The Church and Mission
Mission is at the heart of the gospel. ‘Mission’ literally means sending, and at the heart of the gospel is the truth that “the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.” Mission began there and the missionary responsibility of the Church has no meaning apart from that divine initiative and that unique sending. The Church finds its call to missionary effort and its authority for obeying that call in the divine example, for Christ said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
The Church’s task today is the climax of a series of sendings in the Bible. God sent Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees that he might be a blessing to the world. The Old Testament tells the story of the commissioning of Israel as God’s witness to the nations. Though for the most part they failed or misunderstood their task, there was always the promise given of a faithful remnant and of people from every nation coming to God in willing obedience and eager worship. While our Lord was upon earth it is recorded that He sent out the twelve and later the seventy with certain clearly defined responsibilities.
It is, however, the commission given by the risen Christ which primarily supplies the standing orders for the Church today. Each of the writers of the Gospels repeats our Lord’s command to His Church, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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.” “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”. “You will be my witnesses…….. to the ends of the earth.” These together with Luke 24:47 and John 20:21 show that the importance of missionary endeavour in the plan of the Church’s King and Head cannot be doubted. Our supreme objective in life is the glorifying of His Name. The carrying out of Christ’s Commission is one of the ways in which He is particularly honoured.
While the kind of world in which we are called to witness is very different from that of the early Church, nevertheless the needs of mankind, the principles directing our work and the goals in view are unchanged. We rejoice in all of the developments in so many areas of life especially in this century. This has contributed to a greater quality of life being enjoyed by many, yet the spiritual plight of man, if anything, is even greater than before. His basic sinfulness remains; he belongs to the fallen race of Adam, subject to death and the wrath of God, but his technological achievements have tended to produce a pride and a corresponding lack of awareness of God. However, we still affirm that man remains accountable to God and that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”
The kind of ministry which the Church should exercise can be discovered as we examine the methods and approach of the apostles and early Church. The means which God has chiefly used to the salvation of many has been the preaching of those whom He has specifically called to that work. Paul sought to preach in every city he visited, either in some public place, or where those who professed to be the people of God met. He sought to proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ, and called all who heard to repentance and faith, that they might receive forgiveness of sins. While the Church is to proclaim the whole counsel of God, the message of salvation by faith alone through Christ is especially to be emphasized.
It is clear, however, that all who are followers of Christ, whether ordained or not, are to be involved in the missionary task. “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” From the example of the early church in Acts 8:4 and 11:19-20 together with Eph.4:11-12, “he gave. . . some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” it is clear that all who profess the name of Christ must accept responsibility for making Him known. Each in his own natural surroundings by word and life should be seeking to extol Christ, as well as co-operating fully in the evangelistic ministry of the congregation.
The mission field is the world. We are to be concerned for our immediate and our more distant neighbours, seeking to have a breadth of interest in the world equal to our Lord’s. We are subject to Him and His Word. That means that there is freedom to relate unchanging truth to a changing scene. In every situation and country there is no stereotyped style for the Church’s life and obedience. Every culture and tradition is to be examined in the light of Scripture, therefore the Church’s missionary programme should reflect both flexibility and faithfulness.
The Great Commission, however, is concerned with more than merely winning converts. Those converts are to be taught “to obey everything which Christ has commanded”, and also to be baptised. As baptism is the outward initiatory rite of admission into the membership of the Church, and as the teaching is intended to present the Lordship of Christ over every area of life, it is obvious that this Commission can only be fulfilled by the Church. She alone has been designated as “the pillar and ground of the truth”. All true missionary endeavour will result in the strengthening of the Church. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”. Here our Lord demonstrates that the goal of mission is the growth of His Church. As this happens He is glorified.
In all our missionary activity we are conscious of Christ’s victory and Lordship and of the outcome of His mediatorial reign. We are glad that, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”