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The Glorious Body of Christ IV: The Mission of the Church - Matthew 28:18-20

We’ve been looking at the Church of Jesus Christ, and exploring what the Church is through the metaphor of the body of Christ, with Jesus Himself being the head, and the Holy Spirit breathing life into the Church. Now we turn from what the Church is to begin looking at what the body of Christ does. Bodies aren’t dead statues; bodies are given life in order to do something. So what does this body do? What is the mission of the Church?

Matt. 28:18-20 gives us the heart of the answer: the mission of the Church is to go and make disciples of all the nations. The mission of the Church is that which all churches must do, and (its fullest sense) that which only churches can do. That is, if any church can do without it, it can’t be the mission of the Church. And if any other group or organization can do it rightly apart from the church, then it can’t be the Church’s mission. All churches must be going and making disciples, and only churches are entrusted with the ministry of Word and Sacrament in order to baptize and teach Jesus’ disciples. The Great Commission is the mission.

As we consider the Church and her mission, we need to make a crucial distinction between the Church gathered and the Church scattered, or as some put it, the Church as organization and the Church as organism. What’s the difference? Think about it this way: the Church gathered refers to congregations, groups of Christians as they worship and witness together as one. The Church scattered refers to individual members of the Church wherever they go. Because you are individually members of the Church, the Church goes wherever you go, in the sense of the Church scattered. But because we are one body, there are some things that the Church does only as a gathered congregation, such as gathering for worship, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Recognizing this distinction between the Church gathered and the Church scattered can save a church a great deal of confusion and frustration.

Another important distinction to make when it comes to the mission of the Church is the distinction between may and must. The gathered Church may choose to commit and encourage members to give their time, energy, and money to all sorts of good works, from Christian schools to service projects to making Christian movies. Or she may not! She must, however, gather God’s people for worship around Word and Sacrament. A church without a Christian school (for example) is still a church. A church that doesn’t baptize and teach isn’t a church at all.

It takes wisdom to decide when and how to lead a church to embrace something in the “may” category, and the Bible cautions us against judging one another as churches and individuals for these choices. But a good rule of thumb is to measure your “mays” by how closely they relate to the mission, so let’s look at the component parts of the mission.

The central command, which is given not to individuals, but to the Church as a whole, is to make disciples, which is accomplished in three ways: going, baptizing, and teaching. “Going” means identifying and seeking out unbelievers, and calling them to repent and believe the gospel. Once they confess Jesus as Lord, the proper response is to baptize them into the Church, the external mark of their membership in the body. And as disciples, they have entered into a lifelong commitment to be taught by God through the Church to follow Jesus in everything.

So when a church thinks about whether or not to sponsor or participate in a ministry or good work, she should be asking, “How does this opportunity relate to going?” “What does it have to do with baptism?” “Does this work involve teaching and proclaiming the gospel?” Because churches can’t do everything, each church must make choices, and the better a church understands her mission, the better her decisions will be, the more effectively disciples will be made, and the more glory will be given to Jesus.

Not every individual Christian is called to go to the nations. Not every Christian is called to baptize. Not every Christian has the gift of teaching. But every Christian must recognize that these things are essential to carrying out the mission of the Church, and so every Christian needs to do their part, whether praying, giving, encouraging, nominating, serving, or whatever is needed to make sure that the gospel message keeps going out to the nations, so that more disciples are brought to the waters of baptism and made a part of the glorious body of Christ, to the glory of God the Father.

Posted on Wednesday, February 05, 2020 by CJ Bowen