The doctrine of the church is one of the most fundamental and basic doctrines of the Christian faith. It’s the mystery fulfilled in the New Testament. It’s simple, and has a simple mandate, but the church has been under attack since its conception. No doubt the enemy knows the importance of the church, the blessings of the church, and the responsibility of the church, and Satan will do anything in his power to thwart, hinder, and distract the church from fulfilling its purpose in this age. In its infancy, he tried to persecute it, but his attempt to stomp out its embers only resulted in the rapid spread of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. He tried to corrupt the church, feeding man’s desire for power and money through the exploitation of the poor and ignorant, but this resulted in the Reformation. He tried to compromise the church, appealing to man’s prideful desire to make a name for himself by promoting his intellect through philosophical scholasticism, but this resulted in a prolific effort to begin new seminaries in the Americas, outside the reach of German liberalism.
So, on the one hand, I am comforted by the Lord’s promise that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). The Lord has shown Himself faithful. We will be victorious, but that cannot result in complacency. I don’t know about you, but I get the sense that this is the most serious threat to the church in the modern era. It’s the attitude that “someone else will do the work.” “Someone else will serve.” “Someone else will give.”
I think some churches have responded to this threat, but unfortunately, many of those churches are being led by men who have no idea what a church actually is and is supposed to do, so their labors and efforts are off-target and in vain. We need men to lead the church with a fiery zeal, but that zeal has to be fueled by a biblical ecclesiology, not modern marketing schemes or seeker-sensitive methodologies that supposedly make the Gospel more “palatable,” or through evangelistic outreach events that essentially “trick” people into making an emotionally driven response to an easy-believism gospel. All that work in vain is saddening, not to mention frustrating, because soldiers of Christ are using their swords to cut dandelions instead of advancing the Kingdom.
The church must be faithful to the mandate. It’s that simple. And that is the responsibility of the church. What is the mandate?
Make disciples. Everywhere. That’s it.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20).
That is the measure of every church’s strength. It’s not in its programs, nor in its size. It’s not even in how many people the church reaches. The strength of a church is determined by how faithful it is to the mandate to make disciples. That means evangelism is not enough. Getting people inside church doors is not enough. Evangelism is actually being assumed of every believer, but the mandate is to make disciples. In other words, evangelism had better be happening. It ought to be as natural as breathing for the Christian. The real difficulty, and the responsibility of the church, is to labor at turning an immature infant into a mature warrior equipped for battle.
But how? If this is God’s plan for the church, how can we ensure that we are being effective in accomplishing this plan? These questions might seem simplistic, even boorish. Isn’t this obvious?
It is obvious, and that’s the point! It’s clearly outlined in Scripture. But too many churches are more concerned with novelty and entrepreneuristic (can you turn that word into an adjective?) methodologies than they are with being faithful, they look elsewhere other than Scripture to “grow” their church.
God has appointed the church to equip the body of Christ until every member has matured, having grown up in all aspects into Him, effectively serving as individual parts of one body (Eph. 4:11-16). So, If the Lord is the one who builds His church (Matt. 16:18), we don’t need to worry about bringing people to it. We need to worry about who He brings to it. In other words, the church is responsible to equip the people that God has brought to the church in order that they can be equipped to serve and make more disciples.
There is only one God ordained, promised means of accomplishing this: through the faithful preaching and teaching of sound doctrine by qualified men who will protect the church from false doctrine (Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 1:3-4; 4:1-6, 13; 2 Tim. 4:1-2). If you think about it, if we know that it’s God’s desire for every Christian to grow in Christ-likeness, then it’s pretty obvious that we have to continually learn more about the character of Christ, right?
But most churches are content with a superficial external “Christianity” that might look good on the outside, but they never lead their people to learn deeply about the person of Christ. They dismiss the importance of preaching and teaching, and replace them with 10 minute “table talks,” skits, and services that look more like a cheer-leading rally that makes the church appear indistinguishable from a Led-Zeppelin concert or a high school pep rally. They make lousy disciples.
This is not to say that preach and teaching is all the church is supposed to do. Acts 2:42 reveals other things that the early church was concerned with as well:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
All these things are essential to church ministry. Without teaching, people will not be equipped to evangelize or to serve the body, nor will they know how to worship God rightly and in a way that honors Him. Without fellowship, the people will not be refreshed, revitalized, and encouraged to continue serving. Without serving, the church will not be able to nourish itself, but the people will become like parasites until the church dies. Without these things, all the labors of the church are in vain, and rather than laboring in the church for the glory of God, the church labors instead for the glory of itself.
This is the most devastating of all, since the overarching purpose of the church and all things in creation is to glorify God.
Having a right understand of the church is critical to the health of the church. If the church has a wrong view of its purpose in the world, its ministries will be ineffective, and its members will be poorly equipped and spiritually immature. They will be caught with their heads down when the enemy makes his charge, and will not be able to make a strong defense of the Gospel.