The Mission Christ Gave His Church
“How can a church today expect people to hear what they say in a world where there are problems like hunger, ignorance, poverty, prejudice, and hatred?” This question is asked with repeated frequency as sincere people seek to learn the role churches should play in our world today. In this continuation of a study of the church Jesus said He would build, we will look at the mission He gave His church. Hopefully, we will see it from His perspective by the time we conclude this our study. McGavran, Dean Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and Dr. Win Arn, Executive Director and President of the Institute for American Church Growth, collaborated on a book entitled, How To Grow A Church. It was published by Regal Books in 1979. In response to how a church can get people to listen to the gospel where there are so many social problems that seem to be more important than salvation from sin Dr. McGavran made an interesting point when he said, “Furthermore, we must never forget that in evangelism we’re not telling people how good we are. We preach Christ, not ourselves. If we start preaching ourselves, we’re done for; I don’t care how good we are.” (page 167).
The church Jesus promised to build is truly one body, a spiritual body, and is sent into the world on a very pointed spiritual mission -- saving the lost through preaching the word. Churches that lose sight of that one goal Christ has commissioned become side tracked into many unauthorized social, political, domestic, and economic endeavors. There is only one way for any group of people who think they have even a relative relationship to the church Jesus built to avoid drifting away into the never, never land of secularism in religion. By maintaining an unwavering loyalty to what Jesus said, to His authority, and to His principles of right and wrong, can any of us remain unspotted from the world we are here to save from sin.
Let us all be warned. A church today cannot be the same one Jesus built if it does not actively engage in the fulfillment of the mission He sent His church to accomplish. If Jesus sent the church into the world to remove poverty, ignorance, hunger, hatred, and the like, then those who do not energetically engage in that cannot be His church. On the other hand, if Jesus sent His church into this world to make men know the joy and way of salvation from sin, those who focus their chief concern on eradication of poverty and ignorance rather than proclaiming the gospel of Christ, cannot be His church today. So, it is extremely important to get a clear view of that mission. And, it is equally important to be unbiased about it -- may I add also to not allow our feelings and emotions to override our respect for the Christ who built His church.
Understanding the mission Christ gave His church is made easier by considering the New Testament teaching about its basic nature. The nature of His church manifests the work it is to accomplish. The nature of Christ’s church may be known first by the different descriptions inspired men gave to it. Consider:
It is called His Body. Paul wrote, “And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). As the head, Christ directs the body in all of its activities. But also, the body under the control of its head is but an extension of the head. From a purely physiological point of view, the church, as Christ’s body, is but an extension of Christ Himself. Going into the world as His body means that those who make up the church engage in the work Jesus came to accomplish.
No mere man can accomplish the one work Jesus accomplished in His atonement for man’s sin. However, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Seeking the lost, bringing them into the fold of safety, through salvation was His primary concern. It should be the primary concern of His body, the church, in every generation.
Second, the church is called a temple. Peter wrote, “Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). As a spiritual house, the church is concerned in the first place with spiritual work, saving souls through gospel preaching. The offering up of the sacrifices in the church today is not from the smoke of animal sacrifices, nor is it from the so-called “fellowship halls” or kitchens that so many churches have.
Someone once wrote, “If the Lord allows time to continue, one wonders archaeologists of the future will not wonder what sort of gods this generation served, as they dig up the remains of our steam kitchens.” The sacrifices we offer to God consist of our own service as His disciples, preserving and perpetuating His own personal mission, preaching the saving message of truth to the lost.
It is interesting that in the next verse, Peter said, “Because I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious and he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame.” The temple of God, the church Jesus built, rests on the solid footing of His deity. And the word “because” is significant. Because the church is His spiritual temple, to engage in the offering up of spiritual services, He has laid the foundation here on earth. From that solid rock of truth, the church of Christ must continually be active and energetic in spreading nothing but the truth of the gospel of Christ.
The church Jesus promised to build is called “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Paul wrote, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The truth is the one means of spiritual freedom. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Truth is the sanctifying power of God. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
Truth is the one path in which the church must walk. John wrote to an individual named Gaius. “Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in truth. Greater joy have I none than this to hear of my children walking in truth” (3 John 2-4). Only those who walk in the confines of truth follow Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). To walk in the ways of social reform, political activism, and worldly entertainment, is to abandon the path Jesus blazed for His church to follow.
But how is the work to be done? The church of Christ is to support the preaching of nothing other than the gospel as revealed in the New Testament. Paul said of the Philippians, “Do all things without murmurings and questionings; that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain” (Phil. 2:14-16). If the church bogs down with a social emphasis, it will soon engage in bickering and strife. We don’t have time for such as that. If every one who claims to believe the Bible, were to restrict both teaching and activity to only what can be found in the Bible, there would not be enough time to be side tracked into unauthorized activities.
Churches of Christ in the first century give us a clear view of how that work is to be done. Churches sent preachers into a field of work to preach. Luke tells us, “And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem; and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch, who when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and he exhorted them all that with purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:22-23). Other times, churches sent financial contributions to preachers. Paul spoke kindly of the Philippians who had sent “once and again to” his necessities (Philippians 45:15-16). Notice that it was to relieve his needs -- not to make him wealthy.
This, then is the essential mission of Christ’s church. It is tragic that churches of our generation are moving farther and farther away from this simplicity and fundamentalism into realms where social concerns are more important than going to heaven. Truly, modern day religion is focused on this world rather than that which is to come. But, that is not so of all churches. We of the West End church of Christ are seeking to be only what Christ promised to build. And, we invite your most careful examination of all that we teach, preach, and practice. I hope you have listened with an open mind.
If you have any question at all about this topic, or if you would like extra study materials on it, contact us at [email protected]
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