The concept of a corporation or organization having a mission is central to its existence. In the past few decades, even greater emphasis has been placed on developing and publishing “mission statements” at various levels within corporations, even down to work teams. A mission statement tells the purpose or function for which an organization or team exists and operates. The corporation or organization devoted to fulfilling its mission can be said to be operating as intended and is often praised.
The one true church built by Jesus Christ is not some kind of human organization. But the church does have a mission, and God determined a long time ago and revealed in the New Testament its purpose and work. Let us consider those things now.
Preaching the Gospel
“But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church is to uphold and support the truth. Individually, every member of the church should be concerned with sowing the seed of the kingdom in the hearts of men. The gospel is sowed in Bible study with others as well as planting seeds of truth of the gospel in impromptu scatterings of conversation. Collectively, the church preaches the gospel when preachers are sent and preachers are supported. In Acts 11, Barnabas was sent, by the church in Jerusalem, to Antioch, where he encouraged the newly planted Christians and then “assembled with the church and taught a great many people” (Acts 11:22-26). Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church in Antioch to the work of preaching the gospel (Acts 13:2-3). Other churches paid Paul wages when he preached the gospel in Corinth: “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you” (2 Corinthians 11:8). In the New Testament, no organization other than the local church sent preachers out for the work of preaching. And local churches sent directly to preachers to support them in their work. The local church was sufficient for that work. God is glorified in His church when the church fulfils her assigned mission of preaching the gospel.
Caring for Needy Saints
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). This verse tells us that Christians have a responsibility individually to do good to all, especially brethren. But collectively, the local church has a responsibility to care for its own who are destitute. There is no New Testament example, command, or necessary inference that the local church provided for the needs of non-saints. In its early days, the church in Jerusalem stands out as an example in the work of caring for its needy saints: “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35). They had a responsibility to care for their own saints, and they were able to fulfil it. In some cases, local churches sent directly to another church so that the receiving church could care for its own needy. This happened in Acts 11:27-30. The local church is sufficient to fulfil this mission. Just like the work of preaching the gospel, God is glorified in His church when the church cares for its needy saints or sends to another church to help them care for their needy saints.
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). To edify is to build up spiritually. While we each individually have a responsibility for our own spiritual growth (2 Peter 3:18), the local church has a responsibility to edify itself with the word of God. And so the local church assembles on the first day of the week and conducts classes with the Bible as its focus. The word of God is able to “build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). We show devotion to this work of the church when we make it a priority to thoughtfully assemble with the saints, in a participating way, when the local church comes together. God is glorified in His church when the church fulfils her divinely-assigned mission to edify itself.
The church is a kingdom with Jesus Christ as King; it is not a democracy. Its mission was determined God. We don’t have the right to add to or take from the mission of the church. Let us not only respect the limits of the church’s mission, but let us also be zealous and active in it so that in all things God may be glorified.