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What exactly is the purpose of the church?

Eugene Peterson

UPDATE July 17, 2017

This post makes reference to, in my words, Eugene Peterson's "permissive" view of homosexual behavior by Christians. Peterson partially clarified, partially retracted his comments on the subject that he made in a recent interview, with the upshot that he ended up at a traditional, albeit sensitive and compassionate, position on the issue.

(Peterson's original comments, however, are not really the subject of this post.)


Eugene Peterson, long-time evangelical author on pastoral ministry and paraphraser of The Message, recently gave an interview in which he revealed his current, permissive—if not entirely affirming—view of homosexual behavior by Christians who are so inclined. An online journalist who summarized and analyzed the story wrote that Peterson's paradoxical position

raises another, age-old question: What exactly is the purpose of the church? Is it to be [1] a sort of support and good-works club for people who have weeded out blatant sin in their lives, or is it to be [2] a place where people from different socio-economic backgrounds, philosophies, cultures and perhaps even sexual orientations gather to seek God and his will together?

Are these really our two options? Because as I read the apostles' teaching about the church in the Bible, I don't see either of them.

Let's try on this definition for size: "The church is the group of all sorts of people that God designated and completely accepted as holy (even though by nature they're anything but) solely because of the blood of Christ, and therefore that group zealously yearns for God's Spirit to make them holy by nature and perfect them in love."

By this definition, the church is open to absolutely everyone, because the only entry requirement is faith and literally nothing else disqualifies. It isn't a "club for people who have weeded out blatant sin in their lives," because from God's viewpoint no one ever has.

Yet no one will be comfortable in the church long-term who isn't driven to be conformed to God's will as he's revealed it in Scripture. It isn't a boundaryless meeting-ground for people of diverse identities and subcultures to "seek God and his will together" unless they're really up for finding both and being changed by what they find.

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