Friday, February 1, 2008

What is the church here for?

Church leaders and scholars don't agree on what we are here to do as the church. Some think our mission is to extoll God in worship. Others think we are mainly here to build the kingdom of God through reaching non Christians and building them up spiritually.

The New Testament states the church's mission in several different ways. By looking at various formulations, we can gain a sense of the purpose of the church in God's program.

* Jn. 20:21 "Jesus therefore said to them again, 'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.'"
Jesus calls attention to the nature of his own mission as a way of understanding the mission of the church. To be specific, we could look at Jesus' description of his intent in various places where he declared his own purpose:
* Lk. 19:10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
* Jn. 3:17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him."
* Mk. 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

So, viewed this way, we are left here to continue Jesus' work, which is the rescue of humanity.

* Mt. 28:18-20 "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"

This passage contains Christ's so-called "great commission" to the church. We notice that reaching the lost millions in the human race again figures prominently. The church is to go, not to wait for others to come. International missionary outreach is explicitly mentioned.

Notice that baptism is included, as well as "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." In other words, part of the church's task is to teach and disciple those we have reached with the gospel so they have a healthy walk with God. This process is a natural part of a healthy evangelistic strategy, since those who have been discipled are in the best position to join in the task of reaching others.

* 2 Cor. 5:15-20 "And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose again on their behalf... Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

In this passage, Paul once again draws the parallel between the mission of Christ and that of the church. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself..." and "he has committed to us the word of reconciliation." The church is to take up the work of reaching those alienated from God (which is the cornerstone of reconciliation). However, our work doesn't stop there. We are to press the work of reconciliation forward in the area of bringing members close to God through enhancing their walk with him, teaching them how to worship him and how to gain victory over their own personal problems. Seen this way, reconciliation is both an event and a process.

* Col. 2:19 "[Beware of those who come up with their own religion instead of] holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God."

Here Jesus is the head of the body of Christ. Our mission is to hold fast to him, receiving our directions and nourishment from him, often through the agency of other members (the "joints and ligaments"). Likewise, we, as joints and ligaments in our own right, are responsible to take of Christ and give it to others. This is describing how Christians depend on each other for ministry within the church. However, he also points out that the whole body "grows with a growth which is from God." In other words, as a living spiritual organism, the church is to grow like other living things. Here the ever-present importance of reaching out to those who do not know Christ is again evident.

* Eph. 4:11 "And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love."

In this passage, we again see Paul's vision of the properly functioning body of Christ. Under the headship of Christ, not only are there leaders who equip other members (the saints) but the saints themselves do the "work of service." This work of service is the responsibility and opportunity of "every joint" and of "each individual part." In other words, the vision here is of a community where everyone has a role in being built up spiritually and building up others. The result is growth. Qualitative growth, or spiritual maturity among the members (we are no longer to be children tossed here and there) as well as overall growth through reaching the lost (the growth of the body).

* 1 Pet. 2:9-10 "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

In Peter's version of the commission of the church, the identity of the Christian community is stressed along with its mission. Its identity is that of the people of God. Its mission is to serve as a race of priest-kings who proclaim the excellencies of God. Some versions read "declare the praises of God" (NIV) which is not an accurate translation of the word arete ("virtues" or "excellencies").

Question: What problematic implications arise from the NIV's translation here?


AdamK said...

Well, there's a big difference between declaring and proclaiming. I can declare something once and in the relative privacy of my own circle of friends. Proclaiming something means an ongoing process that means telling others publicly. In other words, my doctor can declare to me that I have some kind of disease and that's expected. However, if he begins proclaiming it to the world, then there is a major issue. It works the same with Christ. I can declare his gospel to a few people within the church with no risk and no accomplishment for His kingdom. However, if I proclaim His gospel to the world around me through my words and actions, then I risk persecution (at least socially in America) and I will see people become interested in Him.

Dennis said...

I think it's also whether we are proclaiming the "praises" of God, or the "virtues" of God. One implies we are proclaiming it to God, the other (correct one)that we are proclaiming it to the world.