The Mission of the Church
What do you believe about the nature and mission of the church? Include a discussion of ordination, the priesthood of believers (and the relationship between them), as well as a discussion of the whole mission of the church. Make use of the assigned readings.
“To speak of the faith of the Christian is also to speak of the reality of revelation. The object of faith, as we have observed is God who is not known in the same way that we know such entities as trees and houses or even other persons. God exists in another dimension of reality than that known by our senses or grasped by our thought. If he is to be known by us it will be because he chooses to make himself known.” (Covenant Affirmations, 15)
The questions above assume a few things. First, it assumes that the church is a missional organism in its nature. And although I agree with that assessment, I sense that it needs describing in order to correctly and successfully answer the question. So I will start there.
Jesus came to earth in an incarnational attempt and focus to change the course of all humanity. Humans were on a collision course with eternal damnation and death due to the severe penalty of sin. God’s holiness was in direct conflict with man’s sinfulness. And the Father sent the Son on a mission. This mission was to remedy the problem posed by sin. And Jesus was successful in His mission.
The Cross and the Resurrection formed the needed end to the problem of sin. The perfect sacrifice formed the perfect offering to deal with sin and death. And through Christ, the wages of sin were paid and the penalty of death was dismissed. For those who are in Christ are now out of death and out of sin.
The church’s mission is simply and securely a continuation of this mission. Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost. (Luke 19:10) He is still seeking and saving lost souls. And His Church is made up of people whose souls have been saved by Christ. He selects and saves people and then puts them to use in His church. The detailed development of their lives from death to life, from brokenness to healing and from uselessness to purpose are all a part of the church’s desired mission.
Over time, I have come to articulate our part in Christ’s Mission with two simple words. These words are connection and transformation. We are on a mission to help people connect with Christ so that He can transform them into the people they were created to be. That is the mission of the church.
However, although these words articulate the end product of the mission, they don’t very well communicate the process of success in the mission. They don’t articulate the steps we need to take. The larger question for many believers is, “How do we help connect people to Christ?” This is a second tier of development in understanding the mission of the church.
In order to understand this process, we look to the Scripture. And honestly, to call it a process, seems overly organized to me considering the organic nature of spiritual life and growth. And at the same time, viewing it as a process does appeal to many people and helps to communicate truth on this topic. So I will utilize the process terminology at this point.
Considering the story of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, launch of the church and penning of Scripture, a process does seem to emerge. Jesus leads with compassion toward a world that needs Him and yet has no power to earn or gain His forgiveness and help. He then launches a church that accepts people from all walks of life, backgrounds, gender and racial background. At this point He, through the work of the Holy Spirit, inspires a New Testament through which He reveals truth.
This is the process that I prefer to follow in helping connect people to Christ. I desire to lead with compassion toward a world in great spiritual need which has grave spiritual problems. Next I seek to accept all people regardless of where they are spiritually into a conversation and spiritual family which can and should lead them toward Christ. And within the confines of that healthy spiritual family and conversation, I hope to effectively unveil and release truth into their lives and mine as well. This is the mission of the church summarized.
This can also be articulated by discussing the opposite way of looking at things. Many churches practically live out a truth first, acceptance second and compassion third process. And even though these are the same three words, I find that the order causes great problem.
When we start with what we believe, our specific doctrine and our local tendencies and call them truth, we automatically exclude many people in an increasingly diverse culture. By doing so we seem to offer acceptance only to those who from the beginning agree with our premise and doctrine on many issues. Within this type of congregation, compassion is usually reserved for those who are already accepted as part of the group. So therefore, compassion is only offered to a few who have already made their way into the family by virtue of accepting and following the basic theological premise of the congregation. This tends to lead to a very small and usually culturally ineffective church. This process fails to “make a Spirit-led connection between their world and ours.” (All God’s People, 11)
However, when those processes are reversed to work in the order Jesus used, the church offered compassion to everyone. Then anyone who desires connection is given acceptance. And a much larger group of people end up hearing and responding to Biblical truth taught and lived out among the church. This is the pragmatic mission of the church. Let me break this down by looking at the practical outpouring of ministry in each area.
What do you see when you look at people and notice their need, weakness, brokenness and struggle. Do you see only the negative? Do you see only the sinful? Do you see only the lost? That certainly seems to be all that many Christians see in our world.
But Jesus saw more. He looked at an adulterous woman and saw a child of God. He looked at a Roman Soldier working on the team that crucified Him and saw someone who did not know what he was doing. He looked at a cocky Zealot and saw a many whose humility in Christ would eventually win many followers to the church. He looked at a prostitute and saw a sister. Jesus’ eyes were filled with compassion.
This is not to say that he ignored sin, guilt or struggle. Not at all. But He saw through it. He saw beyond it. Jesus saw people as they could be. He saw them as they were created to be. And he died to guide that person back to life.
When we learn to see people as Jesus sees people, we are acting and leading with compassion. And I have found this to be very hard. Especially in a culture where Christianity tends to be tied very closely to a judgmental approach to spirituality, where we feel very welcome to judge the behaviors and life outcomes of those around us. In fact, I have found that many Christians themselves feel judged by God if they do not in some way speak out against the behaviors of others. The word ‘condone’ is used often and the fear of being guilty by association drives many.
But Jesus was a friend to sinners. He was a companion to outcasts and those whose bad choices had caused themselves great harm. Jesus led with compassion and so should His church.
When we look at people with the eyes of Christ, it will affect how we treat them, think of them and minister to them. We will seek to love them before we change them. We will seek to met them where they are more so that tell them where we are. This is a compassion based approach to church ministry.
This is also the beginning of the theology of the priesthood of all believers. Christ goes directly to us and we can connect directly to Him. There is no need to ‘receive’ Christ through anyone. He feels compassion on and comes directly to each of us.
The theology of the priesthood of all believers certainly continues with a discussion of acceptance. Everyone is wanted in His Kingdom. Everyone is desired. No one is without hope. Each of us can meet Christ in His church and among His people.
“How can we reach the lost? I think an attitude of acceptance is paramount.” (Glad Hearts, 153) As recorded in Acts 2, thousands of people were added to the church on its first day. And there were many other times where large groups were welcomed into the church quickly. This is a beautiful reality.
This also makes the American process of membership somewhat laughable at times. In fact, people were ‘in’ the church at times before they understood Christ at all. It was their involvement with the people of the church that helped them to really be ‘in’ Christ. As we put it at Four Rivers Covenant Church, many times people must ‘belong’ before they will ‘believe.’
This is definitely the Biblical approach to church involvement, membership and acceptance. I have personally seen many occasions where someone found themselves in the church long before they were in Christ. And it was the development of authentic caring relationships in the church that helped to guide them to a meaningful relationship with Jesus. It is within this context that many people become open to hearing Christian truth that will challenge them to change and grow in Christ.
The Bible is God’s true Word. And it is beautiful. Devoted Christians see the Bible as God’s revelation, God’s guidance and ultimately God’s story of love for his greatest creation, mankind.
But as a norm, our world tends to lack trust for the Bible. And using it as a source of truth doesn’t quite impact many people the way it once did because of that fact. And so in our world, compassion and acceptance lead to a willingness to hear the truth and trust the person or persons who are interested in sharing it.
It is in moments like these that the Bible becomes truth to people. They begin to rely on it, live by it, and change because of it. It is in moments like this when truth sets us free.
This also brings into discussion the need for ordination, leadership and accountability. Although everyone is wanted and all people can connect directly to Christ, it is also true that no man is an island in the Kingdom of God. We are all connected. We are all in Christ together.
And with that in mind, truth is not relative to each individual follower. Although there is great diversity in the Kingdom and great freedom for personal interpretation on secondary and tertiary issues, the church needs its foundational beliefs, theology and doctrine to be held intact, communicated clearly and accounted for regularly. This is the job of leaders and the ordained in the local church.
God has always set aside a few for the good of the many. And keeping the church in truth is a huge part of that responsibility. And it is certainly a big responsibility.
We are not always interested in truth. In fact, we often like to run from it, deny it or redefine it. But it is truth that sets us free. And if a church hopes to follow the mission of Christ, it must hold truth high, regardless of the difficulty of the job.
Men and women have been called and sent to carry the torch of truth in the church. This is the beginning and the ending of the mission of Christ. It is our motivation. It is our continuation. It is our final stand. We stand on the compassion, acceptance and truth of Christ.