The Mission of the Church

“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. … He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” —Ephesians 4:8,11,12

WHEN our Lord was put to death as a malefactor by the cruel method of crucifixion, it seemed that the powers of darkness had triumphed, and that God’s purpose to perfect saints for the work of the ministry of reconciliation had been defeated. But this seeming victory of the adversary was short indeed, for our Lord was raised from the dead on the third day, as it had been foretold that he would be, and later he ascended on high.

By our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, a great victory was gained, for we are told that “he led captivity captive,” or as the marginal reference renders it, “He led a multitude of captives [purchased the whole race of mankind, captives to sin and death].” Beyond this great victory, he “gave gifts unto men.” The purpose of his gifts unto men was to carry out God’s original design, which was to perfect saints for the work of the ministry of reconciliation, and to edify or build up the body of Christ.

The task of developing and perfecting God’s saints—his holy ones—has been a comparatively slow and difficult task. God did not choose to accomplish this tremendous task either by might or by power, but, as he declared it, “by my Spirit.” (Zech. 4:6) It is God’s Holy Spirit working in the hearts of his consecrated followers that causes them “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”—Phil. 2:13

As the Lord’s people are influenced and led by the Holy Spirit, they become interested in carrying out his plans and purposes. Their Heavenly Father’s interests become their interests. Hence when we speak of the church’s mission being that of perfecting the saints for the future work of service, it is understood that this is also God’s mission for the church, that there is a oneness of purpose between God and his people, the same oneness that exists between the Heavenly Father and his only begotten Son.

The Lord foresaw the needs of the church, and provision was made for those needs. In order for the Lord’s people to understand the Word of God, they would need apostles to outline and declare the basic faith of the saints; they would need prophets or expounders to proclaim the Word of truth; they would need evangelists to “teach [disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) They would need pastors, or shepherds, to individually visit, encourage, strengthen, hold together, and defend the flock of God; they would need teachers to instruct them in the proper understanding of the truth contained in the Scriptures. Hence the Lord “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Thus provided, the church could carry out its mission.

Before anyone can be trained and prepared for the future work of service he must first become a disciple of Christ. This requires the work of the evangelists. Their duty is to make disciples of those who will receive the message. The word disciple signifies ‘pupil’, and those interested through the evangelists are similar to pupils in the primary department of the school of Christ. As they become instructed in righteousness, their full consecration is in order: death to self and to the world, to be buried with Christ by baptism into his death as represented in water baptism.—Rom. 6:3-5

Those who have gone this far, who have responded to the preaching of the Gospel, and have inquired concerning the way, the truth, the life, and who have with true repentance from sin, desired to become disciples of Christ, and who have then taken this step of consecration, were baptized thereby into the church, the body of Christ. Paul’s statement, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular,” applies to them.—I Cor. 12:27

These do not need their names written on any earthly roll or register. The names of such, we are told, are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:27) Concerning those who are faithful to their covenant, the Master said, “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (Rev. 3:5) The seal of their acceptance is the Holy Spirit, whose leadings, instructions, and marks of character become daily more and more discernible to themselves and to others, as they thereafter seek to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Once begotten of the Holy Spirit, these consecrated followers of the Master are then in a position to begin their preparation for the future work of service which will take place in the millennial reign of Christ. In all good schools, the students are first taught the principles of the subject they are studying, and then they are given problems to solve, or laboratory experiments to perform, that they may thoroughly acquaint themselves with their subject, both in theory and in practice. Christians in the school of Christ are also given rules and commandments by which to live, then they are tested in God’s laboratory, which we might speak of as being the world.

As students of the Word of God, which is the textbook used in the school of Christ, they become acquainted with God’s wonderful plan of salvation, and the boundless love that prompted God to give his only begotten Son to make possible the salvation of the world. They learn of the perfect attributes of God’s character, which are love, wisdom, justice, and power. They learn of Jesus’ faithfulness in carrying out the will of God, how he “loved righteousness, and hated iniquity” (Heb. 1:9); how, “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8); and how he “poured out his soul unto death.” (Isa. 53:12) In a word, we might say that these must learn and prove “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”—Rom. 12:2

Upon learning the plan, character, and will of God, pupils in the school of Christ are required to act in conformity with their Christian education. When the faithful students in this school learn of God’s wonderful plan of salvation, they are commissioned by the Holy Spirit to proclaim it to others, “to preach good tidings unto the meek; … to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” (Isa. 61:1,2) When they learn of God’s perfect and holy character they are told, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”—Matt. 5:48

In that the church is being prepared for the future work of service, it is befitting, indeed, that they should be thoroughly trained for that service, or the ministry of reconciliation. What better training could the church have than to engage in that work even now!

Ah, but one might say, “Now is not the time for the world to be reconciled to God. How can we engage in that ministry now?” Nonetheless, we have the apostle’s declaration that God “hath given to us [the church] the ministry of reconciliation; … and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” (II Cor. 5:18-20) Even though the present time is not for the conversion of the world, nor for their atonement with God, yet from the apostle’s words we gather that it is the church’s privilege to go forth with the word of reconciliation saying, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

If the joyful message were appreciated it would bring ready response from every place. But, alas, it was, and still is, rejected. Nor should this seem strange; for the prophet, speaking for the royal priesthood, cried, “Who hath believed our report and to whom is the Arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isa. 53:1) The Arm of Jehovah—Christ, the power of God—offers salvation to as many as believe his report, even as many as the Lord our God calls to be of the royal priesthood. For “no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God.”—Acts 2:39; Heb. 5:4

Salvation can be had at the present time through Christ, but only at the cost of complete self-denial and complete acquiescence to the Heavenly Father’s will. The way that leads to life at the present time is said to be narrow. (Matt. 7:14) For this reason it becomes a “savor of death unto death” to those who know it not, and a savor of “life unto life” to those who realize it. (II Cor. 2:16) In that men are frantically trying to save and preserve their lives, it is no wonder that baptism into Christ’s death is offensive and obnoxious to them.

Those who have faithfully engaged in the ministry of reconciliation, or at-one-ment, under the adverse conditions of this Gospel Age, shall have received the necessary schooling and training to qualify them for their future work. Thus we see how wonderful has been this training and perfecting of the saints.

Developing Every Grace

Our Lord gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, not only for the perfecting of the saints for the future work of service, but also for the edifying of the body of Christ. The apostle declared that the usefulness of these gifts to the church would not cease until “we all come in [into] the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”—Eph. 4:12,13

The apostle apparently realized that before the body of Christ could be properly built up or edified, a unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God would be requisite. Without this unity of faith and knowledge they would be as “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Eph. 4:14) Once established in doctrine, every member of the church could then properly develop into a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This, of course, implies the development of all the graces and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

In order for the Christian to develop every grace, he must put off the works of the flesh and become filled with God’s Holy Spirit. If God’s Holy Spirit is allowed to have free course in the Christian’s life, unhindered by other influences, it will result in the development of the fruit of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” (Gal. 5:22,23) The development of the fruitage and graces of the Holy Spirit results in that “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14) It has been the mission of the church, then, to develop in herself every grace, else she could never be accepted of him who loved her and bought her with his blood.

How can the church develop in herself every grace? Surely not by each member isolating himself from the other members of the church, the body of Christ. No, rather by their gathering together unto the Lord, and with the fellow-members of the body can they encourage one another “unto love and to good works.” (Heb. 10:24) The apostle emphasizes the need of interdependence within the body of Christ, for he says, “The whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”—Eph. 4:16

The Master used the illustration of a vine and its branches to show his relationship to the church and their dependence upon him. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. … As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. … He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”—John 15:1-5

The graces that the church is to develop in herself may be summed up in one crowning grace, which is love. Faith, hope, joy—these are the result of love for our Father and our confidence in his love, as expressed in his promises to us. Love in its various phases constitutes the fruit which must be found in every branch if it is to retain its place in the vine and be glorified with Christ.

Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that other graces will do, and that we may pass the divine inspection without this fruit. The study of the truth, the proclamation of the truth, the good works unto all men, and the laying down of our lives for the brethren are only acceptable to the Father in proportion as they are the results of this fruitage of love in our hearts. The apostle expresses this forcefully when he says, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing.”—I Cor. 13:3

We see, then, that we must cultivate in our hearts the graces of the Holy Spirit, and that we must have these graces in an abounding measure to be pleasing to the Lord. We must bear much fruit. The manifestation of this fruit, therefore, undoubtedly will be through various channels—laying down our lives for the brethren opportunity by opportunity; doing good unto all men; proclaiming the truth; studying the truth. If we give our bodies to be burned on God’s altar of sacrifice, through our faithfulness to the principles of righteousness, and through our love and loyalty to the Lord, then happy are we indeed.

God’s Witness to the World

In Matthew 24:14 we read, “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” Some feel that this text of Scripture has reference to the conversion of the world before the end of the Gospel Age. But witnessing to the world does not imply the conversion of the world. The text says nothing concerning the manner in which this testimony would be received. However, the context clearly shows that this witness would not result in the conversion of the world, but rather that the world would be in ignorance of the Lord’s presence, even as the people in Noah’s day knew not of the Flood until it overwhelmed them.

So while the witness may have been given to all nations, yet this did not effect their conversion, nor even the illumination of their minds concerning Christ’s second advent, otherwise the “tribes of the earth” would not “mourn” when they see the “Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”—Matt. 24:30

The witness of the Gospel, which was to be preached in all the world, was not given until the nineteenth century. While the Early Church faithfully preached the Gospel of the kingdom, yet their proclamation fell short of being a witness unto all nations. Nor are we to think of this witness as having been given during the time when the “woman [the true church]” fled into the wilderness condition, for within this same period God’s “two witnesses [the Old and New Testaments]” prophesied for “a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth [dead languages].” (Rev. 12:6; 11:3) It was not until the end of the 1,260 symbolic years, a day representing a year, which terminated in 1799, that the two witnesses began to be translated into all languages and circulated worldwide.

The dawning of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of a new era of liberty and thought. The sacred Volume, which had been confined and kept covered in dead languages, began to be scattered by the millions, and in every nation and language. The British and Foreign Bible Society was established in 1803; the New York Bible Society in 1804; the Berlin-Prussian Society in 1805; the Philadelphia Bible Society in 1808; the American Bible Society in 1817. During the nineteenth century these societies accomplished a remarkable work. In 1861, their reports showed that the Gospel had been published in every language then known—though not all of earth’s millions had received it.

We believe that the Bible Societies’ accomplishments fulfilled the conditions of the text in Matthew 24:14, for the Gospel of the kingdom was published and made available to every nation of the earth. It was to be, and has been, a witness and a proclamation to the nations.

And now the end has come. The Master explained that “the harvest is the end of the world [age].” (Matt. 13:39) We see, then, that the witness given by the Gospel was not for the conversion of the world, but merely preparatory for the great harvest work which is taking place at this end of the age.

However, the fact that the witness that was to be given to all nations has already been accomplished does not in any way militate against the fact that the present mission of the church is still that of being God’s witness to the world. While this work of witnessing may be considered as secondary when compared to the chief mission of the church, to develop in herself every grace, yet it is important—so important that the Master said, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” (John 18:37) Surely, all who have the Spirit of the Master will also go out into the world and bear witness to the truth. Even in the Book of Revelation, one of the means of identifying the great “Amen” is the succinct statement that he is “the faithful and true witness.”—Rev. 3:14

When the witness had been given to all nations, the end, which is the harvest, came. With the Chief Reaper then present, the cry went forth, “Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: … for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” (Rev. 14:15) The sickle which was to accomplish the harvest work, unmistakably is the truth—the harvest message. Hence, in order to accomplish the work of harvest, God’s witness to the world became vitally important.

The true church has the Spirit of the Master, who said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) With this attitude of heart, the church at this end of the age is engaged in the harvest work, which work they are expected not only to begin, but also to finish. Thrust in thy sickle—proclaim or herald forth the present truth message—is the cry to the Chief Reaper and also to the fellow-workers in the harvest time.

The effect of present truth, as the reapers witness to it is to “gather” the saints unto the Lord. (Ps. 50:5) Those who are in the proper attitude of mind and heart receive the truth with avidity, and joyfully desire to enter “in at the strait gate.” (Matt. 7:13-15) As they enter in at the strait gate of consecration to the Lord, they find that the way which leadeth unto life is narrow, because it is a way of sacrifice. Those who have been reaped or gathered unto the Lord are, in turn, commissioned to join in the harvest work and to bear witness to the truth.

As the true church proclaims it to the ears of nominal Christendom, the effect of the truth brings another reaction. To a limited degree it helps to gather “the clusters of the vine of the earth [nominal Christendom].” (Rev. 14:18,19) Other agencies are also used in this work. The harvest of the vine of the earth culminates in their being cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God—the final phases of the great time of trouble.

“When he [it, the Holy Spirit] is come, … [it] will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:8) However, in that the world does not have God’s Holy Spirit, we conclude that the Holy Spirit must accomplish this work in a reflex manner. We understand that it is God’s Holy Spirit operating in his church which shines forth upon the darkness of the world. So then, as the church bears witness to the truth, as they let their light shine, as they live holy and godly lives, they are accomplishing a secondary mission, which is that of reproving the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.

Kings and Priests

Because the church is to be made “kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6) it is befitting, indeed, that each member should be thoroughly prepared to discharge the duties of these offices. The church will not take office as kings and priests until after its members have been raised in the first resurrection, when the second death will have no power over them. Their term of office will last a thousand years.—Rev. 20:6

How does the church prepare to be the kings of the next age? Certainly not by trying to reign as kings at the present time. The apostle, writing to the Corinthian brethren, said, “Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us.” (I Cor. 4:8) He was ironically reproving them for endeavoring to assume a kingly office, whereas they should have been sacrificing, as was the apostle.

Before the church can rule the world as kings in the next age, they must first learn to rule their own spirit. (Prov. 16:32) They must bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:5) Apparently, the Lord also judges the church by her faithfulness in the use of the talents each possesses. In the parable of the talents this lesson is emphasized, for only those servants who make good use of their talents, natural gifts, or abilities, receive the words of commendation, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matt. 25:21,23) So we see, then, that the Lord prepares the rulers and kings of the next age by training them to be faithful stewards over a few things at the present time.

The church must also prepare to be priests of the next age. They do this by becoming sacrificing under-priests in this present Gospel Age. This was all beautifully pictured in the Tabernacle arrangement of the Israelites. We understand that in that arrangement the Aaronic priesthood typified chiefly the humiliations and sufferings of The Christ. The death of the bullock and the Lord’s goat, which, respectively, represent Jesus—the perfect man, and the church—the sacrificing followers of the Lord, constitute the sin-offering.—Lev. 16:11,15

The lesson to be gained from this type is that while the Lord’s goat (the church), as a part of the sin-offering, is filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, they are also preparing to be the priests of the next age; for when Aaron, who represented The Christ, Head and body, “came down from offering of sin-offering, and the burnt-offering, and peace offerings,” he “blessed the people.”—Col. 1:24; Lev. 9:22,23

The priesthood of the next age is typified by Melchisedec, who was “king of Salem [city of peace], priest of the Most High God.” (Heb. 7:1) Having been recipients of the Lord’s goodness and mercy, the royal priesthood of the next age will extend mercy to the people. Once in glory, they will no longer be called upon to sacrifice. Rather, as shown in the sacrifices subsequent to the Day of Atonement, the people of the next age will present offerings and sacrifices to the royal priesthood.

As we review the mission of the church, we see how wonderfully the Lord has provided for her every need. Even the opposition of all the enemies of God could not thwart his glorious mission for the church; for our God is an infinite Sovereign, who causes even the wrath of man to praise him! As we are blessed with the understanding of these things, how can we help but sing, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.”—Rev. 15:3

Dawn Bible Students Association
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