Christian Mission – Part 1: The Church

  • Read Ephesians 3:7-19 here.
  • Read Part 2 of this series here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH?

This is a question I have recently started concentrating upon, but have had occasion to yet think deeply about.  It sounds like a basic question, and maybe it is.  This post is the start of my musings and I hope you’ll join the conversation.

Perhaps it’s futile to seek one mission or purpose of the church.  Churches fulfill so many functions I wonder if it’s possible to adequately categorise them under one heading. It seems much easier to identify roles the church plays:

  • Encouraging one another;
  • Caring for the disadvantaged;
  • Spreading the Gospel;
  • Teaching/maturing the saints;
  • Strengthening families & marriages;
  • Moral conscience of the nation;
  • Refuge for the hurting;
  • Voice of peace;

I’m sure there are many I’m overlooking (and you might take issue with some I listed).  Can all of those be reduced to one raison d’être?

In his book The Church of Christ, Everett Ferguson summarised the work of the church this way,

“The church continues in principle the works Jesus did in his earthly ministry. The church is the body of Christ. Christ does his work in the world now through the church, and the work of church is to offer Christ to the world.  When the church fails to do the work of Christ, it becomes the corpse instead of the body of Christ.”

Ferguson goes on to cite Matt 4:23 to summarise the “work of Christ” as “preaching, teaching and healing.”  In his mind, this trinity becomes the mission of the church.

It makes sense for the church to draw its mission from the example of Christ.  After all, Christ is our only reason for existing in the first place.  But Jesus himself gave several mission statements.  In Luke 4 he claimed to fulfill the words of Isaiah 61:1-2,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Later, in Luke 19:10, Jesus rebutted criticism by stating that “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”.  Which I guess could be viewed as an abbreviation of the Luke 4 statement.

So here we have at least statements of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  In addition we have “The Great Commission” of Matth 28:18-20.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Here we see an emphasis on making followers of Jesus.  Surprisingly, this commission omits specific mention of proclaiming healing and freedom, although it’s distinctly possible that those values are key components in the methodology of “make disciples” and certainly part of the “everything I have commanded you“.

So, WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH?  In the broadest possible sense, I follow Ferguson’s thought that as the body of Christ the church is to physically and tangibly represent the resurrected Christ to the world.  1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you [the church] are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  All the other mission statements then describe how we represent Christ to the world.

  • Maybe you’ve thought about this more than I have, what do you understand the mission of the church to be?
  • Do you think Christ had one definitive mission statement?
  • Maybe this is just a theoretical discussion and it’s much more important to consider WHAT churches do.  Thoughts?
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2 comments

  1. K. Rex Butts

    I’m glad to see more people asking about what our mission is because we need to get this clear (if we can).

    I am convinced that we cannot understand our mission until we first understand what God’s mission in it’s ultimacy is. Is God simply trying to save souls from eternal torment in hell or is God’s redemptive vision bigger. I believe it is the later. I believe God’s redemptive vision is explicitly tied to the inbreaking establishment of his Kingdom where, as we are taught to pray, his will is done here on earth as it is done in heaven (Matt 6.10). This redemptive vision not only includes the redemption of our physical bodies (Rom 8.23; 1 Cor 15.35ff) but also the redemption of creation too, hence heaven and earth being joined together as a “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21.1).

    This then explains why Jesus gave equal effort to both his preaching and healing ministry…because he was demonstrating the kingdom of God breaking forth. So where protestant Christian has often been at odds on the question of whether social-justice or evangelistic ministry, as far as which should have primacy, Jesus seems unconcerned about which has primacy because both serve as the means of demonstrating the ultimacy of God’s mission. This is why Christopher J.H. Wright says the question of mission should not be concerned with what is of “primacy” but rather what is of “ultimacy” (Wright, “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, 319).

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  2. ozziepete

    Hi Rex, You recommended Wright’s “The Mission of God” to me a while back. I paid good money for it, but haven’t cracked it open yet. It’s thick and intimidating!!! 😉

    I definitely view my definition of “representing Christ to the world” as broad enough to include both social-justice and evangelistic elements. The beauty of this definition is that it has a larger scope than just “save people”. I agree that it’s very difficult to avoid giving one of these ministries priority. If our evangelism doesn’t result in active concern for the poor and oppressed then we’ve misunderstood our calling (Lk 4:18-19). On the other hand, Acts of compassion given without providing an eternal hope are shallow and unfulfilling.

    Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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