The mission of the church

The mission of the church is the task entrusted by God for the people of God to fulfill in the world. In simpler terms, the mission of the church is the Great Commission, what Philip Ryken calls “a clear and unequivocal statement of mission to the world.”Our task as the united body of Christ is to make disciples, through the testimony of Jesus Christ the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

Defining our terms

In talking about the mission of the church, we are not trying to list all the good things that Christians can or should do to love their neighbor and be salt and light in the world. The issue at hand is related to the church as church. What must we be, collectively as an organized institution as God’s people, if we are to faithfully fulfill his purposes for us in the world?

If the word “church” is important, so is the word “mission.” Although “mission” does not appear in most English Bibles, it is still a biblical word. Eckhard Schnabel, who, with nearly 2,000 pages on early Christian mission and another 500-page essay on Paul the missionary, is probably the world’s leading expert on New Testament missions, makes this point forcefully:

The argument that the word mission does not appear in the New Testament is incorrect. The Latin verb “mittere” corresponds to the Greek verb apostellein, which occurs 136 times in the New Testament (97 times in the Gospels, used both when Jesus is “sent” by God, and for the Twelve when they are “sent” by Jesus). .

The apostles, in the broadest sense of the term, were those who had been sent. This sending is also the first thing to note in relation to the missionary term. After all, it is the first thing Jesus notices about his mission, that he was sent to proclaim a message of good news to the poor (Lk 4:18). Being “on mission” or participating in missionary work suggests intentionality and movement.The mission, at the very least, involves being sent from one place to another.

Every Christian, if we are going to be obedient to the Great Commission, must participate in missions, but not every Christian is a missionary. While it is true that we must all be ready to give an answer to the hope we have (1 Pet 3:15) and we must all adorn the gospel with our good works (Tit 2:1), and we must also all do our part In order to make Christ known (1 Thes 1:8; 2 Thes 3:1), we must reserve the term “missionary” for those who are intentionally sent from one place to another. Strictly speaking, the church is not sent out, but sends out workers from among it. Our fundamental identity as a church (ekklesia) is not as those who are sent into the world on a mission, but as those who are called out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).

The mission of Jesus and ours

Before the 16th century, “mission” was primarily a word used in connection with the Trinity. The “sending” that theologians spoke of was the sending of the Son by the Father, and the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son. This is a crucial point. We will not correctly understand the mission of the church without the conviction that “the sending of Jesus by the Father continues to be the essential mission.”

What was the nature of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus ministered to both bodies and souls, but within this holistic ministry, he made preaching his priority. Preaching is the reason he went out during the public ministry and the reason he went from town to town (Mark 1:38-39). The purpose of his Spirit-anointed ministry was to proclaim the good news to the poor (Lk 4:18-19). He came to call sinners to repentance and faith (Mark 1:15; 2:17). Although Jesus frequently attended to the physical needs of those around him, there is not a single example of Jesus entering a town for the purpose of healing or casting out demons. The Son of Man never ventured on a healing or exorcism tour. His stated purpose was to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10).

Of course, the mission of Jesus must not be reduced to a verbal proclamation. Unique in his identity as the divine Messiah, Jesus’ mission was to die substitutionarily for the sins of his people (Mt 1:21; Mk 10:45). Concomitant with this purpose, Jesus’ public ministry was aimed at the eternal life that could come to the sinner only through faith in Christ (Jn 3:16-17; 14:6; 20:21). We see this in the Gospel of Mark, for example, where the entire narrative is based on the centurion’s confession in Mark 15:39, where, in fulfillment of the book’s opening sentence (Mr 1:1), the Roman soldier confesses : “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Leading people to this Spirit-given conviction is the purpose of Mark’s gospel and Jesus’ ministry. The Messiah ministered to both bodies and souls and made preaching his priority so that those with ears to hear could see his true identity and follow him in faith.

It is not surprising, then, that all four Gospels (as well as Acts) include some version of the Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20; Mr 13:10; 14:9; Lk 24:44-49; Jn 20 :21; Acts 1:8). The mission given to the incompetent group of disciples was not one of cultural transformation, although that would often come as a result of their message, but a mission of gospel proclamation. To be sure, God’s cosmic mission is greater than the Great Commission, but it is telling that while the church is not commanded to participate with God in the renewal of all things—which, presumably, would include not only the re-creation, but also judgment by fire—we are often told to bear witness to the one who will do all these things. In short, although the disciples were never told to be avatars of Christ, it is everywhere stated, either explicitly or implicitly, that they were to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20).

Too small a mission?

No Christian disagrees with the importance of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples, but many missiology scholars and practitioners have disagreed with the central or overarching importance of the Great Commission. John Stott, for example, in defending social action as an equal partner of evangelism suggested that “we give the Great Commission too prominent a place in our Christian thought.”Similarly, Lesslie Newbigin concluded that “the Christian mission is, then, to live, in the whole life of the whole world, the confession that Jesus is Lord.” The mission of the church, in other words, cannot be reduced to our traditional understanding of missions.

We have seen in the last fifty years, to quote the title of a seminal book, “paradigm shifts in the theology of mission.” At the heart of this change has been a much broader vision of the mission of the church, one that recasts the identity of the church as missional communities “called and sent to represent the kingdom of God” or as “communities of ordinary people who They do extraordinary things.” The role of the church is no longer defined primarily as ambassador or witness. Instead, we are co-workers with God in the Missio Dei (mission of God), co-operators in the redemption and renewal of all things. As Christopher Wright says, “Fundamentally, our mission (if biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within God’s world history for the redemption of God’s creation.” The task of the church in the world is to partner with God as he establishes shalom and brings his reign and rule to the peoples and places of the earth.

The mission of the Church in Acts

As attractive as this newer model may seem, there are several problems with the paradigm. Missio Dei for the mission of the church. It underestimates the Great Commission, it underestimates what is central to the mission of the Son, and it overextends our role in God’s cosmic mission on earth.

On top of all this, the new model has a hard time explaining the pattern of mission in the early days of the church. Acts is the inspired story of the mission of the church. This second volume of Luke describes what the commissioners were sent to do at the end of the first volume (Lk 24:47-48). If the Gospel of Luke was the record of all that Jesus began to do and teach (1:1), then Acts must be the record of all that Jesus continues to do and teach.

We could look at almost any chapter of Acts to better understand the mission of the church, but Acts 14 is especially instructive, verses 21-23 in particular. At the beginning of Acts 13, the church in Antioch, moved by the Holy Spirit, set Paul and Barnabas apart “for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). This is not the first time the gospel will be preached to unbelievers in Acts, nor is it the first gospel work Paul and Barnabas will do. But it is the first time we have seen a church intentionally sending Christian workers on a mission elsewhere.

Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus, then to Pisidian Antioch, then to Iconium, then to Lystra, then to Derbe, and from there back through Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, and then to Perga, and back to Antioch in Syria. The final section of Acts 14 is not only a good summary of Paul’s missionary work, it is the kind of information that Paul would have shared with the church in Antioch when he returned (v. 27). These verses are like the PowerPoint presentation that Paul and Barnabas shared with the church that sent them. “This is how we saw God at work. Here’s what we did and where we did it.” In other words, if any verse is going to give us a concise description of what mission was all about in the early church, it is verses like these at the end of Acts 14.

Acts 14:21-23 presents us with the three pillars of the mission of the church. Through the missionary work of the Apostle Paul, the early church set out as a goal to do:

  • new converts: “After announcing the gospel to that city and making many disciples” (v. 21).
  • new communities: “After they appointed elders in each church” (v. 23).
  • churches nourished: “strengthening the minds of the disciples, exhorting them to persevere in the faith” (v. 22).

If the apostles are meant to be the church’s model for mission, then we should expect our missionaries to engage in these activities and pray for them to that end. The goal of mission work is to win new converts, establish these young disciples in the faith, and incorporate them into a local church.

Schnabel’s definition of missionary work sounds the same:

  • “Missionaries communicate…

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