In my previous post, “The Birth of the Church Demonstrates its Purpose,” I commented on Graham H. Twelftree’s conclusion that the church was born in the ministry of Jesus when he called the twelve apostles. The church continued the ministry of Jesus (according to the Book of Acts) after his ascension again through the work of the apostles, then later through all followers of Jesus.
But, as I said, Twelftree’s conclusion affects more than the origin of the church. Instead, the church’s origin indicates its purpose (or mission). Thus, if the church began in the ministry of the Jesus and continued the ministry of Jesus through the apostles, then the church should be continuing the ministry of Jesus. What should this ministry look like? What does it entail?
If Twelftree is correct, then the church’s understanding of its mission should begin in the Gospels. In my previous post, I mentioned that I have been considering this over the last few months because of our study of Matthew. For example, consider these passages where Matthew describes Jesus’ earthly ministry:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23 ESV)
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV)
Each of these sentences are part of summary sections in which Matthew describes Jesus ministry. Between these two passages we see examples of Jesus teaching, proclaiming the kingdom, and healing.
Immediately following the Matthew 9:35, Jesus appoints the apostles and sends them out to do the same things that he had been doing:
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. (Matthew 10:5-8 ESV)
Thus, the apostles’ mission was the same as Jesus’ earthly mission.
If Twelftree is correct that we are given the same mission, then we can see from these passages that our mission is three-fold: proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, teaching, and healing. Note, I’ve changed “healing” to “serving” because we cannot control whether or not someone is healed. However, we can serve and care for people even when they are not healed. (For example, see Jesus’ positive expression of love expressed through service in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.)
There is a danger in listing a three-fold purpose like this. In our minds, its easy to categorize these three purposes and separate them. However, from the narrative of Matthew 4-9 especially (where we see Jesus modeling all three), we can see that the three-fold purpose must not be separated. We cannot separate proclaiming from teaching or serving, or separate teaching from proclaiming or serving, or separate serving from proclaiming or teaching.
Yes, there will be times when proclaiming is more prominent and times when teaching is more prominent and times when serving is more prominent. But, the mission remains three-fold, not separate. And we miss the purpose when only one or two parts of the three-fold are considered more important and given special emphasis.
Proclamation without teaching and service is not proclamation. Teaching without proclamation and service is not teaching. Service without proclamation and teaching is not service. The three go together and should be seen as interwoven and interlocked as the church’s purpose and mission.
Also, when I say “the church’sÂ mission,” I also mean each Jesus follower’sÂ mission. We cannot reduce the church’s purpose to an organizational purpose, but the purpose should be recognized as the purpose and mission of each believer. The question is not: is someone among the church carrying out each part of the mission. Instead, the question is: Am I carrying out each part of the mission.