LCN Article
The Mission of God's Church

March / April 2006

Douglas S. Winnail

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 about the mission of God's Church exists today. You have probably heard numerous ideas about what God's Church should be doing as the end of the age approaches. Is the mission of God's Church to preach about Jesus, to feed the flock, to fellowship together, to serve the community or to welcome all comers? Should God's 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 are acceptable missions for God's Church. But do these ideas represent God's instructions, or human opinions? Is it really up to us to select the mission of God's Church? Or does God plainly reveal the mission of His Church in Scripture? Can you prove from the Bible what that mission is? 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 mandate. The mission Jesus emphasized again and again for His Church contrasts sharply with many ideas now held by those who were once with us. Those 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 just 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." He said that they would be "sanctified" [set apart or distinguished] by the "truth" they taught (John 17:16–19). 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 having more than two billion adherents (approximately one-third of mankind), peacefully keeping Sunday as its day of worship, cannot be the Church of God described in Scripture!

Jesus told His disciples that the burden of their mission would be challenging, but not impossible (Matthew 19:26). He promised to be with them "even to 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, 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 treating this mission lightly, failing to carry it out, will go through the tribulation (Revelation 12:17). This is why it is so important to remain focused on what Jesus told God's 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 13) and the purpose of life (Matthew 19:29; Revelation 5:10). He also warned that monumental events would precede His second coming (Matthew 24).

Looking at the book of Matthew, compare the number of times Jesus referred to His death and resurrection, and the number of times He referred to the Kingdom of God. You might be surprised by the result—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). To do that, the disciples had to know the identity and location of the Israelites. History indicates that the disciples went into Scythia (southern Russia), Parthia (Iran) and India, and through Europe to Britain and Ireland—where many Israelites had gone. As God's Church grew, it was to preach this same gospel to the Gentiles. This mission—to reach the nations of Israel— still applies to God's Church today. Jesus said that His disciples would not complete the work before He returned (Matthew 10:23). Yet, in spite of what Scripture plainly states, many today believe that the work is finished, and that there is nothing to do but get the "bride" (God's Church) ready for Christ's coming. Scripture does 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) decades before the Flood! His work ended when God shut him into the ark—when it began to rain (Genesis 7:7, 16).

One major aspect of Jesus' ministry was a warning about 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. 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 that "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 meant 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). We cannot do this if we just sit around and discuss our opinions about the Bible!

The mission of God's 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 will mark the end of this age and the return of Jesus Christ. We find similar instructions repeated again and again in the Bible!

The Mission in Mark

The gospel of Mark mirrors Matthew when it outlines the mission of God's Church. Mark explains that "Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" and emphasizing the need to repent—to 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 that His disciples would be given an understanding that the world would not have regarding the Kingdom of God—an understanding that would aid God's Church in fulfilling its mission (Mark 4:10–12). Jesus said that most in this age who heard the true gospel would not understand the real mission of God's Church, or would eventually lose interest (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 find Jesus sending His disciples on a training mission, with instructions to heal and to preach. They were preaching about the Kingdom of God (see Mark 1:14–15). Mark also records Jesus' detailed instructions to watch for and warn about the events signaling that His coming would be near (Mark 13). Mark states that the Great Commission of God's 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 God's Church. This is the reason for publishing magazines and booklets, and for being on radio, television and the Internet. This mission requires a dedicated group of disciples working together as a team. It cannot be carried out by isolated individuals. It cannot be done by sitting at home or by participating in discussion groups or by socializing. It cannot be accomplished by ministers who promote their own agendas. However, as clear as these instructions are, it is amazing that some still say, "We will do a work when God shows us what to do" or "We cannot do a work because we do not have enough money" or "We do not publish magazines and booklets because that is too elementary; we need to do in-depth research," or "We do not accept a salary so we cannot do a work." These are excuses that Christ will not accept! 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

In Luke, as in Matthew and Mark, 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). God's Church, following Christ's example, will continue to do this. Luke describes two training missions that Jesus organized for His disciples. Jesus sent the 12 apostles on a mission to "preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1–6). Later, He sent out 70 to heal and preach about "the kingdom of God" (Luke 10:1–12). Jesus cautioned His disciples to beware of the religious establishment, not to join it (Matthew 23:2–10; Luke 20:45–47). Luke also records Jesus' instruction to watch and warn about specific events that will indicate His soon return (Luke 21). Thus we see that Matthew, Mark and Luke provide essentially the same outline and perspective on the mission Jesus outlined for God's Church.

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 the nation of punishments God would send because of 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 33:6–9). 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!

Before Israel and Judah went into captivity, God sent prophets to point out the nations' 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 (Jeremiah 2). This same warning— the need to repent of breaking God's law—was also delivered by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1–12). It was also delivered by Jesus Christ (Mark 1:14–15) and the disciples He trained (Acts 2:38). This has never been a popular message. Telling people that they need to change, and that their preconceived ideas about God may be mistaken, 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 God's 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 was written from a different perspective than the other three gospels, giving particular emphasis to Jesus' identity as the divine Son of God. Still, regarding God's Church, John describes the same mission. Jesus told His disciples to "Follow Me"—to follow His example and His instructions (John 1:43). In John, Jesus asserts that repentance is required to gain the Kingdom of God. 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). John's gospel reveals that Jesus repeatedly clashed with the religious establishment 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 (John 1:29), 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." Feeding the sheep does not mean turning inward; you can only feed those who have responded to the message the Church is preaching! Moreover, as we will see, this feeding should help God's Church accomplish its mission.

The Apostles and the Mission

Even some who call themselves Christians believe that the Apostle Paul "reformulated" Christianity to make it more palatable to the world by altering the message and mission of God's Church. However, this belief 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 Christianity requires repentance and coming out of this world (Acts 2:38). The Apostles continued to heal by miracles (Acts 3:1–10; 9:32–43; 19:10–12). 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). Like Christ, he taught on (and taught about) the Sabbath and Holy Days (Acts 13:13–15, 42–44; 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 28:23, 31). The New Testament reveals that the mission of God's Church did not change under the leadership of the Apostles. This is why Paul advised Christians, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

The Apostles continued to warn, as Christ had, 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; 2 Peter 3; Revelation 11:15–19; 19:5–21). The mission to warn the world is a command, and so 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). Some today are deceived about the mission of God's Church!

The Mission in the End-Times

Today, even some in God's Church wrongly assume that the work of preaching the gospel is over, and that all that remains for God's Church is to "get the bride ready" for Christ's return. This misunderstanding is based on a lone scripture in Revelation 19:7. Of course, one verse does not negate the whole mission that is clearly described throughout the New Testament. The Bible explains what "getting ready" entails. Before Christ returns, God will raise up an Elijah-type 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, about the mission of God's Church and about His way of life—by restoring knowledge of the Truth. 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). This restoration of the Truth is part of what God's Church is to do to get ready.

Another vital aspect of the Church's end-time mission is to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). This called-out group of individuals—God's Church—must be prepared to do a work. They must be ready to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, teach God's way of life and heal the sick—as much as God makes possible. God's 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. Are we willing to risk our reward by ignoring Christ's own words?

Scripture clearly outlines the true mission of God's Church. We cannot afford to be deceived by numerous and conflicting ideas about what God's Church should be doing. Knowing and carrying out the mission of God's Church is vitally important, because it demonstrates 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 our 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 for what we do—and for what we fail to do!