By Ron Halbrook
Paul commended the church at Thessalonica because it had “sounded out the word of the Lord” both locally and in other regions (1 Thess. 1:8). The church at Thessalonica had grown out of the efforts of other men who loved the Lord and loved the lost. Paul had received repeated encouragement from the church at Antioch of Syria as he pressed forward in evangelistic labors (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-28; 15:3, 30-35). During his second major journey, a messenger pled with Paul in a vision, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (16:9). As a result, the Good News of Christ was proclaimed at Thessalonica and a church was planted in spite of stormy opposition (17:1-9). These new converts had received the gospel “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God,” and that word continued to work in them. That word worked in them so mightily that they sounded out the word of the Lord even in the face of scorn, hatred, and persecution from enemies of the gospel (1 Thess. 2:13-16). “To sound forth” means “to trumpet, thunder, announce, proclaim, or ring out.” Freely did these saints receive the gospel, freely did they give it!
We need to hear the Macedonian call today – the call of the lost – and need to follow the Thessalonian example today -the example of sounding forth the gospel of Christ. As the song by Charles H. Gabriel says,
There’s a call comes ringing o’er the restless wave,
“Send the light! Send the light”
There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save,
“Send the light! Send the light!”
The song by James Rowe, Ring Out the Message, shows the gospel message is such good news that its proclamation must be accompanied by a spirit of celebration. The message of salvation and its joyous spirit must be passed on from one person to another in an unending chain.
There’s a message true and glad
For the sinful and the sad, Ring it out, ring it out;
It will give them courage new,
It will help them to be true; Ring it out, ring it out.
Tell the world of saving grace,
Make it known in ev’ry place, Ring it out, ring it out;
Help the needy ones to know
Him from whom all blessings flow; Ring it out, ring it out.
Let us examine this glorious mission of the church by a brief study of the following: (1) So Great Salvation, (2) The Local Church Sounds Out the Word, and (3) Perpetuate or Pervert the Mission?
So Great Salvation!
Christians are “to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard,” knowing that our destruction will be awful “if we neglect so great salvation” (Heb. 2:1-4). Among the things which we must not neglect is the happy duty of sharing the gospel with friends, neighbors, relatives, and even teeming thousands of souls in distant lands. All have sinned and are doomed unto spiritual and eternal death. But there is hope of repentance wherever men hear about “the goodness of God” – the gift of “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 3:23; 2:4; 6:23).
This great salvation was embodied in God’s promise to Abram: “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Out of a prepared people in a prepared land, God would bring forth one who could save men of all nations from their sins. According to the message of the angel who spoke to Joseph, this One was to be named Jesus at birth “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The deliverance and salvation which God prophesied was “the remission of their sins” (Lk. 1:77). Simeon announced by the Holy Spirit shortly after the child’s birth that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior which God had “prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (2:25-32).
When Peter confessed Jesus saying, “Thou are the Christ, the son of the living God,” Jesus said that upon that confession as a foundation of rock, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:13-19). Not even the gates of death could keep Him from accomplishing so great salvation. This promise to save all men in Himself is confirmed and explained further by the commission that He gave to His apostles after He arose from the dead:
Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Those who obeyed the gospel, Jews and Gentiles alike, were saved in Christ. All were added to the same thing, to the one body, to the church, which He had purchased with His own blood (Acts 2:47; 10:47-48; 20:28).
The Ephesian letter shows that the eternal purpose of God for salvation in Christ and in His church is one purpose. Salvation in Christ and in His church is not a human speculation or expedient but is a Divine creation. The Divine Author is glorified “in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages” (3:21). Every divine feature manifests “the manifold wisdom of God” (vs. 9). “As the heavenly firmament declares the glory of God and His creative handiwork (Psa. 19), so the spiritual institution manifests, by exhibition, its divine origin – that it is the manifold wisdom of God, comprehensive of the various features of the divine plan, making perceptible to men (verse 9) the unfolding of an eternal purpose” (Foy E. Wallace, Jr. comment on Eph. 3:9-10 in “The Identity and Perpetuity of the Church,” Torch, April-May 1951, pp. 3-4). It is the church’s mission as “the pillar and ground of the truth” to proclaim the revelation of so great salvation: “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:15-16). The gospel of Christ is the one message that can save lost sinners and it is the preeminent mission of the church to proclaim that message.
When souls are saved, they are not to be left to neglect so great salvation by returning into sin. God provided that saints should come together in the local church to worship, study, and grow. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). They were instructed to teach and admonish “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). In assemblies “upon the first day of the week,” the disciples shared the Lord’s Supper and gave into a common fund for the work of the church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-20). All assemblies of the saints had the purpose of “edifying” – “provoking one another unto love and good works” (1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:23-25).
Those who shared so great salvation shared also material necessities with those among them who were destitute, by means of the common fund or treasury (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32 – 5:11; 6:1-7). But the church is not a mere benevolent aid society and the apostles told the Jerusalem church where the primary emphasis must be placed: “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” (Acts 6:2). Individual saints had broader benevolent tasks than did the church (1 Tim. 5:16). But for the church, sounding out the good news-of forgiveness in Christ was always the imperative and preeminent task.
The Local Church Sounds Out the Word
“The apostolic age was emphatically the missionary age of the church. Then every new convert to Christ was a new element of strength to the missionary cause” (Robert Milligan, The Great Commission, p. 45). The godly lives of early Christians shone as lights, pointing the way to Christ (Acts 2:47; Phil. 2:15-16). Even when scattered from their homes by severe persecution, the “men and women” who made up the church at Jerusalem “went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). Christ must be seen in the lives of Christians every day in every thing they do. When each Christian seeks and seizes each opportunity to tell each lost soul about Christ, the gospel spreads through the most powerful and effective medium there is. God’s plan is simple and direct.
As the pillar and ground of the truth, the local church must do everything in its power to propagate and defend the gospel. The church at Jerusalem was directly interested in the spread of the gospel, as was the church at Antioch. God “ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). How does the church have fellowship in that ordinance? As for the church’s work in edification and benevolence, so for the church’s work of evangelism God ordained an all-sufficient organization. That organization is the church itself, scripturally organized, without appendage or addition by the devices of human wisdom. In all the work of the church, elders are to oversee, guide, and guard the flock (Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Special servants are provided as deacons (Acts 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1). All the saints in a local church are to participate, contribute, and cooperate in harmony (Phil. 1:1). This simple organization is sufficient for the church to sound forth the gospel – providing and distributing tracts, holding gospel meetings for a specified period of time, arranging home Bible studies, financing radio or television programs, offering Bible correspondence courses, and supporting gospel preachers to labor locally or in fields far away.
The church is not Scripturally fulfilling its mission when it forms or supports human organizations, boards, societies, and denominations. Nor is one local church to plan, oversee, and coordinate the work of other local churches. The church at Philippi with its divine organization of bishops, deacons, and all the other saints repeatedly supported Paul in preaching the gospel (Phil. 1:1-5; 2:25-30; 4:14-20). On another occasion, Paul said that several churches gave him the support necessary to preach at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:8-9). He commended the Thessalonian church as exemplary for sounding out the word both locally and in regions beyond (1 Thess. 1:7-8). C.R. Nichol well said,
It is my persuasion that the church should be the church, and that the local congregation is the largest organization ordained by the Lord for the accomplishment of all the work he has commanded at the hands of congregations. I am not in sympathy with the statement I often hear: “We need a twentieth century church; that the church the Lord established was quite adequate for the first century, but we have come a long way since then, and the way work was done then in antiquated, outmoded, and there is now need for larger organizations, and different methods than those of the first churches in the first century, when churches labored under the direction of the elders in local congregations” (“Let the Church Be the Church,” Torch, April-May 1951, p. 12).
Whatever mission God gave to the local church, He also gave it the necessary and all-sufficient organization to accomplish that mission.
Perpetuate or Pervert the Mission?
If we are to perpetuate rather than pervert the church’s mission, we must perpetuate Bible teaching on the concept of the church as supernatural not natural in origin and design. The church was purposed by the Father, promised and paid for by the Son, and revealed by the Spirit. Its pattern is divine not human, whether for its mission, organization, doctrine, discipline, worship, name, or treasury. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. commented on Ephesians 3:9-10, saying that the church is “not a natural institution” but exhibits the Divine Architect in the salvation of souls. “The comprehensiveness of the church is here made to be co-extensive with the whole scheme of redemption (Eph. 1:10-11, 20-23).” Thus Ephesians presents the dignity and grandeur of the church “as the building and habitation of God” by a foreordained plan from eternity. The church belongs “to the highest sphere of divine knowledge and wisdom, beyond the prudence of men to devise or the power of the human mind to plan” (“The Identity and Perpetuity of the Church”). The church conceived as a natural device of man becomes pliable to human pride and passion. Some current members of churches of Christ have no higher conception of the church than to think that it should adopt as part of its work the job of convincing people that homosexuality “is a gift of God.” “I should think that the goal would be that homosexual Christians should be able to function in all capacities just as everyone else, and that there would be no attention paid to that particular aspect of one’s life” (“Coming Out in Houston: The A Cappella Chorus,” Mission Magazine, October 1979, pp. 61, 63).
If we are to perpetuate rather than pervert the church’s mission, we must perpetuate Bible teaching on the concept of the church as spiritual not secular in nature and work. The kingdom of Christ is not political in nature and not designed to mobilize political pr military force (Jn. 18:36). Political ambiguity, diplomacy, and craftiness are not its methods and carnal weapons are not in its arsenal. But the preaching of a crucified Savior is God’s power to save man from sin,-from-vain imaginations, and from “every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” The spiritual force of the gospel is all-sufficient to bring “every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). The Pope of Rome with his political trappings, national and international councils of Protestant churches with their political pronouncements, and brethren who want to activate the church in political campaigns are all equally unbiblical. All pervert the spiritual mission of the church.
Secular education, recreation, business enterprises, and social renovation have their place in the world in which we live but have no place in the work of the church.
The mission of the church is not social. Christianity is not a “social religion.” The Gospel of Christ is not a “social gospel.” The church of the Lord is not a “social institution.”
Preachers who make a specialty of love, courtship, marriage, parent education, and counseling those who are having difficulty in domestic relations and in social problems should do such work in some other way than through the church and should not deceive themselves into thinking that such work is the work of a gospel preacher (Roy E. Cogdill, Walking By Faith, pp. 8-9).
Yes, when a person becomes a Christian, it will change all his attitudes and relationships for the better in this world, but the mission of Christ and His church is not to build a better world but is to save us from our sins so that we may spend eternity with God. It is a shame and disgrace that churches build gyms with ladies slimnastics, ceramics classes, macrame classes, bowling leagues, volleyball leagues, cardiac pulmonary resuscitation courses, basketball officiating classes, jogging classes, and picnics (see Madison, Tennessee, Church of Christ Marcher August 22, 29, and September 5, 1979). Schools tied to churches, as in Dayton, Ohio, pervert the mission of the church.
Let us ring out the Good News of Jesus Christ! That, very simply, is the church’s mission.
- Why did Paul commend the church at Thessalonica?
- What is the “Macedonian call”? How can we follow the Thessalonian example today?
- Why is it important to share the gospel with friends, neighbors and relatives?
- Who announced that Jesus was the long-awaited Savior? How could he know this?
- What commission did Jesus give to His apostles after He arose from the dead? How is it distinguished from the commission In Matt. 10?
- What is the one message that can save lost sinners?
- How has God provided for a Christian to worship, study and grow?
- How can each Christian help spread the gospel?
- What is the Church’s mission?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 22-24
January 3, 1980