Vol. 11 No. 12 December 2009
What is the mission of the Lord’s church? I always have heard that the mission of the Lord’s church is threefold; isn’t that what you have always been taught? I have even preached and written that the mission of the church of the Bible is threefold: evangelism, edification and benevolence. However, I was wrong! In the strictest sense, edification and benevolence are not parts of the mission of the church for which Jesus Christ died and over which He is the Head. Does that shock you? Such an assertion may well startle you, but there is no reason for dismay or alarm.
Yet, I would suggest to you that edification, though absolutely necessary for individual Christians and congregations to pursue for themselves and for others as well, is no more the mission of the church than worshipping God in His own appointed way is the mission of the church. Must we worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)? Yes, we must if we intend to be pleasing to God, but simply because worshipping God correctly is obligatory does not make it the mission of the church. Likewise, benevolence, surely authorized and obligatory upon both Christians and congregations (2 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 6:10), is no more the mission of the church than are Christian living and Christian service in general the mission of the church. Many are the requirements of Christianity by which individual Christians and collectives of Christians in congregations and the brotherhood are bound to obey, but these things are not the mission of the Lord’s church. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not minimizing Christian worship, Christian living and Christian service in the least.
First, exactly what does the word, “mission” mean? From the dictionary, we learn that “mission” means an “assignment” or “a specific task with which a person or a group is charged” to do. The word “mission” may have additional meanings, too, but this is what we mean when discussing the mission of the church. Incidentally, the word “mission” does not appear in the Bible. Therefore, when talking about the mission of the church, we defer to the dictionary definition and then look to the New Testament, because that is the law of God binding upon humanity today, for references that correspond to the dictionary definition.
Hence, by asking, “What is the mission of the church?” we mean, “What is the assignment or specific task that the Lord’s church is expected to perform?” In addition, since naturally we are looking to the New Testament for the answer to this question, we understand Who has made this assignment of a specific task to perform. No assignment or task merely assigned by mortals to themselves is satisfactory to be the mission of the churches of Christ. So, the expanded question is, “What is the mission of the church that our Lord Jesus Christ assigned to it?”
To answer this question adequately as to the mission of the Lord’s church, one must first ascertain what the mission of our Lord was while He was on the earth. That’s easy! Summarized, Jesus Christ said of His purpose on earth, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In addition, the apostle John wrote by inspiration about the mission of Christ on earth, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). Everything written prophetically about the Messiah or recorded regarding His earthly habitation and ministry fits nicely with the realization that our Lord was on a mission to save mankind from sin and its horrible consequences. Hence, the culmination of the ministry of the Son of God was His vicarious sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, thereupon shedding His innocent blood, that the sins of the world could be forgiven.
It would be reasonable to conclude, then, that the mission of His church would conform to the mission of our Lord Himself. That the mission of Jesus Christ and the mission of the church are one in the same mission we know without any doubt whatsoever; we know such is the case because Jesus Christ so informs us through the accounts of divinely inspired historians. Immediately preceding His Ascension, our dear Lord and Savior gave His followers only one job or mission to do; we commonly refer to that charge as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47). This was not an occasion on which Jesus Christ spoke about correct worship, Christian living or Christian service. Jesus did not pause prior to His Ascension to direct the apostles’ attention to sound doctrine. The New Testament is full of various topics, many of them obligatory upon the child of God, that the Christ did not take time to address immediately preceding His Ascension. That does not minimize Christian worship, Christian living, Christian service or Christian doctrine, but it does emphasize the singular job or mission that Jesus Christ assigned His followers to do.
This means that though Christians and congregations may correctly perform Christian worship, but not evangelize the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then they have not performed the mission of the Lord’s church. Likewise, Christian living may be exemplary and Christian service may be laudable, but failing to evangelize the world, then Christians and churches fail to perform the mission of the church. Christians and congregations may be correct biblically about Christian doctrine, but if they do not evangelize the world with the Gospel, they do not accomplish the mission of the church. Beyond that, nice, comfortable buildings in which to worship, surrounded by manicured lawns and shrubs, ringed by asphalt parking lots do not equate to seeing to the mission of the Lord’s church. These niceties allowed to feed from our treasuries through biblical implication and human inference are not necessarily wrong, but they are not a part of the mission of the church that Jesus Christ assigned His followers.
This mission of the church was first seen in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The mission of the church was announced by Jesus Christ prior to His Ascension. The mission of the church was demonstrated and recorded in the Book of Acts for us to emulate in our own lives. How, then, could good students of the Bible overlook the singular task that our Lord assigned to His followers in His final words before returning to heaven? How could contemporary Christians overlook the singular mission of the church in favor of creature comforts within our meetinghouses and otherwise becoming an introverted people, rather than becoming an extroverted throng carrying the Gospel to every nook of our habitation? How can Christians feel a sense of accomplishment in anything, irrespective of how innocent a thing it may be or how noble an undertaking, even to practicing well Christian worship, living, service and doctrine, without heartily embracing the singular mission of the Lord’s church?
What is the divinely assigned mission or task that Jesus expects the church to perform? Evangelism, of course! Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:15-16). Jesus said that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations” (Luke 24:47).
Okay, now we know that there is a singular mission for the church of the Bible. That mission is but an extension of the mission of Jesus Christ Himself. However, upon whom specifically does the responsibility for performing the mission of the church fall? Have we appointed the mission of the church to be done by the elders that congregations select to lead them? Have we hired the mission of the church to be done by the preachers and evangelists that we financially support? Just who needs to concern himself or herself with doing the mission of the church of the Bible? Can we pragmatically expect denominational persons to do the mission of the church? Does every child of God bear some responsibility for performing the mission of the church? Is the mission of the church being accomplished satisfactorily today? Why not?
Jesus Christ personally and directly first gave the responsibility for evangelizing the world to eleven surviving apostles. Later, a replacement apostle was added (Acts 1:15-26) to the band of disciples to whom Jesus made the charge before His Ascension. Still later, the apostle Paul was given special responsibilities respecting evangelism among non-Jewish people (Acts 26:16-18). So, the apostles of Jesus Christ certainly were responsible for performing the mission of the church, to evangelize the world, but does that responsibility extend to others as well, maybe even to us today?
From 2 Timothy 2:2 we discern that the mission of the church first given to the apostles directly passed on to their coworkers who were not apostles. Even more than that, the mission of the church passed from the apostles to their coworkers and to others as well who were able to teach others (who were able to teach others and so forth). “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). “These things” would include the mission of the church besides Christian worship, living, service and doctrine. In the same chapter, Paul called upon Timothy to be “apt to teach,” and by extension, all Christians need to strive to be “apt to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24). Teach what? Yes, Christian worship, living, service and doctrine, but evangelism, too.
The early church lagged in preparation of teachers (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14), and the church today likewise lags in qualified teachers. What do these teachers need to be teaching? Yes, Christian worship, living, service and doctrine, but evangelism, too. Who should these teachers be teaching? Yes, fellow Christians, but non-Christians, too. Now that we know that the church needs qualified teachers and that part of what they should teach includes the Gospel of Jesus Christ (evangelism), who should these teachers be? Well, teachers should be Christians, but which Christians? That’s like asking, based on Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, on which first day of the week ought we to worship God? Every week has a first day! Which Christians ought to teach, namely teach the Gospel of Christ or do evangelism? Every Christian, of course!
It is true that there are different levels of teachers (Ephesians 4:11), and that as members of the body of Christ, we have different responsibilities (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). While it is a grave responsibility to be a teacher (James 3:1), every Christian ought to aspire to teach (2 Timothy 2:24; Hebrews 5:12-14). Surely, every child of God knows at least how one becomes a Christian, and can relate that to others. Surely, every child of God can at least do passive evangelism by leaving Gospel literature in public places (e.g., restrooms, waiting rooms, motels, with gratuities) or arrange for more qualified teachers to teach the Gospel to family members, coworkers, fellow students and neighbors. Surely, every child of God can make evangelism an ever-present part of his or her daily prayers.
Evangelism is the lifeblood of the Lord’s church. Evangelism ought to be the predominate thought in our minds throughout our waking moments. Nothing is truly more precious than a single soul, according to Jesus (Matthew 16:26), and we ought to order our lives in keeping with that truism. When we do, then and only then will we truly know what the mission of the church is and whose responsibility it is to evangelize the world with the Gospel of Christ. The singular mission of the Lord’s church is evangelism, and your primary responsibility and mine is to tell someone about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Merriam-Webster, I. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. Springfield, Merriam-Webster, 1993. CD-ROM. Seattle: Logos, 1996.