Why did Jesus start the church? What is the church actually for?
If you felt the Psalms were hard work because of their general lack of narrative direction, then the book of Acts should be a welcome change. The Acts of the Apostles recounts the earliest church history. It records selected significant events in the 35-40 years following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It includes dramatic accounts of heroes, adventures, travel, conversions, riots, conflicts and miracles.
Acts is a description of Jesus’ empowering of his church to preach the gospel to the people who have not yet heard or understood it. It helps answer the vital question: what is the primary function of the church? I believe that Acts says: It is to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the primary function of humanity (and indeed all of creation) is to enjoy or reflect the glory of God, and Christians within the church are called to model that. But I think that the primary reason that Christ calls Christians to band together and be unified under the banner of the church is so that the gospel message can be properly communicated and understood by the masses. Even if we are not all preachers, the reason we are Church is so that we can help spread the gospel. God’s glory is focused to a white-hot point in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the lens which makes beautiful sense of the whole of creation.
The early church was not just a purely sociological construct which grew out of incidental convenience for its members. It was an intentionally-created mechanism designed and endorsed by God for spreading the gospel. So it is today. The church’s function is practical proclamation in a world which hates it, and seeks to extinguish or ignore it. And the book of Acts reminds us that God is still with us, empowering us by the holy spirit to accomplish this otherwise impossible task.
God gives miraculous support to the Christians who proclaim the gospel in the book of Acts. If we personally have no experience of these kind of overt miracles, we may find ourselves wondering why God chooses not to manifest his power in the same way through us. But we must always remember that the greatest miracle which God works in humanity is the miracle of conversion: that a person could be saved by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We ought to ensure our priorities always reflect those of God as we carry out our Christian duties. Reading the book of Acts should help us understand what those priorities are, what opposition we are likely to face, and what confidence we can have in the God we serve.
Therefore, as you read Acts, look out for the general pattern, where:
1. Christian leaders arise and preach the gospel
2. Listeners are converted and added to the church
3. Opponents (often Jewish but sometimes Gentile) begin to persecute these leaders
4. God intervenes to rescue the leaders or protect the church
(Note the specific way in which the gospel is actually spoken. It is explicitly and relevantly shared, not just generally exemplified)
The above pattern is an ongoing cycle, and God calls us, and offers us a chance to participate in this amazing work even today.