The Whole Point of the Church Is The Gospel
As the Gospel community, living within the kingdom of God, the Church should seek to prioritise the kingdom purposes. These kingdom purposes are the Invitation to join the Kingdom (Evangelism), the Participating in the Kingdom (Edification), Sharing the Kingdom (Social Concern), and Celebrating the King (Worship). These four purposes are the primary priorities of the Church.
The Church has many priorities. The Scriptures tell us to undertake many different activities, to follow different teachings, and to obey many guidelines. This essay will outline the priorities of the Church, and, based on the teachings of the Bible, make a case for the chief priorities.
According to Mark 1:14, the first activity undertaken by Jesus after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness was proclaiming the Gospel of God, saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” In Luke, Jesus associated Isaiah 61:1-2 with Himself, saying “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Paul explains, in Romans 1:3-4, that the good news Isaiah wrote about was that “[Jesus], who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Further, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 that the Gospel, “that Christ died for our sin in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”, is of “first importance.” The Gospel is not just something the Church, as the community of the Gospelised, should acknowledge, but instead the Gospel is of first importance, and should guide and lead all activities in which the Church participates. As such, the chief priorities must be led by the Gospel of the Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God; Anything that is not Gospel work should not be prioritised by the Church.
Evangelism (Inviting into the Kingdom)
Stroup (1985, 26) writes that evangelism is literally “Gospelism”. It’s not just a proclamation of salvation, but an invitation to join the Kingdom of God. Bloesch (2002, 216) however, points out that faith comes from hearing (Romans 10:17), and as such, evangelism is about drawing people into faith by preaching the Gospel. While evangelism can’t be an open invitation into the kingdom, but instead requires repentance and belief, as shown in Acts 2:38, it is accurate to say that evangelism is the human component of drawing a person into a relationship with Jesus and the Church, via salvation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, thus allowing them to experience community in the Kingdom of God.
Horton (2011, 713) sees the great commission as being a mandate for the Church. The Church is commanded to preach the good news of his death and resurrection, and to then teach the new disciples. Kung (1967, 96) continues this idea, writing “[Jesus’] preaching of the reign of God is genuinely continued by the Church’s preaching of the reign of Christ. Not only is the evangel a mandate from Christ, it is a continued proclamation of the kingdom of God that Christ himself taught; The Church is carrying on the Gospel mission of Jesus.”
The Gospel is based in God’s love; God sent Jesus to die so the whoever believed in Him would live (John 3:16). Since no one can believe in Jesus without hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:14), then the Church should, out of love for God, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and invite the world to believe in Jesus, and to be brought into the Kingdom of God.
Edification (Participation in the Kingdom)
1 John 3:6-9 shows that the role of the Church is to develop a practice of righteousness. By the indwelling and sealing of Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) the Church is becoming more Holy, and this is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3). After all, the Ministers of the Church were given for the perfecting of the saints (Ephesians 4:12). Additionally, the Church are told that grace can be imparted to the brethren by the Church through the use of edifying words (Ephesians 4:29). Hayes (2003, 1239) describes the idea well when he writes “As a community of the saints [The Church] is to be a growing, serving, worshiping body.”
One of the earliest instances of the Church occurs in Acts 2:42-46. They are described as being devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, to fellowship, and to prayers. It further describes the koinonia that exists within the Church. The author of acts saw this participation as being important enough to show immediately after the first proclamation of the Gospel by Peter. It is shown as a response to the acceptance into the Kingdom.
The Scriptures further encourages the Church to love, teach, unify, to have open sharing, to use the Spirit’s gifts to encourage and develop each other, and to restore brethren who are caught in sin (Acts 4:32-35, Ephesians 4:1-4, Ephesians 4:11-16, Galatians 6:1-10, Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:12).
James 1:27 asserts that the Church should care for the widows and orphans within the community. Where there were no family members to care for them, the Church was to assume responsibility for them. Today this should take the form of caring for the community as needs arise.
It is not enough to merely exist as the Church, but as citizens of the Kingdom of God, the Church should seek to make disciples, to continue discipling each other (Bird 2011, 754), and to care for each other as there is need. This allows the Gospel to be more realised in the life of the Church.
Social Concern (Sharing the Kingdom)
The Church is not the kingdom. Bloesch (2002, 76) speaks of the church as a vanguard of the Kingdom of God; The Church points towards the kingdom, and is part of the Kingdom, but is not synonymous with the kingdom. The Kingdom is wherever Jesus reigns as king and the Church is the people of God who submit to Christ. “The presence of the Kingdom in the Church is the presence of its foretaste…in the Spirit.” (Newbigin 1989, 119) Because of this, the Church has the opportunity to share the kingdom with the world.
When Jesus healed the sick and diseased He was sharing the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). His teaching and preaching coincided with His healing ministry. He allowed humans to experience the healing that comes alongside the kingdom. When commanded the disciples to cast out demons, He was telling them to share tastes of the kingdom with the uninitiated.
The ministry of the Apostles was widely known in the first century. Although they were concerned with spreading the Church, they also shared the kingdom with unbelievers. Even non-believers came to the believers hoping for healing ministry (Acts 5:16). This act is shown on its own merit, not merely as a means to evangelism.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught that His followers were to be salt in the world. They should be different to the world, since they were part of the kingdom of God. They should flavour the world in such a way that the world is impacted.
Ideally, the world should have experiences, or tastes, of the kingdom through the Church. When the kingdom of darkness comes into contact with believers, they should have an encounter with the Kingdom of God. Jesus believed this so much that He declared one of the two greatest commandments was the “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). He furthered this idea when He taught the disciples that whoever did not feed a stranger had, in reality, not fed Jesus. These people will not inherit the Kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus saw caring for the disadvantaged and unsaved as being a vital component of the Kingdom of God.
Worship (Celebrating the King)
Jesus described the kind of worship He expected from the Church in John 4:24 “Worship in Spirit and truth.” Ryrie (1986, 429) comments that worship in spirit contains three ideas. Firstly, it is not confined to a particular place or time, and should take place anywhere and everywhere. Secondly, It is not a ritual, but comes from man’s spirit, which has be renewed by the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, it is direct person-to-divinity worship. Worship in truth shows that worship cannot be done in ignorance, but instead must be out of a response to the revelation of God that is found in Jesus Christ, the Word, and the testimony of the Apostles, the Scriptures. Acts 2:47 we see the new believers praising God, alongside being devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, in response to salvation. This idea is affirmed by 1 Peter 2:5 and Romans 12:1, that the Church is a royal priesthood who offer spiritual sacrifices, and offer their bodies as living sacrifices, which is an act of spiritual worship. As priests of God, all believers are to worship wherever they are, and whenever they are. James 5:13 expresses the idea that worship should be a lifestyle of the Church, regardless of circumstances; The situational emotions that may be experienced by the believer do not effect their worship. In fact, Paul insinuates that a results of being filled with the Spirit is worship. Ultimately, worship is shown by Hebrews 13:15-16 to be acknowledgement with words and songs, doing good, and sharing, because these things please God. As the Church, as the community of Christ, who are indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and are part of the Kingdom of God, we should praise the King.
In the great commission Jesus tells the disciples to makes disciples of all the nations and to baptise them (Matthew 28:19). This would suggest that baptism is a command separate from making disciples. However, In this passage “disciple” is an aorist, active, imperative verb (µαθητεύσατε), and “baptising” is a participle (βαπτίζοντες). The participle is used to further the understanding of the imperative here; Baptising and teaching are the ways to achieve the “make disciples” command. It is best to interpret baptising as a part of “making disciples”, rather than as a separate instruction.
The Mark 14 and Matthew 26 accounts of the Last Supper do not contain an instruction to repeat the ceremony. Luke 22:19 contains “do this in remembrance of me”, which could be interpreted as an institution of a Sacrament. It should be noted that “do” in this case is in a present tense, indicative verb. This could imply that Jesus was only suggesting this as a one off event. When interpreting the Lukan account in light of 1 Corinthians 11:26 it should be acknowledged that the early Church had implemented the Lord’s Supper as a ceremony, and Paul both acknowledged and encouraged this. Paul’s reason for continually performing the Lord’s Supper is that it proclaims the death of Christ to the Church.
Bird (2013, 754) holds that the sacraments are a feature of the Church and are more than a purpose, but they are still a necessary function of the Church. It should be concluded that the sacraments, while important to the Church, and are a part of a healthy Church, however, they should be seen as part of the edification of the body of Christ. They are not a priority of the Church on their own, but are instead part of the edification priority.
Out of the five potential priorities, four of them are each as important as each other. Evangelism, Discipleship, Worship, and Social Concern are each vital function of the Church. Each of them are continually taught throughout scripture, and are each supported by numerous examples and commands. While the sacraments are a mark of a Church, they are not a purpose of the Church. While they should be done by Churches, they are a way to edify the Church.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Bird, Michael. 2013. Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Bloesch, Donald G. 2002. The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission.
Downers Grove: IVP.
Hayes, Edward. L. 2003. “The Church.” In Understanding Christian Theology, edited by Charles Swindoll and Roy Zuck, 1079-1244. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith. Grand Rapics: Zondervan. Kung, Hans. 1967. The Church. London: Burns & Oates.
Newbigin, Lesslie. 1989. The Gospel in a Plurialist Society. Grand Rapids: Wm Eerdmans.
Ryrie, Charles. 1986. Basic Theology. Wheaton: Victor Books.
Stroup, George W. 1985. “Evangelism and Reformed Theology.” Austin Seminary Bulletin, no. 8/100: 25-30