In The Fellowship of the Ring, nine companions famously are banded together to pursue one particular mission. In the film version of Tolkien’s classic, Pippin thrusts himself into the company, with the auspicious declaration: “Anyway, you need people of intelligence on this sort of mission … quest … thing.”
A few moments later, as the company is established, a confused Pippin cries: “Great! Where are we going?”
In some ways, the confused hobbit sounds a bit like the church as it contemplates its mission. Books and blogs are written all the time on what the church is really called to do and be. It’s not unlikely that in the time of my writing this, another book is funneling through a publisher on what the church is actually supposed to do, or what the apostles really meant for the church’s mission.
Spare me my skepticism. Are we getting any closer to an answer? What is the mission of the church?
Land mines abound in trying to answer this question. In answering, some struggle with oversimplification. “We’re called to tell as many as we can in the world about Jesus. Enough said!” But then why did God give us the Scriptures and not a 200-word chick tract?
In answering, some may struggle with false dichotomies. “The church is about Christ, not people!” That may be true in terms of whose glory we seek, but if Christ came for the lost, ought not our mission have a direction to people as well?
Some may struggle with missed definitions. They may point to the marks of the church (Word, sacraments, discipline) or the means of grace (Word, sacraments, prayer). These tie to mission, but knowing our marks and knowing our means doesn’t quite mean we know what to do with them!
Some may struggle by overemphasizing one preferred theological category. One seeks shalom, another seeks kingdom, another presses the regulative principle, and still another presses remnant theology. But what if all these categories are helpful and none can summarize the whole mission?
To fight our way through this morass, I've found paragraph 25.2 of the Testimony of the RPCNA quite helpful. The statement looks unwieldy when read as one large paragraph. But a close read suggests that 6 "Es" can summarize this statement. They together reveal the church's mission, which could be pictured as six spokes to a wheel at which Christ is the center.
In some ways, all six are basic or fundamental. But just like the spokes on a bike, all six must be working well for the wheel to move forward properly.
So consider paragraph 25.2 of the testimony as it's broken down below. Read and ask: Is my church engaged in each of these things? Am I experiencing this kind of ministry? How can I support my church, my pastors, my elders in seeing all 6 “spokes” operating together for the glory of Christ?
1 - Evangelize: It is the mission of the Church to preserve, maintain and proclaim to the whole world the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the whole counsel of God.
At the heart of mission is gospel proclamation (Matt. 28:18-20, 2 Tim. 4.2, Acts 1:8). The Word is primary in our means, our marks, and thus, our mission. What do we bring to the world but the Word, the gospel of Jesus Christ! This must always be at the very heart of the church’s ministry.
Any true church will find such ministry central.
2 - Enfold: to gather into her fellowship those of every race and people who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and promise obedience to Him.
Conversion drives to enfolding (Acts 2:42-47). Some individuals find the church to be a place to find a nice gospel message or maybe a particular robust Reformed theology for their own walk with God.
But Christ’s church is the family of the enfolded, the committed. Churches together must be a place of enfolding, drawing in. This can happen formally (baptism, church membership), but must overflow informally through relationship-building, shared mercy ministry, and times of fellowship together.
3 - Establish: to build them up in their most holy faith;
The church is on mission to build! We are sent to establish foundations. As the faith has been deposited to the church (Jude 3), so believers must find in the church a place for their faith is built up (Jude 1:20-23).
May we never be content with believers whose faith goes only six inches deep. The devil’s snares move quickly on such folk. Instead, may our classes, catechisms, discipleship programs, meetings be toward the end of building up faith.
4 - Equip: and train them to be faithful witnesses for Christ in all his offices;
RPT 25.2 confesses that believers are to be trained as witnesses for Christ as prophet, priest, and king. Though some may balk at this, all believers have seen the glory of God in Jesus Christ and so are made witnesses. To come into contact with Christ is to be made a witness.
Such witness can take different forms. But faithful churches equip testifiers of Christ our prophet, priest, and king.
Thus churches must teach on the nature of Christ, offer evangelism classes or practice, and eagerly encourage and assist members in testifying to Christ.
5 - Exalt: to maintain the ordinances of divine worship in their purity.
John Piper is so often quoted as saying, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t!” While agreeing with Piper, perhaps we should add, “Our mission is to worship!” We are still like the saints of old in Israel who would be sent to Jerusalem to bring worship. We no more need the physical temple for worship (John 4), but we are still sent into the world as worshipers.
May our churches pursue such mission, caring deeply about how God wants to be worshiped and how we respond to Him.
6 - Extend: and in every way to seek the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Acts, in some ways the clearest book in Scripture on mission, begins and ends with discussion of the kingdom (Acts 1:3, 1:6, 28:30-31). Consider the depths of kingdom advance seen in that book alone!
Where Christ is king, His kingdom must be advanced. From holy huddle to an advancing kingdom of priests to God (Rev. 5:9-10).
May all our churches evangelize, enfold, equip, establish, exalt, and extend.