Now there's nothing scientific about this next statement (that is, I haven't conducted official research), but it seems to me that many Christians are under the impression that the mission of the church is merely the conversion of souls (to evangelize). But that is cutting short drastic responsibilities given to the church.
True the church, as a body, is called to evangelize. But the task Christ gave His apostles is far more encompassing:
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. (Mt. 28:18-20)
So let us then examine this task of the church in a threefold aspect: mission, scope, and means.
The Mission of the Church
The mission of the church is to make disciples, which, I think, can be broken down into two components:
The Book of Acts describes how the early church accomplished this very thing. The most obvious part that we tend to read is the evangelizing aspect - that the church from the beginning preached the gospel to the unconverted. And that's certainly important! But there's a lot missing when we fail to realize the support role that the church maintained throughout the entire book as well. For instance:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42)
Notice this text doesn't say the newly converted devoted themselves to evangelizing the lost (and again, I'm not trying to minimize that aspect of making disciples). But there's something to be said about the support aspect of disciple-making and its vital role to the church. It's this very passage where we have a summary of church life together in the body of Christ: Apostle's teaching (the Scripture), fellowship of believers (the already converted), breaking of bread (communion), and continued prayers for one another. Is this not normal church life?
Also consider the several verses that simply recognize the teaching, strengthening, and encouraging ministry of the apostles:
Acts 14:21-23, 28, 15:36, 41, 18:11, 23, 21:17ff
Even though Paul specifically was called by the Holy Spirit to the work of evangelizing (Acts 13:2), he was still dedicated to the building up of the existing church through teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers - all which encouraged and supported the saints.
Consider further the "build one another up" passages found throughout the New Testament epistles:
Rom. 12:10, 14:19, 15:1-7; 1 Cor. 1:10, 10:24, 12:14, 20, 26-27; Gal. 5:25-6:2, 10;
Eph. 2:22, 4:1-3, 29, 32, 5:18-21; Phil. 1:27-2:4; Col. 1:9-12, 3:12-17;
1 Thess. 3:11-13, 4:9-12, 5:12-14; 2 Thess. 1:3, 2:16-17, 3:13;
Jas. 5:16; 1 Pet. 1:22-25, 4:8-11; 1 Jn. 3:11, 16, 18, 4:7, 11-12
Just from a cursory reading we can see that the church's mission is much more than making that initial preaching to the unconverted. The mission is more than just evangelizing the lost by going and baptizing (which again, is a very important part). But it's also sustaining, encouraging, and transforming the lives of the already converted by the teaching ministry of the Word and by the day to day loving care of the members of Christ's body.
At least that's the mission...but what is the scope of this mission?
The Scope of the Church's Mission
Like the mission itself, I think the scope of the mission (making disciples) can also be broken down into two components:
Again, this means much more than simply making sure the gospel is preached to all the world. The whole world not only needs to hear the gospel, but the whole world of converts needs to be instructed about all aspects of Christ's commands (not just "how to be saved" - cf. Acts 20:27).
Contrary to the neglect of many in the church today (myself included), His commands include the Older Testament, which He continually upheld (Lk. 16:17; Mk. 7:8-13 - obviously the ceremonial [or ecclesiastical] portion being changed by His advent and work, Heb. 7:12ff). And contrary to the neglect of many in the church today (myself included), His goal for the church also encompasses the church being the instrument whereby He transforms society - as societies - and the world (Mt. 5:14-16; Eph. 5:6-14; Phil. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:9, 12; cf. Dan. 2:34, 44; Mt. 16:18).
Maybe I'm missing something and my perspective is warped, but this really seems what the scope of the Great Commission is according to Scripture. And that leaves us with one more aspect: the means.
The Means of Carrying Out the Great Commission
The process of the mission (making disciples) or the means by which it is accomplished must be clearly understood if we're to do it effectively.
The means of making disciples of all the nations, evangelizing the lost and teaching them to obey all the commands of Christ is not by way of the sword. That is never something given to the church. But as Paul expressed in his letters, the means by which the world is converted and instructed in the will of God is through the power of the gospel presented through rational arguments brought to life in the unregenerate by the work of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18-25ff, 2:12-16; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Titus 2:11-15, 3:3-7).
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ... (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
So the church is in fact a huge contributor to society and to the righteousness of society that God demands (Prv. 14:34). In conjunction with remembering that the church is so much more than simply a mechanism to save souls, we need also to remember that the purpose of those saved souls is to glorify God by doing good works (Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14).
While the church is certainly God's appointed means of corporate worship in society (Acts 2:41-42; 1 Tim. 3:15), it is also His instrument for the conversion of souls unto good works leading to the transformation of society and the whole world (Mt. 28:18-20; cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 9:19-23; Eph. 5:6-14) through the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18, 24).
May we then go forth as a united body to 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 observe all that Christ has commanded.
By His grace and for His glory!
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