“. . . the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, . . .” – Ephesians 4:12
On the rear exit way leading out of our church is a sign that reads “You are now entering the mission field.” Having thought about this, I believe the same sign should be placed on the outside for those entering the church. The Church is a mission field. I believe this is true of all churches.
Church is not only a place where we come to be fed and spiritually equipped. It is a place where the saints are equipped so they can do works of ministry in their everyday lives. But that is really only a part of what church is all about. Those who come to church only looking to receive will get only half of what God offers them. Church should be a place where we come to receive, but it should also be a place where we come to give.
The Body of Christ is composed of many different parts. And those interconnected parts are the instruments Jesus uses to minister to His flock. When we come to church we should come not only with a mindset to feed ourselves spiritually, we should come with a mission mindset looking for how God might want to use us while we are at church. Church is a mission field. It is a place where hurting people come and God might just want to use you to bring healing and comfort to those hurting. People who come with problems that need solving or questions that need answering, or simply with life issues, these people can be ministered to by the members in the local church body. This makes the church run more efficiently. The Church is built on the One Man Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11). But there is no other man or individual upon which the Church universally or locally should rely. Paul was inspired to point to the church and say, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27). And like a physical body we are to work together to function properly as God intended. There are times when you might be one of those in need. There are other times when you might be the one helping someone in need. The Lord comforts us so that we can later be used by Him to comfort others (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Jesus has provided His church with ministry gifts such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). These are given to those entrusted with overseeing the church and equipping saints to do ministry (Ephesians 4:12). But there are also a host of spiritual gifts that are distributed by the Holy Spirit to all born again believers in order that they might serve purposefully those they come into contact with either in or outside of the church, wherever the mission opportunity presents itself. (For the types of spiritual gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14).
When we look at the seven churches of Revelation we see that Jesus finds issues that need attending to in five of the seven churches. Two of the churches receive no criticism from Him. But all of these representative churches are part of a Christ’s mission field. There are needs in all of them. There are needs all around us. We need to be open to the Spirit for His empowerment as well as to how and where He might want to use us. Spiritual growth comes through service; through applying in real life what we learn from the Lord in His word. There are opportunities for such service both in and outside of the church. The world is a mission field, but so is the church.
Jesus expressed that one of His main purposes for the Church was to bring a unity to His followers that would be representative of the unity He experienced in the Triune Godhead (John 17:20-23). It glorifies God when people come together who are steadfastly devoted to the Bible, fellowship, worship and prayer (Acts 2:42-47). God is glorified by the unity of those who hold to "the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" and where the Holy Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:19-22; 4:4-6; Philippians 2:1-2).
The Bible reveals that in the Last Days there will be a one world religion. This religion of unity is referred to as Mystery Babylon and has its roots at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This false religious system will ultimately be brought down by God (cf. Revelation 17). The Mystery Babylon “church” system is not glorifying to God but opposes God with all deception and rebellion against Him and His word. This false unity is on the rise today. There is an attempt by the enemy today to absorb the true Church into this Babylonian “whore” of a church. It is a “Church” that is unfaithful to the truth of God and in fact is a cheap substitute for the real Bride of Christ. “Unity” is good, but not at the expense of God’s truth. This threat to the Church of God is a big part of what makes the Church a mission field.
Jesus acknowledged diversity in ministry (Mark 9:38-41). He initially came to give the gospel to Israel but thank God He also spoke of opening the gospel to the diversity of the Gentile world! (John 10:16). When people of different races, nations, actual biological genders, financial means, intellectual capacities, cultural backgrounds, and spiritual gifting come together in Christ, it glorifies God. When people who worship God differently come together it glorifies God. Whenever people who agree in the essentials of the faith but differ in nonessentials of the faith come together, it glorifies God.
Diversity in the body of Christ is good. We can all learn from those who are different from us. And diversity is necessary to make us whole. God Himself is diverse in that He is One God in Three persons. My wife and I are different in many ways. She is a woman. I am a man. She is practical. I am not always practical. I am big and strong. She is delicate and soft. She sees things I do not always see. I see things she does not always see. Separately we might be vulnerable. Together we are strong and watch each other’s back. The same is true of the church.
When churches unite regardless of denomination, location, or mode of worship, it glorifies God. This is a big part of our Church mission. People in the church are different in many ways but our differences make us stronger. Our differences make us more versatile, perceptive, sensitive to the needs of the lost and empathetic. Our differences enable us to watch each other’s back. Such diversity does not only glorify God; it is the will of God.
But, having said that, part of the mission of the Church is to remain pure. The ambition of Jesus is to wash His Bride the Church with His word, “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27). Division based on prejudice, ignorance and a lack of love is sinful and never glorifies God. Division characterized by backbiting and gossip in the church is sinful and does not glorify God. Our mission in the church should be to eliminate such sinful practices.
We see in the Bible that God glorified Himself when His people separated from Egypt (Exodus 4-14). And when God’s people were about to enter the Promised Land He warned them through Moses to remain separate from the pagan peoples, false prophets and their false teaching (Deuteronomy 7; 13 and 18). God tells us to watch out for those who cause division because of doctrinal deception and false teaching and that we are to "keep away from them" (Romans 16:17; cf. also Jude). It is not doctrine or the teaching of God’s word that we are to keep away from; we are to unite in the truth of God’s word. We are to stay away from those who teach false doctrine. That is part of our mission in the Church. Whether a person or group holds to the teaching of God’s word determines whether they belong to God and so this is eternally important and therefore worth dividing over (2 John 9).
What makes this issue of division a bit more complicated is the mindset expressed by the Arabian quote the enemy of my enemy is my friend. There are certain circumstances and situations in life where we are tempted to join with those who we had previously opposed to unite in confronting a common foe. Is it ever right to unite with a secular group or religious group who has unscriptural or Christ denying ways? There are many diverse groups that oppose abortion, immorality, and what we would call sin. We see this in political circles. One of the accepted mottos of such circles is “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” There is a labyrinth of deception and twisted alliances in the political world. That is because the objective is, for the most part, to attain and maintain power, not bring glory to God. In this realm of politics and elsewhere, uniting with those who believe differently than God says in His word is permissible if and only if you can maintain your scriptural Christian identity. But don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into a situation where you compromise the truth of God’s word. Our mission here is to proceed with caution and never go beyond the parameters of Gods’ word.
If uniting means approving of or condoning sin or scriptural heresy and falsehood, of even giving such a compromising appearance, then it would be better to fight whatever cause it is separately. God put Joseph in a position that was second in command to Pharaoh of pagan Egypt to save the messianic line (Genesis 37-50). God used the pagan Persian King Artaxerxes to help Nehemiah rebuild the walls of the holy city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1-2). God can use the unsaved for His purposes. It is by infiltration of rather than isolation from such groups that we can be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). In such situations we serve as a restraining force against evil (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7). This can be an effective part of mission strategy.
But the Bible also says we are to "come out" and not be "unequally yoked with" unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6). We are not to be united with unbelievers in a way that disregards the holy difference of God’s people. The Church should never become so associated with and sensitive to “Seekers” that it forfeits its identity as the Church. The trend of our day in the Church is to be so trendy, relaxed, informal, modern, worldly and comfortable that the lost will mosey on in. The problem with such thinking is that it fails to recognize that the true Gospel, which includes the cross of Christ, is by nature offensive to sinful people (cf. Galatians 5:11). And to such perversion of Church mission we should say with Paul, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Unity with globalist groups, eclectic ecumenical religious groups that sacrifice truth for unity, racist organizations, or other entities that we are warned about in scripture, for say, political reasons, would not glorify God. Dividing from them would glorify God. An ecumenical worship service where Christians unite with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and other religions where the message being sent is “All religions are basically the same; all roads lead to heaven” would be inappropriate. All of these groups define "God" in unscriptural and even blasphemous ways not to mention conflict with the truth of God’s word.
Would it glorify God to unite with churches that ordain homosexuals or who perform same sex marriages or who approve of abortion, even partial birth abortion? Not if it meant condoning such sin and compromising God’s truth. In seeking to fulfill our mission we should not play fast and loose with who we align with in causes. We should never pooh-pooh challenges to God’s truth. Our trust is to be in God not worldly alliances. In our preparations for battle, we should never forget that deliverance is of the LORD (Proverbs 21:31). We don’t want to forfeit God’s vital involvement because of unholy alliances. We should seek to be involved in things that God can put His signature upon. Our confidence needs to come from our relationship with God. “For the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:4). “Salvation belongs to the LORD. Your blessing is upon Your people” (Psalm 3:8). Our mission should involve seeking His blessing. Then there is victory and most importantly, then God is glorified.
The mission to the Church and through the Church is a holy mission. We aren’t to fight like the world fights. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). There are a lot of high proud things and ways in this world. In our mission we need to guard against being polluted with the things of this world. We must use holy means to fulfill our holy mission both in and through the Church. How about looking to God in prayer, deep heartfelt prayer, maybe even fasting, before we look to secular marketing techniques in religious packages? Who knows, maybe God will give us a revival is we do.
God is clear on how He feels about those who misrepresent Him; His judgment is on them. God barred Moses from the Promised Land because he misrepresented God (Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13). God allowed His people to be defeated and taken into captivity because of their associations with pagan sinful peoples and adopting their sinful religious practices (2 Chronicles 36:14-21). The New Testament is full of exhortations to maintain purity and unity in the teachings of God’s holy word (for example Jude 3-4). When we divide from those who disregard or rebel against God, it glorifies God. It glorifies God because it demonstrates we put Him and His word above the comfort that comes from tolerance of sin and compromising the truth He has revealed (for example Matthew 5:10-16; 10:32-39).
But even if we disagree with someone and have to remain separate from them, it should still always be in love (John 13:34-35). Making the distinction and separating from the groups I just mentioned is clear cut to anyone who respects and holds dear God and His word. We speak the truth in love and share the gospel with such groups, but we do not unite with them. Division sometimes glorifies God.
The only place we see Jesus write a letter in Scripture is to the seven churches of Revelation (Revelation 2-3). The Church is important to Jesus. The Church is His bride. Like any groom Jesus is deeply in love with His precious Bride. He has a seven year (!) wedding feast planned for her (Revelation 19:7). As His Bride we have been entrusted with a mission. That mission is both to the Church and through the Church. It is a holy mission both in and without. Let’s fulfill this holy mission in a holy God ordained scripturally sound way.