Is there a commission to the Church to preach the gospel? Or is the only real mission to preach and teach to local congregations? What is the plain truth from your own Bible about the work of the ministry?
AIN'T NO need to build no walkway — ain't goin' nowhere!" was the sarcastic retort. The farmer spat, hitched up his overalls and headed to his 1930s-model car, skirting the muddy puddles in the churchyard of the tiny building just outside Eugene, Oregon's city limits. It was a Sabbath day in the early 1940s and the pastor, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, had just finished the sermon. In it he had mentioned the need for members to help build a walkway from the unpaved street to the front porch; perhaps by a combination of donated labor, and tithes and offerings for this simple project. Many had complained of wet and muddy shoes while negotiating the rutted "yard" in Oregon's drizzly weather. The building had been constructed by several members, Mr. Armstrong included, who had donated labor and materials. Now, the old walkway had rotted, broken up, and decayed. A few dozen boards were needed. But all this "progress" was too much for one conservative member. "Why build a walkway?" was his question. Quite likely, his farmyard didn't have any. He was completely comfortable with his mossy, rain-slick boards and planks, and his mud puddles. "Ain't goin' nowhere," he said. And he was right. He wasn't. But the Church WAS. It was going to grow national in scope, then international, and then worldwide! Because it was the Work of GOD, and not of any man, it was destined to encircle the globe with the dynamic message about a LIVING Jesus Christ who is the soon-coming KING. That little walkway only represented a "door" to the street, and easy access from a higher, drier roadway to a porch.
A Stifling Misconception
But the attitude of at least one local member represented a misconception that has influenced massive church bodies, decided various forms of church government, and stifled the true preaching of the gospel for centuries! For that member life consisted of rejoicing in the truth he knew, going to services each Sabbath, and living quietly on his farm with his wife and children. Involvement in projects of growth, even so small as a board sidewalk, just seemed nonsensical to him. It was hard enough, in those days of comparative poverty, warfare, and hand-to-mouth existence, to keep one's own family fed and clothed, without all that "foolishness" of trying to worry about someone's children sitting around the wood-burning stove drying their socks during services. A quiet life on the farm? Too bad we can't all enjoy that; I wish I could. But if we are called of God, we are called for a purpose; and that purpose transcends our own physical creature comforts. And as we fulfill that great purpose — which is primary in our lives — it can result in our own eternal salvation! That purpose, involves not only our own salvation but, more importantly, that of others. The by-product of that transcendental purpose for which we are called is our own personal salvation. But that purpose is far beyond just our own individual salvation. Think! If the only reason God has called us is to grant us personal salvation, then why call us now? Why call us now in this age in such numbers? Obviously, there is a great global purpose in our collective calling.
Picky Religious Questions vs. Global Conditions
Today's humanity faces the ever-increasing likelihood of massive worldwide famine. This possibility is fueled by the twin problems of the ever-burgeoning population explosion and the dwindling food supplies in poor, "underdeveloped" nations. On the very day you read this article — and repeated each day — some 350,000 babies cry their way into existence on planet earth! Most of these infants are destined, tragically, to live out their lives in the dirt-poor, "have-not" nations of the earth. Even after subtracting deaths, every year there are some 75 million more mouths to feed on this already overtaxed earth. At present rates, demographers and population experts estimate that world population will pass four billion by 1975, double in approximately 35 years and double again 35 years later! By the year 2000 it is estimated that world population will reach the dizzying height of six to seven billion; thirty-five years later, twelve to fourteen billion! Obviously that can't occur. Something has to give. In order to feed all these people anywhere near an adequate diet, world food production will have to double between 1960 and 1980, and virtually triple by the year 2000. Yet the present rate of increase renders this a highly unlikely possibility. In plain English — when population passes food production, then worldwide famine, starvation, disease epidemics and resultant food wars are inevitable! "But did Adam have a navel?" "Where did Cain get his wife?" "Is it wrong to listen to Burt Bacharach on the Sabbath day?" "Did Mr. So-and-so really hold hands with Mergatroid P. Entwistle?" "Does the Bible prophesy that oranges would grow in California?" "Would you please explain the significance of the terms 'hoods,' 'pins,' 'chains,' 'mufflers' and 'tires' in Isaiah 3. Is this a prophecy about the modern automobile?" In the meantime — while religious hobbyists ask these and reams of other picky, purely academic questions (apparently to satiate their own incredible, self-centered vanity) — in the United States alone over 300,000 people a year are dying of hideous cancers and another one million are succumbing to various heart and circulatory problems. Every single day — as totally unaware of it as we in the Western world seem to be — a "low" estimate of ten to twelve thousand people on this globe die of simple starvation! Wars claim their toll too; the blood of humanity, spilled in warfare, stains the soil of India, Vietnam, Korea, Biafra, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Middle East and even "Christian" Ireland. Massive work stoppages and strikes paralyze Britain. The energy crisis strikes crippling blows to the economies of Japan, the United States and the democracies of Western Europe. Violence, political agitation, demonstrations, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings, and mass slayings in airport terminals etch deep and lasting scars on the face of a tormented humanity. "But how high is the thigh?" asks the pharisaical religious moralist. "But preacher," asks the Bible student in rich, overfed America, "surely the symbolism of Zechariah is more important than the plight of humanity!" "I think Christians should only wear black shoes as a sign of modesty and humility," claims the self-righteous religious moralizer. But what about the teeming millions on our poverty-ridden planet who have no shoes? — or even in some cases, no feet? What about the deliberately crippled children who endlessly wander — meandering through the streets of Calcutta — begging food and money for those who callously relieved them of their little legs and arms? What a tragedy to see their maimed, twisted, distorted, gnomish little bodies standing there in grotesque shapes; looking up into your eyes — not fully comprehending the shame of a hideous, cruel lifetime! What a monstrous penalty to have to pay for the seemingly endless poverty that has plagued India for centuries.
Jesus Had a World View
Jesus Christ of Nazareth set us an example of concern, compassion and emotion-charged empathy for the plight of a heedless humanity. He showed that God — the Father — the God of all mercy — is the God of all mankind. When Jesus saw the pitiful spiritual conditions and even the illnesses of the people of His day, He was "moved with compassion" (Matt. 9:36; Mark 1:41). He yearned to help, to save humankind from the heartrending results of its own folly. Christ's message — the good news of the Kingdom of God — was to the world and for the world. That gospel message was to be preached in "all nations" as a warning and a witness (Matt. 24:14). Paul revealed the true God to the superstitious Athenians: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is the Lord of heaven and earth.... And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:24-26). God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). God the Father did not send His Son Jesus Christ with a message of selfish, personal, ingathering, self-righteous salvation — but with a worldwide message for all mankind! "And so all Israel shall be saved...." said the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:26. Jeremiah prophesied about many nations (Jer. 25:13-26). Isaiah prophesied concerning Assyria (chapter 10), Babylon (chapter 13), Moab (chapter 15), Syria (chapter 17), Egypt (chapter 19) and many other nations and family groups which have since spread to the four corners of the earth. God is concerned with more than just a few "Bible Belt" religious hobbyists in the southeastern United States (though He is deeply concerned about them, just as He is about any human being who draws breath). He has an international message for all peoples and nations! It. concerns the Kingdom of God and the salvation of the whole human family — not just a few Bible-quoting, Bible-arguing religious types. Notice the deeply moving words of Psalm 67: "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among ALL nations.... O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.... God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him" (verses 1-2, 4, 7). This is the message of a globe-girdling gospel! It is a message of lasting peace, right rulership, radiant health and ultimate salvation for all races and nations around the world. It announces the way to world peace and harmony; the way to end all famines, wars and terrorism. It is a message of firm hope in an age of utter hopelessness.
Is Your Religion Selfish?
Yet, in spite of the biblically revealed international thrust of a giving gospel, religion is still a very private and very selfish commodity to many harboring a spiritual ingrown toenail. They want that "old-time religion" — a religion that's part of one's neat, orderly, settled and comfortable life; a religion that's like a favorite pair of comfortable slippers, a spiritual tranquilizer, a good book and an easy chair by that old favorite lamp. It is as familiar and comfortable as that rusting old automobile in the back farm lot that his father drove before him; and it is as much a part of his encrusted environment as that old oak tree out back, or that creaking step on the front porch. To such people, anything broader in scope than merely going back and forth to Church services every Sabbath is inconceivable. That, and a little fellowship with those who agree on religious matters — partners in spiritual selfishness — is about all there is to their religion. It's no wonder that such a selfish "religion," even in the world, is utterly rejected by so many multiple millions today.
Religion as a Hobby
To millions of people, religion is a mere hobby — an intellectually titillating exercise in apparent spirituality. Some like nothing better than
"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost [Spirit] is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Acts 1:8
a good, vigorous argument about a technical point of Scripture. They haul out their soggy, ink-saturated, well-marked, dog-eared old Bibles — literally dripping with the "righteousness" of their own markings (not that it is wrong to mark your Bible for the purpose of easy reference) — and proceed to expound some obscure scripture in the book of Hezekiah (try to find that one!). To such people, religion, Christianity and fellowship are just self feeding, ingrown activities. They help no one, educate no one, serve no one, and benefit no one but the self (And even then there is a question whether such people are really benefited by such a narrow-minded, selfish religion!)
"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...." Matthew 28:18, 19
"Attend the church of your choice," advise the billboards. And that is exactly what most religious types do! They attend the church which most caters to their own personal, selfish needs, notions and desires. Some attend church because they want a sense of "belonging"; others because of the convenience of the parking facilities; still others, because they enjoy the music — all for patently selfish reasons. The point is that a church exists to suit every type of personality and approach to religion. One can even find churches that openly worship Satan the devil if that happens to be a person's particular "bag." Many denominations are in "cutthroat" competition with each other. Because of this peculiar "Christian" phenomenon, people who are next-door neighbors go to different churches — which are miles apart — driving past each other with scarcely a glance.
God's Way Is Giving
Those who prate about "my own salvation" have lost sight of the really big goal in human life — having forgotten that the true gospel has to do with giving salvation to as many other people as possible. Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to a "pearl of great price" and to a "treasure hid in a field" (Matt. 13:44-46). The gospel message is an all-important, futuristic announcement of how that Kingdom is going to rule this earth and how those who hear the message may have a vital part in that ruling Kingdom! That message is a saving, giving message — not a selfishly oriented "get" gospel.
John's Disciples Misunderstood
John the Baptist's ministry was one of frugality and hardship. He apparently ate a stringent, limited diet — mainly subsisting on locusts and wild honey. He lived a very austere life-style, so much so that contemporaries observing his unconventional behavior mistakenly accused him of being demon possessed. When John heard of the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples to try to substantiate who Jesus really was (Matt. 11:2). (John was in prison, but he was aware that somewhere, somehow the Messiah had to appear at that time.) When the two disciples came to Jesus they asked: "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" (Verse 3.) Jesus answered: "Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see" (verse 4). He then (verse 5) pointed to the miracles which were a vital part of His messiahship. Jesus pointed to the fruits — to the work being done. Then Jesus added: "... And the poor have the gospel preached to them" (verse 5). He pointed out that He was in the business of giving that gospel message — and this was one of His most important works. Then Jesus said a seemingly strange thing: "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me" (verse 6). What did Jesus mean by this enigmatic saying? Does this veiled warning and blessing really fit in this context? Yes it does! Let's understand. After a brief description about John's commission and character (verses 7-15), Jesus began to explain the meaning by comparing the two ministries. "John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil [demon]. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children" (verses 18-19). In other words, the incongruity of the two situations showed that no matter what we in God's Work do, we will be criticized for doing it "all wrong"! Jesus was roundly accused and criticized because of His "hobnobbing" with the leaders of the Sanhedrin, sitting with the Pharisees at a huge banquet table, and going to the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee. Yet Jesus preached to large crowds of people — thousands at a time (Matt. 8:1; 13:2; 23:1). He preached the true gospel to them — the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14). The fact that Jesus said, "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me," strongly indicates that the disciples of John didn't observe what they had expected to see in Christ. They probably expected to find someone whose life-style was similar to John's — one of frugality and self-denial. Even John himself may have misunderstood! That's probably why they asked, perhaps preprogrammed by John to do so in a dubious, quizzical tone: "Well, are you he that should come, or should we look for another?" They expected the Messiah to be living quite differently. It is obvious that they were thinking: "You couldn't be the one — or you wouldn't be here in the midst of all this...."
Judas Wanted to Change Christ
Judas Iscariot was the one of the twelve who carried the "bag"; he was the group's "treasurer," as John's Gospel shows. Judas was the one who said: "Couldn't this ointment [used to anoint Christ before His death] have been sold and the "money given to the poor?" (Yet he said this not because he cared for the poor, but because he wanted to steal the money.) This is just one example of how Judas didn't always appreciate the way Jesus did things. He wanted to change Christ. But he really didn't want things to get out of hand either; he just wanted Jesus to come around to seeing things his way. Judas, allowing himself to be carried away with his desire to change things, went out" and obtained thirty pieces of silver (possibly worth as much as $192) in exchange for some information about Christ. But Judas' plan backfired on him. When he realized he had gone too far, he went back to the Jewish leaders and said: "... I have betrayed the innocent blood" (Matt. 27:4). Judas actually threw the money down — but where did he throw it? First he tried to give the money back, hoping they would reverse their sentence. But when they refused the money, he went to the Temple as a symbolic gesture Gust like we might go down to the Federal Mint and throw down a bag of fifty-cent pieces on the steps and drive away in disgust). Then Judas left the Temple and went out and hung himself (verse 5). That's an interesting analogy: Judas was trying to force Christ to change to his image — to do things Judas' way; but Jesus didn't change to please him. Judas tried to bring pressure on Christ by threat of law, and even, so to speak, bring Jesus' "organization" down. But when Judas found that he had irrevocably set up his Master for the slaughter, it destroyed Judas! He went out and committed a shameful, ignominious suicide.
Christ's Commission to the Disciples
Jesus commissioned His disciples in much the same way a person was commissioned at one time in the military service. A "commissioned officer" originally could have been an ordinary private citizen, or even a wealthy or titled person, who was given a directive to carry out a certain mission. The word "commission" means "with a mission"; that is, with a purpose or an objective. Jesus sent out the twelve with a specific charge or purpose: "These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 10:5-7). The disciples were not sent to the Church — they were sent to preach to the world: "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John 17:18). The main commission was to the world. In turn, the body of believers that resulted from their preaching of the gospel to the world became the "Church." But the Church was the by-product of the preaching of the gospel! IF THE GOSPEL WERE NOT FIRST PREACHED TO THE WORLD, THERE WOULD BE NO CHURCH! After the gospel is preached and the Church is formed as a result, those who are the called members of God's Church make it possible — by their prayers as well as by their continual physical and financial support — for more people to hear the message of the gospel. And that body of Church members also provides more ministers by which the gospel is preached to more and more people. The body of Christ — the Church — is therefore constituted to do the work of preaching the gospel. As a result of our calling to do that work, God also grants us salvation in advance of the rest of humanity!
Jesus Set a Precedent
Jesus of Nazareth came to this earth to deliver the gospel of the Kingdom to that local area (Galilee, Judaea, and their environs) at that time — to set a precedent for succeeding generations of the Church. He came to teach and train His
"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." Matthew 24:14
own disciples through those experiences. He then sent them out and told them to do as He had done — in fact, they were told they would do even greater works than Jesus! "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me [that includes all Christians at any time in history!], THE WORKS THAT I DO SHALL HE DO ALSO; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12). The commission to preach the gospel is a collective charge to all Christians at all times! New Testament history is a chronicle of the fact that the early disciples fulfilled their commission. They preached the gospel with great zeal throughout the known world. The Apostle Paul, called later than the original apostles — as "one
"That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.... O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth." Psalm 67:2, 4
out of due season" — also carried on the commission of preaching the gospel. He was So filled with the sense of a great mission that he said — undoubtedly with deep feeling: "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!" (I Cor. 9:16.) At the conclusion of the book of Acts, Paul is busy on the job in Rome in his own hired house, preaching that same gospel to all who would hear. "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him" (Acts 28:30-31). Paul realized that his whole reason for being called was to preach the gospel: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1).
The Apostles Suffered for the Gospel
Jesus Christ suffered more than anyone for the sake of the gospel; and His disciples ultimately followed in His footsteps. Suffering went hand in glove with the preaching of the gospel in the first century. And their suffering is also an example of what today's true Christian can expect for putting the work of the gospel first. "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:21). Most of the early apostles were martyred for the sake of the gospel. Paul actually left a record of some of his sufferings in II Corinthians 11. He said he had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, near death on a number of occasions, stoned, nearly drowned, threatened, and in every conceivable kind of danger. But nothing would make him stop preaching the gospel!
A Christian Retirement Plan?
Jesus did not come to set up some kind of a self-perpetuating Christian retirement plan. He did not come to bring about a peaceful, blissful, Utopian, comfortable, "dropped-out," esoteric society. He came to preach the gospel — a gospel that would bring about intense personal suffering for those who would dare to proclaim it. It is a gospel that, by the very essence of its message, invites persecution. He commissioned His-Church to preach that message fearlessly and boldly — never stopping for anybody or anything. His disciples were ordained and commissioned to preach that same gospel. They did so at great personal sacrifice — and ultimately even martyrdom. Paul's own desire was so outside of himself that he said he could wish himself accursed for his kinsmen (Rom. 9:3). He would have accepted the loss of his personal salvation if that's what it would have taken to get all his fellow brethren into the Kingdom of God. His main desire was for others to get into the Kingdom of God. There would be no salvation apart from the preaching of the gospel! There is no way to separate salvation from the gospel. As I pointed out earlier, if there had been no preaching of the gospel, there would be no local congregations! Therefore, it appears to be nothing short of total stupidity that any local congregation — which, after all, is only there as a result of the preaching of the gospel — should separate itself into an isolated spiritual community, settling back and enjoying what it has learned, rather than continuing to be a part of the big team that is preaching the very gospel that brought about that local church's existence in the first place! And there is something else — another vitally important point! One thing is utterly unique about the Church of God: the congregation is not there because the minister is there. The minister is sent out to be among the people who are there first — as a result of the preaching of the gospel! The people are the harvest of the gospel which is being preached over the radio, on television, and on the printed page. Can any minister rightly presume to take the harvest of the preaching of the gospel as his own private congregation? The local minister is sent to feed that congregation spiritual food and to "water" them so that they will grow further. Paul expressed it this way: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers [servants] by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (I Cor. 3:5-6). The foundation upon which the Church of God is built is Christ — not any man. It is God who called us and converted us by His power and His Holy Spirit. We are God's heritage, God's building, His planting, or whatever other analogy the Bible has used for those who are called into the Church. Can any man claim God's heritage for his own and strive to take it away from the parent body into which it was called — and by which it was called? The reason people are organized into a local church and asked to go to a certain place at a certain time, in order to listen to more in-depth preaching and teaching, is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end! It is not merely to satiate the self with spiritual bonbons and to feel warmed and filled personally. If that were the reason for local congregations, it would be analogous to saying that the only reason we are alive, as physical human entities, is to eat! For a person to say that the only reason for his existence is to feed his face would be crass, pig like gluttony! A person who feels this way is denying the very reason for his own existence. By the same token, if a local congregation is only for the purpose of feeding itself spiritually, then it denies its very calling. The reason a local congregation gathers at the feet of the minister — to be taught and fed spiritually — is so that it can go out and do the Work; so that it can be a more effective part of that great commission to preach and proclaim the gospel to all the world before the end of this age! Anyone who is really a part of the body of Christ can see that Jesus Christ of Nazareth organized the Church for the purpose of fulfilling and supporting the attainment of that number-one purpose. Those who are not doing that job are not truly a part of the Church, not part of the vine; and they will simply wither up — and die!