THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH OF GOD
Biblical Research Monthly, November, 1968
By Dr David L. Cooper
Amid the confusion that exists in the world today, it is essential that everyone who loves the Lord have a clear cut, definite, Scriptural idea relative to the church of God and its functions in the world. Unfortunately, the line of demarcation between the church of God and the world is almost at the vanishing point. The result is that in many instances it is very difficult to distinguish between those who are members of the church of God and those who are not. The picture is farther blurred by the fact that Satan is especially eager to bring forth just as many counterfeits of the true church of God as possible.
Periodically, new organizations and movements are being launched and the confusion is becoming greater. In view of this situation it is imperative that we have a clear-cut idea of the church of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist broke the silence of four hundred years by making the announcement that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The Lord Jesus took up the same note about six months later and proclaimed the same message. In the midst of the great Galilean ministry our Lord commissioned the twelve disciples to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Finally, He appointed seventy to go forth with the same message.
In a quiet talk with His disciples He spoke of the founding of His church in the following language: "And I also say unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). For the first time in His public ministry He spoke of His disciples constituting a church, or a called out assembly. The bed rock upon which the church of Jesus Christ is laid is the great truth that He Himself is "the Rock of ages," the Son of God. Everything that is to endure throughout eternity must be built upon that one fundamental postulate.
Those who accept the basic teaching of Christianity--namely, that Jesus of Nazareth was God manifest in the flesh, Who entered the world by virgin birth, Who gave His life a ransom for many--and who accept Him as the atoning sacrifice for their sins, are regenerated by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever this miracle of grace is wrought in the heart of the individual believer, he having become a new creature in Christ Jesus, is added to the church of the living God. Irrespective of what his religious affiliation may be, he is a member of the body of Christ. The spiritual organism is not coextensive with any religious organization, but is an invisible entity. At the present its true size and numerical value cannot be known. This fact will be revealed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His own.
First let us consider the purpose of the Church of God according to the Great Commission. It is this, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt 28:19,20).
At a post-resurrection appearance of our Lord to His disciples, He commissioned them to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. The reason He assigned such a universal charge was that He has all authority in heaven and in earth. The Father has delegated all authority to Him. The apostles were commissioned to go and make disciples of all the nations. The term in the original Greek translated "make disciples" literally means "enroll students in my school." In giving this world-wide commission, our Lord ignored all racial and class distinctions and made everyone eligible to membership in His spiritual body. The apostles were to baptize all of those who accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and expressed their willingness to become students in His school. The authority to baptize all believers enjoins upon the ministers of the gospel the obligation to perform this ceremony in the Name of the triune God--God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This ordinance, according to our Lord, is to be performed throughout this present dispensation--to the consummation of the age.
In carrying out this Great Commission, Jesus assured His disciples that He would be with them always. This promise involved His presence in an invisible form with all true believers who are busily engaged in the proclamation of the gospel to all nations.
According to this passage the one and only thing for which God called His church into existence was the proclamation of the truth of the gospel to every creature--to give every individual the opportunity of accepting or rejecting the good news concerning the salvation wrought for him through Christ. The primary work of the church of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of the gospel to the four corners of the earth. In fact, there is no commandment enjoined upon the disciples of the Lord other than that of preaching the gospel to every creature.
When men accept Jesus Christ and the miracle of regeneration is wrought within their souls, their lives are immediately transformed. The things that they once hated they now love with a divine passion. With this newly found Saviour, this divinely imparted life, this new outlook upon the world and a new love and compassion for lost men, the saved man always bears the fruit of the Spirit which takes the form of a godly life and good deeds to lost and suffering humanity. The good works are, of course, the direct result of regeneration, and the saved man will naturally bear them.
Speaking commercially there are many by-products of Christianity. All too often we lose sight of the primary command given by our Lord to His church and become engrossed with these by-products. Many, having torn themselves away from their early moorings to the fundamental facts of the gospel are now consuming their entire time in trying to reform the world and make it a better place in which men may live. We admire their desire to be of usefulness to men but we cannot but deplore their loss of fundamental Christianity.
If the church would only get back and view the world situation as the Lord Jesus saw it when He gave the Great Commission to His disciples, it would go forward in the power of the Spirit of God and would evangelize all nations. Never can that gigantic task be accomplished until the church of God gets back and sees things from the standpoint of the Great Commission.
Let us in the fear of the Lord put first things first and realize that our primary object in the world is to proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Secondly, let us consider this subject from the standpoint of the Acts of the Apostles. We have just seen that, according to the Great Commission, our Lord enjoined only one thing upon the apostles and His church--namely, that of proclaiming the gospel to the whole world. We are now ready to investigate the lives and the activities of the apostles as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, to find out whether or not they carried out the instructions of the Lord literally.
According to Luke (Acts 1:8), the disciples were charged by their Lord to remain in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. The task of preaching the gospel is such an important matter that men unaided by the Spirit, were not entrusted with it. Hence, the apostles were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus instructed them that, upon the advent of the Spirit to energize them and to bring to their remembrance all things whatsoever He said, they were to be His witnesses--first, in Jerusalem; then in Judea; next In Samaria; finally, they were to go to the ends of the earth with the glorious message of redemption. A careful study of the first eight chapters of the Acts of the Apostles shows that the apostles and the early church took our Lord seriously and began the proclamation of the gospel, first in their own home city and to their relatives and friends. Then they moved out into the larger circle of Judea and gave the gospel to their kinsmen of the rural districts. Next, according to the divine instructions, they went to Samaria and preached the truth. Finally, the wave of enthusiasm and the passion for souls thrust the early disciples out into Gentile territory. The missionary movement began in the Gentile church at Antioch in Syria. It was from that city that the apostles, Barnabas and Saul, went forth into Asia Minor proclaiming Christ to the Jew first, then to the Greek, in every city which they visited. The latter half of Acts of the Apostles, chapters 13 to 28, is devoted exclusively to the ministry of Paul, the prince of Apostles. When we view the churches organized by him and see him in action, we realize that there was one thing that was uppermost in his thinking--namely, that of making Christ known in regions where He had never been proclaimed. Paul was very studious not to build upon another man's foundation but to preach Christ to those who had never had an opportunity of hearing of His redeeming love--a wonderful and noble example set by this great apostle.
It is true that he did look to the temporal needs of the saints at Jerusalem during a crisis which was confronting the Judean saints, but that was only a by-product of his Christianity and that of the early church. They made it their first and primary duty to proclaim Christ to those who had never heard.
When we look at the epistles of the Apostle Paul, we see that they pulsate with a burning desire to make Christ known to the lost and to build up the saints of God in order that they might go forward with the same message and make it known to others. These facts show conclusively that Paul thought of the church as God's missionary society, going forth into all the world and giving the gospel to the lost. In one of his last epistles he wrote to Timothy of the church as the "pillar and ground of the truth." Upon the church the truth rests as a house upon a foundation. No one will support the truth of God and the proclamation of the gospel except those who are really and truly redeemed.
In conclusion, may I plead with every born again person to make soul winning the primary object of his life. There is no time for delay. The world situation is becoming more critical every moment. The Lord only knows when there will again burst forth an eruption of a world catastrophe which will engage the attention of men and will be a great hindrance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. My dear Christian friends, let me persuade you to take your place in the ranks of the Lord Jesus and proclaim His gospel with fervency and power to the lost, in order that the body of Christ may be built up to the full measure of the stature of Christ. And you, my friends, who have not received Christ as Lord and Saviour, may I beg you in His name to accept Him and let Him come into your life and transform it? Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation. Harden not your heart.
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