The whole church in action...
An adult Bible class was asked, "What is the mission of the Church?" The question provoked a series of replies. "Oh, that means sending people to dangerous jungle outposts," one person said. "We have tried that but it didn't accomplish much. The missionaries got sick and came home." "Well," a second individual chimed in, "there are so many needs here at home! We have no business sending our young people into such unstable situations. Lord knows they could get killed by those pagan savages!" A third Bible class member asked, "Don't we support a couple in some sort of mission effort in Montana? I recall sending our preacher and his wife last year to help conduct a Vacation Bible School. Seems like a good way for them to use their paid holiday."
These comments reflect a common attitude among most Christians toward the mission of the Church. They believe mission is a branch of the Church, an adjunct to the main agenda of the Body of Christ, a line item in the budget, one activity among many in which the Church might (optionally) be engaged. It is common to think that mission involves the work of a missionary--a somewhat odd soul who goes to the end of the earth because he cannot work well in (what we consider) a normal Church situation. These attitudes may be prevalent among believers but they grossly misunderstand the nature of the Body of Jesus Christ.
Mission is not a special function of a part of the Church. It is the whole Church in action. It is the Body of the Lord expressing His concern for the world. It is the people of God seeking to make people disciples of Jesus, members of His family. "You are . . . God's own people." Peter wrote. Why? What was God's purpose for making them His own? So "that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). The Church is called out of the world in order to go back into the world. We are not of the world even as Jesus was not of the world. Nevertheless, as He was sent into the world, so He sent His disciples into the world (John 17:16-18). It is the mission of the Church to be the presence of Christ in the marketplace of humanity.
Necessity of Mission
Mission is essential to the life of the Church. The Church was called into being to serve the world. Like Paul, she is "obligated both to Greeks and to non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish." Hence, she should "eagerly preach the Gospel" to everyone (Romans 1:14, 15). When the Church neglects her mission, she ceases to be the Church of the living God. The sovereignty of God means that He is the Lord of all. And those who know Him are to make Him known. God called Abraham so that "all the families of the earth" would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). In order to shield that fledgling faith from the chilling winds of paganism, the children of Abraham grew up in isolation. Separation from the world was designed to produce a faith that would re-engage the world.
The nation of Israel failed. She grew self-centered instead of mission-minded. She welcomed Gentiles who sought her faith, but made no vigorous effort to win them. Consequently, those who were to be the channel of blessing for all the families of the earth reserved for herself the benefits of the covenant. In captivity, however, she came to see with clarity her mission to the whole world. She was to be the servant of God, a "light to the nations" so that His salvation would reach to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). Yet, the children of Abraham did not listen to the prophet of God. Instead, between her captivity and the coming of Jesus, she became more self-centered than ever. Because she abandoned her mission to the world, the kingdom of God would be taken away from her and given to others (Matthew 21:43). She was doomed, a "house forsaken and desolate" (Matthew 23:38).
A new Israel was formed whose destiny was to carry the faith throughout the earth. As the apostle of John wrote, Jesus "ransomed men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and made them a kingdom and priests" (Revelation 5:9, 10). Indeed, that is what the Church is: a priesthood of all believers that declare the wonderful deeds of God for the salvation of humanity. The mission of the Church is worldwide. The charter of the Body of Christ states that we should be witnesses of Him in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Will the new Israel fail? Will we repeat the tragedy of the past? If so, their fate will be ours to bear. The church is only the body of Christ when she realizes that mission is the purpose of her existence.
Motive for Mission
Is the mission of the Church prompted by sheer duty? Are we to engage in it simply because we must? Certainly not! The reason for going into the entire world is much higher than that. The motive is many sided. Here are a few of the underlying factors that send the saints into the trenches of evangelism.
First, the love of Christ is a compelling reason. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). To know that Christ loves us reaches deeper into our souls than most anything else. "For the love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died" (2 Corinthians 5:14). His sacrifice on our behalf was completely undeserved. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," Romans 5:8. "And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). Love like this has no human parallel. It draws forth a response that claims no human credit. As the song says, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
Second, the lordship of Christ is another powerful motivation to mission. If Jesus Christ is Lord, then He is Lord of all. We demonstrate our understanding of His sovereignty by using all possible means to extend His lordship to the tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. As the Lord, He has "all authority in heaven and on earth." Therefore, we "go and make disciplines" (Matthew 28:19, 20). There is no room for debate. There is no need for hesitation. Instead of gathering in our "holy huddles," instead of spending the vast majority of our resources on those who already believe, we are called to go to the remotest bound to make Him known. The prayer of Jesus should be the outcry of the Church: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). The mission of the whole Church is to announce the reign of Jesus Christ to the whole world. To accept His lordship is to engage in His mission.
Third, history has meaning. It is not an endless series of purposeless events that just happen. History is not like a car caught in the mud--with engine roaring and wheels spinning--going nowhere. Rather, God is involved in a great drama that has both a plot and a conclusion on the stage. The end of the play is its highest moment, the climax toward which it is progressively moving. The central element of the plot is the cross and the tomb. The Christ Event gives the play meaning and moves the drama toward its denouement. We see the climax of the story with eyes of faith. Subsequently the second coming of Christ will herald the conclusion. God is the author of the play. The day of the end is His secret. But, in the meantime, the Church is on stage, a part of the magnificent drama. For those who are willing to realize it, the existence of the Church is to announce the story line, to proclaim the plot, to warn of the conclusion. The Church is to declare between the Lord's ascension and his second coming that history has an author and a purpose.
Finally, our union with Christ motivates us for mission. To be a member of the body of Christ is to be involved with Him in all His concerns. His love for the world must find expression in the Church where His Spirit dwells. To belong to Him means to identify ourselves with those with whom He identified. To be a member of the Church includes both responsibility and liability. The Church is to be responsible for all those for whom Jesus loves. It also means to accept the costly liability that will result from identifying with those for whom Jesus died. Such responsibility and liability are core factors in proclaiming Him to the remotest islands of the earth. The Lord said to Paul, "Do not be afraid. Keep on speaking. Do not be silent. I am with you . . . for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9, 10). There were many in Corinth chosen by God to be members of His Church before the apostle had preached to them. Paul accepted the responsibility and the liability of staying for a year and a half to teach them the Word of God (Acts 18:11). The apostle was concerned for those with whom the Lord was concerned. Likewise, the Church must carry out her mission since God has many people in this world who have yet to hear the Good News.
By Ed Mathews | Mission Resources