What is the Mission of the Church?–Current Evangelical Debates

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have written a book that has stirred the internet and coffee shops.  What is the Mission of the Church was recently released by Crossway and came with heavy endorsements.  Men like Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, D.A. Carson, and Thom Schreiner have all offered positive blurbs for the book.  That list of men, if you do not know them, carries some intellectual weight.  Their endorsements make the sharp critiques of the book a bit surprising (not that the aforementioned men are incapable of endorsing something that is flawed). 

Ed Stetzer has written a thorough critique of the work here.  Trevix Was has asked some “nagging questions” about the book and its contents.  Gilbert and DeYoung have offered clarifications and responses here and here.  Justin Taylor has posted some review and some comments here.  There is little doubt that the conversation will continue.  I will continue to read and think, although this issue is not one I will stay awake at night pondering.  I have too many other things to do at the moment.

I do want to offer a couple of thoughts before leaving the issue.  First, it seems to me that the church has clear marching orders.  Matthew 28:19-20, commonly referred to as the Great Commission, along with Acts 1:8, sometimes referred to as the Acts 1:8 Challenge, seem to point the followers of Christ on a straight course.  That course is one that takes us to the nations with the message of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, and the only hope we have of being saved from the wrath to come.  We are to be His witnesses.  We are to testify to the historical reality of the gospel.  We are to be ambassadors for Christ as God is “making His appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20).  We are ministers of reconciliation and call people to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus.  That is the task of every Christian and every Christian church.

The current debate would likely not deny any of that.  The question being asked surrounds social ministries, or what role good works play in the mission.  It is not as simple as some may think, and probably more simple than others are willing to admit.  Personally, I think of “good works” and social ministry as things that come with the gospel.  They are not the gospel but accompany the gospel.  And preaching the gospel so that men and women are saved to the “praise of His glorious grace” (Eph 1:6), seems to be central to the mission of the church.

What I mean is this:  As we preach the gospel of Jesus and people are born-again through that gospel (what God alone does), they are transformed into new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).  This “new creation” has been created “for good works, which God prepared before-hand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).  We then take these “new creations” and teach them to “obey” Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).  Discipleship, then, is also part of the mission.  This means that as the church goes about the mission of proclaiming the gospel, God is raising dead men to life.  And these dead men now living, live lives that are worthy of the gospel (Eph 4:1).  And their lives, which are “worthy of the gospel”, include caring for the widow and orphan (James 1:27).  It includes loving their neighbor and a plethora of other things.  These “worthy” lives are not the gospel, but they are the result of the gospel as it changes hearts and souls.  These changed lives now need others who have been changed to come alongside of them and both show them and tell them what characterizes a follower of Christ in terms of action.  Its a package deal:  We prloclaim Jesus then we explain (through word and deed) what it looks like to follow Jesus. 

The mission of the church, then, is to proclaim the gospel.  It is also to take those who have responded to the gospel and help them live in a way that adorns the gospel.  And that living is simply what flows out of a life that has been changed by the gospel that has been proclaimed.  The mission of the church is to make disciples through the preaching of the good news of Jesus and building these disciples up into maturity.  The “good works” and social ministries in question flow out of a community of people who have heard and responded to the gospel of Christ in faith.

Now, that does not mean that the church must be, on a corporate level, involved in every kind of social ministry.  We are not given the task of giving new disciples a concrete example, or experience, of Christian living in every sphere of life.  We teach them the word of God and the principles that are present (word),  while putting those principles on display in our daily living (deed).  We then call others to imitate us as we imitate Jesus.

There is much more to be said, but I’ve had said too much.  Gilbert and DeYoung address these things in their book.  The way they do it, and how they balance the issues, are the points of debate.  Some do not like their approach or explanations.  Others think they are spot on.  I have yet to read the entire book, but look forward to seeing what all the fuss is about and deciding for myself where I stand. 

At least that is my take for now.  Looking forward to learning more as the discussion continues.

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