Jesus said “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). But why did Jesus start a church? What is its mission and purpose? What should the Church of God be doing today? Do you know—for sure?
It is incredible how much confusion exists today among the various branches and fragments of the Church of God about the mission of the church. You have probably heard numerous ideas about what the church should be doing as the end of the age approaches. Is the mission of the church to preach about Jesus, feed the flock, stabilize congregations, fellowship together, serve the community or be less exclusive? Should the church re-examine basic beliefs, study Jewish traditions, rejoin the “Christian mainstream,” focus on prophecy, share opinions about the Bible or “get the bride ready?”
Today many feel that all these ideas are pleasing to God and acceptable missions of the church. But do these ideas represent God’s instructions—or human opinions? Is it really up to us to select the mission of the church? Or does God plainly reveal the mission of His Church in the Scriptures? Can you prove what that mission is from the Bible? Are you deeply committed to the mission that God has outlined for His Church? Divisions arise when isolated verses or human opinions replace the biblical mission. The mission Jesus emphasized over and over for His Church contrasts sharply with many ideas circulating today. These ideas are dangerous and deceptive because they divert God’s people from the assigned mission for which we are held accountable!
Called for a Purpose
Jesus started the New Testament church by calling and training a group of disciples. The Greek word for church (ekklesia) means a called out group of people. A disciple is one who follows and faithfully conveys the instructions of Jesus Christ. When Jesus called the disciples He outlined their mission very clearly from the beginning. He said “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not say, “follow your feelings or your own opinions.” He said, “Follow Me”—His example, His instructions. Fishermen have a job—to catch fish! They do not sit around socializing, sharing their opinions about fishing. As “fishers of men,” the disciples were commissioned to reach hearts and minds with an important message. The disciples were called and trained for a specific and ongoing purpose.
The disciples were not to rejoin the religious establishment, but were to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17). Jesus said of His disciples: “They are not of the world” and they would be “sanctified”[set apart or distinguished] by the “truth” (John 17:16–17). Jesus said that the world—and its religious leaders— would hate His disciples just as He was hated by people who professed to believe in God (John 17:14).
The Bible reveals that the church Jesus established would be small (Luke 12:32), scattered (John 16:32) and persecuted (Matthew 10:17). A religion with nearly two billion adherents (approximately one-third of mankind), peacefully keeping Sunday as their day to praise Jesus, is not the Church of God described in Scripture!
Jesus told His disciples their mission would be challenging (Matthew 11:29–30), but not impossible (Matthew 19:26). He promised to be with them “even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and to reward them for following His instructions. God inspired John to write, “Because you have kept My command to persevere [remain focused on the mission], I also will keep you from the hour of trial” (Revelation 3:10–11). Those disciples who remain faithful to their mission will be protected from the tribulation and will receive a crown to reign with Christ in the Kingdom of God (Revelation 5:10).
Individuals and organizations that treat this mission lightly and fail to carry it out will go through the tribulation (see Revelation 3:14–19; 12:17). This is why it is so important to remain focused on what Jesus told the church to do! But just what was the mission that Jesus Christ gave to His Church?
The Mission in Matthew
Jesus’ ministry involved, “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness” (Matthew 4:23). This was the example His disciples were to follow. Jesus taught about the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, dietary laws, repentance, forgiveness and loving your enemies. He preached constantly about the kingdom of God (see Matthew, chapters 13 and 14) and the purpose of life (e.g. Matthew 19:28). He also warned that climactic events would precede His second coming (Matthew 24). Compare the times Jesus referred to His death and resurrection (in Matthew), to His references to the Kingdom of God, and you might be surprised at the results. Jesus focused on His mission.
Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6–7). The disciples had to know the identity and location of the Israelites to do that. History indicates the disciples went into Scythia (southern Russia), Parthia (Iran) and India, and through Europe to Britain and Ireland—where many Israelites had gone. As the church grew, they were to preach this same gospel to the Gentiles.
The mission—to reach the nations of Israel—still applies to the church today. Jesus said His disciples would not complete the work before He returned (Matthew 10:23). Yet, in spite of what Scripture plainly states, many today are being told that the work is finished and that there is nothing to do but get the “bride” (the church) ready for Christ’s coming. The Scriptures do not support the idea that the work of preaching the gospel to the world is finished. That is a presumption! Noah did not wrap up his work—as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5)—25 to 50 years before the flood! His work ended when God shut him into the ark—when it began to rain (Genesis 7:6, 16).
A major aspect of Jesus’ ministry was warning of specific world events that would occur just before His return (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Jesus said that His faithful servants will provide a warning as they see the days approaching (Matthew 24:45). He also warned that “many will come in my name [claiming to be Christians and ministers of Christ]… and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4–5). He stated “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). A witness is to warn and inform, not necessarily to convert. When Christ returns he wants to find His disciples doing the work He said to do (Matthew 24:46), making disciples of all nations and teaching what He commanded to be taught (Matthew 28:19–20). This cannot be done if we just sit around and discuss our opinions about the Bible!
The mission of the church, as outlined in Matthew, involves teaching God’s way of life, healing the sick, preaching about the Kingdom of God and warning of events that would mark the end of this age and the return of Jesus Christ. But were these just Matthew’s ideas? Or do we find similar instructions repeated over and over in the Bible?
The Mission in Mark
The gospel of Mark mirrors Matthew when it outlines the mission of the church. Mark writes, “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” and emphasizing the need to repent [change] and believe the gospel (Mark 1:14–15). Preaching about the coming kingdom was the major thrust of Christ’s work on earth. This same focus should be the mission of God’s church today. Jesus called His disciples to become “fishers of men,” not members of a social club, a ministerial fraternity or a private study group (Mark 1:17). He taught people how to keep the Sabbath (Mark 2:23–28; 3:1–6). He also revealed His disciples would be given an understanding that the world would not have of the Kingdom of God—to aid the church in fulfilling its mission (Mark 4:10–12). Jesus said most who hear the true gospel would not understand, or would eventually lose interest in, the real mission of the church (Mark 4:13–20). Only a few would hear and would follow Jesus’ instructions. How does that apply to you?
In Mark 6:7–13 we also find Jesus sending His disciples on a training mission, with instructions to preach and heal. Their preaching is understood to be focused on the Kingdom of God (see Mark 1:14–15). Mark also records Jesus’ detailed instructions to watch for and warn about events that would indicate His coming was near (Mark 13). Mark states that the Great Commission of the church is to “go into all the world and preach the gospel [of the Kingdom of God]” and to baptize those who believe (Mark 16:15–16). This is the primary mission—the work— of the church. This is the reason for publishing magazines and booklets, for being on radio, television and the Internet. This mission requires a dedicated group of disciples working together as a team. Isolated individuals cannot carry it out. It cannot be done sitting at home or in discussion groups or by socializing. Ministers who promote their own agenda or devote their efforts to building a church organization cannot accomplish it. However, as clear as these instructions are, it is amazing that some are today saying, “We will do a work when God shows us what to do” or “We cannot do a work because we do not have the money.” Others say, “We do not publish magazines and booklets because that is too elementary—we need to do indepth research,” or “We do not accept a salary so we cannot do a work.” These are excuses that Christ will not buy! Jesus gave His church a mission, not to be debated or denied, but to be carried out! That is our job, and we will be held accountable!
The Mission in Luke
Contrary to the practice we find today in mainstream Christianity, of inviting people to the church on Sunday, we find Jesus observing the Sabbath and giving instructions on how to keep the Sabbath (Luke 4:16, 31; 13:10–17; 14:1–6). A church that follows Christ’s example will continue to do this. Luke describes two training missions Jesus organized for His disciples. Jesus sent the 12 on a mission to “preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (see Luke 9:1–6). Later, He sent out 70 to heal and preach about “the kingdom of God” (see Luke 10:1–12). Jesus cautioned His disciples to beware of the religious establishment, not to join it (Luke 20:45–47). Luke also records Jesus’ emphasis to watch and warn about specific events that will indicate His return is near (Luke 21). Thus we see, in each of the gospels studied so far, that the mission Jesus outlined for the church is essentially the same.
The Church as a Watchman
A church that follows Christ’s instruction to watch for specific events and warn of their appearance will function as a watchman. A watchman’s job is to watch and warn. The gospel writers clearly record Christ’s instructions on this matter. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel had the same mission. He was to be “a watchman to the house of Israel” and warn them of punishments God would send because of their disobedience (Ezekiel 2:3; 3:4–7, 17). Ezekiel was told that if he saw trouble coming and delivered a warning, he would save himself and anyone who would listen (Ezekiel 33:1–5). However, if he saw events developing and did not deliver a warning, he would be held responsible for those who died (Ezekiel 33:6–7). Ezekiel was commissioned to be God’s watchman to ancient Israel. According to Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, the Church of God today shares that same solemn responsibility! That is part of our mission!
Prior to the destruction and captivity of Israel and Judah, God sent prophets to point out their sins and the consequences of breaking God’s laws. Isaiah was told to “cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). Jeremiah carried a similar warning to the nation of Judah (see Jeremiah 2).
This same warning—the need to repent of breaking the laws of God—was also delivered by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1–12), Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14–15) and the disciples He trained (Acts 2:38). This has never been a popular message. Telling people who may already think they believe in God that they need to change does not win friends or foster goodwill. It cost the lives of Jesus and most of the early disciples—but it is part of the mission of the church. The church must preach more than a gentle message about love and Christian living if it is going to fulfill the mission outlined by Jesus Christ.
John and the Mission
The gospel of John, though written from a different perspective [John emphasizes that Jesus was the divine Son of God], records the same mission. Jesus told His disciples to “Follow Me”—to follow His example and His instructions (John 1:43). Jesus heals the sick and infirm and gives instructions about keeping the Sabbath (John 5:1–15). He also kept, and gave instructions to keep, the Holy Days (John 7:8, 14, 37). John’s gospel reveals that Jesus clashed with the religious establishment repeatedly over doctrine. Religious leaders of Christ’s day did not recognize who He was, nor did they understand His mission or His message. It will be no different today for a church that teaches what Jesus taught. When Jesus was urged to relax, He responded, “My food [my mission] is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:33–34). Jesus was mission-oriented!
The gospel of John emphasizes that Jesus died for the sins of mankind (1:29; 3:16) and that Christians should “love one another” (13:34; 15:17), but this does not replace the command to preach the gospel of the kingdom and to warn the world. In John 21:15–17 we read that Jesus instructed Peter to “feed My sheep.” While this is obviously a part of the mission of the church, you can only feed those who have been attracted by the message. As we will see, this feeding should help the church accomplish its mission.
The Apostles and the Mission
Many believe today that Paul reformulated Christianity to make it more palatable to the world—altering the message and mission of the church and the instructions of Jesus. This simply does not agree with Scripture. The New Testament reveals that the Apostles were faithful to their mission. After the resurrection, Jesus continued to focus the disciples on the “kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3–6). Peter’s sermon on Pentecost emphasized that to be a Christian involved repentance (Acts 2:38). The Apostles continued to heal by miracles (Acts 3:1–10; 9:32–43; 19:1–12).
Philip “preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Paul’s “custom” was to keep the Sabbath (Acts 17:2) and he, like Christ, taught on and about the Sabbath and Holy Days (Acts 13:13–15, 42–44; 18:21; 1 Corinthians 5:7–8). At the end of his ministry, Paul was still “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). The New Testament reveals the mission of the church did not change under the leadership of the Apostles. This is why Paul advised the church “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The Apostles continued to warn, as Christ did, of events that would mark the end of the age and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Paul, Peter and John mention additional details (2 Thessalonians 2; 1 Peter 3; Revelation 11:15–19; 19:5–21). The mission to warn the world is a command and is not to be taken lightly! The epistles are also replete with warnings that religious deception will increase as the end of the age approaches (1 Timothy 4:1–5; 2 Timothy 4:1–5; 2 Peter 2). That includes being deceived about the mission of the church!
The Mission in the End Times
Today many assume the work of preaching the gospel is over, and all that remains for the church is to get the bride “ready” for Christ’s return. This is based on a lone scripture in Revelation 19:7. However, one verse does not negate a mission that is clearly described throughout the New Testament. The Bible explains what getting “ready” entails. Before Christ returns God will raise up an Elijahtype work to “restore all things” (Malachi 4:4–6; Matthew 17:10–11). Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the first coming of the Messiah, an end-time work will “Prepare the way of the Lord” and “Make His paths straight” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3).
This involves straightening out centuries of confusion about the gospel, the mission of the church and God’s way of life by restoring knowledge of the Truth. This has been a major thrust of the modern era of the Church of God. The work begun by Jesus Christ and the Apostles continues today and will continue into the Millennium (Acts 3:19–21; Isaiah 2:2–4; 11:9).
Another aspect of the end-time mission of the church is to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). This called-out group of individuals (the church) must be prepared to do a work—to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, teach God’s way of life and heal the sick [as God makes possible]. This church must also watch world events in order to warn mankind as the end of the age approaches and the return of Jesus Christ nears. Preparing a people to do that job is part of our mission. If we merely focus on self—praying, fasting and studying the Bible for our own benefit—we will not fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus Christ outlined for His church.
The Scriptures clearly outline the real mission of the church. All the confusion today is unfortunate and sadly misguided. We cannot afford to be deceived by numerous and conflicting ideas about what the church should be doing. Knowing and doing the mission of the church is important, because it indicates whether or not we are willing to “follow” Christ’s instructions. Understanding and developing a deep commitment to fulfill that mission is a basic requirement for being in the Kingdom of God. This is what Apostolic Christianity is all about—carrying forward the instructions of Jesus Christ. We must work together to achieve that mission—because we will be held accountable!