The Mission of the Church

Sooner or later the question ‘What is the mission of the Church?’ is something every Christian asks. We ask this question because a Christian, by definition, is a new creation. The moment of the new birth, a new life begins, and God intends our new life to be lived out among the new community called the Church. Once involving ourselves in the membership of the Church we begin to grow in our knowledge of the Church’s mission. Or to say it another way, once we’ve been inside the Church long enough we begin to understand that God has called the Church to one certain task above all other tasks.

This task is the mission of the Church.

But with the rise of the term missional, I’m afraid it is now a bit more difficult to discern the chief task God calls the Church to do. Such that almost everything the Church does is seen as its mission. To worship God is our mission. To study the Bible is our mission. To pray is our mission. To disciple is our mission. To care for those in need is our mission. Being missional is abundantly helpful in that it reminds us that everything we do carries a deep sense of purpose along with it. John Stott has said mission isn’t all the Church does, but “…everything the church is sent into the world to do.”[1] But being missional can be less the helpful because when everything the Church does is part of our mission, it can be puzzling to know if God even gives or calls the Church one supreme task above all others.

So we come back to the question, ‘What is the mission of the Church?’ And when looking for the chief or supreme task and activity God has given to the Church, when looking for the mission we’re to give ourselves to we need look no further than Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. “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 and with you always.”

Taking a closer look at this commission shows us that there are three things[2] to see here:

 

Submitting to the Authority of Christ

The authority of Christ is large theme throughout the gospel of Matthew. For example in it we see Jesus healing, casting out demons, teaching with authority, as well as forgiving sin. So when we read here of the authority of Christ in 28:18 it’s not a new authority we see. We’ve seen His authority all along. But because of His resurrection He does now have a new level of authority, indeed the highest possible authority.[3] Because of this, first and foremost, the one reason Jesus Christ can say that He has been given all authority is because He and He alone is the resurrected Lord. He is One who has an unending Kingdom, and He is the One with everlasting dominion. At the beginning of Matthew 28 Jesus was in the tomb and when He rose v3-4 says, “His appearance was like lightning, and His clothing was white as snow. And for fear of Him the guards trembled and became like dead men.” When the stone rolled away from the tomb everything changed. We are no longer free to ignore Jesus as a mere teacher or prophet, we must recognize and submit to Him as the very Lord of all.

Matthew Osborne rightly states that Matthew 28:18 is the highest statement of Christology in the entire Bible.[4] All of the great Christological passages of the New Testament (Col. 1:15-20, Phil. 2:5-11, and Heb. 1:1-3) exists because Matthew 28:18 came first. Jesus has all authority. Therefore all men must humble themselves before Him. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, or perhaps you yourself have once said that ‘you made Jesus Lord of your life.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus isn’t made Lord by our approval and authorization, He is Lord. He doesn’t become God over us when we give Him permission, He is God over us. This means when we repent of sin and turn to Him in faith we are not accepting Him into our lives. No. When we repent of sin and turn to Him in faith, we become acceptable to Him.

Do not miss this: the Lord Jesus holds all authority over heaven and earth. 

Following the Command of Christ

Because Jesus holds all authority He has the right to do whatever pleases Him, and it pleases Him to command us to go and disciple the nations. v19-20, “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…” David Platt says of this commission, “This is not a comfortable call inviting most Christians to come, be baptized, and sit in one location. This is a costly command directing every Christian to go, be baptized, and make disciples of all nations.”[5] As the first Adam was commanded by God to exercise dominion and spread God’s image with his helpmate Eve, so too, now the Second and Last Adam Jesus Christ is exercising His dominion by spreading His own image around the world through His helpmate the Church.

This does indeed mean that the mission of the Church is to go spread the gospel of Christ and disciple with the gospel of Christ to the uttermost ends of the earth among every people group. But it also means ‘as we go’ about our life we should be about the business of the Kingdom of God wherever we find ourselves to be. Just because some may feel urged to go to the hard places of the world to spread the gospel, it does not mean the rest of the Church has no commission responsibility. We’re all to be about the work of the commission in our own contexts. Or Acts 1:8 says, “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.”

Some have interpreted this Great Commission in such a way as to lessen the importance of working hard to alleviate suffering around the world. We should not do this, but we should keep things in the proper perspective. Yes we care about suffering, yes we care about homelessness, yes we care about the quality of food and water, yes we care about slavery of all kinds, and yes we care about serving those in need. But, if we attend to these important physical needs while neglecting the most important spiritual need of all people we sin. All of the Church, throughout all generations, is to chiefly and supremely be about the business of baptizing and teaching disciple making disciples. The Church should be concerned with getting the whole counsel of God to the whole world.

Whatever else we do as the Church in this world pales in comparison to this mission.

Remember, the One commanding us to this mission has all authority in heaven and earth. Who He is and what He has done is the very message we’re to be spreading. And because He is worthy of all worship for who He is and the work He has done John Piper is exactly right to say, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the unredeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity.”[6]

Depending on the Presence of Christ

Lastly, upon whom do we depend in this chief mission of the Church? How do we know this mission will succeed? Are we banking on our own ingenuity or on our own methods? Are we relying on our own stick-to-itiveness and endurance to make it to the end? Are we trusting in our own resources to spread this message to all peoples? No. v20 shows us what we must depend on, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus promises to always be with us. Matthew begins and ends in the same way. The announcement of Immanuel (God with us) began the book, and now the promise of the presence of the resurrected Lord forever ends the book.

To sum all of this up, in submitting to the authority of Christ, following the command of Christ, while depending on the presence of Christ – the Church finds and fulfills its chief mission: discipling the nations. All of His authority, all of the nations, teaching all that He commanded, with all of His presence.[7]

Church, take hope. This mission cannot fail.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What Should the Church be Doing Now? Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity, 1975, page 30.

[2] David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, page 369-379.

[3] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 911.

[4] Ibid, page 913, and 1036.

[5] David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, page 374-375.

[6] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, page 15.

[7] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and Earth, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 918.

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