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The purpose of the church is holiness. The church has been set apart by God for God. He said because “I am holy you are to be holy.” A purpose is a reason for being or existence. On the other hand, when we speak of mission in the church, we are looking to do something. The difference between purpose and mission is the difference between being and doing.
The church’s mission was prophesied by Isaiah. The Suffering Servant, Jesus, would come and be a “light for the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) God also said it is “too small a thing” to only save “Jacob” but that he would call all peoples to himself through the gospel. (Isaiah 49:6) The Church of God was on mission, his.
One of the most familiar passages in the Bible declares God’s global mission for the church. (Matthew 28: 18-20) All Christian churches know this passage to be our marching orders given directly by the Risen Lord Jesus. We refer to this as the great commission. The weight of this mission is supreme because of the weight of the one who gave it. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth” was given to me.” This is an inclusive statement. That is, regardless of whether men submit to him, Jesus is the one who has all authority. We all would do well to think of Jesus’ ultimate authority when faced with other authorities in life that make clams upon us. Men have a granted authority. For example, we are called to submit to governmental authority because God has ordained their limited authority for the good and welfare of all men. (Romans 13) The same Apostle wrote that a sign of the culture in the “last days” is that there will be a lack of submission to authority. (2 Timothy 3) He was writing of the culture in the church. The church stands under the word of God and therefore, we receive his commands concerning purpose and mission and submit to him.
Therefore, the Risen Lord Jesus directs the church on her mission. The church has been given a granted authority by the one who has supreme authority to do what he commands. So, we ought to be clear on the Savior’s command. Concerning mission, his command is to disciple. Those who are following him are to go and make disciples. The word “disciple” is the main verb of Matthew 28: 19-20. To translate Jesus’ command into English, the word “make” has been inserted. The critical nature of this command to make disciples was further detailed by the means. The means by which the church is to make disciples was described by two participles, baptizing and teaching.
The first means of making disciples is baptizing, which concerns identity. Discipling requires that the one discipled be identified with the One he is following, the Triune God. Followers of Jesus are identified with him. This text is also the source of the church’s receiving of the sacrament of baptism, the sign and seal of the Covenant. Every follower of Jesus, by his command, may rightly receive the “sign of the Covenant” as a member in the visible covenant community. Also, the children of believers rightly receive the “sign of the Covenant,” in accordance with Genesis 17: 10 and Acts 2: 39.
The second means of discipling is teaching. In the process of discipling, disciples are taught “everything that Jesus commanded,” namely, the whole of Scripture. A disciple is a learner and follower of Jesus throughout his entire life. Christians are disciples of Jesus. “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11: 26)
Discipleship requires teaching the whole truth. Paul told the elders in Ephesus that he was innocent of their blood because he did not “shrink from declaring ... the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20: 26-27) The content of discipleship is the Bible, the word of God written.
The first thing taught is the gospel. When Jesus began his public ministry, he preached that the Kingdom was near, therefore, he said, “repent and believe in the gospel [of the Kingdom].” (Mark 1: 15) Paul wrote that the gospel was “of first importance.” (1 Corinthians 15:3)
Finally, as God’s purpose of the church is clearly given by him; be holy because he is holy; the mission is likewise clear. God’s mission for his church is to make disciples “of all nations.”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione is the pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church.
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