Monday, March 7, 2011

The Four Functions of the Church

“The gospel is at the very heart of the ministry of the church and is implicit in all of the functions of the church. When the gospel is modified, the church ceases to be balanced.”

~Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 1060.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the church is not Satan, but imbalance, for we’re all fond of taking our passionate spin on things, and there’s never been any shortage of churches and believers who’ve done this. Indeed, I’m sure Satan uses these passions of ours against the mission of God.

The church was always supposed to be balanced, as the Lord Jesus himself is perfectly balanced.

When Erickson’s four functions of the church are esteemed with equal prominence, then the gospel is affirmed in accord with God’s will.

The four functions are:

1. Evangelism

The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. This is not evangelism for its own sake, but for the sake of the lost so they can come to a personal knowledge of God and know they’re saved by grace. A good test of any church fellowship’s relevancy (and any Christian’s for that matter) is its (or their) commitment to the mission of God regarding the lost.

This is not about preaching an empty gospel. It’s about being the embodiment of Jesus, for which much humble edification is warranted. Love drives evangelism.

The church coordinates evangelism activities, though individuals have their role too.

2. Edification

What use is the church if it cannot educate the throng? Jesus—the man—was primarily a teacher and he spent a lot of his time patiently instructing the twelve and his followers through parables and wisdom teaching.

The teaching function always fits in a fellowship setting. How can we teach ourselves? The Spirit, of course, can instruct us, and we can learn from our errors and from others’ errors, but we must come under the teaching of others. And we teach each other. Preaching also has a key role.

The role of operating as a unity is the church’s key responsibility—teaching, therefore, has a major part to play in urging and admonishing the Body to that end.

3. Worship

Primary to all the church does is worship of a God entirely deserving—indeed, worthy—of such awed reverence and praise. Worthy alone is the Saviour of the world, and the Godhead.

Worship must always precede, and continue throughout, all our God-anointed activities, both within the church fellowship and without—to the broader community.

Yes, worship, by our thoughts, activities and devices, can and should be a way of being.

4. Social Concern

This is where the gospel becomes ‘relevant’ to the outside world and where we derive God’s meaning for the saving of the entire world. We must be acutely concerned with injustices and wickedness in our world—God knows our planet, and all creation, needs the concern implicit of godly hope and the will to overcome tyranny.

To this, then, the church is sent; to go out and make a difference at every level, within every sphere, to the farthermost demographic. But much wisdom is called for in the manner, methods, timing and motives chosen.


Care should always be taken in our approach to belief, that we promote balance, skewing not one of these critical functions of the church to the detriment of the others.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

Four Functions of the Church referenced from: Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology – Second Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998), pp. 1060-68.

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