This five-part series was originally presented at the North Dakota District Convention in January 2018.
Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to faithfulness, and being faithful includes being faithful to His calling. Jesus commands His Church to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world. This, all by itself, should be enough for us to take up the task in our own generation. However, there are many competing definitions of what it means to carry out this mission. My goal is to consider what the Bible has to say about the mission of the Church with a view to putting it into practice. I am not proposing a program. Rather, belief translates into practice. It is not enough to say that we want to carry out the Lord’s mission without actually doing anything. John Charles Ryle, an Anglican bishop who lived in the nineteenth century, sums up this danger nicely when he comments on Matthew 10:16-23 that: “The extreme into which most men are liable to fall in the present day, is that of silence, cowardice, and letting others alone. Our so-called prudence is apt to degenerate into a compromising line of conduct, or downright unfaithfulness.” Ryle recognizes that we can go too far in the other direction as well, letting zeal get out of hand, but consider what he says. Are we being faithful to the Lord’s calling, or do we hope that someone else will do the work of a missionary in our place? Therefore, if we desire to keep the Lord’s command, what are we called to do? What does the Holy Spirit have to say to us about the mission of the Church? In order to discern the mind of the Spirit regarding this matter, I will examine a number of passages.
The first question we must ask is “Why?” Why do we go into the world to proclaim the Gospel? The most natural place to begin is also the most common: 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.'” Because this passage is so well known, I want to make only a couple of observations. First, Jesus begins with a declaration of His authority, especially now that He has been glorified. This is not accidental. The Church goes to proclaim the Gospel on the authority of Christ. We are not the masters of this mission, but the servants tasked with doing our Master’s will. Our mission, therefore, does not begin with us, but with God. The Father sent His Son into the world, and the Son now sends us. To be in the body of Christ is to be sent just as He was sent. We are therefore unified in our mission to the world because we are one in Christ. Second, Christ commands the Church to make disciples of all nations. We commonly divide the mission of the Church into foreign missions and national or domestic missions. Each present their own unique set of challenges. However, such a division sometimes has an unintended side effect, because there is a tendency to emphasize foreign missions over those at home. It is easier to be concerned for the neighbor who lives far off than to be concerned for the neighbor next door. However, “all nations” includes our own parish and neighborhood. Mission work does not begin twenty miles from home. One does not need the title of “missionary” to do what the Lord calls us to do, and sometimes that can be as close as next door or even closer still. I am not disparaging foreign missions, of course. The Gospel must be preached to the whole creation. Yet let us not forget that our coworker or even our family member is a soul for whom Christ died, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us to talk about Jesus with someone we know well.