Christ’s Commission to His Church

Christ’s Commission to His Church

We are responsible to make disciples, but Christ will build his church. And he will do so until the end of the age, when he comes again in glory to unite the two kingdoms into one perfect eternal kingdom. 

Churches as formal, local institutions have been given a very specific, singular mission in this age, best articulated in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

You’ll notice that there are several phrases in this text that sound like commands, but grammatically there is actually only one command: “Make disciples” is the mandate Christ gave to his church—nothing more and nothing less. All of the rest of the phrases in this passage that sound in English like commands, which we’ll consider in a moment, actually further explain the central command. In fact, we could even say that all of the commands and discussion throughout the rest of the New Testament that directly relate to the church are simply giving further explanation or correcting errors related to the central command of making disciples. All of that explanation and correction still carries with it the force of a command, but it all comes back to this central command: make disciples.

So what is a disciple? Well, a disciple of Christ is simply a follower of Christ. He is one who obeys Christ’s commands, not simply out of duty, but because he knows, if you love Christ, you will do what he commands (Jn 14:15). And the Great Commission bears this out in verse 20 where it says that part of what it means to make disciples is “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” A disciple is someone who observes Christ’s commands, who submits to his rule. To put it another way, a disciple is a citizen of Christ’s redemptive kingdom.

Now we might say, “Isn’t worship our first priority? Why isn’t our primary mission as churches to worship?” Well keep in mind, to be a disciple is to worship God. Submission to the rule of Christ and obedience to his commands is worship. Don’t think of obedience to Christ as distinct from loving Christ. Jesus said, “If you love me”—if you worship me—“you will keep my commandments.” To be a disciple of Christ is to worship Christ. So we could think of it this way: our mission is to make disciple-worshipers. The ultimate aim of all things is the worship and glory of God, but our specific mission as churches is to disciple worshipers for God’s glory.

But sinners can’t worship God—sinners cannot submit to Christ’s rule; so in order to make disciples who observe Christ’s commands, there are a couple more preliminary steps. First, in the parallel passage in Mark, Christ presents the first step toward making disciples: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires first that someone hear the good news, repent of their sins, and trust in Christ for salvation. So, the first necessary step in making disciples is proclamation of the gospel.

Second, Christ commands that new believers must be baptized. Physical water baptism is an outward visible sign of inward Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism happens at the moment of conversion and unites us to Christ (1 Cor 12:13)—it makes us citizens of the redemptive kingdom. Water baptism is a public profession of faith and unites us to a visible church—the visible representation of the redemptive kingdom.

And the third necessary component of making disciples is teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded. This is the clear teaching and preaching of Scripture, again all of Scripture, but especially the apostolic teaching recorded in the New Testament.

Spiritual Mission

Notice that with regard to churches, our mission is exclusively redemptive in nature: make disciples. Our mission involves gathering more citizens of the redemptive kingdom through evangelism, baptism, and teaching. The church’s mission is entirely spiritual in nature—it does not involve temporal earthly matters that belong to the common kingdom. The only mandate given to churches that involves physical matters is “contributing to the needs of the saints” (Rom 12:13), but even then, only when the common institution of the family breaks down (1 Tim 5:3–8). Never is the church given the responsibility of meeting the physical needs of society at large. That is the responsibility of institutions in the common kingdoms of this world.

Neither is the church given any commands regarding political involvement. We are to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions,” but churches should not in any official capacity hold political rallies, endorse candidates, or advocate for specific policy positions. Note that even in a very oppressive governmental situation, the New Testament never advocates for churches attempting to overthrow tyrannical governments and establish more righteous governments. That is not the mission of the church. The church’s mission is purely spiritual.

This is important exactly because of Christ’s authority over his church. When the church is operating as a church, it must do what its authority commanded it to do, no more and no less. If our authority as churches is what Christ commanded through his apostles, then we may only do what can follow “Thus says the Lord.”

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