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!)

Your Church Discipleship Isn’t Working

discipleshipDiscipleship. Seemingly every Southern Baptist Pastor and every evangelical minister, lay leader, and church member worthy their salt is all about this word. Discipleship books are popping of the selves of Christian books stores, conferences are dominated by the theme, and most every Sunday school vendor has launched some sort of new “Discipleship” curriculum that synthesizes discipleship principles into an accessible five to seven step program that promises to redefine you and your church.

The focus upon discipleship is extremely timely and needed. Today, only 1 of every three Southern Baptists attends church on Sunday. And only 39% of SBC members read their Bible every day. Mega churches such as Willow Church have and are continuing to radically adjust their programming because they discovered church participation does not equal spiritual growth and abiding faith. As Bill Hybles notes, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders.” As a result of this mistake and of many others, SBC and evangelical churches often resembles the American culture which prizes self-actualization above all else. As Americans and Christians look within they do not find peace. They find narcissism. New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat comments that,

A nation of narcissist turn out to be a nation of gamblers speculators, gluttons, and gym obsessives, pornographers and Ponzi schemers, in which household debt rises alongside public debt, and bankers and pensioners and automakers and unions all compete to empty the public trough.

The same can often be said of Christendom. The evangelical, conservative church desperately needs revival and reformation. She can greatly benefit from rediscovering discipleship.

The focus upon discipleship is also needed because Jesus commands his followers to make disciples. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands us to:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Christians are to make disciples. Christians are to be regularly teaching each other, investing in the lives of others, and sharing their faith. All who follow Christ have been commissioned by their God to make disciples. All Christians should be about the business of being discipled and discipling.

The church should champion discipleship. I am thankful for Bill Hull, Robby Gallaty, and the many others who have speared headed the discipleship movement. But in their zeal to disciple, the created a defective view of discipleship. Gallaty defines discipleship as, “intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.”

The definition is good as far as it goes. It rightly priorities the relational nature of the Christian faith. But Gallaty’s and many others stop short of the historical definition of discipleship taught in the Scriptures and defended by Southern Baptists of old. The leaders of the modern discipleship movement divorce discipleship from the historical doctrines of formative and corrective discipline, making discipleship the property of the small group instead of the church. To teach God’s people the full counsel of God, the people of God have to deal with ecclesiology. They have to teach on and exercise the keys of the kingdom. The small group is the only one of many important cogs used by God to mature men and women into his image.

alex-gorham-341310-unsplashUntil liberalism stormed into the SBC in the late 19th and early 20th century, Baptist theologians seldom employed the word discipleship. The used the word discipline from which the English word discipleship derives. They believed two types of discipline existed: Formative Discipline and Corrective Discipline. As one might guess, formative discipline consisted of all the disciplines needed to mature or form the believer in the faith. Baptists affirm that the church forms disciples through covenants, the preaching of the Word, and small groups. Instead of being the impetus for discipleship, small groups are places where church members are encouraged to live out their covenantal commitments in light of their pastors’ teaching. Small group foster and aid the general discipleship process of the church but are not the discipleship process.  Mark Dever rightfully notes, the pastor’s “teaching of the Word is the core of the church’s discipleship ministry.” And the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer concurs, writing that “the sermon remains the encompassing of spiritual care.”

As men faithfully expound the Scriptures detailing all the commands of Scripture, men and women hear truth, internalize truth, and then begin to make decisions based on the truth. Dr. D.Martin Lloyd-Jones notes that the goal of preaching is “to isolate the radical problems and to deal with them in a radical manner.” Preaching is discipleship. Church covenants are discipleship. Small groups are discipleship. And every element of church worship and life that proclaims the gospel is discipleship from the pulpit to the arm chair. In short, formative discipline is the process of forming believers into disciples through the accurate and intentional teaching of biblical truth. As the great Baptist theologian Edward T. Hiscox writes,

[edification and spiritual growth] are largely attained by instruction from the pulpit, the various departments of worship and the general activities of the Christian life.

Churches that have poor discipleship programs most likely do not have a faulty small group structure. They have a faulty preacher.

Discipleship, formative discipline, begins and ends with the local church.

Admittedly, even the most faithful of local churches will not produce perfect disciples. Though church covenants, godly preaching, and small groups should do much to promote the spiritual growth in the church, men and women are still very much sinners who are prone to sin. Matthew 18 clearly teaches the local church to be prepared for such failures. Men and women are commanded to confront those who sin and to call them to repentance. Most of the time such confrontations end well and the sinner believer is restored. But at times, the believer refuses to repent, the Christians must go back to the sinner with witnesses. And if that does not work, the believer must take the matter to the church. And if the sinner still refuses to repent, the sinner must be put out of the church.

Corrective church discipline described above can be likened to a school grade. Jonathan Leeman notes that the church should award A’s to those who diligently pursue Christ and to those who willingly repent of their sins, but hands out F’s to those who refuse to obey Jesus’ commands. If the church refuses to issue letter grades and if the church refuses to discipline men and women for unrepentant sins, the discipleship culture of the church will unravel. Anarchy will reign because obeying self is always easier than obeying Jesus. Hiscox prophetically notes,

The Church is the school of Christ; let the school be controlled with strict, yet wise and kindly discipline or the pupils will learn more of evil than of good, and anarchy and confusion will supplant good government.

Sadly a quick scan of today’s churches validate Hiscox’s warning. They are weak, feeble, wandering, sick, and lead by ungodly men and women because they have abandon elements of if not the entire doctrines of formative and corrective discipline. J.L. Dagg also hit the nail on the head in in 1858 when he wrote, “When discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it.”

The discipleship programs in most of our conservative churches are broken because they follow Gallaty and Hull and others and only embrace one of the elements formative discipline, neglecting preaching and covenants and completely ignoring all the meaningfully elements of corrective discipline.

Brothers and sisters we do not need more small groups. We need men and women who are committed to the whole counsel of God and who are committed to preaching and living the Word, willing embracing all the costs and heart aches of church discipline. Until the churches of the SBC and conservative evangelicals begin lovingly and thoughtfully practicing church discipline, there will be no revival in America. I share Dr. Albert Mohler’s conclusion that,  “A church lacking these essential qualities, is biblically defined, not a true church.”

Are you ready to embrace both formative and corrective church discipline?

Peter’s Top 3 Ministry PodCasts

podacstMy favorite podcasts rank only below my books when it comes to finding likeminded friends and biblical encouragement. Being a big believer in networking,  I want to share with you the three podcasts that have shaped me and my ministry the most.

Ready to be challenged with the Word? Let's go.

Pastor’s Talkpastors talk

This is not just any pastors talking. This podcast consists of Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman talking through everything from cooperate prayer to church planting. They bring the gospel and the vast amount of experience (Check out Dever's Book Nine Marks of a Health Church) to bear on every issue. And they always leave their audience with a better understanding of what biblical Christianity looks like. Click here to download the podcast.

 

For The Church

for the church

Jared C. Wilson (the author of several great books including The Prodigal Church) hosts this podcast. He regularly brings in guests from all over the evangelical world to tackle topics that directly affect us, our ministry and our church body such as preaching, preventing ministry burnout, and the danger of skipping church. Click here to download his podcast.

 

Truth In Love

truth in love

Dr. Heath Lambert, the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and an Executive pastor at First Baptist Jacksonville, Fl,  hosts this podcast devoted to equipping the church to counsel. This podcast is by far one of the most practical and relevant podcasts available for believers. Dr. Lambert and his guests tackle the daily struggles that we regularly run up against such as depression, mental illness, and addictions. Together, they reveal how the Bible equips us to achieve victory over our sin. Since we all have problems, we all can benefit from this podcast. Give it a listen. Click here to download the podcast. 

Now it's your turn. What podcast have you found helpful?