RPM, Volume 16, Number 25, June 15 to June 21, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of the Church
An Overview
The Mission of the Church

Sermon Number Twenty-five

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.


Previously, I have stated that it is impossible to separate the Church, which is the Body of Christ, from Her Head and it is useless to attempt to define the mission of that Body apart from the mission of Her Head. Understanding the mission of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, gives us an understanding of the mission of His Church through which He carries on His post-resurrection ministry of calling and redeeming a new humanity.

The Church is the Body of Christ and He works through the Church even now as He resides in heaven with His Father. This idea leads to the conclusion that the many passages in the Bible that describe the coming of the Savior into the world and what would occur as a result of that advent are, in fact, describing the mission of the Church. The Church is going to be the means whereby the many things said about the ministry of Jesus Christ are going to be realized in history. From that perspective, therefore, we looked at Isa. 2:1-4, which is a passage that describes a glorious future for the people of God as Christianity comes to dominate the world.

I noted that Isaiah's prophecy is not about the Jews as a nation, it is about the covenant people of God. It is about what God would do for His people through the Messiah who was promised at the point of man's fall in the Garden of Eden. When we read these verses, therefore, we are reading a prediction of what would happen in the world as a result of the coming of the Messiah; we are reading a prediction of the role of the Church in the period of history associated with the coming of Christ and His subsequent exaltation to the right hand of God.

According to Isaiah, the Church will be exalted and will be at the center of the world's attention. The nations of the earth will stream to the Church to learn about the ways of God; the chief concern in those days will be the Word and righteousness of God.

03. The Mission of the Church (continued)

In this sermon, I want to conclude our study of the mission of the Church by looking at some New Testament passages that confirm the teaching of Isa. 2. I'll begin with a familiar passage found in Acts 1:

6 And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

The context of this passage is the final meeting between the resurrected Savior and His disciples. The disciples would soon be involved in the founding of the Church of Christ on the Day of Pentecost. Immediately following these verses, we find the record of the Savior's ascension into heaven as the disciples looked on in amazement. What is of special interest for us is the Lord's perspective on the work that these disciples were about to commence.

The Savior tells His disciples that they would be supernaturally equipped by the Holy Spirit to serve Him as witnesses. This is not the first time Jesus made such a statement, by the way. In John 15:26, 27, the Lord tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit will be sent to bear witness of the Savior to the world; and he adds that His disciples will be equipped by the Spirit to become witnesses, too.

There are some who want to downplay the term "witness" as though it does not necessarily imply that the testimony given by the disciples will be effective. Some prefer to think of the task of the disciples as one of bearing a true, but a relatively unfruitful testimony to an unbelieving world. This position cannot be maintained, however, in light of the fact that in the gospel of John, as I've just indicated, the Holy Spirit's chief role is that of a witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Surely no knowledgeable Christian is going to suggest that the Holy Spirit's activity as a witness to Christ has been or will be largely fruitless. And if we must admit that the work of the Spirit as Christ's witness means the conversion of untold numbers, then we have to make the same admission regarding the witness or ministry of the Church in which the Spirit of Christ works.

Notice the Lord's description of how this supernatural enablement would manifest itself: "You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (v. 8) Christ describes a progressive ministry for these founders of His Church that would begin locally, then expand regionally and, finally, extend throughout the earth. What does this statement from the Lord imply? I would not go so far as to say that this verse requires the interpreter to conclude that the Christian religion is going to be embraced by the world's population. However, I will say emphatically that v. 8 most certainly indicates an increasingly obvious and effective presence of the resurrected Savior in and through His Body the Church.

This is indicated by the Lord's description of the progressive nature of the Church's mission. The Savior's prediction of the disciples' activity in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, means that the ministry of the Church is destined to become more and more visible; and, if the ministry of the Church is to become more and more visible or present in the world, this naturally implies that the ministry of the Church will become more and more effective. This is a fundamental fact of Biblical Christianity:

Where the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and embraced, change occurs and products of redemption become evident. The task of Christ's witnesses would be to tell of what He had done and this message is what the Holy Spirit uses to bring sinners to faith.

If we think of this statement from the perspective of those who heard it, we have a situation in which a handful of frightened and bewildered men are going to be prepared by God to declare a particular message; they will begin declaration of this message in the streets of Jerusalem and their ministry of declaration will thereafter grow to the point of encompassing faraway lands.

The Lord's words were immediately applicable to those first century disciples, but since they were the founders of His Church, these words, of course, have secondary application to the Church as a whole in Her continuing ministry of preaching the gospel. In my opinion, it is nearly impossible to read Christ's words in this passage and then conclude that this increasing visibility and effectiveness of the Church in preaching the gospel is going to result in anything less than the global reception of the gospel. How do those who insist that the Church will lose this battle and will, at the last moment, be raptured out of the world, explain a passage like this? Instead of learning from these straight-forward passages, they tend to concentrate on the more difficult prophecy texts and claim to draw out a clear understanding of the destiny of the Church in this fallen world.

To take the position that, yes, there will be a world-wide testimony to Christ, but most who come under this ministry of the Church are going to remain in their lost and condemned state is to fail to understand the power of the gospel; it is to fail to understand the way in which God works through the preached Word. The preached Word is the instrument of salvation given to the Church; it is what Christ uses to call those for whom He died. We must remember that it is the risen and victorious Savior who speaks these words! It is the One who is about to ascend to His Father whereupon He is to be invested with all power and authority as the Mediator who speaks these encouraging words to the small band of disciples.

I want to stress that theologically and contextually, there simply is no way to interpret v. 8 as anything less than a promise from our Head that He is going to use His Church to bring the good news of man's redemption to all the nations of the earth. How foolish it would be of us to admit this and then adopt the position that God has decreed that this grand and glorious testimony to the work of our beloved Savior is going to fail to restore fallen man as a race.

As we consider this scene where Jesus is meeting with His disciples, we have to be careful that we don't miss an important point. Here we have, as I said, a small band of men who have had their lives drastically altered by the events of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Their Leader has been put to death and they fear for their lives. Nevertheless, Jesus appears to them and tells them something that defies their present circumstances; He tells them that they are soon to embark on a global ministry in His name!

How can this be? How can this little group of disciples even think about commencing a ministry in the name of Christ? How bold would they have to be to believe that this ministry would cover the earth? The point that I don't want us to miss is found in the phrase, "…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you."

That which will guarantee the fulfillment of Christ's prediction of a world-wide ministry for the Church is this supernatural ingredient. Of course those men who stood before Jesus on this day were incapable of doing what He predicted! Of course they were too frightened and too ignorant and too interested in their own preservation to begin bearing witness to the life and works of Jesus Christ! Who would dispute these statements? But, these ill-prepared disciples were going to be prepared in a manner that would make them courageous, knowledgeable, and willing to give their lives for their Savior.

The arrival of God's Spirit would mark a transformation for these men, one that would set in motion the increasingly obvious and effective presence of the resurrected Christ in this world through His Body, the Church. So when you hear someone talk about the glorious future of the Church, when you hear someone describe the conversion of the nations, remember that behind such optimism is the conviction that this will be the work of God and God is unstoppable. Just as an example of what was to come, God took twelve men and converted thousands and this very book of Acts records that fact. God did this to give the disciples a taste of what was to come and to illustrate the power of the gospel.

I have to say that the defeatist attitude that is so prevalent in contemporary evangelicalism is an offense to Christ and the Holy Spirit. The view that so many embrace is precisely contrary, in terms of expected outcome, to what Jesus said. He declared that we should go forth to preach the gospel and that He would, indeed, equip His people by His Spirit so that the preaching that started in Jerusalem would quickly extend throughout the earth. And that preaching would produce fruit as sinners were converted and brought into Christ's kingdom. But this is far from the perspective held by many of those same converted sinners.

I've emphasized that this verse from Acts describes a progressive ministry for the Church, which would begin modestly in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, but eventually encompass the whole world. The next passage that I want us to consider is one in which Jesus explains the incremental nature of the Church's ministry in two short parables. In the gospel of Mark, chapter four, Jesus says:

Mark 4:26 And He was saying, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; 27 and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows-- how, he himself does not know. 28 The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. 29 But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." 30 And He said, "How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, 32 yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade."

As we consider these two brief parables, I want to explain how I understand the term, "kingdom of God." Simply put, the kingdom of God exists wherever His rule is manifested. There is a sense, of course, in which all the universe is the kingdom of God because He rules over all as a sovereign Creator. However, in these verses, Jesus has in mind a particular manifestation of the kingdom of God that is associated with redemption and that particular manifestation is, undoubtedly, the Church.

The Church is identified in Scripture as the means whereby the kingdom of God is exhibited among men (cf. Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31; 1 Cor. 4:20; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; etc.). We need not insist that the kingdom of God and the Church are identical (there are some verses where the kingdom of God clearly is conceived of as being future); we need only say that, redemptively speaking, the kingdom of God is manifested in and by the Church. Therefore, these two short parables are identifying attributes the Church of Jesus Christ.

Now I want to elaborate on three chief characteristics that Jesus associates with His Church. First, there is the characteristic of an insignificant beginning. In the first parable, the Lord says: "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil…" In the second parable, He says: "[The kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed… [which] is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil…" The manifestation of God's rule, which is associated with the Church, was to have a rather unimpressive beginning, according to these descriptions. A bare seed doesn't cause much excitement.

Initially, those twelve disciples of Christ didn't cause much excitement. As the founders of the Church, they had a humble and unpromising beginning. They were like the lowly seed that Jesus describes in these parables⎯small and lacking impressiveness. Their first public appearance involved defending a phenomenon that they didn't even understand. Soon, those disciples were feeling the pressure of a repressive and hostile government. So Jesus teaches that the origin of His Church would be an event unlikely to catch the world's attention.

Second, there is the characteristic of gradual growth. Jesus says: "[The man who casts seed upon the soil] goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows… The soil produces crops by itself, first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head." And, in the second parable, He states: "[When the small mustard seed is sown, it] grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants…" Jesus could have used any number of images to describe the characteristics of God's rule through the Church, but He chose one that emphasizes gradual and increasingly dominant growth. The plant that results from the seed doesn't appear instantly.

Likewise, the final appearance of the Church that had such a questionable beginning is not revealed overnight; in fact, when you apply this imagery to the Church, you must conclude that the growth and increasing influence of the Church will be, for much of Her existence, almost imperceptible. When a seed is planted in the ground, its growth is all but imperceptible; if you visit the seed every day, you'll have difficulty seeing a difference in size from one day to the next. However, if you let several days or weeks pass between visits, then the growth becomes more obvious.

As the seed grows, the area around the seed begins to be dominated by whatever it is producing. Applying this imagery to the Church, Jesus teaches that little by little, the Church will give manifestation to the rule of God as people are converted and begin living according to God's Word. This fact, of course, requires that the progress of the Church be measured over extended periods of time.

The third characteristic of the Church that Jesus reveals in these two parables is the sharp contrast between the insignificant beginning and the end product. In the first parable, Jesus says that seed eventually produces a mature crop that is ready for harvest; in the second parable, He states that the small mustard seed grows until it becomes larger than all the other garden plants and is capable of providing a home for the birds of the air. If you have experience with seeds of any type, then you understand the potential contained in them. If you have seen what comes from a small seed that can be held between your thumb and forefinger, then you can grasp what Jesus is saying.

The size ratio of small seed to mature plant truly is amazing. So it will be, the Lord teaches, with God's rule as it is manifested in and by the Church. If we try to draw a parallel between the modest beginning of the Church and Her final impact in this world, we are bound to reach the wrong conclusion. If we believe that the manner in which the Church began is indicative of how She will finish, we are mistaken. These parables clearly teach us that we are not to judge the ultimate influence of the Church by Her insignificant beginning. Already in history we have had proven to us the principle illustrated by these two parables; already we have seen the Church grow from a handful to untold millions of saved souls.

What will the future bring? Can we expect anything less than an increasing presence of God's rule in and by the Church in the years to come? As we consider these two parables, are we justified in looking for anything less than the increasing influence of the Church? Let me repeat that Jesus could have used any number of images to teach us about the nature of God's rule through the Church. He chose images that convey the ideas of increasing strength, increasing influence; He chose images that communicate thoughts of gradual ascendance, gradual dominion.

This is where certain passages really make sense. Speaking of the reign of the Savior, Isaiah says: "There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this." (9:7) The prophet describes the rule of Christ as gradually increasing until, by way of implication, it has encompassed all the governments of this creation.

In John 3:16, 17, we read: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him." The perspective on the ministry of the Church that I've been describing in the last two sermons makes it easy to see how such verses are wonderfully true. The mission of the Church is the conversion of the world through the gospel.

The same writer says: "[Christ] is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) The outcome of the Savior's work of redemption is a renewed and restored humanity. The Biblical writers have a perspective on the saving work of Christ that is world-wide in its implications; they have a view that does justice to the magnificent atonement of Jesus Christ. These writers, without exception, present the work of our Savior in the most positive terms; they present to us a fallen world that will be redeemed, made whole, and enabled to live in harmony with its Creator because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the mission of the Church. Her task is to tell what Christ has done, call men to repentance and train them to follow Him as His servants. This is what the Savior declared in the Great Commission: "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) And, according to what we have seen, the Church is going to succeed in this mission on a scale that is breath-taking.

Before offering some application, I want to tie these sermons on the Church into our overall theme of Covenant Theology. The reason there is a Body on this earth that is preaching the good news of salvation is because God promised a Redeemer for the human race and Christ took the role of that Redeemer. The promise of deliverance that was first given to Adam in the Garden of Eden was, as I've said several times, restated to the patriarchs, declared by the prophets and finally manifested in the coming of Jesus Christ.

The work of atonement accomplished by Christ and the application of that work to the world by the Spirit in the Church are covenantal in nature; they are fulfillments of God's promise. The Church is involved in keeping God's word; She is the instrument through which He is bringing the covenant of grace to completion in the world. The Church will continue to exist and continue to preach the gospel until God's promise of a restored humanity has been realized.


As we come to the application, I want to ask a question: What would you say is one of the chief principles to be gleaned from Jesus' words in Acts 1:8 and Mark 4:26-32? There is an element that stands out in both passages and it is, I believe, a key to having a proper perspective on the mission of the Church. The principle that I have in mind is that the Church's ministry is supernatural in nature.

In the parables that we examined, this supernatural aspect is represented in the mysterious way in which the tiny seed produces the large plant. In the first parable, you will recall, Jesus emphasizes this mysterious element by saying that the man "casts seed upon the soil and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows-- how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself…" And in the second parable, Jesus also stresses the mysterious element by contrasting the tiny mustard seed with the huge plant that it eventually produces. And, of course, in Acts 1:8, the Lord plainly mentions the supernatural aspect of the Church's ministry when He says "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…"

The ministry of the Church in this world⎯and here I have in mind the ministry of the Church as She relates to the unbelieving world⎯is a supernatural ministry. By this I mean that the Church is engaged in doing that which is beyond the capabilities of human beings; She is performing a task that requires power that mere men do not have. The conversion of a sinner is something that only God can do because it involves the regeneration of that which is dead; the conversion of a sinner is something that only God can do because it involves a supreme imputation and pardon.

The Church declares what God has done for fallen man in Christ and She sees the results when that message is embraced and She witnesses the spiritual growth of the converted sinner as She explains the doctrines of the Christian religion, but those in the Church who do these things and see these things are not responsible for them. The Church, once again, has a supernatural ministry. God works through the Church to call all those for whom His Son died; He uses the Church to fulfill the promise He made in the Garden of Eden to deliver the seed of the woman.

Once this idea that the Church's ministry is supernatural is firmly planted in our minds, there are several implications that follow. For example, if it is true that the Church's ministry as She relates to the unbelieving world is supernatural, that is, if the Church's work is really the work of God, then we have to believe that the gospel will have exactly the affect God desires, no more and no less.

Unless God can be opposed successfully by those He desires to save and unless God cannot do as He pleases with His creatures, then we have to admit that the gospel that the Church preaches is going to do just what God wants no matter what kind of opposition it faces, no matter how rebellious men may be, no matter how bleak circumstances appear.

What a relief it is to take the burden of the gospel's success off our backs and put on in the hands of God where it belongs! There are two immediate benefits to be noted when we come to understand that the work of the Church is the work of God. First, we are freed from that guilt that is heaped upon us by those who want to make Christians responsible for the success or failure of the gospel. The second benefit is that we are greatly encouraged in our efforts to see the lost brought to faith in Jesus Christ. If the mission of the Church is to take the gospel to the nations of the earth and if this ministry ultimately rests in the hands of a sovereign God who gave His Son for those nations, then we can be sure that the work of the Church is going to have His blessing. God will cause the gospel that the Church preaches to do exactly what He wants it to do and in His Word He has revealed to us that He desires that all nations one day worship and serve Him in Christ Jesus.

Another implication of the idea that the Church's ministry is supernatural is that we should train ourselves to depend more on the Holy Spirit and less on other things when taking the gospel to sinners. It is, of course, tempting to make use of the various approaches to attracting people that are offered to us by the non-ecclesiastical world; it is tempting to make use of those gimmicks and methods that seem to make practical sense. And if the ministry of the Church were dependent upon us, then I would say, "Let us learn and implement all we can from the business world because businesses know how to attract people and they know how to identify people's felt needs and they know how to make people feel like they've been served."

But, the Church is not a business, the Church is a supernatural entity with a supernatural task to complete. Therefore, the Church has to be ever careful about what use She makes of those things that work in other circumstances.

A third implication of the supernatural ministry of the Church is that we should cherish and guard what has been committed to us. As Christians, we have the unique privilege of taking to sinners the news that God has provided salvation in His Son. We don't take them the news that we can cure all their ills or answer all their questions or repair their dysfunctional lives. We take sinners the news that they stand condemned before a holy God and that holy God has graciously offered pardon and eternal life in His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Church, we handle precious information, we handle the words of life.

How careful ought we to be in our use of this treasure? How cautious ought we to be in the ways we present this good news to others? Shouldn't we have the highest regard for the gospel? Shouldn't we refuse to cheapen the gospel by presenting it in ways that don't preserve its integrity? Surely the blessings of God upon any congregation are tied to how that congregation treats the message of His redemption of the human race.

A fourth and final implication that follows from the notion of the Church's supernatural ministry is that God gets all the glory for what the gospel has done, is doing and will do in this world. God gets the honor for what He does as with the atonement provided by the Savior. Ministers must not be glorified, churches must not be glorified, and programs must not be glorified. Only God who works in and through the Church to call and eternally save His elect deserves the glory for the salvation of the nations. And as long as we keep in mind that the ministry of the Church is divine, then God will receive the glory He is due.

It's only when we begin honoring the servant that his master fails to be honored. It's only when we look at the messenger that we fail to see who sent him. It is worth emphasizing that Christians are called "disciples" and "ambassadors" and "followers" and "sheep." All of these terms underscore the fact that what is being accomplished by the application of Christ's atonement is not the doing of those who have been given the privilege of participating in the redemption of mankind. We are merely laborers in the Lord's vineyard; we are merely representatives of the King. May God be glorified and honored in us.


Hymn for communion


I've said that the growth of the Church is sure and steady, but often imperceptible. A fine illustration of this truth is to be observed when we have people unite with this congregation in membership. Consider, for example, what is occurring when someone comes forward to answer the membership vows. Each individual increases the size of the visible Church. A small increase, perhaps, when compared to the world's population, but each individual represents a future family. By God's grace, the line of God enlarges with each passing generation.

As we come to the Lord's Table, we are reminded of the fact that the Savior did all that was necessary to redeem His Church; the Table also reminds us that this process is continuing today. We understand that Church is, without question, a supernatural creation. God promised redemption, God sent His Son to accomplish redemption, and Christ is now applying that redemption to the world.

As we receive the elements, let's give thanks for the wisdom and power of God displayed in the atonement and the continuing mission of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Our authority and responsibility to observe the Lord's Supper come from the Savior. In Matthew's account of the Last Supper, we read:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

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