If the church is to become as effective as it can be in this corrupt and lost day and age, not only do we need to reframe the way we see the church, but also its mission. The mission of the Church is not evangelism, but discipleship. Now before you label me a heretic, or write me off as someone just making radical statements or proposing controversial doctrine just to get attention, realize that 1) I said it this way to get your attention, and 2) this is largely a matter of semantics … which is important to how we understand, and therefore, live.
Jesus great commission was to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” We key in on that word “make,” which isn’t actually there in the Greek. It is better translated, “As you go disciple all nations.” Discipleship is the mission. Evangelism absolutely serves a part of that, however, we are told in Ephesians 4:11 that God gave “some to be evangelists,” but not all. We’ve turned evangelism into something every Christian should be doing when the Bible teaches that only some are called to that ministry. We are all—every single one of us—called to be witnesses, and there is a difference. An evangelist publicly declares the Gospel; a witness lives out the Gospel interpersonally. Our mission, framed in our modern understanding, would be evangelism through discipleship.
Since discipleship is the mission of the Church, every believer, bar none, is to be discipled, and to disciple others. We need people in our lives who lead us closer to Christ, and we need people in our lives whom we walk with and encourage in the faith. If these are missing, then we are failing in our mission. Even Paul, who we put on a pedestal, had a mentor (Barnabas) and mentees (Titus and Timothy).
In our church culture, we make a great issue of faith. We need to have “enough faith.” With “enough faith” we can see people healed, miracles performed, and great works of God. Without “enough faith” God apparently lets us suffer. But faith is never held up as the standard for Christian living. Certainly “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is the gateway to salvation itself, but faith is given to us, not manufactured by us. Faith with me as its source would be corrupt, weak, and insufficient. Faith is the gift of God, it isn’t something we muster up (e.g. Ephesians 2:8, Romans 12:3, 1 Corinthians 12:9, Romans 10:17, 1 John 5:4, 2 Peter 1:1). It’s a gift we live by. The measuring rod for Christ-likeness is love. Faith is to be demonstrated, love is commanded. “By this the world will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The foremost command is love. Love God, and love your neighbor; all the law and the prophets are supported by these two commands. Yet, even now we need to reframe how we understand love, because God’s love looks very little like ours. The Church is a community, rooted and grounded in love, for the purpose of understanding and revealing the life-changing love of God to the world. Therefore, we need to understand and know, personally and intimately, this love. Otherwise, we will be miscommunicating the Gospel … which many are doing, and robbing it of its power.
In regard to his calling and ministry, Paul said that he had laid a foundation that others are building on. That foundation, which had already been laid, is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). Jesus is God (John 1:1, John 14:9, Philippians 2:6, Colossians 1:15-17). God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The foundation of the church is love—God’s love, not man’s love.
God’s love has more expressions than we can list here, however, those expressions, it seems, fall in to one of two categories: Mercy, grace, and forgiveness, or conviction, judgment, and condemnation. We may not think of God’s justice and judgment as expressions of love, but they are. We are told that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For those apart from Christ, we see a picture of rejection, condemnation, and ultimately, spiritual death. That may not sound very loving to us, but our view of love has been grossly perverted through things like movies, music, and abuse.
The love of God shows great patience to sinners. Why is there so much evil in the world? Because people are evil and need to be transformed by the love of God, who bears with great patience the objects of his wrath. Where is the comfort for those who love God? In the assurance that God is just and will judge the righteous and the wicked. We know this world is not our home—we are passing through—and that we are given all eternity to live in perfect peace, absent of evil. The love of God is proven in his mercy grace and forgiveness through which we have this great gift and promise, and also in the assurance of his justice, judgment, and condemnation of evil. Even the wicked taste of God’s love through his patient endurance of their wickedness; having day after day to see the manifold witness of God and opportunity after opportunity to repent.
We know from scripture that the miracles and wonders of God are meant to bring repentance, but even the cities in which Jesus ministered did not repent (Matthew 11:20-24). We also know that in the tribulation (which I believe we are now in) the natural consequences of our sin and the judgment of God comes to fruition and rather than confession and repentance, the wicked blame God for the consequences of their own sin. This cannot be imposed on God as unloving. That is the result of our selfishness and neglect. We have an approach to correction and rebuke called “tough love.” But it isn’t tough love, it’s just love! In fact, without the toughness of correction and rebuke it’s not love at all, just infatuation…or something less. The love of God transforms us because it has in mind for us the very best, looking into eternity, not just mere comfort for now. In spite of what our emotions will try to tell us, we can trust the love of God, for it is unyielding in its purpose and never failing in its power.