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The Church’s Unique Mission

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series

"Citizens and Exiles"

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Thus far, I have attempted to establish a biblical basis for individual Christian cultural activity, but when Christians gather together as local churches, the picture narrows to a certain degree. This is due to the fact that not everything Scripture commands of Christians as individuals applies in the same way to local churches as institutions. To cite an obvious example that Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert use in their very helpful book on the subject, What is the Mission of the Church?, Christ’s command for a Christian husband to love his wife as his own body does not extend to a church as a whole. DeYoung and Gilbert rightly point out that there is a difference between “the church organic,” that is, Christians living life together within the community, and “the church institutional,” the local gathering of believers who covenant together to fulfill very specific responsibilities given by Christ to local churches. These responsibilities have been given to churches “when you come together” (1 Cor 11); they are responsibilities not given to individual Christians when they are alone or even to groups of Christians who are not gathered together formally as a local church.

Churches as formal, local institutions have been given a very specific, singular mission in this age, best articulated in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19–20). “Make disciples” is the mandate Christ gave to his church—nothing more and nothing less. Churches make disciples by faithfully proclaiming the gospel, by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and by “teaching them to observe all that” Christ has commanded. Nowhere does the New Testament command churches to transform or “redeem” culture.

Yes, God intends to restore all things, he intends to unite his redemptive reign with his universal reign, but this is not happening during the present age, and the church has no direct role in such restoration. Instead, the New Testament promises that this age will continue to grow increasingly wicked (2 Ti 3:13), and thus, although individual cultural pursuits are worthy as part of the common kingdom, Scripture never commands churches or even individual Christians to seek for complete societal transformation. Yet this pessimism about the trajectory of the world’s systems in this age is balanced with an optimism in the power of the gospel to change lives and the reality of Christ’s coming again to set up his kingdom on earth. Only he can accomplish societal transformation.

As an institution, the church’s mission is not cultural or societal transformation. The church’s mission is exclusively redemptive: make disciples.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

3 Responses to The Church’s Unique Mission

  1. Scott, I see one BIG problem with your post above and the conclusion that you have come to, i.e. that “the great commission was given to the church”. When do you believe the church came into being? Before Christ ascended into heaven or after? Rather the great commission was given to the disciples! Neither “making disciples of all nations”, “baptizing such disciples” or “teaching those disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded them” are ever given to the church, except as those responsibilities lie upon every disciple (who together comprise the church!)

    Let me illustrate, did a church ever go on a missionary journey? Or was it individual disciples who did so? Has a church ever preached a gospel message or is it always individual disciples who do so? Has a church ever made one disciple? Or is it always individual believers who do so? Has a church ever baptized a disciple? Or is it always individual disciples who baptize other disciples? Has a church ever taught anyone to obersve all that Jesus commanded or is it always individual disciples who do such teaching? Churches only exist after individuals have heard the gospel! The church in any place does NOT precede but FOLLOWS Gospel preaching!

    Another serious problem with your position stated above is your artificial and unscriptural distinction between some “universal kingdom” and some “redemptive kingdom”, neither of which is found in the pages of our Bibles. You have been asked repeatedly to give us the basis for this distinction of yours but, so far, you have steadfastly refused to even acknowledge the objection, let alone answer it!!!!

    I think you realize that your entire premise about the church’s responsibility regarding culture rests firmly on your assumed distinction and that if such a premise is proven false, your entire position collapses! If I am wrong, I’m willing to look at the facts which might show otherwise and change my thinking. BUT if your premise is wrong, are you willing to change your position on the church and culture?

  2. Scott

    I am glad to see this recognition that the church of Jesus Christ is NOT called to redeem the culture – or attack the culture – or “dominate” the culture – or 100 other ways to describe the same anti-Christ belligerence we see endemic in the white American evangelical culture that resulted in the singularly most immoral, filthy anti-Christ being lauded as God’s man of the hour.

    In fact Apostolic teaching is clear – we are NOT to judge those without (contrary to standard evangelical policy), that is GOD’s job – we are to judge those in the church….. (1Cor5:12,13). And about time we do after reviewing the hypocrisy and deceit manifested by the mass of white evangelical media leaders….

    BTW – as to that “getting worse and worse” – well, that belies actual history (unless you think that Ghengis Khan coming over your city walls was not such a bad thing….or that having your city fire-bombed was not such a bad thing….) – and suffers severe Biblical problems as well. The reality, as we all know, is that the Apostles believed they were living in the time of the end – which obviously has LONG past…. We have long passed Paul’s pronouncement – and, clearly, society and culture are VASTLY better than ever before…. It takes very little historical knowledge to recognize this (as long as one thinks outside of their own little box).

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