The Church’s Mission
A clear understanding of the Church’s Mission is necessary for health and growth of the Christian body. Today’s Church does many things in the name of missions that have no correlation with the charge Christ laid out in the Great Commission, the empowerment that was uniquely given to the Church by the Spirit, or the formative nature that is the lifeblood of the local church. In this section I will seek to define and defend the Mission of the Church as laid out in Scripture.
The Great Commission: What is the Mission?
Missions is the ‘central task to which Christ calls his people.’ We find a clear presentation of the mission as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20:
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
From this Scripture we see a compound command defining the scope of the mission, calling forth His Church, placing their dependency on Christ, and revealing how they are to go, form, and be formed as followers of Christ. Let me explore these statements briefly.
In the Great Commission Christ claims His given authority and by this authority He commands the twelve, and subsequent disciples, to carry out the formative tasks of the Church. This is supported throughout Scripture, especially Matthew:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
“…and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”
“so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
With His authority, Christ’s followers are to go and make disciples of all nations. Proclaiming the hope they have in Christ for salvation, His crucifixion and resurrection, defeat of sin and death, and the hope of Eternal life with Him and the Father, are the foundation of grace through Christ for the believer.
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Baptizing new disciples in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the process of forming the church as believers put off the old self and put on the new self, entering into community with Christ and his followers.
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers…were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles…Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Teaching these disciples to observe all that Christ commanded. Establishing these new believers in Christ and His ways was and is paramount to the maturation and continuation of the Church.
strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
While doing this recalling and beholding the ways Christ is with the Church always.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The primary work of the Great Commission is the Church’s sharing of the Gospel, formation of believers into churches, and maturation of believers under Christ’s authority and empowerment, with the expectation that believers will continue in this work. To remove or excuse any part of the Commission ‘is to put the knife to the heart of Christian mission.’
The Christian must remember this work is to be carried out under the full authority of Christ, while seeking to behold how He is with us always. Fortunately, our Savior does not leave us to this challenging work without help. In Matthew 28:20 He prophetically says I will be with you always, to the ends of the age. And from this we gain an empowerment that is beyond any human will.
The Holy Spirit: Who Empowers the Mission?
At the beginning of Acts the disciples are willing and eager to get started with the mission. Instead, Christ commands the disciples to wait for a power that will help them ‘witness’ and fulfill their work. It is here Christ reveals not what, but Who is to empower the mission and set up the Church:
“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
It is the Spirit who empowers and guides the mission forward. ‘The church’s task, in the final end, is a supernatural task which demands supernatural resources. Because these are available in the Holy Spirit, we must lean hard upon Him.’
The Spirit is an extension of the final verse in the Great Commission, to behold Christ, with them always, to the ends of the age. The Holy Spirit alights upon the disciples in Acts imbuing them with power to fulfill the Commission where human means alone would fall short, and allows them to point to Christ’s continued works. This is evidenced by the magnitude of the mission to the ends of the earth, as thousands are saved in Acts 2:37–41,and by the healing of the lame beggar in Acts 3:6–8, among other references.
Throughout Acts, the Spirit plays the lead role in fulfilling the mission and the disciples a secondary role as their prayer, action, and reliance all point to the Spirit. The Spirit conducts faithful men, prepares works for them to enter into, directs the mission field, saves saints from peril, forms and reforms hearts, grafts in Gentiles, opens doors, and moves the expansion forward. Let the reader not mistake the Spirit’s actions as setting out a Church body founded on sensationalism and miracles while being limited in their perspective and without knowledge. The Church is required to establish its disciples in sound doctrine and faithfulness to the principles of Christ. This work is happening in each of the churches. For a complete view of missions we must now look to the formation and establishment of the local Church.
Establishing the Church: How is the Mission Carried Out?
In Acts 13–14 Paul and Barnabas are set apart under the guidance of the Spirit to carry out the work of establishing the Church. In line with the Great Commission, the church at Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas to go and make disciples. Paul and Barnabas choose key cities on the island of Cyprus, as well as Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, and Lystra, to begin evangelizing.
In these cities the Holy Spirit does accompany their proselytizing efforts with miracles, but their focus is proclaiming the Gospel clearly and relevantly, then forming churches. In many cases Paul and Barnabas go directly to the synagogue and present the message of Christ. As men became interested in the message, Paul and Barnabas would further deepen their understanding, forming beachheads of Christians (baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) which would serve as the Church in the city. Eventually, persecution and opposition arose against the Gospel driving Paul and Barnabas to the next city.
When the region was evangelized, Paul and Barnabas returned to the their fledgling churches strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying through many tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. This was to fulfill the final part of Christ’s commission, teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.
This cyclical establishment process is used by Paul on future missionary journeys to build the Church. Through this we see “the Church is the natural fruit of missions” and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. To set out on any path in the name of missions that diverges from this is to stray from from the will of Christ and to endanger the future of the Church.
The footnoted version can be viewed here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1i9fvstpMFUX9fU3OGil4ndXI0uQOj9IsqSRaZ6zUKWw/edit
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