What is the Mission of the Local Church?

What should our local church be doing? Is it missions? How about kids’ ministry, choir, youth programs? What do the people of God do when they come together? What is the mission of the Church?

With a nail, a hammer, and a document of 95 thesis, Martin Luther turned the world upside down in 1517 seeking in part to answer the question: “What does a local church do?”. He knew that the local churches of his day exported religious vice and wickedness to the medieval world. The gospel seldom appeared in church, the clergy at all levels lacked biblical knowledge, and the sacraments were twisted into graceless works the little resembled the teachings of Scripture. Luther started out to reform the church seeking to answer the question what does the local church do.

The History

Since 325 A.D, the church has defined itself as the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church. The local church was defined as being a church that submitted to the Bishop Rome, which was made holy by Christ through salvation, that was universally recognizable, and that was founded on the teaching of the apostles which was often interpreted and expanded upon by church officials.

jj-jordan-140710-unsplash.jpgLuther and Reformers redefined these historical terms to better reflect the gospel. The Reformers claimed that the church was one under Christ. All who were saved were saved by Christ to be part of the church. They believed that church should be holy; it should be composed of those who had been redeemed by Christ and who were being sanctified. They agreed to the catholic nature of the church. But they did not believe all churches had to look the same and practice the same liturgy. Rather, they claimed the church was catholic in its timelessness. All true churches in all ages were viewed as being part of the universal church. And they believed the church was apostolic. But the Reformers believed that the apostolic nature of the church should be limited to the teaching of the apostles. Solo Scriptura, Scripture Alone.

The Reformers sought to clearly divide themselves from the Catholic Church by adding two more marks to the definition of the local church. The Reformers said the local church should rightly administer the sacraments and preach the Word.

The Answer

Now back to our question. What does the local church do?

The local church comprised of holy believers who have been united to the universal church by salvation in Christ Jesus preach the Word and administer the sacraments correctly. For a group of believers to be a church, they must preach the Word and practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

John Calvin plainly said,

Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.

What about kids’ ministry, Super Youth Sundays, the choir, missions, singing, and prayer? All of those things begin and flow from the preaching of the Word and from the sacraments. You can have church without them. But you cannot have a church apart from the preaching of the Word and apart from the Sacraments.

Paul tells Timothy:

 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Tm 4:13-16). 

Do we want to have a healthy God glorifying church? Do we want to reach young families, encourage the old, and bless the new converts? Then, we preach the Word. Paul tells us we keep a close watch on our doctrine on the truth of the Bible and teach it to others.

What saves people? What makes our church look attractive to lost world? What breathes new life into the exhausted and crumbling congregation? It is the Word of God. The preaching of the Word of God is central to all that we do. The Holy Spirit works through his Word to redeem the lost and to sanctify the redeemed.

Christ is the Word become flesh.

John 1:1-4 states:

 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

To know Christ, to experience him, revive our hearts through his presence, we must preach the Word. As Jesus says in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth.”  The church must be dedicated to the proclamation of the Word.

How is the done? The Word is proclaimed and taught through every element of the service. Pastor Mark Dever rightly notes,

Everything teaches, whether you intend it to or not. The songs teach people doctrine and proper affections for God. Your prayers (or lack of them) teach people how to pray themselves. The kinds of prayers you pray or don’t pray) teach people about the important difference between prayers of adoration confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. The way you administer the ordinances teaches people about their meaning and even the very meaning of the Gospel. You preaching teachers people how to study and use the Bible appropriately. Everything from the call to worship to the benediction counts as teaching. Teaching is everything.

Everything the local church does begins and ends with the Word of God. Singing, prayer, and evangelism are all driven by our understanding of the Word of God. The songs that we sing reflect what we believe about the Bible. The prayers that we pray reflect our understanding of God and ourselves. Our passion and methods for reaching the lost are driven by our understanding of what the Bible says about salvation. All the other functions of the local Church can only exist if the Word is fully, accurately, and faithfully preached.  And all the other functions of the church help with the preaching and dissemination of the Word. In short, if we get Sunday morning preaching wrong, we will work in vain to fix our church. The struggling church does not have a discipleship, outreach, or kids’ ministry problem. It has gospel proclamation problem.

Martin Luther notes,

Outwardly he deals with us through the preached Word, or the gospel, and through the visible signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Inwardly, he deals with us through the Holy Spirit and faith. But this is always in such a way and in this order that the outward means must precede the inward means.

If a local church hopes to be filled with the Holy Spirit and wishes the world to be changed by Christ, that assembly of believers must preach the Word.

Any local church that does not preach the Word is not a church. Religious clothing, sacraments, stain glass windows, and the sacraments alone do not make a group of people a local church. Religious minded people can have and do all these things and never preach the gospel. They cease to be a church when they preach a different gospel proclaiming salvation through other names, deeming sins to be acceptable, and demanding good works in the place of grace. Paul writes in Galatians 1:8

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

The one true, holy, catholic, apostolic church preaches the one true gospel.

Our Motivation: The Glory of God 

Why do we do this? Why should the church be passionate about preaching the Word?

The local church should be passionate about the Word because Christ is only present where the Word is preached. And we as the people of God can only expand the kingdom of God through the power of Christ. Moses nails this truth on its head in Exodus 33 when he says,

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

What makes the people of God distinct? What makes our local church distinct from every other social group? It is the presence of God via the Holy Spirit who works through the words of God as revealed in the Scriptures. The local church desperately needs God.

When the church fails to value the Word’s of God, God will not be present. And when the church ceases to experience the supernatural presence of God decay sets in. When the church cares more about tradition, cultural acceptance, and political power than about glorifying God, God will leave the church. James McDonald rightfully notes,

God will quickly withdraw His favor where sin is ignored or avoided and difficult people are coddled instead of confronted in love.

The local church should be about the preaching of the Word because she desires to experience the presence and power of God. Apart from Him, the local church can do nothing. And with Him the local church can do everything.

What does the local church do?

The local church preaches the word and rightly performs the sacraments (more on that soon!)

When Kids Don’t Like Kids’ Ministry

kidsWords can be painful. The words that solidify the rejection of your ministry can be particularly piercing. I do not enjoying hearing kids, parents, and grandparents condemning my ministry as irrelevant, dull or worst of all…. boring. My heart does not rejoice when a kid walks in our church doors and then spins around to walk out a moment later declaring that, “I don’t like your church”

But as painful as those words and sentiments can be, they are necessary consequence of the gospel. When children walk into our churches, most of them have a worship problem. I am do not mean that the like the wrong type of worship music. I am not against baby rappers or baby washboard players. They do not have a Sunday morning worship problem or a Wednesday not issue. They have a heart worship problem. The little souls that come to our churches arrive fully in love with themselves and the world. They come wanting us, our programs, and our whole church structure to make much of them.

I John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

This is the condition of our kids. They are unregenerate little people who worship things other than God.

Consequently, they do not want to be reminded of their sin, of their need for a savior, and of their insignificance. They want fun children’s church programs that continue on until they are finished with college. They want to be entertained with great music and pool noodles. They want to leave having been made much of. If we give them a program centered around their desires, they will thank us and praise us.

But we will have not done our kids a favor. We will have harmed them. Instead of using Sunday to help our kids grasp the majesty and wonder of God and their insignificance, we have used Sunday to feed their fleshly desires. We have used Sunday to hide them from the truth that life is all about obeying and following God.

The point of worship on Sunday is not to make much of us. We gather together to make much of God. We should not pick songs and compose messages that reflect our kids. We need to pick songs that reflect who God is and what God has said. As one theologian said,

Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves against the majesty of God.”

Our goal should be to get kids to God through talking about who Jesus is. When we do so, we will not always be loved. Once a child rated our Sunday school program with the following remark, “I hate it here.” His one star review is not alone. We lost another child because a ministry across town had better snacks. And, another child will not even darken our doors because we encourage kids to attend boring big church.

At the end of the day, these kids do not have problem with our church. They have a worship problem. When they realize that the church will not funnel kindling onto their fire of their self-centered alter, they stay away. Those who worship themselves and the world cannot worship God at the same time.

How Should We Respond?

We keep preaching the gospel. We keep pointing kids to Christ. If Christ changes their hearts, those little souls will love those who make of God. They will love the things of God. And the best and only way to facilitate heart change in little sinners is to preach the gospel.

Second, we need to listen. We need to hear their story. In the story above, the little man hated Sunday school because he did not like listening to Bible stories. He disliked the very gospel that we are commanded to preach. His rejection was confirmation that his teacher was preaching truth.

Others may dislike our programs because another kid is picking on them when no one is looking. They may find our church boring because our teachers our unprepared. If these things are happening, we need to address them. We need to be certain that we have not offended them.

But if the gospel offends them, there is little we can do. Our allegiance is not to the kids that come to our church nor to their families. Our allegiance is to Christ. Our savior is a stumbling block and an unlikable conundrum to those who are perishing. Unregenerate kids our no different than unregenerate adults. They do not like the gospel.

While we should not welcome such opposition, we must realize it will come. And we must be willing to offend the sensibilities of these little souls for their eternity hangs in the balance. We must preach Jesus both in season and out of season. Are you ready?

Review: Church History ABCs and Reformation History ABCs

AbC-church-historyMany of us do have no clue about our spiritual family history. Sure, some of us might remember the day our church first began or we might have photos of 51lCHRNwI7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_the people who lead us to Christ. However, when we start to dig a little deeper into our family history looking at how the gospel made it from the New Testament era to the 21st century, we do not know where to begin. We struggle to recall who Augustine is, why Martin Luther is so valuable, and what William Tyndale did. Unfortunately, there is no ‘Church Ancestry.com, to help us reengage the men and women who propelled the gospel into the modern era.

Thankfully with the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation only a few months away, two great new children’s books, The Church History ABCs and Reformation ABCs, have been published by Crossway to help us grasp our spiritual lineage. These two books written by Stephen J. Nichols, President of Reformation Bible College, and illustrated by Ned Bustard delve into the complexity of church history with the ease and simplicity of children’s story. Both kids and adults will find these resources engaging, interesting, and inspiring.

augustine-1As we read through the Church History ABCs,  we will encounter everyone from Augustine to Ulrich Zwingli. We will encounter small stories written in the first person that talk about the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, the books of John Foxe, and the about the martyrdom of Nicholas Ridley. As we work through the book’s 34 pages, we will gain a better appreciation for all the suffering and sacrifices that the former saints endured so that we could follow Christ. And if we want to gain a little fuller understand of the who the saints mentioned are and of what the colorful illustrations that accompany the words mean, we can flip to the back of the book and read a short summary of their lives.

9781433552823The Reformation ABCs is also a great book. Most of the pages focus on the men and women of the reformation, recounting the contributions of John Knox and many other. Other pages discuss Queen Elizabeth and how she persecuted the puritans, Westminster Abby and how it was the hub of conservative theology under Cromwell, and the 16th century and how the reformation even touched Michelangelo. The book gives the reader a great overview of all the key players, cities, and events that shaped the reformation.

If you have an interest in church history, have heard a lot about the reformations this year and want to know more, or simply want to gain a fuller understand of what it means to follow Christ, I encourage you to grab a copy of these books. They are easy to read, colorfully illustrated and full of great information. For example, did you know that the Scottish flag has an ‘X’ on it because the apostle Andrew was supposedly crucified in the X position? If you are like me and did not know this fact, then you are also probably like me and would find both the Church History ABCs and the Reformation ABCs informative and helpful. 

Oh and yes, your kids will like them too!