Church Membership 8: Mission
For what purpose does the church in general and MRBC in particular exist? A cheap and easy answer is this: Three things, to minister to God; each other and the world! We have touched on our worship to God and our responsibilities to one another, but it is the third purpose, ministering to the world that we want to define today. What is the mission of the church? 50 years ago if you spoke about mission everyone knew that you were talking about cross cultural evangelism. Through the influence of the Liberation movement that has emphasised political liberation as the good news and a bias towards the poor and economically oppressed; as well as through Liberal theology which has taken away hell and the need for personal salvation, mission has become confused. These past trends have created a modern climate where there is mud in the water when it comes to missions, and so many questions are put forward in an attempt to define the mission of the church. Is our mission evangelism or deeds? Is the mission of the church social justice? Is the mission of the church transforming social structures and renovating culture? What does it mean to continue Jesus mission, or to build the kingdom? If you would like to go more in depth than we are able to go today I would suggest a book by Kevin De Young and Greg Gilbert, What is the mission of the Church?
Let me attempt one short answer to these questions to get us going. Firstly, today it is very popular to speak about incarnational ministry, or to talk about continuing the ministry of Jesus. Jesus came to earth and He helped people, He healed the sick, He cast out demons, etc., and so some think that we need to be busy with Jesus’ mission and continue it, continuing to incarnate Christ’s ministry to the lost. John Stott is an example of someone who talks about continuing Jesus mission. He points to John 20:21 for this, ‘Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”’ He argues that social action, that is helping the poor, doing social justice, etc., all qualifies as serving as Jesus served and John Stott therefore gives equal emphasis to evangelism as well as deeds. The trouble is Christ’s service was unique and there are many aspects of it that are blasphemous for us to try and imitate. Mark 10:45 defines Christ’s service as His work on the cross to ransom us, ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”’ We cannot suffer the wrath of God for others. No we must protect the uniqueness of Christ’s work and represent it not attempt to recreate it.
We still hold the traditional view that the Great Commission is the mission of the church. Jesus is the author of our mission and His words count. The fact that these are the last words that are recorded 5 times for us in the four gospels and Acts speaks volumes of their significance. We do not believe that it is our duty to rationalise what our mission should be by watching God/ Christ, rather we believe that we are to do what we are told. We believe that the Great Commission stands at the beginning of the book of Acts and the rest of the book explains the outworking of it. And what we do not see is good deeds given equal weight with evangelism, though they certainly were not neglected. We do not see social transformation and culture renewal as the agenda, we see Paul’s missionary journeys and the planting of local churches in strategic centres to ensure that the gospel would be spread even further. Paul is our example of a missionary and his mission is clearly recorded in Acts 26:16-20, ‘But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.’
Let us turn then to Matthew 28:18-20 for a short exposition of the Great Commission, ‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”’
The first question we should face is this one: does the Great commission still apply today? Some have answered this question in the negative saying that it was only for the apostles.
William Carey wrote to address this question in his book, ‘An enquiry into the obligation of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathen.’
- Firstly, if we believe that this command was for the apostles only, then we should not be baptising either.
- Secondly, if it was for the apostles only then all missionaries who have ever gone out have done so without authority and in disobedience to God.
- Thirdly, if Christ’s presence is promised till the end of the age, then surely the command endures until then.
- Fourthly, the command is not a ceremonial law that has run it’s course, nor a law that we are released from because the conditions are met. Nor is there any counter revelation to say this command is no longer to be obeyed, nor is it impossible to obey.
- Fifthly, some have argued that we should wait for providence, but the door has already been entered by the Catholics and Moravians and they have been successful, and the traders in love of money have ventured into these dangerous situations. Surely we should be willing to risk more for the love of God and souls?
- Sixthly, some teachers are saying that there needs to be an outpouring of the Spirit in another Pentecostal show of signs first. However, success in the Gospel until now proves that to be false.
- Seventhly, those who say that we have enough work at home to do. They are right but it shouldn’t be a case of either or, but both and.
Do you agree that Jesus command is still relevant today? Before you answer let me warn you that your answer will carry responsibility with it. If you believe that Jesus command to take the Gospel to all nations applies to you, then you will have to take up the cross and begin to fulfil your role in obeying this command. This may mean for some that call to full time missions, for others more personal evangelism, for others a call to study and read more books in order to be more effective to give answers and have discussions about God. Some of you may be challenged in the area of giving, and prayer. The answer is yes, this command applies to every Christian, and therefore every one of us has a part to play in fulfilling this command, what are you doing to fulfil the Great Commission? We do not have to fulfil the whole of the Great Commission individually, but we are all called to fulfil it collectively. It should be as a body in a concerted effort that we fulfil it.
De Young and Gilbert have seen our mission defined by the Great Commission in answer to 5 basic questions.
- Firstly, Why? Because Jesus is our Lord and Saviour and all authority on heaven and on earth has been given to Him we are to go and fulfil the Great Commission.
- Secondly, What? The Great Commission consists of 4 verbs, firstly we are called to make disciples, this is the overall goal. The other verbs describe how we do this. We ‘go’ and in going we preach. Those who believe the preaching and are converted we baptise. And those who are baptised into a church we teach. We would argue that going implies someone sending and supporting the goers, a message preached in the going, that those converted are baptised by elders into a church, and that local churches are the implied disciple-making factories, as Paul demonstrates in his own fulfilling of the mission. Planting local churches all over the world then would be a suitable summary of the Great Commission.
- Where? Jesus tells us that we are to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, to all nations. This means that MRBC is to have Timaru, NZ, and the other nations of the world as our goal in obeying this command. Where in the OT it was a case of ‘come and see’; in the NT it is a case of ‘go and tell’.
- How? Christ reveals that He will be with us By His Spirit, and so we go in His might depending upon the power of the Spirit for success. His perpetual presence is a comfort as well as the means of our success.
- When? The command endures for as long as the promise of Christ’s presence endures, that is, to the end of the age. There is no point at which we will stop obeying this command. It may be that we will reach every nation, but by that time those nations that were once mission sending nations will need missionaries all over again.