Everything which God has made in creation and redemption has a mission. Nothing walks with aimless feet in the economy of God. The church is a divine institution—it is of divine origin. It, therefore, has a mission.
The building of the church was an expensive undertaking. The Lord could create the heavens and the earth without the shedding of a single drop of blood, but without shedding of His own blood He could not establish the church. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it” (Ephesians 5:25). He purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Even before His death, Jesus sacrificed for the church. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). He was rich in terms of heavenly and eternal values, yet He became poor, “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross”(Philippians 2:7-8). Surely Christ would not have made such sacrifices for the church unless it was to have a mission in some measure worthy of its cost. What, then, is the mission of the church?
The question can be answered both negatively and positively. It is not the mission of the church to furnish amusement for the world or even for its own members. Innocent amusement in proper proportion has its place in the life of all normal persons, but it is not the business of the church to furnish it. The church would come off a poor second if it undertook to compete with institutions established for the express purpose of entertaining people. It would make itself ridiculous if it entered into such competition. Again, it is not the responsibility of the church as such to furnish recreation for its members. A certain amount of recreation is necessary to the health and happiness of the individual. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, it is said, and rightly said; but it is not the function of the church to furnish the play. The church was not established to feature athletics. Rather, it emphasizes the principle that “bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:8). Sometimes one would conclude, from the emphasis given to recreation, that godliness is profitable for a little, and that bodily exercise is profitable for all things.
For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It is to degrade its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not come down on the plains of Ono to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and recreation, it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hair was cut. Only as the church becomes worldly, as it pillows its head on the lap of Delilah, will it want to turn from its wonted course to relatively unimportant matters. Imagine Paul selecting and training a group of brethren to compete in the Isthmian games! Of his work at Corinth, he said: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). What then, is the work of the church?
On the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, we find it preaching the Gospel. It is reasonable to expect the church, under the leadership of the apostles, to be engaged in its divinely assigned work. Christ, before His ascension, had laid upon His disciples, His church, the grave and momentous responsibility of preaching the Gospel to every creature in every age of the world (Mark 16:15-16). During the lifetime of the apostles the church was busily engaged in preaching the Gospel to the remote ends of the earth. In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul said, “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:14-15). The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth”—not truth in general, but rather truth in particular. The church must support and preach the Gospel always as a part of its divine mission.
Further, the church in Jerusalem “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching.” In addition to preaching the Gospel to alien sinners, the church taught and built up its own members that they might “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18). The Lord has made ample provisions for the edification of His people, the church.
And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error (Ephesians 4:11-14).
It is, therefore, the work of the church to promote the growth and development of its members.
Finally, the church in Jerusalem ministered to the material needs of its worthy poor (Acts 4:32-37; 6:1-6). The Gentile churches sent help to the brethren in Judea (Acts 11:29-30; Romans 15:25-26). Paul said that he was always ready to help those in need (Galatians 2:10). It is a part of the work of the church to help those who are in need, but the church is under no obligation to help those who will not help themselves.
“If any will not work,” said Paul, “neither let him eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). If the church will discharge its duty in preaching the Gospel, in edifying its members, and in helping the worthy poor, it will not have desire or time merely to amuse and entertain.
B. C. Goodpasture