The Task of Missions
The task of the church in her work of missions is to teach. Not to save souls. Not to create church growth. In His “Great Commission” Jesus stated the task in the most simple terms: teach.
First, the church of Christ performs the work of missions in obedience to her King, Jesus. Mission and evangelism work is not a matter of choice, but one of obedience. This work must be performed to the fullest of the ability God gives.
The objects of mission work are all whom God in His providence brings into their path. The church must do its best with all the means it has been providentially given by God.
Along with its labors within its own membership, the labors of missions puts the church in the position of serving as God's servant in the accomplishment of His eternal purposes of election and reprobation. Thus God is glorified.
The supreme motive for the church's obedience to her Lords command to “Go ye into all the world” must be to glorify God by proclaiming Him as the One who is so abundantly worthy to be known and praised for who and what He is. Our inspiration is to be found, not in successes, but in Gods character! Another motivation is the great gratitude each believer has to his God for so great a Savior and for the salvation of so worthless a person and people. Another motivation is the conviction of, love of, and zeal for the truth. And the Bible speaks of our being motivated by confidence and trust in the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit and in the power of the preaching. A final, but certainly not the least, motive for the performance of missions is love for the neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). The second, great commandment is chiefly manifested in a concern for the eternal state and spiritual well-being of my neighbor.
Now we begin to consider those principles which undergird the work itself. First we answer the question. What is the nature of the work of missions and evangelism?
Teach. Baptize. And teach. Matthew 28:19, 20.
It must be noted that although the King James translation (not incorrectly) gives us twice the word “teach,” these are two different words in the original language. The first word translated “teach” literally means “to disciple, to make disciples.” Jesus says, “Go ye, therefore, and disciple all nations.” But to translate this as “teach” is not an error, for the word clearly implies that the making of disciples is to be in the way of teaching them (we will say more on this later). First, let us consider the fact that the task Jesus gave to His church through the apostles was to make disciples.
They were not to make of a person one who would be a conservative citizen of his or her country. Nor were they to help everyone have high self-esteem.
This command to make disciples or to teach came to men who were already disciples. They knew what it meant to be Jesus' disciple. They knew that it meant to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and to follow Him. They knew that it meant to follow Him who did not have what foxes and birds have. They knew that to be a disciple meant coming to Jesus weary and heavy laden under the burden of a nagging conscience, and taking up His easier yoke, bowing to His authority (Matthew 11:28-30).
Thus the disciples were to work and pray, not for decisions for Christ, but for trustful and subjected servants of the King, Jesus Christ.
The disciples were to pray because they could not make disciples in their own strength or wit. The carnal mind, the deceitful heart, and the hardened nature will never give sincere subjection to Jesus. Nothing but omnipotent power can subdue the unregenerate. No one in this fallen world will believe the truth unless there is added to the presentation of the truth the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit, which power causes them to receive the truth in love. The Bible teaches that while God's Spirit is the cause, His truth is the instrument of man's great transformation. It is the truth which affects us, and it is the Spirit which causes us to receive the truth.
The disciples understood that their Master was commanding them to be instruments to bring others into the same relationship with Christ that they had with Him. They would be instruments of His grace. They were only to teach, unreservedly trusting in their Lord to add to the church daily such as He was saving.
Jesus does not command the apostles and the church to make the heathen wonder, or to dazzle them with splendor, or to amaze them with mystery. Rather He commanded the church simply to “teach.” Illustrate, explain, expound, tell, inform, narrate. Be content to sit down and tell them the very plainest and most common things. Teach them first the very rudiments of the cross of Christ. This takes away the darkness of foolish ignorance.
Teach! Not argue or debate. The great Greek philosophers needed to be taught, for they were but fools who thought themselves to be wise. The same is true for the great philosophers, scientists, geologists, and doctors of today. Teach those who have great knowledge, for unless they become as little children, they cannot enter the kingdom. Do not debate and argue with them. Position yourself not as a combatant concerning certain teachings. Rather teach, insisting that you have been sent and that Christ will back up your claim.
Therefore, the central emphasis of the church's calling is not the creation of emotional pressure points and conversions. It is not her calling to pressure people into quick decisions, often on the basis of lengthy emotional appeals accompanied by inspiring and moving music. Rather the central emphasis of the congregation or denomination, which is striving to be obedient to the calling of her Lord, is an instructional presentation of the Gospel wherever and whenever she can.
In order to support the emphasis on teaching, allow me to quote from a book recently published by The Trinity Foundation, Today's Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine? by Dr. Gordon H. Clark. In the foreword, John Robbins says that
“One of the sins for which Christ condemned the scribes and Pharisees was their dynamic evangelistic program.”
Then he quotes Matthew 23:15: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”
He continues: The message, the teaching, the doctrine of the evangelist is what separates genuine Christian evangelism from counterfeit evangelism …the concern and the focus of the Christian evangelist is not growth, but truth, and if that truth is preached clearly. Growth, as a goal, is the ideology of the cancer cell. True evangelism has a different goal: the propagation of God's truth. If the Gospel is preached to every creature, God will convert all His people, all He has chosen for heaven.
Dr. Clark writes that because the Gospel is a message, he “insists that evangelism is preaching the Gospel; that a few sermons are inadequate; that as much elucidation as possible must be given.” Further he says, “The Gospel is a message to be understood. Knowledge is the first and an essential part of faith.” The book concludes:
The aim is to teach. Teach patiently, calmly, and in great detail. The aim is to teach the system of doctrine that the Scriptures teach. The Scriptures are not a haphazard collection of bits of information and theory. They present an integrated, logical system.
It is impossible to teach the system of doctrine in five minutes, or to reduce it to five spiritual laws… The Christian message is the whole Bible; it is the whole counsel of God. All of it must be taught, not just a small part, for it is all profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. It is by taking heed thereto that a young man may cleanse his way.
Evangelism is the exposition of the Scripture. God will do the regenerating.
A clear implication is that true evangelism or mission work is not anything quick. It is a long-range task. It requires self-denying love which identifies with people in their need and in their spiritual thinking. It requires teaching and catechizing people so they can learn what sin is and who God is. It is teaching with the confidence that the exalted Lord will work in the heart, open it, and seal it unto Himself.
Secondly, Jesus said that the task of missions and evangelism is to baptize the disciples (Matthew 28:19).
Baptism locates and identifies the local community of saints.
The task is much more than the salvation of individuals. It is the building and planting of God's church. It is bringing the professing believer into the visible community of a local congregation.
Think of how the disciples of Jesus understand this command. On Pentecost they baptized those who were pricked in their hearts, and thus they were added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47). The church to which Jesus added them is not the organic Body of Christ, but the local congregation. Jesus daily added to the local congregation the ones He was saving. This clearly implies that membership in the local institute is not a matter of choice, but a most delightful mandate.
Jesus teaches that no evangelism or mission work is adequate unless it views the church as an organism in which God has ordained to manifest His glory and through which He builds up His saints. 1 Timothy 3:15 teaches us that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, the same truth which must be taught in order to make disciples. Ephesians 3:10 shows that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God. Ephesians 4 shows that Jesus gave the gift of preachers to the church for the perfecting of the saints and for the edifying of the body of Christ. It is in the local congregation that there are the means of grace, especially the preaching and loving discipline.
Any mission work and evangelism which does not build the church, no matter how sincere it may be, is wrong.
When we pray for our neighbors' salvation, we should not be satisfied until they take their place in the visible congregation.
Thirdly and closely related to the former duty, Jesus commanded His disciples to teach those who are made disciples to observe all the things He commanded them. Jesus wanted His disciples to be taught and baptized unto the goal of their conforming to His Word.
This assumes that the true disciple of Christ takes his or her place in the church and world under the rule of the Lord Jesus. The true disciple wants to obey and to please Christ.
This observance of Christ's commandments implies knowledge. Obedience must have roots in knowledge of what must be obeyed. There can be no observers of Christ's commands without some grasp of Christ's doctrines. This knowledge must be accompanied with active and practical obedience, or the profession of faith and discipleship is an empty profession.
To be secured for the baptized disciples was a teaching ministry, whose responsibility it is to show to the disciples the mind and will of their Lord. His disciples must put their knowledge into practice. They must be doers as well as hearers of the Word. They are to observe what He has commanded.
Therefore the church, whether the local congregation or the mission station, must have a teaching ministry. Pastors and missionaries must strive to make the people acquainted with the whole spectrum of apostolic teaching from the perspective of its practical implications and demands.
Jesus requires the church to teach in the preaching, in the catechism class, and in the seminary.
The task Jesus gives the church is gigantic. Men and women must first be brought into a trusting and submitting relationship to Jesus Christ. Secondly, the church must bring these disciples into a lively relationship with a local congregation which manifests the marks of the true church. And, thirdly, the church must constantly strive to bring its membership into practical conformity to the Word of God.
God has given the whole task to the church.
Evangelism is from God. It is through the church. It is to the world. It is feeding back into the church. In this manner God is glorified and the church receives His blessing.