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March 12, 2012Missiology

Monday is for Missiology: Credo Magazine asks "What is the Mission of the Church?"

In the latest issue of Credo Magazine, they ask three voices to define the mission of the church. Their definitions-- and mine-- are excerpted below. I've mentioned different definitions from other organizations and people, including most recently one from The Gospel Coalition that speaks of gospel proclamation and the fact that churches "must work for justice,".

Credo is a theological magazine from the Reformed side of the spectrum, though not all contributors would fit that description. They showed the same kind of diversity on this issue:

Andrew Farley -- Senior Pastor of Ecclesia in Lubbock, Texas

The mission of the church is to know Jesus Christ and to bear the fruit of his Spirit. We only truly love in the "agape" way when we first grasp how he demonstrated his love for us-- by forgiving us all our sins; by freeing us from the impossible standard of the Law; and by giving us a brand new identity in him. Once we see the glory of his new covenant promises to us, we can transmit his love to the world around us!

Jonathan Leeman -- 9Marks Ministries

Broadly, God has given his new covenant people on Planet Earth the glorious tasks of proclaiming the God-man Jesus--his substitutionary sacrifice and resurrected Lordship--and of living as a distinct society of Spirit-filled kingdom citizens who, little by little, are learning to embody Jesus' own love, mercy, and justice toward one another first and the nations second, all for the sake of displaying the matchless glory of the Father. For the purpose of fulfilling these great tasks and ends, Jesus has authorized regular gatherings of two or more new covenant members to constitute themselves as official outposts of the kingdom, or local churches, by exercising the keys of the kingdom through preaching the gospel, binding and loosing those who confess the gospel with baptism and the Lord's Supper, teaching everything that Christ has commanded, and spurring one another on to the aforementioned love and good deeds.

Trevin Wax -- Managing Editor of The Gospel Project

The church is a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God, a people united by faith in the gospel announcement of the crucified and risen King Jesus. The mission of the church is to go into the world in the power of the Spirit and make disciples by proclaiming this gospel, calling people to respond in ongoing repentance and faith, and demonstrating the truth and power of the gospel by living under the lordship of Christ for the glory of God and the good of the world.

I am particularly enthused about Trevin's inclusion of the church as "sign and instrument" of the kingdom-- which is why demonstration matters.

In the Missional Manifesto, the team and I defined the mission of the church in this way:

The mission and responsibility of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. From Jesus, we learn the truth is to be proclaimed with authority and lived with grace. The church must constantly evangelize, respond lovingly to human needs, as well as "seek the welfare of the city" (Jeremiah 29:7). By living out the implications of the gospel, the missional church offers a verbal defense and a living example of its power.

As you can see, while the definitions may differ from person to person, some similarities remain. It can be a challenging phrase, and we need to be careful not to demand "the mission of the church" be defined with the same level of precision with which we teach "the trinity," leading to unnecessary lines that divide evangelical believers.

We need clarity on the subject-- and there are real dangers right now as people de-emphasize evangelism in some circles. But, over the last few decades, the focus of most evangelical definitions includes that gospel proclamation is central-- and these definitions seek to define how it relates to gospel demonstration, good deeds, and works of mercy.

The evangelical consensus (though it is not unanimous) is represented in several documents, though often expressed with different nuances. For example, the Gospel Coalition statement) (more like the Credo stream of evangelicalism) points to keeping gospel proclamation at the center with deeds connected. (I've looked at several options within the Gospel Coalition statement). The Lausanne Statement (more broadly evangelical) seeks to nuance it a bit differently, influenced by Chris Wright, and seems to frame things in a way influenced by Wright's "ultimacy"-- we serve others, but "ultimately" get to gospel proclamation.

What I appreciate is people discussing the subject-- I remember when "Monday is for Missiology" was something just a few of us talked about! Now it is a central conversation in mission. I think it is an important conversation.

How would you define the mission of the church? I will gather some of the best ones (even the ones with which I disagree) in a future post.

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