Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Envisioning a More Awesome Church - The Great Commission

Acts 2:46-47 "Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Introduction and review
These last several posts have been dedicated to unfolding and envisioning a more awesome church. Whenever we look at the pages of the New Testament with regards to the effectiveness of the local church, we find churches that achieved more for God than the sum of their people or resources. The churches of the New Testament are characterized as "more awesome" because they consistently practiced intercessions, powerful word ministry and Godly, Spirit united fellowship with one another. These were the type of churches people would had wanted to be a part of because the risen Christ were the main draw. The Holy Spirit's liberty to express Himself through the gifts He gave His people was at a premium in those churches. Today's post deals with yet another crucial mark of "more awesome" church life - namely an emphasis on the great commission.

What happens when churches are reaching others for Jesus' sake by way of the Great Commission
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Acts 1:8 has Jesus echoing similar sentiments to his disciples about the then soon coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: "but you will 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.”

Notice what makes the great commission so "great": we as the church proceed on the basis of Christ's Sovereign authority and the Spirit's power. Whenever the church is consistently practicing the Great commission, she will be marked by God's favor which is a composed of both Christ's Sovereign authority exercised among God's people through the Spirit's power. This is why in Acts 2:47 we read about how the church enjoyed "favor" with all people. A church that is practicing the Great commission will have God's favor in ever increasing measure. 

A church that is serious about the Great commission must be in tune with these twin realities of Christ's supremacy and the Spirit's empowerment. Think about the spread of Christianity across the entire Roman Empire in the first 30 years of its existence in the Book of Acts. The persecutors of the early church said in Acts 17:6  "When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also."  In practicing the Great Commission, we must be in tune with the greatness behind the great commission - the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

John Piper writes in his ground-breaking work on missions "Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions": "If the pursuit of God's glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man's good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served and God will not be duly honored. I am not pleading for a diminishing of missions but for a magnifying of God. When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God's true worth, the light of missions will shine to the most remote peoples on earth. And I long for that day to come! Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. Churches that are not centered on the exaltation and majesty and beauty of God will scarcely kindle a fervent desire to "declare his glory among the nations" (Psalm 96:3). Even outsiders feel the disparity between the boldness of our claim upon the nations and the blandness of our engagement with God."

Piper's comments certainly sting but they also hit the nail on the head when it comes to the anemic approach so many American churches have towards missions. 

Why being on co-mission with God must be the necessary outlet for intercession, the Word and fellowship
At some point the life of the local church must spill out into the community and the world. These past several days have been dedicated to envisioning a more awesome church. What happens if a church begins to get gripped by God so much that intercession ripples across that fellowship, preaching and teaching become paramount, fellowship becomes sweet and profound and yet no efforts in great commission work are done? stagnancy, complacency and a short-circuit of God's purposes. 

When I read of the Great Revivals that swept across our globe in the past two millennia, I see all of them yield forth fruits of countless souls won to Christ. Without a doubt God's movement among His people is for His people to once again rekindle the flame that was but a flicker. However unless that fervency is matched by missionary endeavor, the revival will be short-sighted and short-lived. If we only aim to draw closer to God without aiming to urge others to do the same, our remoteness of God's conscious presence will only grow. 

I'm reminded of the little pond that was close by my child-hood home. The little pond was home to many fish and sustained wildlife of all kinds. The only outlet for that little pond was a pipe that drained off the water and fed a small creek that ran parallel to our property. My sister and I would frequent that pond to skip stones and view the dragon flies meandering their way among the cat-o-nine tails. Whenever we would walk up to that pond, we at times had to unclog that drain pipe that fed the creek from the pond. In the summer times the pond would begin to get clogged up with green algae and moss. If the pipe got clogged, the smell of stagnancy would set in and soon the stench of death could be smelled. 

A church that ever expects to be vibrant must have an outlet. Church's by their very nature are inward focused and if the Great commission is not being regularly practiced, soon the church becomes more like an overweight cruise ship than an outfitted battleship with Christ at the helm. For the church to be "more awesome", she must be about the co-mission assigned to her by her Lord.