Growing up listening to fine old gospel preachers, I often heard them say, “The mission of the church is three-fold — evangelism, edification, and benevolence.” Having studied these things over the years, I have come to the conclusion that this statement is not quite correct. There is a vast difference between the “mission of the church” and “the work of the church.”
A grocer’s mission is selling groceries to the public for a profit, but his work may encompass several things. It may include pricing the items, sweeping the floor, keeping the books, depositing money in the bank, cleaning the windows, hiring help, paying his bills, and a multitude of other tasks. All of these things are necessary, but do not constitute his mission.
A rancher’s mission is to raise cattle for market, but his work takes many forms. He may build fences, brand his cattle, deliver calves, feed his cattle in the winter, bale hay, raise feed crops, purchase trucks to deliver his cattle, pay his bills, hire ranch hands, vaccinate his cattle, and numerous other kinds of work. But vaccination of cattle, feeding them, or purchasing trucks do not constitute his mission. These are all peripheral things.
The church’s singular mission is to preach the gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:1, 4ff). There is no other mission given to the church in the New Testament and evangelism is the sole “ministry” of it. This is the single “ministry” of which Paul spoke when he told Timothy, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, putting me into the ministry...” (1 Timothy 1:12). Paul did not refer to multiple “ministries” by saying Christ “put me into one of the ministries”, but to a single “ministry” or mission. Paul’s singular mission was to take the gospel to the Gentiles where he said, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Paul did many works in conjunction with this mission, such as making tents, and raising funds for the poor saints of Judea among the Gentile Christians, but those were not his mission. That mission was his “ministry” — preaching the soul saving gospel of Jesus (Romans 1:14-17).
The mission of the church is not political or social. It is not to entertain folks, to train children, or to be a crutch for people seeking economic betterment. All of these things may be good works, but they are neither the works nor the mission of the church of Christ.
Benevolence is a good thing, but there was benevolence before Jesus died on the cross and vast numbers of organizations in our country practice benevolence today. In fact, benevolence has just about become one of the biggest industries we have. Most all denominations practice it, along with a myriad of secular organizations — including the federal government. Jesus did not die for benevolence or a soup kitchen. He died to save men from sin (Matthew 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The church should be benevolent and care for those who cannot care for themselves (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27), but one would be hard pressed to find a family in our society today who fits the Biblical description of the “destitute.” The parameters of poverty defined by the federal government today are not those of the Bible. Among churches of Christ, there is a rush to be “benevolent” by providing school supplies, food from well-stocked pantries, clothing from churches’ storehouses, and various other items to anyone in the community who can come and get them. Those churches believe they are fulfilling the “mission” of the church, but they are — in many cases — simply enabling those who have no desire to work. That violates Paul’s injunction “...that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Through the years, I have heard the argument that, “If we feed and clothe people, we can make them more receptive to the gospel.” That flies in the face of Jesus’ statement that, “Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). It is not the church’s responsibility or mission to “motivate” people to hear the gospel. It is our responsibility to preach that gospel to those who earnestly desire it. In fact, Jesus rebuked a multitude of people for their “motivation” in following him for loaves and fishes (John 6:26-27). When Jesus fed those 5,000, He did not do so to “make them receptive” to His teaching. He did it out of compassion for them, but they desired only “the meat which perisheth.” No, “Benevolence” is not the mission of the church, but simply a work of Christians.
The third thing which is often touted as the church’s “mission” is “edification.” To “edify” simply means “to build up.” The church needs to be constantly edified in the Lord’s cause and Paul said that comes through the word of God (Acts 20:32). That is an excellent work of the church, but not its mission, and edification has also been corrupted.
One often hears the criticism that, “He preaches the same old fundamental doctrine, when we need sermons for Christians.” Peter said that “sermons for Christians” consisted of “the same old thing” (1 Peter 1:12-15). One of the grandest elders under whom I ever served was Raymond Bailey in Chillicothe, Texas. Brother Bailey once told me that he got tired of hearing Christians say, “He just preaches the same old thing.” “They’d better be preaching the same old thing,” he said. “The gospel hasn’t changed.” Brethren who love the truth are always edified when the plain simple gospel is preached, but the mission of the church is to preach that gospel. Edification is a byproduct of that mission, not the mission itself.
Let the church fulfill its mission of preaching the gospel in all the world. It must not be sidetracked by well meaning folks who want to make other things the mission of the church or simply “one of its ministries.” While benevolence and edification are good works, there is only one mission and only one ministry of the church for which Jesus died, and that is preaching the gospel.
Elk City, OK
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