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11. The Mission of the Church

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What is the mission of the church? According to Scripture, the church has three primary missions.

The Church’s Mission Is to Worship God

The chief mission God has given the church is to praise and worship him. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter said this to the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In a world that is dark and ignores or denies God (Rom 1:21), the church is called to corporately praise his name and pray for others to do so. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ taught believers to pray, “Hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9 NIV). It is a petition for God to be worshiped throughout the earth.

God calling the church out of the world to worship him is very similar to God calling Israel to worship him, when most nations worshiped pagan deities. Through Moses, God said this to Pharaoh who had enslaved the Israelites, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness” (Ex 7:16 NIV).

In fact, in heaven, the angels and believers from all periods of history eternally worship God. Revelation 5:11-13 describes this:

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands—all of whom were singing in a loud voice: “Worthy is the lamb who was killed to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature—in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them—singing: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!”

When churches gather to worship throughout the week, it foreshadows what will happen throughout eternity. The church worships as it sings psalms and hymns to the Lord (Eph 5:19), reads, proclaims, and obeys God’s Word (1 Tim 4:13, Jam 1:22), participates in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt 28:19, 1 Cor 11:24-26), gives of its best to the Lord (2 Cor 9:7), and serves one another (Gal 6:10, Jam 1:27).

Characteristics of True Worship

In John 4:23-24, Christ gave general requirements for worship when speaking to the woman at the well, which should be observed both individually and corporately, as the church gathers for worship. He said:

But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Worship that God accepts must be in spirit and in truth. There is some argument over whether “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit. They are both true. Christian worship should be inspired and empowered by God’s Spirit. In Ephesians 5:18-20, Paul described one of the fruits of being filled and empowered by God’s Spirit as worship. He said,

And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

When the Spirit is really ruling in our lives, it leads us to worship—both corporately (speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) and individually (making music in your hearts to the Lord).

With that said, when Christ says true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, “spirit” probably refers to the human spirit.1 Typically, when referring to the Holy Spirit, an “article” is used to distinguish it from the human spirit or demonic spirits. John 4:23-24 lacks that article; therefore, Christ is distinguishing true worship from false worship by focusing on our hearts. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul described various types of worship which were displeasing to God because they lacked love—the right heart. He said:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit.

Also, the author of Hebrews said this: “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). If, as believers, we worship God apart from faith by doubting or not trusting God, it is not acceptable to him.

Furthermore, if we worship God while holding onto unrepentant sin, it hinders our worship as well. In Psalm 66:18, the Psalmist said, If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” First Timothy 2:8 says, “So I want the men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without anger or dispute.” Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Christ lamented this lack of a right spirit—a right heart—in the Pharisees’ worship. In Matthew 15:8-9, he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” True worship approaches God with a right heart—a heart of love, faith, and purity.

In addition, Christ taught that true worship must be in “truth” (John 4:23-24). This means that we can’t worship God in any way we choose, even if we have right hearts. In the Old Testament, God gave meticulous details to Israel about how to approach him in worship. It included requirements for the types of offerings, clothing for the priests, specific dates, etc. Though we are in the New Covenant, God still gives requirements for worship according to his Word. For example, in public worship, Scripture calls us to read the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), preach the Bible (2 Tim 4:2), sing the Bible (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16), to pray according to the Bible (1 Tim 2:1-3), and to practice the sacraments, which symbolize the truths of God’s Word (Matt 28:19, 1 Cor 11:23-26). Everything in public worship must align with Scripture—with God’s truth.

For the reformers in the Great Reformation, they called this the regulative principle. In Catholic worship, which the reformers protested against, there were many elements not supported by Scripture—such as worshipping Mary, praying to saints, the belief in purgatory, and penance. These acts of worship failed the regulative principle—they did not agree with God’s Word. Likewise, the public worship of the church must teach God’s Word, align with it, and not contradict it. This applies to the singing of songs. Are they biblical? Do they teach truth? This applies to the preaching. Is the Word of God being proclaimed or the preacher’s life, politics, or sports? This applies to church traditions and customs. They must all align with the truth of God’s revealed Word.

In the same way God delivered Israel out of Egypt to worship him in the wilderness, God has called the church out of the world to worship him. We are to worship him not only in corporate gatherings, but in everything we do. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul said, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Acceptable worship to God must be in spirit—aiming to love him with all of our hearts, approaching him in faith and in purity—and worship must be in truth—according to Scripture.

The Church’s Mission Is to Equip Believers

Another one of the primary missions God has given the church is to equip believers to grow and do God’s work. Ephesians 4:11-14 describes God’s plan for this:

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.

God specifically gave gifted leaders, including pastors and teachers, to teach believers doctrine, to train them to serve, to help bring unity in the church, to protect them, and to help believers look more like Christ. Paul describes immature believers as spiritual children (4:11). As with little children who are prone to danger because of a lack of knowledge, wisdom, and experience, spiritual children are prone to the deception of false teaching (4:14), discord (1 Cor 3:1-3), idolatry (1 Cor 3:4), and even spiritual pride (1 Tim 3:6), which all lead to further sin (1 Tim 1:19) and, for some, even falling away from God (Heb 6:4-6). Therefore, one of the primary missions of the church is to spiritually equip believers to know Christ, be like him, and serve like him. This is done through the means of grace God gives the church—the preaching of God’s Word, reading it, singing it, and praying it, practicing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, fellowshipping with the saints, serving, and practicing church discipline, among other things. In Colossians 1:28-29, Paul succinctly summarizes this mission:

We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all people with all wisdom so that we may present every person mature in Christ. Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me.

Maturing and equipping believers must be the church’s goal today as well.

Church Discipline

As mentioned, church discipline is one of the ways believers are equipped for the work of ministry. The goal of church discipline is to restore a sinning brother, warn other believers who might be compromising in sin or tempted to compromise (1 Tim 5:20), and therefore maintain the purity and witness of the church before God and the world (Eph 5:27, cf. 1 Tim 3:7). In Matthew 18:15-20, Christ describes the process of church discipline:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”

In Christ’s four-step church discipline process, (1) the sinning believer should first be approached one on one (Matt 18:15). This means people should not gossip about this person or spread rumors; he should be approached privately. This is especially important because there could be some misunderstanding, and even if the person is in sin, gossiping about him may unnecessarily close his heart to rebuke. If an unrepentant person repents when approached privately, then the discipline process ends. (2) If the sinning believer does not repent, then two or three people should confront him (Matt 18:16). The hope is that because of increased pressure, the erring person may recognize the seriousness of his sin and repent. In addition, the extra person (or persons) provides witnesses if there is no repentance. (3) If the sinning believer still will not repent, his situation should be brought before the church (Matt 18:17). Practically, this implies that this person’s situation is probably brought before the elders, and then the elders will carefully investigate before bringing it before the congregation. This sin is brought publicly before the congregation, in part, so that the congregation is warned and reminded of the seriousness of sin. In 1 Timothy 5:20, Paul said this about an unrepentant elder: “Those guilty of sin must be rebuked before all, as a warning to the rest.” But, the erring person’s sin is primarily brought before the church so that they can reach out to that erring member in hopes of repentance (1 Tim 1:20, 1 Cor 5:5). (4) If the sinning believer still does not repent, the church members should exclude him from church fellowship, including not eating or fellowshipping with him (Matt 18:17, 2 Thess 3:6, 11-15). In 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, Paul said this in the context of church discipline:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.

Being excluded from the fellowship of the church is not a punishment but a continuing attempt to help this person repent by returning to God and his people (1 Tim 1:20, 1 Cor 5:5). This loving accountability aims to not only protect the individual from sin and its consequences but also the church. In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul said: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?” In using yeast as a metaphor for sin and a batch of dough for the church, Paul was saying that sin left unchecked will spread throughout the church. Therefore, church discipline is a form of accountability from church members to preserve the holiness and the witness of the church (Heb 12:15, 1 Cor 6:6, Eph 5:27, 1 Tim 3:7).

Not all sins require church discipline, since no one in the church is perfect. It would be hard to discipline somebody for pride or unforgiveness, though those sins should certainly be addressed. However, overt, unrepentant sins such as sexual immorality, idolatry, false teaching, divisiveness, verbal abuse, drunkenness, theft, and the like, as mentioned by Paul in various places (1 Cor 5:11, Titus 1:10-11, 3:8-11), must be disciplined. Wayne Grudem’s comments on the sins disciplined by churches in the New Testament are helpful:

all sins that were explicitly disciplined in the New Testament were publicly known or outwardly evident sins, and many of them had continued over a period of time. The fact that the sins were publicly known meant that reproach was being brought on the church, Christ was being dishonored, and there was a real possibility that others would be encouraged to follow the wrongful patterns of life that were being publicly tolerated.2

After giving instructions on church discipline in Matthew 18, Christ says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven” (v. 18). His words simply mean that when the church disciplines in accordance with Christ’s instructions, they have God’s authoritative approval. As John MacArthur aptly said: “Church discipline is therefore an earthly expression of heaven’s holiness.”3

Along with studying God’s Word, prayer, corporate worship, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and other means of grace, church discipline also equips the saints to do the work of ministry as it protects them from sin (and Satan), which can destroy the witness and fruitfulness of individual believers and the church as a whole.

The Church’s Mission Is to Minister to Unbelievers

There are two primary ways in which the church ministers to unbelievers and that is through evangelism and mercy ministries.4 In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ gave the great commission to his disciples when he said:

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, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Believers should pray for the lost (1 Tim 2:1-3) and share the gospel with them (1 Cor 15:1-4, 2 Tim 4:5)—the message that all people are sinners under the wrath of a righteous God, that Christ died to pay the penalty of their sins and rose again from the dead, and that people must repent of their sins and believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior to be saved (Rom 3:23, 6:23, 10:9-10). With that said, the great commission is not simply to make converts, but disciples. This includes baptizing new believers, connecting them with a Bible-preaching church, and training them there.

However, though the church’s primary hope for unbelievers is that they become disciples of Christ, believers should demonstrate God’s love and care to them, even if they reject Christ. When Christ was on the earth, he not only shared the good news with the lost but fed the hungry, healed the sick, and healed the demonically oppressed, among other things. He cared for both their spiritual and physical needs. Believers should do the same, as they seek to reflect Christ. In Luke 6:35-36, Christ said:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

We are to be merciful, like God, even to those who reject him. In James 1:27, James said, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Widows and orphans were the poorest and most commonly taken advantage of people in society, and God expects believers to love and care for them—no doubt, as a bridge for them to ultimately accept Christ, if they haven’t already.

Sometimes the church argues over whether Christians should focus on mercy ministries and social justice at all, as though it might minimize the priority of spreading the gospel; however, it is very clear from Scripture that God wants believers to both share the gospel and care for the temporal needs of a hurting world, even as Christ did. Certainly, the gospel must be the priority, as we practically show God’s love to a broken and needy world. Wayne Grudem’s comments on this are helpful:

Such ministries of mercy to the world may also include participation in civic activities or attempting to influence governmental policies to make them more consistent with biblical moral principles. In areas where there is systematic injustice manifested in the treatment of the poor and/or ethnic or religious minorities, the church should also pray and—as it has opportunity—speak against such injustice. All of these are ways in which the church can supplement its evangelistic ministry to the world and indeed adorn the gospel that it professes. But such ministries of mercy to the world should never become a substitute for genuine evangelism or for the other areas of ministry to God and to believers mentioned above.5

The mission of the church is to worship God, equip believers, and minister to unbelievers by sharing the gospel with them and serving them.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most and why?
  2. What are the three missions of the church?
  3. How does the church accomplish the mission of worshipping God?
  4. How does the church accomplish the mission of equipping believers?
  5. How does the church accomplish the mission of ministering to unbelievers?
  6. Why has there at times been controversy over the church’s ministry of evangelizing unbelievers and showing mercy to them? Why are they commonly pitted against one another?
  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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1 Hughes, R. K. (1999). John: that you may believe (p. 117). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (pp. 896–897). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

3 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (p. 795). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

4 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 868). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

5 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 868). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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