What is the Mission of the Church? Part 2: There is a Reason It is Called “Great”
March 25, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Over these few weeks in Touchpoint articles, I am seeking to provide clarity about the mission of the church. My aim and prayer is joyful and unifying clarity. If we, as members of this body, clearly understand what God calls us to do as a church, I believe we will be blessed with joyful unity around that mission. I also pray that such clarity will serve the fruitfulness of our gospel ministry.
Last week, I highlighted the distinction between the church organic and the church institutional. There are commands in Scripture that individual followers of Christ must obey (church organic). There are commands in Scripture that the church as an institution must obey. Sometimes those commands overlap the distinction; sometimes they do not. In these articles I want to clarify the mission of the church institutional.
Today, let’s consider a command that most Christians can unify around: the Great Commission. It’s found in Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Let me make some observations about the Great Commission.
- It is given to the church institutional. The disciples gathered to Jesus after the resurrection, just before his ascension. Jesus addresses them as a collective whole, who serve as the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20). Jesus reiterates the command with different language in Acts 1:8, but the recipients are the same, the collective whole of the disciples. Before Jesus departs from their presence, he gives the disciples their “marching orders,” what they are to give their attention to as the leaders of his church. We see this fulfilled and passed on in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 5:42; 14:21; 2 Tim. 2:2). Yes, individual Christians have a role in obeying the Great Commission, but that looks different for each of us based upon our giftings, callings, passions, etc (we’ll touch on that in a later article). The Great Commission is for the church institutional.
- Jesus couches the command with assurances. As the one who directs us, Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth.” This not only challenges us to listen carefully to what he commands, but it also assures us that there is no authority greater than Jesus that will oppose us. There is no threat to fear. Then, Jesus assures us of his presence. Even if he is not physically present, Jesus is with us through his Holy Spirit. We “go” not alone. That’s encouraging.
- The main command is to make disciples. The early church understood that this meant to preach the gospel and call people to repent and believe in Jesus (Acts 2:38; 14:21; 16:31). Baptism is the initiatory sign of belonging to Christ. Learning to obey all that Jesus commands is the ongoing activity of a follower of Christ. To make disciples involves the preaching of the gospel.
- This command has come to be called “great” because it is understood as the primary mission of the church until Jesus returns. The “greatness” of the Great Commission is rooted in several factors: the fact that this is Jesus’ final instruction before ascension; the model of the early church in the book of Acts; and the instruction and emphasis in the New Testament letters. If the church does not preach the gospel and make disciples, is the church even the church of Jesus Christ any longer? This is the core missional identity for the church institutional.
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert summarize our understanding of the place of the Great Commission for the church: “The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father” (What is the Mission of the Church? p. 62-63).