Is the church an essential institution? Is it necessary for the sake of the community? If the church ceased its worship, closed its doors, would the city even know it? I submit the church is an essential institution that performs a unique role and service no other institution can. The church is primary for the Christian life but it is also important for the life of the family and State. “The church is where the primary act of the Christian life takes place.” (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms p. 132) Later he refers to the “spirituality of the church” by which he means it is a community created by “Christ and his Holy Spirit” (146) and thus it focuses on its distinctive “spiritual” functions as directed by Scripture. This unique function is what makes it essential.
The term of phrase “essential” may not even be helpful. I can’t always see how it’s even an objective term to determine what type of work or what industry is essential. A job that I may not think is not essential could reasonably be essential for that worker who uses that job or the person who depends on that service. An industry or career I think is non-essential may be a means of providing for a family. But since I don’t know of a better term, and as that is the term thrown around, I will use it for this post.
Why is it the church essential? I would appeal to the unique role and function God’s people as a corporate whole has in the world.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:5–6)
These are the words God spoke to Israel as they were about to receive the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. God states his desire for Israel was that they would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Not only were they to be marked by their holiness, set apart from the world, distinct in their piety and worship, but also they were to be a priestly kingdom. And this role is what I want to focus on for this post.
What does it mean that they are to be a kingdom of priests? Part of the answer is highlighted with the parallel, they are to be God’s “treasured possession.” To be God’s treasured possession is to be a “kingdom of priest and a holy nation”. Israel would be a treasured possession among all nations in as much as it was a kingdom of priests.
Priests are set apart by a distinctive way of life. They have been consecrated to the service of God and minister the needs of the people. Priests mediate God’s law, his grace, and they offer prayers on behalf of others. If the people of God were to be a kingdom of priests, it follows that part their calling was a calling of mediation. In everything they did, both their words and lives. They were to communicate the Gospel to the nations and be model holiness.
God says assures them “for all the earth is mine”. The world was not a world of chaos and disorder but it was under God’s sovereign rule. No domain was beyond his sovereign rule. Therefore, it is the role of the people of God to worship him and to make his name known in all the earth.
Ex. 9:16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
The nation of Israel, God’s people, the church, therefore, is on the earth to bring blessing to the earth. Peter seems to make the connection that the church was fulfilling Exodus 19:5-6 when he writes:
1Pet. 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The church is set to be a blessing to the world. With this in mind, we see that while worship is primarily to worship God, it benefits also benefits the worshiper and society as a whole. Don’t misunderstand this point. Worship is not so that the Christian will receive benefit or that society will receive benefit. Worship is what all the creation is designed to do. It is the end not the means to an end. And nothing is more important in the Christian’s life than being in the life of the church and its worship. That being said, of course we benefit and society benefits because God hears our prayers.
The community needs the church and should desire to have the worship of God in all parts of the world every day. Not trying to hinder God’s worship but promote it. While the church is distinct from the rest of the world, its distinct role is critical and essential. The State is an essential institution and so is the church. And when the church gathers we pray for our own people, our leaders, and the good of our community. This is an essential service no one else can offer. The church alone is the body of Christ, with Christ as our head. And he alone is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. And he has given his Spirit to his people and his people alone. I don’t accept the implied claim that worship services are not essential to the health of the community, in this time our service is more important not less.
Other verses to consider that the church is called to pray and intercede for the world.
He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man. (Job 12:23–25)
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10–12)
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. (Ezekiel 22:30)
Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:20–23)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1–4)