By Cecil Willis
God, being a rational Being, has a design or purpose in all that He does. It is a fact admitted by almost all, that the church is the product of God’s eternal purpose. Since God is the author of the church, we can therefore expect God to have certain purposes to be accomplished by the church. We want to study the New Testament to learn for what purposes the church is here. The church is not a “do-nothing” organization, although the inactivity of some members of the church might indicate that they think it is. It is to be an organization of action.
What is God’s purpose for the church? Is it revealed or not? If God has not told us what his purpose for the church is, man has no duty toward that purpose. If God had not specified what the work of the church is, then any work in which it engages will be permissible. But all admit there are some things the church cannot do. It cannot do wrong, and still have God’s sanction. So we must look into the charter of the divine organization. The New Testament will tell us what this New Testament organization is to do, and what it is not to do. The church does have a mission, and this mission is revealed!
Preach the Gospel
First and foremost, the church is an evangelistic organization. Its work is to preach the gospel. Numerous New Testament passages indicate that the church is to preach the gospel. This is plainly taught in 1 Tim. 3:15. God’s eternal wisdom is to be made known through the church. God’s plan to save man through the sacrifice of Christ, which was purposed before the worlds were founded, is to be declared to all men by the church. Preaching is the mission of the church (1) The church is God’s preaching agency. The church is God’s missionary society.
(2) The church is God’s sowing agency. In Matt. 13, we find the kingdom of heaven likened unto a man who sowed good seed. It is to the church that God has given the duty of spreading the seed throughout the world. And, in Luke 8:11, Jesus tells us that this seed is the word of God. It is the church’s duty to see that the word of God is sown into the hearts of men throughout the world
(3) The church is God’s sending agency. In Acts 11:22-23, we read, “And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch: who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” The church sent forth these preachers. In Acts 13:2-3, we have the record of a similar instance. It reads, “And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” The church sent away those gospel preachers, as instructed by the Holy Spirit.
(4) The church is God’s supporting agency. It is the work of the church to support the preaching of the gospel. In 1 Tim. 3:14-15, Paul says: “these things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” This expression means that the church – is that which stands under the truth It is that which supports, which holds up before the world, the saving truth of God’s word. We end numerous instances recorded in the New Testament in which churches served in this capacity. They were the pillar of the truth, in that they preached the gospel themselves, and they also supported the truth by financially supporting gospel preachers. Paul commends the Philippian church for their support of him in the gospel. He says, “And ye yourselves know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need” (Phil. 4:15, 16). So the church is God’s agency to support the gospel.
We see this same truth taught in the Revelation letter when the church is described as (5) God’s candlestick. In speaking of the seven golden candlesticks, John says “the seven candlesticks are seven churches” (Rev. 1:20). The candlesticks were lampstands, . or that which held forth the light. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Jesus said, “When I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). It is the work of the members of the church to see that the light of Christ shines upon all men. Jesus told his disciples to “let your light so shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
The importance of this part of the work of the church is seen when we remember that Paul says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Jesus commands that we go forth and teach all nations, preaching the gospel to every creature. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). When members of the Lord’s church come to a full realization of the fact that people are lost and dying, yea, even on their way to hell, because they know not the gospel of the Lord Jesus, they will become increasingly more zealous in their effort to fill the world with the soul-saving message.
Edify the Church
It also is a part of the work of the church to build itself up. We are listing this as a second thing that the church is to do, but actually it is but a second part of the first part of its mission. Edifying the church is but another part of the preaching of the gospel. Some people want to make a drastic distinction between preaching the gospel to the alien sinners, and, in teaching the members of the church. But the work of the church, insofar as teaching is concerned, is to teach the gospel, both to those within the church and to those outside it. The church needs to have the gospel preached to it, the same as those without the church. Of course, the church needs different parts of the gospel preached than those outside the church. Those who are not members of the church need to be taught what to do to be saved, so that the Lord will add them to the church. Those who are members of the church need to be taught. how to live the Christian life, so they can remain in favor with the Lord. Paul was ready to peach the gospel to the saints in Rome. He said “I am debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians, both to, the wise and the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome” (Rom. 1:14, 15). Again he says to the Corinthians, “Now I make known .unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you” (1 Cor. 15:1). So the gospel was preached to the church.
One has not attained the full measure of his growth when he becomes a member of the church. Peter says, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). In order for one to obey this command, instruction must be given to him. Listen to Paul’s comments concerning Christ’s provisions for our growth in Christ Jesus. “And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:11-16). So it is apparent, I trust, that the church must grow. And in order for it to grow, teaching must be done. So another part of the divine mission of the church is that it must teach. itself, so it may grow.
Care for the Needy
We also read that in the New Testament, the church had as a part of its work, the care of certain needy people. There were times when certain members of the church had not enough to live upon in one part of the world, and other brethren would send to their need. When a famine came upon the church in Judea, the brethren in Antioch, sent to relieve them. In Acts 11:2930 we read, “And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea, which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” Another such instance could be cited, showing that brethren sent to help other brethren in need, “that there might be equality.”
We have Bible authority for the church doing three things. It is to (1) preach the gospel to the lost, (2) edify itself, (3) and help the poor saints. This is the extent of the mission of the church as revealed to us in the Scriptures. The church being a divine organization, it has a divine mission. We have just noted the extent of its duty, insofar as divine authority reveals. We cannot go beyond these limitations.
Things Which Are Not the Mission of the Church
It has ever been a fault of man to try to improve upon the arrangements of God. The mission of the church has not escaped this effort of man. Man has tried to put the church under obligation to do a lot of things that the Lord never purposed that it do. (1) Some people try to put the church in the entertainment business. Parents often try to shift from themselves the responsibility of providing proper recreation for their children and give that duty to the church. But it just so happens that the Lord did not put the church here to be an entertainment bureau. Nor is it the duty of the church to provide the facilities for entertainment. (2) Others try to make it the business of the church to provide secular education., An individual or group of individuals decide to start an educational institution. Almost inevitably, they try to tie the organization to the church. They want the church to contribute to it, but it is not the mission of thechurch to provide secular education. (3) Some try to make a political organization out of the church. Many others try to make the church a political tool to accomplish what they want done. (4) Nor is the mission of the church, as given by God, that of operating some profit making business. Some people seem to try to make the church a business enterprise.
The mission of the church is not secular, political, or social, but spiritual. It is a mission given by God, consisting of the responsibility to preach the gospel to those within and those without the church, and to help the poor saints. None of its resources can be used for any other goal. This is its divine mission. The church is a divine organization, and consequently, its mission is likewise divine. Man must not attempt to make it otherwise.
Truth Magazine XIX: 10, pp. 147-149
January 16, 1975