Intentions are powerful. Whether good or bad, intentions reflect a sense of purpose and speak to motive. By its very nature, something that happens intentionally did not happen accidentally.
If I intentionally drop my coffee (which, trust me, I would never do), that is different than if someone accidentally knocks it out of my hand. The difference lies in motive. One person wanted to knock my coffee out of hand — for whatever crazy reason!
That’s why trying to understand someone’s intent helps us understand what happened. Intent speaks to why — why did that person knock the coffee out of my hand? Why did my child act out? Why did that employee miss a deadline? Why did the coach run that particular play instead of another one?
Intentions can also be tricky. Unless someone tells you their intention, you’re left to piece it together from their actions. That’s not impossible, but it can lead to an incomplete understanding of the person or situation.
Just imagine: if it’s hard to guess the intentions of another human being, how much more difficult would it be to guess the intentions of God!
Throughout church history, entire denominations have been formed over disagreements about what is and isn’t important to God. Schisms and splits have occurred because one group considered a certain practice to be non-negotiable while others saw it as a matter of preference.
But there is one passage that is crystal clear about God’s intentions for the church. In fact, the apostle Paul will use these actual words: “His intent …”
“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Ephesians 3:10-11.
Our God has intentions, things that he wants to see happen — not by accident but on purpose. One of those intentions gave birth to the church.
The creation of the church is central to the message of the New Testament. The church is where the gospel is proclaimed (“the manifold wisdom of God”) and translated into ethics and behavior. The church was not an afterthought — it reflects one of God’s intentions. It speaks to the issue of God’s motives.
God’s desire is that through the church message of redemption and reconciliation be proclaimed.
To those who downplay the role and responsibility of the church, they are missing a very important point: God himself does not downplay the role and responsibility of the church. In fact, one of his explicit desires is that he receive glory “in the church.”
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” — Ephesians 3:20-21
A good theology of the church will take seriously this issue of God’s intentions. If God intends something to happen, we shouldn’t treat our involvement in it as arbitrary or discretionary.
While God follows through on each and every one of his intentions, the church will not. There is not a perfect church; we are only imperfect people trying our best to follow a perfect God.
That reality is not a license to disengage from the church. To disengage from the church would be to withdraw from one of God’s intentions. The better response is to hold the church in high regard while acknowledging there is still much work to do. And then to get busy. Get involved. Make a difference.