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Sunday, May 13, 2012 pm

WHAT IS OUR MISSION AS THE CHURCH?

 It has been quite some time since we have examined the church of Christ.  It is something that we need to consider from time to time.  Throughout this year, I want to present a handful of lessons dealing with various aspects of the church.  My hope is that we will be able to identify what the church actually is, what is its purpose, how it is organized, what is its work, how we engage in scriptural worship and a number of other thoughts associated with her.

A few weeks ago I presented a lesson dealing with, “the Church that Jesus Built”.  Tonight, let us take a few moments to talk about what the mission of the church is.

I have addressed this subject in times past (actually several years ago), but it a subject we need to revisit from time to time, by way of reminder for many and for others as a first time introduction.  This particular lesson is important because we live in a society where the mission of the church is greatly misunderstood.   There are far too many who see the church as nothing more than a benevolent society, a social program or a political organization.  For many, the spiritual message of the Bible is either secondary or outright ignored.  This is seen when one comes to a congregation expecting something other than spiritual guidance.  While as Christians we have a responsibility to do good for our neighbors, is that really what the Biblical purpose (or mission) of the church is about?  Let us take a few moments this evening to examine what the Bible says the mission of the church involves.

By mission, I mean “a specific task or duty assigned to a person or group of people.”[1]  WE are talking about the work that God has assigned us as His church in this community to do.  We will look at what its purpose is and what it is NOT.

I.                    Some thoughts about the church

a.        What is the church?

                                                   i.      From the Greek word, ekklesia, which means, “to call out” and has reference to an assembly.  However, whenever the word “church” is used in the Bible it has reference to an assembly of God’s people, called out of the world and together.

                                                  ii.      Used in its universal sense  (all who are saved) – Eph. 1:222-23, Matt. 16:18

                                                iii.      Used in its local sense – descriptive of a congregation of the Lord’s people who have joined together to do the work (mission) God has assigned us to do as the body of Christ – Matt. 18:15-18, 1 Cor. 1:2, etc.

                                                iv.      The term is NEVER used of a group larger or smaller than a local congregation in any organized sense.

b.       The church was in God’s eternal purpose – Eph. 3:10-11 in this text Paul notes that the church as a manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God (that is, it demonstrates God’s wisdom).  Vs. 11 states that it was, “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord…”
Heb. 8:2 tells us, speaking of Christ as our High Priest seated at the right hand of God is “a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.”  That “True tabernacle” is a reference to His church.

c.        It is a spiritual house – a key point to remember as we consider the church is to realize that its nature is spiritual.  In 1 Pet. 2:5 we are described as, “Living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 
1 Cor. 3:6 Paul there describes the church as “the temple of God, and the spirit of God dwells in you.”
When Jesus stood before Pilate He declared, “MY kingdom is NOT of this world…” (Jn. 18:36).
It’s mission is designed to promote its spiritual nature. 

 II.                  What the mission is NOT!

a.        NOTE: What I am about to say is not popular, but I ask you to seriously consider it in light of God’s word.  I do not seek to diminish the importance of such activities in general.  I simply want us to weigh them in light of what God’s word does say about what the mission of the church is.

b.       It is NOT the purpose of the church to:

                                                   i.      To provide recreation – the church is not in the business of entertainment or recreation.   Nor is its purpose to “cater to the whole man.”  There is simply NO authority in the Bible, not even a HINT, for the church to engage in such.  The ONLY mention of “bodily exercise” says it profits little (1 Tim. 4:8) and that is contrasted with godliness which is profitable for all things.

                                                  ii.      Relieve the world of material suffering – we ought to be concerned about the needy, both our brethren and those who are not.  The Bible is clear about this, and we need to work on it!  (Gal. 6:10, Jas. 1:27, Matt. 25:31-46, etc.)  But the truth is there is a great distinction between what the individual Christian can (and ought to) do and what the work of the church is.  While the mission of the church CAN be accomplished, we are reminded by our Lord, “the poor you have with you always.” (Matt. 26:11)

                                                iii.      Engage in social issues – similar to providing recreation, the church of the 1st century was not trying to reform the Roman government (except through the preaching of the gospel).  There was no lobbying of social issues, counseling and programs for the troubled of society, etc.

                                                iv.      Engage in business affairs – many churches today are, or have, “for profit” businesses.  Many see nothing wrong with raising money for whatever they want to do.  But such is unscriptural.  We find the ONLY means of a congregation receiving funds is through the free-will offering of brethren (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2).

                                                  v.      Become involved in secular education – churches didn’t seek to teach secular things.  They didn’t build schools or colleges.   But they were certainly involved in teaching – THE WORD OF GOD!  Let us limit our teaching to the examples we read of in scriptures.

                                                vi.      Become involved in politics – many churches today engage in politics.  Again, that is not the purpose of the church.  In the 1st century there was no lobbying of social issues, endorsing one candidate over another.  However, there WAS preaching on moral issues  which Christians ought to consider as they engaged the government.

c.        Yet such things seem to be the focus of the work of many churches, AND that which is expected by society as a whole.  As with so many other things we discuss in God’s word, we need to respect God’s boundaries in all that we do (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6).

 III.                The mission of the church is:

a.        To worship God – in Acts 2:42 we read that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
In Acts 20:7 we read of the disciples assembling “to break bread” and hear Paul’s preaching.
Paul gave instructions concerning proper worship as the church – 1 Cor. 11:17-24 addresses the proper partaking of the Lord’s Supper; 1 Cor. 14 speaks of proper conduct when we assemble together as the church.    1 Cor. 14:15 specifically mentions singing and praying in the assembly.
Churches were instructed to read the epistles (Col. 4:16), and letters were written to preachers instructing them to preach the word to the assembly (2 Tim. 4:2-4). 

b.       To preach the gospel – sometimes we describe this as evangelism, which means to take the message of the gospel to the lost (note the word, evangelism is not found in scripture, but evangelist is). 
The apostles were instructed to preach the gospel to the world – Matt. 28:18-20, Matt. 16:15-16.   This was carried out by them, those they taught, and often supported by churches.
The work of the church is generally described in their sending out those who preach (in other words they support the preaching of the gospel – 1 Tim. 3:15)
They supported preachers and sent them out – Acts 11:22,23; 13:1-4; Phil. 4:15-16; 1 Thess. 1:8, etc.

c.        To build up the saints – we sometimes describe this as edification.  The word edify means “to build up” and is actually associated with a house.
Eph. 4:11-12 speaks of God providing apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” 
Later in vs. 16 we read that when “the truth in love” is spoken, “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love 
The word for edification is used some 15 times in the New Testament in reference to Christians (and 3 times in reference to actual buildings – Matt. 24:1, Mk. 13:1, 2).  The word, “edify”, another form of the same word is used numerous times more.  In EVERY instance, the building up is spiritual in nature.  NEVER is the term used to promote recreation or social activities.

d.       Limited benevolence – again, I emphasize the importance of benevolence.  Christians are to be benevolent.  AND there are examples of churches engaging in benevolence –

                                                   i.      We read of the church in Jerusalem having a need which was helped financially by churches in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:25-26, 2 Cor. 8-9)

                                                  ii.      We read of the churches in Judea having a need because of famine which brethren in Antioch sent relief – Acts 11:27-30.

                                                iii.      AND we read of needy individuals within a congregation being helped – Acts 6:1-6 where there were Hellenist widows being neglected in the daily distribution.
Also, Paul in 1 Tim. 5:3-16 gives instruction for the care of needy widows among their number.  However, vs. 16 clearly indicates this is to be a last resort, when all other efforts have been exhausted. 

In each of these examples we note a consistent pattern:

                                                   i.            It was ALWAYS to needy saint, not general benevolence to the community

                                                  ii.            It was a temporary need – (i.e. the church did not create the need, nor create an organization in anticipation of a need)

                                                iii.            It was handled with all congregations involved maintaining total autonomy and independence.

                                                iv.            There were no centralized organizations or sponsoring churches created (nothing larger or smaller than the local church).

 Concerning benevolence within churches, we find it was never used as a tool to evangelize the lost.  It was intended to relieve the needs of brethren.  This was NOT a primary work or mission of the church, but rather something needed so that brethren could get BACK TO the business at hand – proclaiming the gospel and building up one another.

 And thus we can see from a scriptural standpoint what the mission of the church was in the first century.  It is STILL the mission of the church today.  May each of us learn to simply let the church be the church!  Let her do what God intended for her to do.  When we burden her with activities and works that are not authorized, we are limiting her ability and resources to do what God HAS commissioned us to do.   Furthermore, experience shows that the only thing accomplished is further digression from the truth and its real purpose.

May God be pleased with our efforts as we strive to do His work here in this location.  Think about it!



[1] "mission." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 11 May. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mission>.