The Mandate of the Church
Aldergrove Baptist Church
2003 08 17
Reading: Matt 28: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Part A: The Mandate and the World
In recent times, over the issue of homosexual marriage and others issues such as abortion, Church spokespeople have been roundly criticized by the secular media for presuming to offer advice, "pressuring" the government, criticizing judges, and for commenting on the eternal destiny of those who condone practice or condone what the Bible condemns as gross immorality. The laws of our country are in the process of changing so that to speak openly of homosexual and other practices as sin can be called a hate crime.
We are told by the secularists and by liberal church folk that the law, politics, and the morality of others is none of our business, that separation of Church and state means Christians have no right to meddle in public life, or even to comment on either morality or the law.
Is this true? Or, what really is the mandate of the Church? For the definitive answer, we look to Matthew 28:19 and the personal command of Jesus Christ, Almighty God come to redeem a people for himself called the Church. Invoking his supreme authority over heaven and earth, he said "make disciples...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you".
There is no direct mention of giving legal or moral advice to a nation here, but before considering the question settled, we ought also to ask what it means to carry out this mandate. Who or what are these disciples, how are they made, and what are they to obey?
The word "disciple" means a follower, a learner, that is, a student studying to become like the teacher. Thus, a disciple of Christ is one who follows him, who takes in his teaching, and who becomes like him by obeying that teaching and living according to it.
Seems straightforward enough, but how does it start? What is the first step? Of sermons preached by his followers during Christ's time of ministry, we have this description"
Mr 6:12 They went out and preached that people should repent.
In the first sermon preached by a disciple of Jesus Christ after his ascension into heaven, we find these words:
Acts 2: 38 Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus spoke of the radical change that comes over a person at the time of this coming to faith and receiving his Holy Spirit in these words:
Joh 3:3 I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.
Paul expressed the content of the proclamation this way:
Acts 26: 20 (explaining his activities to King Agrippa) I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
Romans 10:9-11 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
and again in
Ephesians 2: 8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So the discipling the Church is ordered to do begins with a proclamation to repent of wickedness and continues with a promise that the repentant sinner will be born again in the spirit of God to a new way of life, in which obedience to Gods standards is possible for the first time. This makes perfect sense, for one cannot even begin to obey the commands of the Lord of Heaven without first submitting to him and acknowledging him as lord by repenting. That is, hearing and responding to the gospel of salvation is the very first obedience required by God, as expressed (albeit negatively) in
2Th 1:8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
And, incidentally, there are numerous passages in the scripture that name specific activities as sin, offences against God, and condemn those who practice them. Such doctrines cannot be sidestepped or denied without essentially throwing away the Bible, for without the concept of sin there is nothing to be saved from.
This, with respect to those who are not currently disciples of Christ, the Church has a single message: Repent of sin and believe in Christ. In its initial contact the message of the Gospel is not so much "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life", but "God is holy; you are a sinner. Repent or face his eternal judgement." The fact of God's love makes repentance efficacious, but frankly, without repentance, God does not have a wonderful plan for your life.
The passage in Romans 10 goes on as follows:
Romans 10:13-14 Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
The Church collectively, and individuals within the church therefore have the responsibility to bring this message of repentance to the whole world. People need to hear that they are sinners under the eternal judgement of God:
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
They need to be told to repent of their sin and turn to God, as Paul and Silas put it in
Acts 16:31 Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.
They need likewise to be told that in Christ there is forgiveness for sin, not because we merit it, but because he took the punishment for sin on behalf of all who will believe
1Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
1Pe 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
[that last part being a quote from the prophet Isaiah who foretold the messiah going to the cross for our sin hundreds of years before].
Yes, the message of sin introduces guilt. But the Gospel deals with that guilt, fully, finally, eternally.
Ro 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
What if the world does not like the message and tells us to be silent? Orders us to stop speaking of sin and salvation from God's wrath? Our response must be as Peter and John, when ordered to keep silent about Christ:
Acts 4: 19-20 But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."
This proclamation of sin and forgiveness is the Church's business toward the world. Everything it does is to this end. Certainly, the saved of Christ need to live good moral lives to honour their saviour, but the witness this has is to corroborate the Gospel, not to displace it. Living as a forgiven sinner tells the world Christ in the heart does indeed make a difference. Moreover, since the lives Christians lead are a testimony to the truth the world does not want to hear, they will be hated not only for what they say but for what they try to do:
2Tim 3:12-13 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
Does the proclamation of sin as part of the Gospel need to be specific? Does sin need to be named? Yes it does, for most people do what is right in their own eyes, and we live in a self-absorbed and self centred world. People do not concern themselves much with moral issues, unless they perceive that some one else is trespassing on their rights. They especially do not want to hear about accountability to God. So their consciences become seared to the point they no longer acknowledge sin even exists, much less that they are sinners. They need to learn that the Lord of heaven, who made the entire universe by the word of his power, is the authority on right and wrong, and as the creator and owner of all things, can hold every person to account for their actions. He says:
1 Cor 6: 9 -10 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
That by the way is not an exhaustive list of sins, merely a sample from among many activities mentioned in God's word that a follower of his does not do. Note by the way that greed is mentioned right beside and as an equal sin to homosexual behaviour, so if we preach against one we must denounce against the other with equal fervour. I might add that injustice and violence also get top billing in such lists. Of course, even the person who eschews all such specific behaviours is still a sinner, for as Jesus observes, God's requirements can be summed up in the command:
Lu 10:27 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbour as yourself."
and in the light of this exposition of the true requirements of god, we must all agree with the psalmist's observation:
Ps 53:3 Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one.
Paul puts it this way:
Ro 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Paul was acutely conscious that those around him were lost sinners on their way to hell without Christ, and of the urgency and power of the Gospel news of salvation from sin to be found in Christ:
1Co 9:16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
1Co 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Is anyone among the Church ready to ignore Paul's example, and seeing others on their way to hell, say "let them go, it's no concern of ours"? Does not civic duty alone teach us that if we see someone walking toward the edge of a deep pit covered at the bottom with a consuming fire, we ought to warn that person, even to the point of trying to physically restrain them from walking blithely to their destruction? If the warning is ignored, then at least we have tried. Consider this:
Eze 3:18 When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.
Eze 33:6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.'
I am not sure what God means about holding us responsible for a failure to warn, but clearly this is a serious matter.
And, to some extent, what applies to an individual applies to the nation as a whole, for we see I the scriptures that God intends to hold them accountable, too:
Ps 110:6 He will judge nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
Re 19:15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron sceptre." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.
and although these passages speak of a final judgement against nations, the Bible affords us many examples of nations being judged down through history. Israel was judged for turning away from God, and taken into captivity. Later her enemies were also judged for being too harsh with Israel in carrying out the will of God in his judgement on her.
Consider Sodom, for instance
Ge 13:13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
Ge 18:20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
Eze 16:49 "‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
Jude 1:7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
Yes, there was a problem with the particular sin of homosexual practices, but it was not for that alone that an outcry reached heaven, but also for arrogance, greed, injustice and other forms of immorality. And although God for the sake of Abraham allowed one family to escape with only the clothes on their back, he rained down destructive fire on the rest. In other times of judgement, many righteous people also perished in the fall of their nation.
So, if we are too lazy or too disobedient to proclaim the gospel of repentance and faith to the nation; if we are too indifferent to people walking toward the abyss, if we do not care whether we suffer responsibility for the lost we could have warned, perhaps we can stir ourselves in narrow self interest and preach about sin and repentance merely because we do not want to have God's judgement fall on our country while we are yet living in it. Indeed, without a strong and pervasive understanding of right and wrong, law is of no consequence and cannot by itself restrain the collapse of civilization, a kind of self-imposed judgement if you will. If not of this matters any more, then whatever else, our society (and us with it) is doomed to die already, and we are no more than its pallbearers.
So the disciple making mandate toward others (as individuals and as part of a nation) is the preaching of the gospel. Is that the end of it? Have a person repent and walk away from, content to have snatched another smouldering brand from the edge of the fire? No, disciple making goes beyond that point, to developing a mature follower of Christ, who understands God's will and purposes and is led by the Holy Spirit to follow them.
Part B: The Mandate within the Church itself
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Here we see the mandate in action within the Church fellowship in its early days. In the context of disciple making in the Church, their activity, their devotion, expressed itself in a fourfold manner, one it would be useful to emulate.
1. The apostles' teaching
The Apostles taught the early Church the teachings and sayings of Christ as they remembered Him teaching them. As time went on, these teachings were written down so that future generations could be taught in the same way. And so they come to us in the form of what we call the New Testament. But the scriptures as we have them are more than mere memoirs, as Paul tells us
2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
1Jo 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
The scriptures not only point out our sin initially and so lead us to Christ in repentance to be born again in him, they also lead us on in imitation of his character by continuing to show us what we need to repent of and how God will go on forgiving.
That is, they teach us his will, and begin to change us into his image
Ro 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
2Co 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
It is by studying God's word and allowing his Holy Spirit to direct us in the application to our lives that this transformation is effected. As they were in the early Church, we also need to be devoted to the Apostle's teaching as we find it here in the word. So closely associated is Christ with the message revealed in the written scriptures that he himself is called the Word:
John1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
Here, "word" or "logos" is used in the sense of "divine revelation," which, by the way, was also how one described a logical argument, for there was a sense in which that too was though of by the Greeks as a revelation from heaven, the only place truth could come from. The sense of it is that Christ is the living revelation, while his recorded words are the written revelation. Both came authoritatively and exclusively from the father; there is no other way available to learn about God directly (other than by a few inferences from his creation) than by his word, the written form of which exists to tell us of the living one, the one whom to know is eternal life.
Joh 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me."
This, by the way, scandalized the world, whom Satan has convinced them are many ways to truth. But to say that all values are equal, or more, to say all religions are equal is the same thing as to say none of them matter.
God's word is there to tell us the truth about him. We need to read it, to learn it, to meditate on it, and to proclaim it to others. This is a major part of disciple making in the context of the church. Jesus said:
John15: 7-8 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The clear implication is that it is necessary to have Jesus' words dwell in us to be in fellowship with him. The question and challenge is do they?
2. The fellowship
The whole idea of discipleship implies one person teaching another. This isn't very easy if we're all "lone ranger" Christians, thankful for being saved but going our own way without paying much attention to other believers. Rather, we're in this together as a group so that we can worship God together, enjoy our salvation together, and, generally, assist one another in the making of disciples--ourselves, our fellow believers, and those not yet saved. A local church is a common-union (communion) of the saved of God, brought together in a particular area to be God's instrument for the universal church in that place. The church (as a whole) is God's entire instrument for making disciples.
a. The Church fellowship is the context where the witness ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Table are practiced so that believers can remind themselves and each other of the death burial and resurrection of Christ and of the effects on them personally of believing in him and being born again in him. Why, Baptism is specifically mentioned in the great commission with which we began this study
Matt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
and the observance of the Lord's Table also has a prominent place in scripture
1Co 11:26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
For baptism or the Lord's Table to be a proclamation, there must be witnesses. One cannot do either alone; they are part of what it means to be a fellowship..
b. The Church fellowship is the context in which spiritual gifts are exercised for mutual edification and the building up of believers that they become better disciples of Christ.
1Co 12:28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.
c. The church fellowship is the context for a community of caring, mutually supportive Christians who love each other and build each other up in Christ.
2Co 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Ga 5:13 serve one another in love.
Eph 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Eph 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Eph 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Col 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
1Th 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Heb 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.
Heb 10:24 let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.
d. The Church is the context from which missionaries are sent to other peoples, perhaps in distant places, so they too can hear the Gospel of salvation. We see this in the very first such instance
Acts 13:1-4 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.
e. In various parts of the New Testament, the universal Church is called the body of Christ and the Bride of Christ--powerful images for an important concept. Thus, one characteristic of the redeemed is that they understand the importance of and love the Church of God. They desire to be a part of its worship, its fellowship, and its discipleship activities. They see it as a foretaste of heaven.
When Christ walked this earth among people he spent much of his time in prayer. This gives us a clue to the nature of prayer, for Christ, being God incarnate, did not really have to ask the father for favours (the way we sometimes see prayer). Rather, he spent time in the Father's company, renewing the bond between them, and expressing his subjection to the Father's will in all things, even to the cross. If the one who could not differ from the Father, and who, being Divine himself and so equal to the Father found it necessary to do this, how much more we.
But this study is not so much about the importance of individual prayer as it is about the Church in prayer. At crucial times in the life of the early church, what do we see them doing but praying?
a. When the Apostles were pressed to keep up with all that was going on in the church and deacons were appointed to do the administrative work, they said
Ac 6:3-4 We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.
b. when Peter was arrested
Ac 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
c. When missionaries were committed to their work
Ac 13:3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
d. When Paul and Silas were arrested
Ac 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
e. When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem and captivity
Ac 21:5 But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.
f. As Paul addressed the churches about the matter
Ro 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Col 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
or, to put it in his most succinct manner
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
There are plenty of admonitions for us to pray and have fellowship with God privately and as individuals, but there are just as many urging prayer on the church as a whole, and numerous examples of the church at prayer. With the study of the word, prayer is second major way we discern and therefore line up our wills with that of God; it is therefore both a proper activity of each individual believer, and one of the church as a whole, one of the ways in which the Church, acting as a community, makes disciples of Christ. One cannot follow Christ unless one knows where he is leading. The word and prayer are the main instruments of refining God's grace for the life of the believer. Both have their private role; both have their public one.
[Call board members forward before continuing and move into point three, though not in the same order as the passage]
3. The breaking of bread
It is interesting that in the Matthew 28 passage, baptism is specifically mentioned, whereas in the passage in Acts it is the Lord's Table that is singled out. This is because although Baptism is indeed a witness for believers, a reminder of the time they themselves came to Christ in faith and were born again unto him, it is primarily a witness for one making a first public declaration of faith and a first public commitment to follow him as part of his church, his redeemed.
The Lord's Table, on the other hand, is our ongoing declaration of the same truths, a regular reminder of Christ's death for us on the cross. So important was this to the early church that they apparently performed this ritual daily at first, only going to a weekly format at later times.
Ac 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
Let's review what it is all about
Mark 14: 22-24 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them.
That is, the bread represents Christ's body, sacrificed on the cross as the final offering for sin, as he took our punishment on himself and made it possible for anyone who accepted that gospel to have eternal life. When we take the bread, we are saying two related things:
a. that we have indeed partaken of Christ's body at the cross, that is, his death applies to us. Our sins were nailed to the cross with Christ; he bore them as our scapegoat, and the wrath of the Father expended on him at the cross sufficed as our punishment, setting us free from the condemnation of eternal death that was otherwise our due; and
b. that, having done so, we have become a part of Christ's body, the Church, witnesses together in the gospel, partakers together in his word, part of his fellowship, and sharers in his body. This is why the Lord's Table is not celebrated alone, but together.
[prayer, distribution, and the bread taken]
Likewise, the cup represents his blood, shed for us as God instructed the Old Testament saints must be done with animal sacrifices, because their sin demanded a life be given, and, life being in the blood, we are taught
Colossians 1:18-20 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Heb 9:22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
[prayer, distribution, and the bread taken]
[benevolent fund offering]
The mandate of the church can be summed up in two intimately related words.
Witness and discipleship
We are to witness to a lost world the Gospel of Christ in both word and deed, reminding people of their sin, their lostness before God, and their need to repent and accept Christ as saviour by faith. We are to witness of the truths of Christ to one another, reminding ourselves of these things regularly, as we assist one another to become the disciples of Christ we were meant to be. If instead we keep silent, there is no purpose for this church. May we speak the only truth, may this church's candle burn bright before the Lord as we fulfil this mandate together.