Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Mission of the Church

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The mission of the church is not…

The church’s mission is not to live holy lives. It is not to fight for justice. It is not to evangelize and make converts. It is not to influence the culture, propagate orthodoxy, solve social problems, or change the world. It is not to end abortion or human trafficking. It’s not even missions.

The mission of the church, quite simply, is to make disciples of Jesus. This obviously involves evangelizing people, but then it means that after people believe that they are taught to obey everything Jesus commanded us. It means that we train people up in the redeemed life, to do what redeemed people do in obedience to Jesus. Disciples of Jesus evangelize. They live holy lives. They walk justly and love mercy and speak up for the poor and oppressed and work to see them restored. They influence the culture by a myriad of activities, not least of which is the very way they live. They do missions – spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, which starts with our “Jerusalem”, goes to those who are our “Samaritans”, and never stops. They teach and proclaim and live out sound doctrine and stand on revealed truth. They believe God for great things and accomplish great things, and they change the world. And, of course, and most importantly, they make more disciples to join them in the mission.

Mark Noll said something profound in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. He said that “Christian thought presupposes Christians”. In other words, if we are to have Christian thought we must have Christians, which means we must have evangelism, or there will be no more Christians to think. In the same way, Christian justice presupposes Christians. Christian missions presupposes Christians. Anything distinctly Christian presupposes people continually becoming disciples of Jesus to carry on the mission, including the various subsidiaries of the mission.

As people are supernaturally united to the body of Christ (“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free…” 1 Cor. 12:13), they discover their various spiritual gifts. Some are gifted with evangelism, some with teaching, some with mercy, some with generosity, etc. If we were to function the way the body was meant to, we might see less diffusion of the mission.

How do we know this is the mission?

There are a lot of Bible passages that command a lot of things. How can we single out Matthew 28:18 as THE mission? Why not Micah 6:8 for example, which exhorts us that the LORD requires us to act justly and love mercy. Why not 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which says it is God’s will that we should be holy? Why not John 13:34: “Love one another”?

The simplest answer is that from Acts on, the New Testament is an inspired record of the early church’s understanding of its mission. While God expects a certain morality to be exhibited in the lives of His people, that is not the same thing as the mission they are to endeavor on. The New Testament displays a church that made disciples, and in doing so turned the world upside down. There were no competing agendas. We would be wise to pay attention.

What about purpose? (The church exists to…)

Rick Warren says the church has 5 purposes, perhaps the primary one being to glorify God. As much as he disappoints me in many ways, he is onto something there. But purpose and mission are not the same thing. Purpose is the reason something exists, while mission is the job it has to do. I know… lots of overlap there. I believe that being faithful to our mission is perhaps the greatest way to fulfill our purpose.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Something To Think About

A story from a missionary to India...

My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. this morning... way too early for my exhausted, jet-lagged body. But this was one morning I didn’t want to sleep in. I wanted to be on the River Ganges by dawn... I had traveled half way around the world to witness the sights and smells that were truly unbelievable.

By the time we arrived at the riverbank, thousands of people were already busy washing themselves in the filthy water. Hindus believe that if they ceremoniously bathe in this most holy of all rivers, their sins will be washed away.

But the waters of the Ganges are polluted by raw sewage, trash, dead bodies and ashes of cremated humans. Every day over 100 bodies are burned in Varanasi and their ashes sprinkled in the river. Hindus believe that this allows their loved ones direct access to heaven. I saw piles of wood . . . the smoke from the burning bodies . . . family members weeping . . . with little or no hope.

My heart was broken. Everywhere I looked there were people in the water, pouring water on their heads and actually drinking it. Some had brass pots where they scooped up water, held the pot over their head and slowly poured it into the river. Many folded their hands and prayed . . . Hindu holy men with painted faces and bright orange clothing chanted . . . music was playing in the background . . . all this was being sincerely done in an act of worship . . . asking for forgiveness.

As we glanced all around us at the masses of people . . . our hearts were broken.

Yesterday, we had met with about 70 of our World Help church planters in a secluded location. We had driven through over 100 isolated villages on our way to this meeting and I counted more than 75 Hindu temples and shrines . . . but no churches.

World Help’s senior vice president, Tom Thompson, brought greetings as we prayed with them, worshipped with them and encouraged them. They had seen over 5,600 new churches planted just in the last year in Northern India and thousands of new Christ followers have been baptized.

These church planters get together once a month for three days of training, strategizing and encouragement. They told us incredible stories of how God is building His kingdom in Northern India.

One of our church planters, Zul Fakar, was working in a very dangerous and persecuted area, when militant anti-Christians ambushed him in an alley and beat him to death . . . He died on August 10. He had been a believer for only 15 months, yet he already had 25 converts and two churches established in unreached villages. His wife, Rabia, was encouraged to deny her faith and come back to her home village. She said, "My husband died for his faith in Jesus Christ . . . the best way I can honor his memory is to spend my life serving the one he died for."

It was a sobering reminder that these church planters are in life and death situations every day as they take the good news to villages that do not have a church of any kind.

As I floated down the River Ganges early this morning, overwhelmed by the spiritual darkness that totally enveloped these truly "religious" people, I couldn’t help but think of these church planters. I was actually looking into the faces of thousands of sincere idol worshippers and realized that no one had ever told them that it was not the dirty, polluted waters of the River Ganges that washes away their sins, but only the shed blood of Jesus Christ. They have never heard of Jesus . . . they have never heard the Gospel . . . they are totally unreached.

And then I prayed for our church planters . . . asking that God would continue to give them boldness and courage and use them to shine the light of God into all of this spiritual darkness. Please keep our team in your thoughts and prayers and please pray for our church planters who pay such a high price to follow Jesus Christ.

Thank you and God bless you,
Vernon Brewer

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