The church was created for a mission. However, it seems that there is much disagreement among Christians as to what that mission is.
Some place the emphasis on the church’s responsibility to change the world now, while others place the emphasis on the church’s responsibility to prepare themselves and others for a future in eternity. Among those who emphasize the importance of solving social problems there is too often a de-emphasis on doctrines of sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and eternal life in heaven. Likewise, those who focus solely on meeting spiritual needs sometimes get the idea that the only hope for social justice and the end of poverty and war is to die and go away to heaven, where justice will be restored at last and peace and love will finally abound forever. Neither side accurately reflects the teachings of Scripture.
The mission of the church cannot be separated from the resurrection of Christ.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… But if there is not resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain…. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. – 1 Cor. 15.3-4, 13-14, 19
Did you hear that? Paul said that Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection is “of first importance”; not political or social reform. Yes, Jesus showed deep compassion for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed and the outcasts in society. And as important as these things are, “first importance” is the forgiveness of sins at the cross.
Paul goes on to state that if Christ had not been raised then our faith would be in vain. Any “mission” that would not require the resurrection of Christ is NOT the mission of the church. Developing social programs to alleviate poverty, increase education, and end drug abuse could be implemented by any organization of men, with or without the resurrection of Christ. Any group of men could call for positive political change, with or without the resurrection of Christ. If the mission of the church was simply to alleviate social ills, why did Jesus have to die on the cross?
The mission of the church is not just “going away to heaven.”
At the conclusion of Paul’s famous discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul did not conclude by saying “Therefore, make sure your sins are forgiven so you can lift up your eyes to heaven and wait for that glorious day when you finally get to come into My Kingdom, and receive a brand new body, never again to suffer pain or poverty, but rather to finally enjoy perfect justice and peace and love.”
Notice carefully Paul’s conclusion:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Cor. 15.58
Your toil is not in vain. What work you do in the kingdom of the Lord is not wasted. When you fully submit your life to Christ, doing works of justice and peace and love, and help others to do the same, you can know that your labor will be worth it! The resurrection not only gives us hope of a better future, it also means that whatever work for God we do today is not wasted!
The Mission of the Messiah
To better understand the mission of the church, it is helpful to first understand the mission of Jesus Christ. If you were to ask the average person why Jesus came to earth, you would probably get an answer like “To seek and save the lost” (Luke 19.10), or perhaps “To die on the cross so that we might have the hope of heaven”. While both of these are absolutely true, to state either of these answers alone would be incomplete. To fully understand the mission of the Jesus, we have to first understand His role as the promised Jewish Messiah.
For hundreds of years before Christ came to earth, the prophets had foretold the coming “Kingdom of God.” As Isaiah foretold, this coming Kingdom would be a “light of the nations” so that His salvation “may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49.6). In this coming Kingdom, once more it would be said that “God reigns” (Isa. 52.7). The coming Messiah would be one who would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and chastised for our well-being. “And by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53.3-5) from the consequences of our sins.
Someday God would reign again, through His coming Messiah. In this Kingdom, the effects of sin would be reversed, and man would once again submit themselves to God and His Anointed King!
Shortly before Jesus began His ministry, John the Baptist preached the gospel of God, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3.2). In other words, the time was finally here! Someone was finally coming to who “brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52.7).
By viewing the role of Jesus from the perspective of God’s Kingdom as promised in the Old Testament, we can sum up the mission of the Messiah in three ways:
- The Messiah came to proclaim the good news of His kingdom. When Jesus began to preach, Matthew summed up his message by saying, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4.17). Notice that Jesus didn’t simply go forth preaching about himself, but rather he went forth preaching about the coming of the prophesied kingdom of God! The kingdom he preached wasn’t one that was somewhere up in the sky. Nor was it some kingdom that we would only experience after death. Rather it was God’s reign! His Kingdom was coming now! He prayed and proclaimed that God’s will was to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
- The Messiah came to enact the good news. Jesus practiced what he preached. Not only did Jesus proclaim the release of captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, He literally backed up those proclamations with action! He released those who were captive to sin! He made the blind to see! He gave freedom to those who were oppressed! Not only did Jesus teach that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies, but He “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; while he was suffering, He uttered no threats.” (1 Pet. 2.23). Not only did Jesus proclaim that God’s kingdom was at hand, but He lived in submission to the Father’s authority in all that He said and did. (John 14.31).
- The Messiah brought the gospel through His suffering and resurrection. It was not enough to simply come and proclaim that “God reigns”. As long as man still bore his sins, he would continue to be separated from God. For this reason, Jesus “Did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10.45). He was sent to fulfill the mission that was prophesied by Isaiah, as one who would be “crushed for our iniquities” upon whom the LORD would cause “the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Sin and death destroyed our relationship with God. Of all the things that Jesus did while He was on earth, this was the work that Paul described as being of “first importance.”
The Mission of the Church
Jesus fully and perfectly accomplished His mission. And yet there is still work to do. Shortly before His death Jesus said to his disciples “As the Father sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21). There was still work to be done.
In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul spoke of Christ having “reconciled the world to Himself”, and yet, Paul recognized that He himself had been entrusted with the “word of reconciliation” as an “ambassador for Christ.” There was still work to be done.
Luke began His second letter to Theophilus by speaking of the works that “Jesus began to do and teach”. The rest of the book of Acts is about the work of Jesus that the apostles and the early church continued to do and to teach. There was still work to be done.
The mission of the church is to continue the mission of Jesus and to call others to follow Him in His mission as well. Consider carefully the words of the great commission:
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. – Matt. 28.18-20
- Our mission is to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom. Notice that our mission is not to proclaim simply that Jesus reigns in heaven, and one day we can go away and enjoy His Kingdom there. Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth. Jesus is Lord already. Right now, Jesus reigns, over the earth. (Rom 6.23; 10.0; 2 Cor. 4.5; Phil. 2.9). It is our mission to proclaim the gospel of His kingdom, thus bringing new disciples into His kingdom.
- Our mission is to enact the good news through total submission. The message of the gospel has, from the very beginning, been a message about God’s reign, His Kingdom, and our submission to His Kingdom. It is a message of His authority, our discipleship, and our obedience to what He has commanded. Since King Jesus reigns today, we must live like He is in charge! Whether it be visiting the widows and orphans, or loving our enemies, or feeding the hungry, we must strive to submit ourselves to His authority. Failure to stand up for justice, peace, and love is not just overlooking a small detail (Matt. 23.23); it is denying our discipleship; it is denying that we believe Christ reigns; it is refusal to live as His Kingdom.
- Our Mission is to suffer and be raised with Christ.
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth”; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” – 1 Pet. 2.21-24.
As long as we are here on earth, we are called to suffer along with Christ. Jesus Himself said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16.24). We were called for this purpose. And since we know that Jesus reigns as Lord, our suffering in the Lord is not in vain.
Your Toil Is Not In Vain
“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee will bow,” of those who are in heave and on earth and under the earth.” – Phil. 2:9-10
Have you ever imagined what it would look like if God literally was in charge of the earth right now? What if the entire earth was His Kingdom, filled with His disciples, who submitted their lives to Him? What would that look like?
As of yet, not every knee has bowed. But Christ is already King. The mission of the church is not to establish some sort of “utopian” kingdom of God on earth. But as the church, we are commanded to be a colony of heaven on earth (Philippians 3.20-21). We know that Christ already reigns over the earth. It is our job to live like it. We are God’s kingdom on earth, proclaiming to and showing the world that God already reigns. The Christian mission is to declare to all nations that Jesus is Lord, He has been exalted, and He currently has the name which is above every name, in anticipation for the day when every knee shall bow.
Christians don’t have to patiently wait around for the day when God will reign and make everything right. Neither is it is not our job revolutionize earth through social and political reforms. Although we are not called to build a heaven on earth, we must not forget that we do have a mission to do the work of heaven while on earth.