We have in Matthew 28 the so-called “Great Commission.” “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Why, do you suppose, do I often preface the words “The Great Commission” by saying “so-called”? Does the Bible call Matthew 28:18-20 or Mark 16:15 “The Great Commission.” I wonder who coined that phrase? There is another thought which is called the “Great Commandment” What is the true “Great Commandment”? Matthew 22:35-40 – “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” I would have to guess that Matthew 28 isn’t even the second greatest commandment, and who knows how far down the list of commandments it really is. Nevertheless, it IS one of the great responsibilities that the Lord has given to us.
The next question is: To whom was the commandment of Matthew 28 given? Specifically, to whom was Jesus speaking here in Matthew 28. How would you answer the argument that they were only a group of Christians, and therefore the commission to evangelize the world belongs to all Christians generally? How would you answer the argument that these eleven were not the entire church? How would you answer the argument that these men were ordained ministers and the gospel has been committed to ordained ministers only? Those eleven people formed the nucleus of Christ’s first church.
Most evangelicals believe that the work of evangelism has been committed to the Lord’s church. The problem with that is that most evangelicals have the wrong definition of Lord’s church. If you asked the average professing Christian, how many kinds of churches would he say that there are? To the average professing Christian, what is the most important church? Why? To the average professing Christian, to which of those churches has evangelism been given?
It is true that the gospel and evangelism have been given to the Lord’s church. But a church is an organized, assembly of baptized Christian believers. As we have often said, the word “church” literally means “assembly.” There is no such thing as a universal church, an assembly that cannot possibly assemble. The Bible either talks about specific local churches or about local churches “en masse” – all at once. And in giving the so-called “Great Commission” to the leaders of the first church, the Lord was giving it to all those churches which succeeded and grew out of that first church.
Our lesson this morning is essentially a review of Ecclesiology – a lesson about the church. But we’re thinking about the church primarily as the agent of the gospel – evangelism. Depending on someone’s point of view a church can be considered either as an organization or as an organism.
The church as an ORGANIZATION.
I was asked to review a book the other day, which basically says that a church is an unorganized body of believers which are gathered together to worship the Lord and to carry out His will. The author seems to think that he’s fallen upon a lost New Testament idea. But this is an idea which has been around for a very, very long time and practiced in various forms.
For example he uses some scriptures to suggest that the early churches didn’t have song directors. I Corinthians 14:26 – “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” This author thinks that when the New Testament churches assembled, they all brought their favorite psalms and hymns, and one right after another people started singing, and the rest joined them, and that we should do the same thing. But there have been sects, cults and churches which have been doing this for hundreds of years. This is not the re-discovery of a lost idea. But is this really a Biblical idea and is it really beneficial to the saints? Not only can I envision confusion, semi-conflicts and hurt feelings with this plan, couldn’t a church with a song-director, who asks the congregation for their suggestions, be consistent with this verse? Furthermore, Paul was actually condemning the confusion of services where there wasn’t some sort of leadership in their worship. The author of that book, also seems to be suggesting that just about anyone should be given the opportunity to address the congregation in either teaching, preaching or simply testifying. But again, Paul says that the meetings of the Lord’s assembly should have some organization. He concludes I Corinthians 14 with the words “Let all things be done decently and in order.” What does the word “order” suggest? (Organization?)
As far as we can tell, what were the first three major churches in Christian history? (Jerusalem, Damascus and Antioch, Syria.) Did the church in Jerusalem have human leadership, or was everyone in charge under the leadership of the Holy Spirit? We don’t know much about Damascus, but did the church in Antioch have any human leadership. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” What do you think was the purpose of those prophets and teachers? Why didn’t that church permit everyone to teach, since everyone in the church was a Christian? Do you suppose that if some member asked Simeon or Lucius if they could teach, they would have been automatically refused? Doesn’t the fact that the Scripture suggests that there were prophets and teachers, that the church had some sort of organization? I wouldn’t for a moment try to tell you that what the leadership did in regard to Paul and Barnabas was done behind the back of the rest of the church, but don’t we still see the Lord’s direction through those leaders? And what was the purpose for sending out those missionaries? Could we conclude from Acts 13 that evangelism was still at that point the a church responsibility? And wasn’t there some plan and organization involved in it?
How much about Paul and Silas’ first missionary journey do you remember? First, they went to the Island of Cyprus, then north across to Perga, up to Iconium and Antioch. Were the missionaries successful in each of these places? Were people being saved? Eventually Paul and Barnabas headed east toward Lystra and Derby. What happened at there? (Stoning.) Following Paul’s miraculous healing what did they do? (Returned by way of the same route to Perga.) And what did the missionaries do among the Christians in Iconium, Antioch and those other places? Acts 14:21-23 – “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” Do think that Paul neglected to encourage those churches to be diligent in evangelism?
Why was it necessary for the churches of Asia and Pamphilia to have elders? What are some of the synonyms for “elder”? (Bishop and Pastor.) What is the meaning of the word “pastor”? What is the primary purpose of a “shepherd” or “pastor”? (Leadership.) What happens when a church has no human leader?
How many people in the Bible have the name Philip? (Four including the Apostle and the deacon.) There was a man who was elected to become one of the deacons of the church in Jerusalem. He went on to become a missionary. Where was his first missionary work as far as we know? (Samaria.) Was he an apostle? Was he a missionary? Was he called a missionary? How many times does the Bible use the word “missionary.” (Not once.) In Acts 21:8 we are told that Philip had been given a new title. What was that title? (Evangelist.) Although they might not exactly be synonymous, a missionary should be an evangelist, and the best evangelists are missionaries. Judging from the history of Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Philip, were evangelists special?
Ephesians 4:11 – says that Christ “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” Does the reference to these various offices and responsibilities suggest an unorganized mob of Christians? How involved are evangelists in the work of evangelism? How much of the work of pastors and teachers relates to evangelism? Were the Apostles ever evangelists? Judging from these things, how much of the work of the organized church involves evangelism?
Someone has said that evangelism belongs, not merely to the well-being of a church, but to its very being. There are some churches which call themselves “Missionary Baptist Churches.” What error is implied in that? (That Baptist Churches can exist which are not missionary.) The church that isn’t missionary shouldn’t be called a Church of Christ. And their evangelism shouldn’t be confined to the professional evangelist or missionary. And that leads to my second point.
The church of Christ – should from another point of view – be seen as an evangelistic ORGANISM.
One of the problems with looking at the church as an organization, is that it might leave the impression of being a kind of automated machine. When all the parts are in place – all the belts, all the pumps, all the valves and all the extruders – then it will produce all the products that the Lord intended. But there are churches with so much organization that the senior pastor is locked away in his cell, and he is released only on Sunday morning. There are churches with so much organization that there is a different playground for every member. There are churches with dozens of pastors, acting like vice-presidents of various departments. And only one of those pastors is the evangelism director. The church really is an organization, but that organization should be kept within the definitions in the Bible.
Every church is a, or the, body of Christ. Should a body be considered more as an organization or an organism? I say “more” because there is a sense in which a body could be looked at in either way. There is a sense in which a church is a family within the larger family of God. Is a family more of an organization or an organism?
One of the problems with looking at the church as an organization, is the over emphasis of the various offices. Just because I am the pastor, does that mean you shouldn’t have someone else preach? For a number of years, Bro. Stewart has been our song leader. When he is not here, should that mean we shouldn’t sing, because we don’t have our usual leader? What happens in either of those cases?
To whom was Peter writing in I Peter 2:9? “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Going back to last week’s lesson: what is the ultimate purpose for Biblical evangelism? Building and strengthening God’s church is primarily for what purpose? When souls are saved Who is the primary recipient? When I Peter 2:9 says that we are to show forth the praises of the Saviour, what are some of the ways that this can be done? How close to the top of the list should evangelism be? Is this verse confined only to professional evangelists, missionaries, preachers and apostles?
How high would you rank that first Christian Day of Pentecost in the list of “great days of evangelism?” How many members were there in the Jerusalem church at that time? How many of those members were involved in the evangelism of that day? “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Might we say that the whole body of Christ were mouths on that particular day?
Should a member of one of the Lord’s churches ask church permission to share the gospel with a co-worker? He should probably ask permission to stand up on Sunday morning at 11:20 to preach. But to casually share Christ with a relative at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon is a responsibility that belongs to all of the Lord’s saints. And yet that is still primarily an ecclesiastical – a church – responsibility. But a church is not just a ridged organization; it is an organism made up of living cells – each of us.
To draw a sharp line of demarcation between the evangelistic activity of the church as an organization and evangelism as carried out by all the saints in that organization can be confusing. And yet at the same time to encourage anyone to become an evangelist outside the organization of the Lord’s church is something that is contrary to the scriptures. Evangelism is one of the primary means of bringing glory to the Saviour in our day. And Ephesians 3:21 remains in effect – ” Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”