A STUDY ON THE CONCEPT OF A MISSIONAL CHURCH


© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

A brief and largely dot-point analysis of the biblical data and teaching on the church.

 

Introduction: Definition and questions


 

The reference to ‘church’:


In this paper the word ‘church’ is used to refer to people who have responded to the command of Christ to repent and believe in him, with real biblical faith which includes real biblical repentance: that is, it is used to refer to genuine believers, irrespective of denominational tag. It does not refer to any specific assembly of people designated a ‘church’ which may at any given point of time include genuine believers, superficial believers, disguised non-believers and, more rarely, blatant non-believers.

 

Etymology:

The word ‘ekklesia’ [church] means ‘called out’ ek – out, kaleo – I call. It is commonly used to refer to people assembled or gathered together, but in the New Testament predominantly refers to a group or groups of believers.

 

The term ‘missional’:


• Missional = mission + al
• mission derives from the Latin root mittere, missum  to send
• al is a suffix that means ‘of’ or ‘pertaining to’

The simple meaning of missional in reference to the church is that the church is sent. To be ‘missional’ is to be sent; to engage in missional activities is to be engaged in activities that relate to the fact that the church is sent.

 

This raises a few questions:


• Does the Bible teach that the church is sent?
• If it does, then who sent the church?
• And, to whom is the church sent?
• And, for what purpose is the church sent?

 

In looking at these questions we confront two important issues:


• Does the church exist apart from its missional function?
• Is the missional function of the church the evangelization and conversion of the world, or is the missional function of the church to glorify God in the world?

   

A. Does the New Testament confirm that the church has a missional responsibility?

 


 

There is ample New Testament evidence to support the concept of the church as ‘missional’.

 

 

A.1 The concept of a missional church is anticipated in the disciples of Jesus Christ

• When Jesus called his disciples to follow him it was with the understanding that he would make them ‘fishers of men’ [Matthew 4:19]

• When Jesus appointed the twelve he designated them ‘apostles’ – [from the Greek apostello -  I send] [Mark 3:14]

• Jesus sent his disciples [the twelve, and also the seventy] out on mission. This mission involved both the spiritual [preaching] and the practical [healing the sick etc, although the New Testament teaches that the miracles actually had a spiritual purpose and significance] [Matthew 10:5ff; Mark 6:7ff; Luke 9:2ff; 10:1ff]

• Jesus sent his disciples out into the world just as the Father sent him into the world [John 17:18; 20:21; see also John 4:38]

 

 

 

A.2 The concept of a missional church in the teaching of Jesus Christ

• Jesus taught that we are to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest [Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2]

• Jesus taught that his gospel would be preached in the whole world before the end came [Matthew 24:14]

• A number of the parables either indicate or assume the missional activity of the church [for example: the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed, the yeast – Matthew 13; the wedding banquet – Matthew 22; Luke 14:15-24].

• Jesus taught that those who believe in him are, and are to be, salt and light in the world with the purpose that God will be glorified [Matthew 5:13-16; Luke 8:16-18]

• Jesus taught an all embracing love that would identify believers as children of their Father in heaven [Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37]

 

 

 

 

A.3 The concept of the missional church in the Acts of the Apostles

• Throughout Acts we find the apostles and their associates engaged in ‘mission’, very predominantly in preaching the Gospel and only very minimally in caring for the physical needs of unbelievers; any healings that occurred appear to be incidental and spontaneous, arising from the existing circumstances rather than being planned or programmed.

• Saul was commissioned to be an apostle [one who is sent] to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17-18]

• The purpose of this commission was to open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they would receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by Christ [Acts 26:17-18]

• The church in Antioch was instructed by the Holy Spirit to set aside Paul and Barnabas and send them out on mission [Acts 13:4]

• Paul’s final statement included reference to God’s salvation being sent to the Gentiles [Acts 28:28].

 

 

 

 

A.4 The concept of the missional church in Paul’s letters

• Romans 10:9-15 contains strong missional teaching, indicating the critical and essential role of preaching God’s truth, and of people being sent to preach God’s truth, if people are to be saved.

• Paul refers to his commissioning [= being sent] by Christ as an apostle to preach the Gospel [Romans 11:13; 15:15-16; 1Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2Timothy 1:11], and committed himself fervently to this [1Corinthians 9:19-23]; but we cannot from this automatically deduce that the entire church has an apostolic role, given the clear scriptural evidence that the role of the original eleven plus Matthias plus Paul was foundational and therefore unique.

• Paul understands and assumes that the church will communicate the word of God to unbelievers [Philippians 1:12-18; 2:16; 1Thessalonians 1:8; 2Thessalonians 3:1]

• Paul understands that God’s intention is that through the church his manifold wisdom will be made known to ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, giving the church a ‘missional’ dimension beyond the realms of this earth [Ephesians 3:10,11], and indicating that being ‘missional’ includes not just the activity of the church, but its very existence as the church. In fact the praise of God’s glory and grace is the purpose for which the church exists [Ephesians 1:6,12,14].

• The lifestyle of believers is to glorify God [1Corinthians 10:31] and to generate the respect of outsiders [1Thessalonians 4:12].

 

 

 

A.5 The concept of the missional church in the rest of the New Testament

• The church’s role is ‘to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ [1Peter 2:9]

• The church is commanded to ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ [1Peter 2:12]

• The church is commanded to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that your have’ [1Peter 3:15], with the proviso that this also involves living irreproachable lives [v16].

• The proclamation of the word of God and the lifestyle of the people of God are instrumental in bringing people to salvation [James 1:18; 1Peter 1:23,25; 3:1]

From the above summary analysis it is clear that the church can biblically be termed ‘missional’. The church obviously has a mission – a purpose for which it exists in the world. We must ask: ‘What comprises this mission of the church?’ The answer is really very simple: to glorify God.

This involves making known the truth about God in two ways: [1] by what the church does – how it lives as the people of God in the world, and [2] by what the church says – what it verbally communicates of God’s revealed truth to the world. It is when the church engages in this double-barrelled mission of glorifying God by its life and by its proclamation that God, not the church, brings people to salvation.

As we study the scripture, we find that underneath and over-arching this simple mission of the church to glorify God by its life and by its message, is the deep meaning of our original creation in the image of God, which will not be addressed in this brief study, and the deep meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the image of God, which will be addressed only briefly.

 


B. Does being missional have an ‘incarnational’ aspect?


Some Christians speak of the missional church as ‘incarnational’.  We must be careful here that we do not fall into heresy. The bottom line is that there is only one person who is an incarnation of God: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He who is the eternal God, at a specific place and point in human time, took on human flesh. He who is God became also man [John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-8; 1Timothy 16]. The church is not and never can be an incarnation of God in the same way that Christ is the incarnation of God simply because the church never was, is not now, and never will be God. 

To remain biblical in our perceptions we must therefore discipline ourselves when we speak of the church as ‘incarnational’, and acknowledge that even where it is permitted for us to thus speak of the church, it can only be in a relative and minimal way. We must at the same time remember that the church is not God; at most what can be said of the church is that the Spirit of God, and therefore God, indwells the church. Indwelling however is a far different reality from incarnation.

To what extent may we refer to the church as incarnational?

 

 

B.1 The church is incarnational in that, like Christ, it is distinct from the world, but identifies with the world.

In his deity Christ is distinct from the world, but, at the same time, in his humanity he was in all points as we are, apart from sin [Hebrews 1 and 2]. Similarly, the church is distinct from the world, as we will see in sections C and D below, but at the same time identified with the world – we are sinful human beings, sharing in the life and the suffering common to all humans. We are, like Christ, in the world, but, since he called us out from the world and made us his own, we are not of the world [John 17:16; 1Peter 2:11].

 

 

B.2 The church is incarnational in that, like Christ, it is revelational.

Jesus Christ came and did the works of God and spoke the words of God, revealing the nature of God the Father. He came into the world as Light coming into the darkness [John 3:19; 8:12]. Similarly, but as the ambassadors of God, not as the Son of God, the church’s responsibility is to do the works of God and speak the words of God, making known the nature and glory of God the Father. We, like Christ, are to shine the truth of God in and into the darkness of our world [Matthew 5:13-16; Philippians 2:15,16; 1Peter 2:9-12]. Jesus Christ summed up his earthly life with the words ‘I have brought you glory on earth’ [John 17:4]. In so far as the church glorifies God on earth by its life and its testimony it fulfils its mission; indeed when it glorifies God it fulfils its purpose, its mission, irrespective of whether any ‘souls’ are ‘saved’.

 

 

B.3 The church is incarnational in that, like Christ, it is sent into the world.

Jesus Christ was sent into the world by the Father. This is mentioned a small number of times in the synoptic Gospels [Matthew 10:10; Mark 9:37; Luke 4:18,43; 9:48; 10:16] and numerous times in John’s Gospel where the incarnation is a major theme [3:17,34; 4:34; 5:23,24,30,36,37,38; 6:29,38,39,44,57; 7:16,18,28,29,33; 8:16,18,26,29,42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42;12:44,45,49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3,8,18,21,23,25].  Similarly Jesus sends the church into the world with a mandate to communicate his truth in word and deed [Matthew 28:19-20; John 20:21]. 

 

 

B.4 The church is incarnational in that, like Christ, it suffers because of its distinct identity and mission in a world that is hostile to God.

From a human perspective Jesus Christ suffered as a direct result of this revelational aspect of his incarnation. It was his knowledge of his divine identity and his claim to such an equality with God that to see him was to see God, and to know him was to know God, that provoked the Jews to secure his death [John 5:18; 8:58,59; 10:30-33].

From God’s perspective Jesus Christ was sent into the world to suffer and to die, as a real human being, for the sins of the world, to obtain eternal redemption for those who believe in him [John 14:31; Galatians 4:4; 1Timothy 1:15; 1John 4:9-14].

Because we to a degree identify with Christ in the revelational aspects of his incarnation in his distinction from the world, and with the exclusive and offensive claims he made, we also will share to a degree with his suffering. We, like him, if we are truly missional, if we truly demonstrate and embody God’s truth in our real flesh and blood lives, attract the hatred of the world. This confrontational and divisive aspect of being ‘incarnational’ will be addressed in a later section D below.

 

 
C. The church is more than its mission


It is very important to understand that the church is more than its mission. Just as Christ existed eternally as the Son of God before ever he was sent into the world, so the church exists as the people of God before it is ever sent into the world on the mission of God. Indeed the church cannot be missional in a biblical sense unless it is in fact first the church.

 

C.1 The church is comprised of individuals whom God has called out of the world and made his own

The word ekklesia literally means ‘called out’. Although in common usage it referred to any assembly of people, there is in the New Testament clear evidence that in reference to the church there is this fundamental concept of being called out of their previous status, position and allegiance into a new status, position and allegiance:

• The church exists because of a deliberate and eternal purpose of God [Ephesians 3:1-13]

• The church is called by Christ to follow him [Matthew 4:21; 1Peter 2:21]

• Believers have been given by the Father to Christ out of the world [John 17:6,24]

• Believers are called to belong to Jesus Christ [Romans 1:6]

• Believers are called according to the purpose of God [Romans 8:28] and as part of this calling also justified and glorified [Romans 8:30] and the objects of God’s mercy [Romans 9:23,24]

• Believers have been ‘chosen’ out of the world [John 15:16,19; 1Corinthians 1:26-29; Ephesians 1:4,11; Colossians 3:12; 2Thessalonians 2:13; 1Peter 2:9; Revelation 17:14]

• Believers have been called out of darkness into God’s light [Ephesians 5:8; 1Peter 2:9]

• Believers have been rescued from the kingdom of Satan transferred into the kingdom of Christ [Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:2-3; Colossians 1:13; 1John 5:19].

• Believers have been called into God’s kingdom and into glory [1Thessalonians 2:12; 2Thessalonians 2:14; 1Peter 5:10].

• Believers have been removed from death to life and called to eternal life [John 5:24; 1Timothy 6:12]

 

 

 

C.2 As those who are called by God, members of the church have a specific identity which none of them had before God called them and made them his own:

• The church is, simply, those who are ‘called’ [Jude 1; Revelation 17:14]

• Believers are called the children or sons of God [John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:26; 1John 3:1].

• Believers have been ‘born again’ [John 3:3-8; 1Peter 1:23]

• Believers are called God’s people [Romans 9:25,26; Colossians 3:12; 1Peter 2:9].

• Believers are called ‘saints’, that is holy, sanctified, set apart and distinct from the world, and called to be saints [Romans 1:7; 1Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; 1Peter 1:15]

• Believers are the body of Christ [Romans 12:5; 1Corinthians 12:12,13; Ephesians 1:22,23; Colossians 3:15].

• Believers are those whose names are written in heaven [Hebrews 12:23; see also Revelation 13:8; 17:8].

 

 

 

C.3 The church is characterized by the knowledge of God

There is a recurring reference to the church as a group of people who, in clear distinction from the world, actually know the truth about God and know God. This is an essential prerequisite for being missional. Apart from its unique knowledge of God the church has nothing to say to the world. And here the church finds itself in direct conflict with the post-modern world which denies the existence of any absolute truth and of any possibility of certain knowledge. The church actually knows the truth, and it must never lose sight of or water down this fact. It cannot be missional unless it first knows the truth and also knows that it knows.

• The church consists of people to whom Jesus Christ has made the Father known [Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 14:7-9; 15:15]

• The church consists of people who know who Jesus Christ really is [John 17:8]

• The church consists of people who have heard and responded to the voice of Christ, the Shepherd, because they know and recognize his voice [John 10:4,5,14,38]

• The church consists of people who see and know truth that those outside of the church cannot see and understand [Matthew 13:10-17; Mark 4:11; Luke 10:23,24; John 14:17; 17:25-26; 1Corinthians 2:6-18; 2Corinthians 4:4-6]

• The church consists of people whom the truth has set and is setting free [John 8:32]

• The church, those who are called, knows that Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God [1Corinthians 1:24]

• The church consists of people who know they are saved and that they belong to God [2Timothy 1:12; 1John 5:13,19,20].

 

 

 

C.4 The church has a specific relationship with both Jesus Christ and God the Father

• The church is called into fellowship with God’s Son Jesus Christ [1Corinthians 1:9; see also 1Peter 1:3]

• The church is described as ‘in Christ’, and it is only ‘in Christ’ that the church possesses the multifaceted salvation secured by his substitutionary, sin-bearing death [Ephesians 1:3-14].

• The church is called by and into a grace relationship with God [Romans 5:17,21; Galatians 1:6; Ephesians 3:2]

• The church exists in a relationship of peace with God [Romans 5:1; Colossians 3:15]

• The church is ‘washed’ or ‘clean’ through the blood of Christ, the Word of Christ and the operation of the Spirit of God, and therefore all that impeded a relationship with God has been removed [John 13:10; 15:3; 1Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26-27; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:19-22; Revelation 1:5. See also Colossians 1:22].

• The church exists under the headship [authority and protection] of Jesus Christ [Ephesians 1:22; 5:23-32; Colossians 1:18].

 


C.5 The church is indwelt by the Spirit of God

• The Father and the Son sent the Spirit to live in those who believe in Christ [John 14:14-31; 15:26; 16:5-16]

• The indwelling Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on individual members of the church [Ephesians 1:13-14; 2Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5]

• The indwelling Spirit affirms the unique relationship between believers and God [Romans 8:14-15; Galatians 4:6]

• The indwelling Spirit mediates the believer’s access to God [Ephesians 2:18] and communication with God [Romans 8:26-27]

• The indwelling Spirit is in the process of transforming believers into the image of Christ [2Corinthians 3:18]

 

 

C.6 Because they share a common calling and identity members of the church exist in a unique relationship with each other

• They are all regenerated and indwelt by the one Spirit [Ephesians 4:4]

• They share a common hope and a common faith [Ephesians 4:4,5]

• They share a common Lord [Ephesians 4:5]

• They share a common fellowship with the Father and the Son [1Peter 1:3]

• They are individually and corporately the dwelling place of God [John 14:20,23; 1Corinthians 3:16; 6: 19; Ephesians 2:21,22]

• They have all been baptized into Christ by the Spirit [1Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5]

• They share a common foundation of truth [1Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20]

• They share a common salvation [Philippians 2:1-2] based on their common identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ [Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 2: 19-20; Ephesians 1:18-2:6; Colossians 3:1-3]

• Their relationship with Christ has made all previous inter-personal distinctions and divisions irrelevant [Romans 3:22-30; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 3:10-11]

• Together they comprise the one body of Christ [Romans 12:5; 1Corinthians 10:17; 12:12,13,27; Ephesians 1:23; 3:6; 4:4,12,16; 5:23,30].

 


D. The impact of being missional in the world is confrontation and division


If to be the church in the world is to be missional and incarnational, then of necessity to be the church involves confrontation with the world and division from the world. Although we are and always will be human and sinners, there is an intrinsic difference between the church and the world and between the mindset of the church and the mindset of the world; there is also an inevitable exposure of that difference.

This difference and this exposure create confrontation, conflict and division. It did with Jesus Christ, and it does so with the church, if and where the church is truly missional and truly incarnational. If, on the other hand the church merges with the world there is no confrontation and no division, but then the church has become impotent in its mission and has ceased to be incarnational. One might even speculate that it has abdicated its identity as the church.

 

D.1 The intrinsic difference between the church and the world – in terms of identity

As we have already seen in C above, the church has a specific identity.  This identity is the primary distinction between the church and the world:

• Those in the church are the children of God: those outside the church are children of the devil and under his control [1John 3:10; 5:19].

• Those in the church are God’s people [1Peter 2:9,10]: the world is not.

• Those in the church are ‘saints’, ‘holy’, ‘sanctified’, set apart by God for God: the world is not.

• Those in the church are the body of Christ and the bride of Christ: the world is not.

• Those in the church are ‘born again’ and have eternal life: the world is still dead in transgression and sin [Ephesians 2:1,5].

• Those in the church have crossed over from death to life [John 5:24]: the world is still under the reign of death [Romans 5:17,21].

• Those in the church are ‘called’ and ‘chosen’: the world is not.

• Those in the church are ‘light in the Lord’: the world is still in darkness, indeed, the world is darkness.

• So clear-cut is the distinction between the church and the world that the church will judge the world [1Corinthians 6:2]

 

D.2 The intrinsic difference between the church and world – in terms of relationship with God

The church exists in a special relationship with God, put in place by the Spirit of God, on the basis of the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God. As we have already seen in previous sections:

• The church knows God: the world does not know him

• The church has access to God: the world is still cut off from God by its sin

• The church is reconciled to God and has peace with God: the world is still at enmity with God and alienated from God

• The church is forgiven and acquitted by God: the world is still under the judgment and wrath of God

• The church relates to God on the basis of grace: the world, where it is religious, relates to its gods on the basis of merit and/or performance

• The church has returned to God: the world is still in rebellion against God and rejects God

• Those in the church are in the kingdom of God: the world is still under the authority and rule of Satan

• The church is indwelt by God: the world is not

• The church is loved by God in a special way distinct from God’s love for the world [John 13:1]

 

D.3 The observable difference between the church and the world - in terms of principles, priorities and perspectives

• Jesus deliberately rejected the world’s priorities and methodology [Matthew 4:1-11] and commands the church to follow him

• Believers are commanded to reject the basic religious principles on which the world operates [1Corinthians 1:26-31; Colossians 2:8,20]

• Believers are commanded to shine in the darkness of the world [Matthew 5:13-16; Ephesians 5:8,9; Philippians 2:15]

• Believers are commanded not to be squashed into the world’s mould, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds [Romans 12:1-2]

• Believers are commanded to ‘put off’ their sinful attributes and actions and to put on the moral attributes and actions which the indwelling Holy Spirit is working to produce in them [Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 4:22-5: 21; Colossians 3:5-17].

• Believers are commanded to no longer think in the futile, darkened ignorant mindset of the ‘Gentiles’ [Ephesians 4:17-19]

• Believers are to say ‘no’ to sin and all moral corruption [Titus 2:12; James 1:27; 2Peter 1:4; 2:20]

• Believers are to live as aliens and strangers in the world abstaining from the sins of the world [1Peter 2:11]

• The world is in such direct opposition to the church that it is something that the church is said to  ‘overcome’ by its belief in Jesus Christ [1John 5:4,5]

 

D.4 The confrontational presence of the church in the world

The presence of the church in the world is confrontational: it exposes the world’s ignorance and rejection of God; it exposes the sin of the world; it exposes the fact that the world lives under the wrath and judgment of God. To a large extent this exposure and this confrontation are automatic, occurring without any explicit verbal witness undertaken by the church. The very existence of the church as a people who acknowledge God condemns all who still reject God. The very faith of believers exposes and condemns the unbelief of those who are still unbelievers. This confrontation and exposure is intensified when the church engages in verbal witness and proclamation.

• The presence of Christ and the words of Christ in the world mean judgment on the world [John 8:26; 9:39;12:47-48]

• The Gospel proclaimed by the church exposes the foolishness of the world’s wisdom [1Corinthians 1:20]

• The presence of the church in the world is like the presence of salt and light [Matthew 5:13,14]

• Allegiance to Christ creates divisions [Luke 12:51-53]

• The Spirit of God, indwelling the church, convicts the world of its multi-dimensional guilt and affirms its judgment [John 16:7-11].

• The church has a politically and religiously disturbing presence in the world [Acts 17:6; 24:5]

• The church is to reject friendship with the world because friendship with the world is enmity with God [James 4:4; 1John 2:15-17]

• The mandate of the church includes the exposure of the darkness and depravity of the world [Ephesians 5:11-14; Philippians 2:15-16]

 

D.5 The church as the object of the world’s hatred

• The darkness hates the light [John 3:19-20]

• Being aligned with the name of Christ attracts the hatred of the world [Matthew 10:22; John 15:18-25; 1John 3:13]

• Both allegiance to the name of Christ and engagement in the mission of Christ attract rejection and persecution [Matthew 5:10,11; 10:17; John 16:31-33; 1Corinthians 4:9-13; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6; 1Thessalonians 2:13-16]

• Being the church in the world may result in violent death [Revelation 2:10,13]

 

D.6 The church is in direct conflict with spiritual forces of evil

Behind this conflict between the church and the world is the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, and it is because of this great spiritual conflict that the life of the church in the world is described in terms of struggle:

• ‘the gates of Hades’ seek to overcome the church [Matthew 16:18]

• We struggle ‘not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ [Ephesians 6:11-12]

• The arch enemy of the church is the devil who seeks the destruction of the church individually and corporately [2Timothy 2:26; 1Peter 5:8]

• The devil interferes with the mission of the kingdom of Christ [Matthew 13:19,37-39; Acts 13:8-10; Revelation 2:10]

• The New Testament repeatedly uses terms indicating that consistent effort must be exerted by the church in the context of this constant conflict – ‘be on guard’, ‘run the race’, ‘fight the good fight’, ‘put on the armour’, ‘be prepared’, ‘overcome’, etc.


E. After the glory of God, the primary concern of the New Testament is the wellbeing of the church

 


 

[Important note: All that is said in this section is secondary to and a servant of the biblical priority of God’s glory.]

Although the church has a definite missional role and although God loves the world, the New Testament clearly demonstrates and teaches that the church, the bride of Christ, God’s holy people chosen and called out of the world, is loved by God more than he loves the world, and that the well-being of the church is more important to God than the world.


E.1 The focus of New Testament is overwhelmingly on the church

• A large portion of Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic gospels is focused on the understanding and behaviour appropriate to members of God’s kingdom, that is, the church.

• Five entire chapters of John’s gospel [13-17] consist of care, instruction and prayer in relation to the church.

• Jesus’ recorded resurrection appearances were in the presence of believers, not the world, and his resurrection conversations/teaching focus almost exclusively on the instruction and well-being of the church.

• After commanding that we make disciples of all nations, the great commission then focuses on the edification of those disciples, the church.

• Acts, even while recording the initial evangelistic thrust of the church, also includes reports of the extensive and intensive apostolic care of the church and concern for the survival of the church in the midst of both persecution from without and heresy within.

• Every New Testament letter was written specifically to either the church corporately or to individuals within the church, with a heavy two-dimensional focus: [1] the instruction of the church to ensure accuracy of its understanding of Christ and salvation, and [2] the instruction of the church to motivate God-honouring life and practice. While missional activity was included in the latter, it is by no means a heavy emphasis in any of the letters.

• Revelation is specifically a message of encouragement and hope to the persecuted church.

Over all, only John’s Gospel and Acts contain a dominant focus on the conversion of sinners.

 

E.2 The gifts of the Spirit are given to the church for the well-being of the church

A study of the various ‘gift lists’ in the New Testament reveals that the primary purpose and use of the gifts is church-directed:

• When Paul likens the presence of various gifts in the church to the various parts of the physical body he indicates that ‘each member belongs to all the others’ – in other words the various gifts within the church exist for the support, benefit and proper functioning of all the individuals who comprise the church [Romans 12:4-8; 1Corinthians 12:14-27].

• The various gifts are given by the Spirit to the church ‘for the common good’ [1Corinthians 12:7].

• The communication gifts are intended for the instruction, edification and encouragement of the church [1Corinthians 14:1-19, 26-31].

• The gifts are given for the edification, unity, knowledge and maturity of the church [Ephesians 4:7-16].

• The use of the gifts within the church for the mutual benefit of those who comprise the church [note the phrases ‘each other’ and ‘one another’] results in praise to God [1Peter 4:7-11].

 

E.3 God commands a high level of mutual love and support within the church

An analysis of the New Testament commands about ‘one another’ and ‘each other’ in their context reveals that these commands refer to our actions and attitudes towards other believers, not to our actions and attitudes to those who are not believers.

• We are to live at peace with each other [Mark 9:50; 1Peter 3:8].

• We are to live humbly with one another, honouring the other above ourselves, thinking of the well being of the other before our own [John 13:14; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3-4; 1Peter 5:5].

• We are to love one another, and specifically we are to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us [John 13:34; 15:12,17; 1Thessalonians 4:9; 2Thessalonians 1:4; 1Peter 1:22; 4:8; 1John 3:11,23; 4:7-12; 2John 5]. In fact loving our fellow-believers is an essential evidence of true faith in Christ [John 13:35; 1John 2:9-11; 3:10,14-17; 4:7-12,20].

• We are to be devoted to one another with brotherly love [Romans 12:10].

• We are to treat one another as God in Christ has treated us – with compassion, forgiveness and mercy [Romans 14:13; 15:7; Ephesians 4:2; 4:32; Colossians 3:13].

• We are to encourage each other [1Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24,25].

 

E.4 In addition to the explicit ‘one another’ factor above, the New Testament commands and describes concern for those within the church over and above concern for the world

• The early believers demonstrated both spontaneous and also organized concern and care for each other’s material needs [Acts 4:32-35; 6:1-6; 11:29; Romans 12:13; 15;25; 1Corinthians 16:1,15; 2Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:1-15; Galatians 6:10].

• Paul, and other apostles and believers, expended much time and energy focused on the spiritual well-being of the church [Acts 10:32; 11;25,26; 14:21b-23; 15:1-41; 16:4-5; 20:17-38; Romans 1:11-12; 2Corinthians 11:28; Colossians 1:24-25].

• The focus and outcome of the Council of Jerusalem was the clarification of the gospel message to ensure that the church would not be enslaved by legalism [Acts 15:24-32].

• In John 17 Jesus Christ specifically stated that he was not praying for the world, but for those given to him out of the world by the Father [John 17:9]. His concern in this prayer is obviously for the church [17:20] not the world.

• Similarly, Paul’s recorded prayers focus overwhelmingly on the well-being of the church either individually or corporately [Romans 1:8-10; 2Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; 1Thessalonians 1: 2-3; 5:23; 2Thessalonians 1:11; 2Timothy 4;16; Philemon 4]

• Also similarly, the prayers of believers, while their intended and ultimate effect is the expansion of God’s kingdom and God’s glory, are to be church-oriented not world-oriented.


o the Lord’s Prayer is phrased in the first person plural – it expresses prayer on behalf of and as part of the believing community, and, after the expression of concern for God’s honour, God’s kingdom and God’s will, expresses concern for the physical and spiritual well-being of the church [note the ‘our’ and ‘us’ - Matthew 6:9-13].

o continual prayer is to be made ‘for all the saints’ [Ephesians 6:18]

o irrespective of whether the problem is physical or spiritual believers are to pray for each other [James 5:14-16]

o prayer is to be made for members of the church engaged in Christian ministry [Romans 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:12; 1Thessalonians 5:25; 2Thessalonians 3:1; Philemon 22; Hebrews 13:18-19].

o prayer is to be made for ‘everyone – kings and all those in authority’ so that the church may live in peace to pursue godliness and holiness [1Timothy 2:1-2].

[Subject to unearthing verses to the contrary: It is extremely interesting that, while we are to pray that God will send workers into the world [Matthew 9:37,38], and to pray for believers who are out there proclaiming the message – that they will have opportunity and boldness to proclaim it [see previous point] and that the ‘word’ of God will have free course [2Thessalonians 3:1] – there is an almost total absence of instruction or example concerning prayer specifically for the conversion of sinners. The only example is Paul’s prayer for the salvation of Israel [Romans 10:1]. The only clear instruction to pray for unbelievers is Christ’s command to pray for those who mistreat or persecute us [Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28] which parallels Christ’s prayer for the forgiveness of those who abused and executed him [Luke 23:34].

 

E.5 Those who comprise the church have a family relationship with and responsibility to each other

In Matthew 12:48-50 Jesus taught that those who do the will of his Father are his family – his brother, his sister, his mother. This places those who believe in him into a family relationship. 

In addition, the term ‘brother’ is used in some instances in the New Testament to refer to fellow members of the church. It is not always clear when this is the case – sometimes it refers to biological brothers or to our fellow humans - but it appears to specifically refer to our fellow believers, who with us are the brothers of Christ, in the following contexts:

• The inappropriateness of unresolved offence or hurt among God’s people [Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-35]

• The inappropriateness of spiritual one-up-manship within the people of God [Matthew 7:3-5; Romans 14:10]

• The inappropriateness of any behaviours that will cause a Christian brother to stumble spiritually [Romans 14:13-21; 1Corinthians 8:9-13]

• The inappropriateness of Christian brothers taking each other to court [1Corinthians 6:1-8]

• The esteem and love in which specific believers are held [for example, 2Corinthians 2:13; Ephesians 6:21; Philippians 2:25; Colossians 4:9; Philemon 16].

• The special care and compassion that is to be exercised towards the brothers of Christ [Matthew 25:31-46]

• The utter inappropriateness of hating a Christian brother at the same time as claiming to know God [1John 2: 2:9-11; 3:10,14-17; 4:20,21]

• The urgent necessity of warning and reclaiming a Christian brother who is behaving badly [2Thessalonians 3:14,15; 1John 5:16. See also Jude 22,23].

• The importance of disassociating from a person who claims to be a brother but whose lifestyle denies his claim [1Corinthians 5:9-11]

• There are even to be special greetings between believers, indicating a family relationship of acceptance and joy [Romans 16:16; 1Corinthians 16:20; 2Corinthians 13:12,13; 1Peter 5:14].


Conclusion:


Briefly, the mission of the church in this world, from which it is distinct, and in which its presence is confrontational, is the glory of God.

• This mission involves the verbal proclamation of the Gospel to the unbelieving world and the practical expression of God’s love to the unbelieving community.

• This mission is, further, and more importantly, to so live together as God’s children that the watching world will see a living, organic demonstration of the very nature and reality of God, our Father.

Essential for the church’s identification with and engagement in this mission is its well-being, which is dependent on:

• Its instruction in and adherence to sound doctrine by the teaching of the Word

• Its instruction in and commitment to godly living by the teaching of the Word

• Its encouragement and support generated by the one another principle as its members demonstrate mutual respect, acceptance, love and compassion.

Of this mission the scripture testifies:

• ‘Whatever you do … do it all for the glory of God’ [1Corinthians 10:31]

• ‘… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you …Live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ [1Peter 2:9,12].

• He chose us and made us his own ‘that we might be to the praise of his glory’ [Ephesians 1:12; see also 1:6,14].

• ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!’ [Ephesians 3:20,21].