The Church Mission Report Card
By Reese Currie, Compass Distributors
I was reading a text on ecclesiology recently, ecclesiology being the study of the church. This particular text identified a sevenfold mission of the church:
1. To glorify God
2. To edify itself
3. To purify itself
4. To educate its constituency
5. To evangelize the world
6. To act as a restraining and enlightening force in the world
7. To promote all that is good.
For each of these points, I would like to briefly examine the Scriptural evidence that proves the point is a valid mission of the church, and then rate the modern church on its fulfillment of the Biblical mission.
To Glorify God
There can be no doubt that the church's mission includes glorifying God. Paul writes, "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6).
It's interesting to note how we are to glorify God here; that we be likeminded, having one mind and mouth to glorify God. Most churches today are involved in the ecumenical movement, which at least pursues to praise God with one mouth, but abstains from likemindedness, choosing instead to ignore serious doctrinal differences.
It would be glorifying to God if the churches took God seriously enough to actually look at the Bible as their absolute guide and correct their unbiblical practices so that we could all be likeminded and praise God of one mind. However, the traditions of our churches have proven to be more important than knowing the truth about God, and that cannot be glorifying to Him at all.
We glorify God by worshiping Him, through prayer and praise, and by living godly lives.
Worship of God must be performed according to the model of John 4:23-24, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Those who do not care about the truth do not worship God. Those who have a spirit that can allow the spreading of false gospels in order to appear acceptable to men do not worship in spirit; in their spirit, they deny the truth of Christ.
Prayer and praise are to be done in accordance with the model of Psalm 50:23, which reads, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God." Praise, and "ordering our conversation (meaning, conduct) aright," are present in the same sentence, which interests me. The very concept is eliminated from the very popular NIV's rendering of the verse, relegated to a typically inaccurate footnote about considering one's way.
Praise in churches today similarly ignores this concept. It is rarely considered whether the praise offered is acceptable to God. It is not asked, is what I am doing to praise God Biblical? Are the lyrics of this praise song acceptable to God? Is this style of music likely acceptable to God? Is this mode of praise acceptable to God? These things are rarely, if ever, considered. Much more import is given to questions such as, "does this song please me?" and "does the congregation like this song or this style of music?" God Himself is often not a part of the consideration process.
God is very particular about how we praise Him. The book of Leviticus, for instance, gives much instruction to the priests on how to do their duties acceptably under the Law. Christians are not under the same Law, but we still should be concerned that our modes of worship have Biblical precedent and agree with Biblical doctrine.
The last topic under this heading, living godly lives, is a matter of desperately low priority in the church. Many churches have instituted ceremonies to bless activities that are against God's laws as found in the Bible, such as homosexual commitment ceremonies. The lives of church members and leaders are not held up to Biblical standards. There is an utter absence of discipline for sin in most churches.
I think we would have to admit that, with regard to glorifying God, the modern church is failing miserably. I truly believe that, if the church were to glorify God in all things, it would not be the failing institution it is in our society today. Instead, the church is trying to seek to bolster its diminishing numbers by becoming just like the world and failing to glorify God. To fail to stand apart from God's enemies is to surrender to them, and the modern church has by and large surrendered to the world. Why on earth would people in the world then join the defeated church?
To Edify Itself
The church's edification involves educating the body in the faith, so that they may live the most productive possible lives in Christ, and to stand firm in unity against heresy.
Ephesians 4:11-16 is probably the best single source of information in the Bible about the purpose and practice of edification:
4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors
4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
But how many churches today actually perform doctrinal training for their people? Even if there is doctrinal training in a church, receiving such training is voluntary. As a result, the unity in doctrine described in these verses is not guaranteed.
I performed a doctrinal training course in my church two years ago. Only four out of over 100 members attended, and the course has not been offered subsequently for lack of interest. I recently spoke to a teacher from another church who admitted that only his wife attended his last doctrinal training class. There is a profound lack of interest in doctrine in the modern church, and therefore there is a profound lack of protection for the members of the church against being led astray by heresies and bad doctrine. In fact, doctrinally naive church leaders often involve their churches in courses that contain false teachings and work with churches that preach false doctrines; and the minority who know enough to oppose such efforts are viewed as troublemakers!
I think we would have to agree that in terms of edifying itself, the modern church is an utter failure.
To Purify Itself
There have always been people in the Christian church who desire to lead it astray, either through their ignorance (a result of the lack of edification) or through a diabolical desire to oppose the true teachings of Christ. So, the Christian church has always had a need to purify itself, and this is accomplished through church discipline. Titus 3:10-11 says, "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."
The Biblical model permits two warnings, in case the person trying to lead the church astray is simply ignorant of Biblical doctrine; but on the third warning, it is acknowledged that the individual is deliberately and knowingly trying to lead the church astray. The nature of the rejection is total, and meant to remove the person from the fellowship so that they cannot do any more damage to the body of Christ.
I have never seen a church performing church discipline in this way. I have seen many churches that permit heretics to continue spouting their false teachings for months and years on end. I have seen churches fail to heed the warnings of Bible believers about the subversive ministries of heretics. And I have seen that, if a church finally does practice a little church discipline out of self-preservation (i.e. too many members are leaving to ignore the problem any more), the subversive person is frequently assigned to another ministry instead of being removed altogether.
There are a few public cases of this unwillingness of churches to purify themselves. For instance, when Bill Phipps, then the moderator of the United Church of Canada, publicly rejected the Trinity doctrine, denying that Jesus Christ is God and that He was resurrected, there was no discipline, but rather affirmation of his unbelieving view. Another public case involves the Roman Catholic Church and the matter of their failure to reject clergy who were known to be pedophiles.
I suspect the problem is farther reaching than the public cases, as the churches seem to come up with new heretical stances every week. These stances are the result of heretics being allowed to continue in their ministries until they reach positions of influence in which they can corrupt the policies of whole denominations.
So I believe we would have to agree that the modern church is an utter failure in terms of purifying itself.
To Educate Its Constituency
The "constituency" refers to all the people served by the church organization. Not everyone who is served by a church is a believer in Jesus Christ already; for instance, there are children in Sunday Schools who have not yet received faith in Christ. In this sense, "educating the constituency" is a different ministry from "edifying the church." Edifying the church is the edification of the saints, of believers; educating the constituency is not limited to believers. It is to educate them in the facts about Jesus Christ, God the Father, Bible stories and so forth. It is a preparatory ministry to their eventual repentance and receiving of faith in Jesus.
Jesus Himself educated the disciples before they were given the realization that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. We are similarly to educate people who have not yet repented and are served by our church.
Churches do generally have Sunday School programs for this purpose but often neglect having classes for the unbelieving adults in their constituency. Churches in my area (eastern Canada) also tend to suspend this part of their mission for the summer months.
Sometimes churches treat their Sunday School like a secular day care. Imagine my chagrin when I learned that the children in one of our church's Sunday School classes were treated to a video of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" at Christmastime instead of having something educational about Jesus Christ. As well, I have found that a great many Sunday Schools perform moral training rather than teaching about Jesus Christ. Morals are important, but it must be always kept in mind that the most moral person on earth will go to hell without faith in Jesus Christ.
I'm hesitant to call all the churches in modern times a failure with regard to educating their constituency, but I do think that in many cases, the "constituency" is not really distinguished from the "saints" and therefore, the importance of the ministry to the "constituency" is not fully appreciated by churches. Saints are saved people who will go to heaven; but the unsaved in the constituency are going to hell unless they repent. The teaching of the "constituency" needs to take into account that not everyone in the constituency is a saved saint. Therefore the situation for those unsaved constituents is an urgent one-but Christian education for the constituency is rarely regarded as urgent or as leading to salvation.
To Evangelize the World
There is no doubt that this is part of our mission-"repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47b). But the church, with a few exceptions, is failing utterly in this regard. To begin with, the vast majority of churches do not preach repentance but rather tell people they can "accept Christ" without repenting. A message that is not a call to repentance is not a saving, evangelical message. To be saved, one must turn away from sin and turn to God, which is repentance. The "accept Christ" message teaches that you be saved through the mere acceptance of facts without ever turning away from sin and turning to God.
Even if the churches in general were preaching the right message of repentance, there are some significant failures in practice that prevent them from truly evangelizing the world.
Many within Christendom refuse to evangelize people of certain faith groups. The Roman Catholic Church officially recognizes Jews and Muslims as being monotheists and therefore will not tell them the good news about Jesus Christ. (This may be a blessing in disguise, since the RCC's false salvation doctrine would only lead them to hell anyway.) A great deal of Protestants will not evangelize Jews. Many evangelical denominations will not evangelize amongst Roman Catholics, leaving them to their superstitions and works-salvation system, refusing to tell them of the free gift of salvation in Christ.
Closer to home, churches very rarely take the task of outreach into the world upon themselves. They have delegated evangelism to "big name" evangelistic organizations like BGEA (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) and consider their missionary contribution complete when they send money to a missionary in Africa. In many cases, the people in their own community will not be reached because their community is too small to attract a big evangelistic association, and their community is not located in a remote third world country! This is not even bringing into consideration the reality that many preachers in evangelistic associations bring an "easy believism" message that does not involve repentance, which causes false professions of faith.
The message to the church of Jerusalem was to "begin at Jerusalem," but the modern church doesn't reach out to their own community for fear of embarrassment, or being seen as fanatics, or being seen as "intolerant" toward other faiths. The modern church is a miserable failure with regard to evangelism-it has the appearance of being totally unconcerned with anyone's salvation but its own.
To Act as a Restraining and Enlightening Force in the World
The influence and testimony of the church should hold back the development of lawlessness in our world, and as a consequence hold back God's judgment against the world. We can see throughout the Old Testament how God's judgment came when people became so lawless that He could not hold back punishment. The pleadings of Moses at one point stayed God's hand from utterly destroying the people of Israel. The church is to be in this intercessory business too.
Instead, the modern church is an active participant in lawlessness and perhaps even accelerates the degradation of our society through its permissiveness and denial of Biblical morality. Some churches, denominations and "parachurch" organizations have tried to be a restraining and enlightening force in the world, but Christendom tends to label such people as radicals and distances itself from them. Instead, most churches try to bring God's blessing on immoralities that He forbids in His Word.
The church is by and large a failure in terms of restraining the progression of lawlessness in this world.
To Promote All That Is Good
The church is to do good even to people who are no part of the church. Galatians 6:10 says, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."
At times in the history of the church, it has failed to promote things that are good. For instance, the emancipation of slaves has not always been supported by various denominations, but Scripture is quite plain that it is better for slaves to be freed if possible.
These days, many churches promote all that is "good" in the eyes of the world but "bad" in God's eyes, such as the blessing of gay unions and so forth. This is also a way of failing to promote only what is good!
It is apparent, then, that even on this point, the modern church is a failure.
It is evident that the modern church is not fulfilling any of its Biblical mandates. Speaking from personal experience, when people try to make a church fulfill its Biblical mandates, it is a real uphill battle, probably because of the sheer lack of knowledge in the church caused by the lack of interest in doctrinal teaching. It is basically humanly impossible to get a church to do right or to correct itself. Therefore, the best advice I can give is for you to pray that God gives some great illumination to the modern church so it may repent of all its present wickedness and begin to fulfill its God given mandate.
The Church Mission Report Card is Copyright (c) 2002 by Compass Distributors
All Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version.