do these things without a world-wide organization, without a man as the head of the church, and without special fund-raising. The Lord's way is the best way. It is the one and only way to do His work. God can be praised. He can be honored. He can be glorified only as we do His will and thus fulfill our purpose for being here. Christ is the head of the church. Each congregation, as well as each member, is to do his part. The church therefore can do its work only as the members give of their means to make it possible.
The preaching of the Gospel, the helping of those in need, and the edifying of its members are for the purpose of saving the souls of men, and that God might be praised are the work of the church. The church has no other work but this. Politics, business, and turning the church into nothing but a social organization, are not according to God's Word. The Lord's church is a spiritual body. It is in the world, but not of the world. It is to obey God and to serve man. It must remain pure and holy, to the salvation of all its members. It is to bring glory to its Creator. This is the Lord's church, and its work, and its mission.