PASTOR ALLWIN JOHNSON - THE CHURCH AND ITS MISSIONS
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THE CHURCH AND ITS MISSIONS

PASTOR ALLWIN JOHNSON

 

1. Introduction

"The Church exists by mission as the fire exists by burning. Mission is the very life of the Church." In the Old testament God called the Israelites to carry out God's Mission and yet they failed. In the New Testament, through Jesus Christ, the Church has been formed to carry out God's Mission. The early church realized the need and worked with the power of Holy Spirit to fulfill God's Mission. The house churches in that time were more effective in fulfilling the mission.

In the present days, we are privileged to be the part of that body of Christ. However, we are not only the body of Christ, but also part of the Mission. Das says, "Church is a pin attracted to the magnet of the coming restoration of God's rule over the whole of life." The prime purpose of the Church is to take part in the God's mission in this world. But when compared to early house churches, present day churches are not so efficient in its mission. The purpose of this paper is to study the basic missions of the Church and examine the effectiveness of house churches compared to corporate churches. For this paper, the early church in Acts has been taken as a role model for today's churches.

2. Church in the Old testament

The Church has its roots back in the Old Testament “the people of God”. God chose Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and made a covenant with him. Abraham believed God and walked in His ways. Through Abraham God raised Israel and they were called as the people of God. The Hebrew word “qāhāl” is used for the assembly of the people of God in Old Testament. As a noun, it is translated in English words “congregation, assembly or company.” qāhāl may refer to the “assembly” gathered together for the the purpose of Evil council (Genesis 49:6), Civil affairs (1kings 12:3)war (Judge20:2) and Religious worship (Psalms 89: 5). However as a verb, “qāhāl means 'to gather' as a assembly”

In religious gathering assembly “qāhāl”, the Israelites have a high priest who stands between God and man. This high priest mediates to convey God's message to people and intercedes to God the prayers of the people. The qāhāl or gathered assembly of Israelites is exclusively for the Israelites. “The only eligible members of the assembly were men who were religiously bound together under the covenant, who were neither strangers (living in Israel temporarily) nor sojourners (permanent non-Hebrew residents) (Numbers 15:15)". So gentiles are not involved in the gathering of Israelites.

3. Church in the New Testament

The New Testament Church is called as ekklesia, a Greek term. It is derived from the term Ekkaleo. The term ek means "out," and kaleo means "to call or summon." Thus the literal meaning for ekkesia is "to call out." So in New Testament, ekklesia or the Church means, the gathering of the repented, baptized believers of Christ, who are called out from the world and its sins, to worship, fellowship, teaching and evangelism. In another perspective, Christ is the head of the Church and Church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23). Paul says, "... members together in one body ..." (Ephesians 3:6). In this sense, "Church" can be referred to a universal body of believers.

The New Testament church is a fruit of the new covenant, which was made between God through Jesus Christ with Man (cf. 2corindians 2:12 – 3:18). The mediator and the High priest of the New Testament church is Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrew . Unlike Old Testament qāhāl, the New Testament Ekklesia allows no ethnic, gender or social divisions (Galatians 3:28), because everybody is one in Jesus Christ.

4. The origin and formation of New Testament Church

There are several views prevailing over the origin of Church. But most of the theologians believe that the New Testament Church was born on the day of Pentecost. In support of this opinion, Hedlund says, "... the New Testament Church as a missionary community was inaugurated on Pentecost."

After the ascension of Jesus Christ, over 120 people, including the eleven disciples, were waiting in an upper room for the promised Holy Spirit. On the Pentecostal day, when all assembled together, suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were seated. Before their eyes appeared tongues like flames which separated off and settled above the head of each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages as the Spirit gave them power to proclaim his message.

While the disciples were experiencing the Holy Spirit, several gathered to watch the peculiar happening. They may be the Jews, the proselytes and the God fearers from various part of world. They were astonished to see the disciples speaking their languages. At that time Peter, who was a coward before, stood up and proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter's gospel message contained crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-36). Then Peter told them, "You must repent and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that you may have your sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 38).

There was a huge conversion in that day and that was the formation of the early church. So, Pentecostal event is the starting point of the early church. The believers started to meet in the temple courts (Acts 2:46). And the added to the Church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). Thus the early church grew and became a mighty society in the world.

5. Church and its Missions

The Church is the agent of God's Mission. Andrew Kirk says, "the Church is by nature missionary to the extent that, if it ceases to be a missionary, it has not just failed in one of its tasks, it has ceased being Church." This infers that the Church is called to carry out the Gospel work to the ends of the earth and the ends of the time. The called ones are sent ones. If God called the Church, He must have sent the Church for Mission. The early church had a holistic understanding of the Missions. Each and every believer, involved actively in the Mission of God. So it expanded rapidly all over the earth. In this paper we can take the early church as an example for a local churches today.

The basic missions of the Church

The Church was the outcome of a mission and it is for a mission. Bosch cites Schumacher, "The Church is essentially missionary." Then he rephrases it as "Mission is essentially ecclesial." Church and mission are inseparable. Basically the early church did three kind of missions. They are Exalting, Equipping and Evangelizing. Exalting includes worship, prayer and sacraments. Equipping includes fellowship and teaching. Evangelizing is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

5.1. EXALTING

God Almighty is sovereign and we are created by Him to praise and glorify His name on the earth. Since exalting is towards God from Man, it is also called as upward mission of the Church. God is so pleased with the praise, prayer and sacrament of the human being. Even in the earliest period, when Abel sacrificed or offered a firstborn of his flock, God looked with favour on him (Genesis 4:4). The exaltation can be called as church service. In the Church service there are three components.

5.1.1. Worship and praise

Willmington cites Andrew W. Blackwood, " worship is man's response to God's revelation of Himself." God loves His people to praise Him as He is. "Give unto the the glory due unto His name: worship the in the beauty of holiness" (Psalms 29:2). In gospel written by Matthew, Jesus Himself says "Worship the your God and serve Him only" (Matthew 4:10). This invites every one to worship the , the creator.

In early church believers met together in their houses to worship the . Kennath A. Kuntz says, "worship provides the opportunity for spiritual renewal of persons and congregations in responding to God's Mission." He also adds, "worship may provide the climate in which God works His will in the hearts of men." Worship includes the acts of praising, thanks giving, singing hymns, playing music and reading scripture. Since we are created to worship God, the Church should give importance to worship the .

5.1.2. Prayer

Prayer can be defined as a communication with God. Prayer is an essential element needed for personal and corporate missions in the Church. Prayer is considered as a sustaining base for the missions. Robb says, "Prayer links us with God to receive His power and direction as we pray for the world and carry out our ministries." Prayer thus brings the strength and power to carry on our mission. The early church prayed in all the circumstances of mission. Before they got the empowerment of Holy Spirit, they were together in prayer (Acts 1:14). When they were threatened by the Government authorities, they prayed (Acts 4:24). When peter was arrested by the King Herod, the early church prayed to get back him (Acts 12:5). Such as, they prayed to overcame all difficulties. Paul often reminds the believers to pray for the missionaries, co-believers and government authorities. Ted Olsen justifies the necessity of prayer with a testimony, "Let me introduce you to one dear brother who exemplifies what I'm saying. His name is Harish and he lives in a city of 1.5 million in the state of Madhya Pradesh. He has planted over 500 house churches in the past three years. He'll tell you straight: Without prayer as the key to my strategy, I would not have planted one house church." Like So the prayers are much important for church's missions.

5.1.3. Sacraments

"Sacrament is something presented to the senses, which has power, divine institution, not only signifying, but also of effectively conveying grace." Generally there are two Sacraments in a church, communion and baptism. Both these two rituals has its root in the Holy Bible. When Jesus came to the world, he took both baptism and communion (Matthew 3:16; Luke 22:17-20). He also asked His disciples to carry on doing this till His second coming Luke 22:19; Matthew 28:19).

All sacraments has its own spiritual meaning. Paul explains the meaning of baptism, "Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the father, even so we should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). In short, baptism refers death for sin and resurrection for righteousness. Paul explains the 's supper or communion as a ritual doing in remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. It also reflects the brethren fellowship of the believers of Jesus Christ. For a church, Sacraments are important, but it should not be a dry duty. Church should know its spiritual insight and do it for improving spiritual standard.

5.2. EQUIPPING AND NURTURING

Equipping and nurturing are the inward mission of the Church. Equipping is a dynamic evangelism oriented mission. It is to grow believers in Christ likeness in order to prepare them to be a functioning God's servants in the world. The final target of equipping is to fulfill the great commission through the Church members. Equipping includes fellowship and teaching. In Great commission, Jesus asked to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Disciple is one who trained well to make disciples. This equipping mission is making a convert into disciple. To be a disciple, first, a believer needs fellowship with the fellow believers. Then needs, thorough teaching and training in the word of God. Equipping mission is also called as Christian nurture.

5.2.1. Fellowship and care

"The biblical term for ideal relationship among Christians is fellowship." Fellowship among the believers is vital in the Church. Jones says, " the initial missionary task of every Christian is to his fellow Christian." Before Pentecost the disciples joined together in prayer and they got the empowerment of Holy Spirit (Acts1:14). In the letter to Ephesians, Paul writes, "In Him the whole building is joined together and raises to become a holy temple in the " (Ephesians 2:21).

The early church had the real “koinōnia” fellowship and they had every thing in common (Acts 4:32). Christian fellowship is a unique relationship in the world. Joe contrasts the human community with Christian fellowship as "If the grains of sand are poured together, they touch, yet remain apart. This is Human community. But if the drops of water poured together, they flow together, each drop part taking of the characteristics of every other drop until they are one." The fellowship in the Church is the divine fellowship which God wants to restore among humans. Apostle Paul emphasizes the fellowship in all his letters. In the letter to Christians in Ephesus, he has given the advice to keep the fellowship in the Church (Ephesians 4:1,2,25-32). With out fellowship the Church could not take part in active mission. Joe observes, In fellowship, the individual Christian's responsibilities become clear and compelling. His commitment, courage, and motivation gain strength." So fellowship is the key factor to make the Church involve in the active mission.

5.2.2. Teaching and Training

Teaching is giving the knowledge about God and His word to the believers of Christ. The knowledge of the word of God helps the person to hold fast in Christ and His mission. Paul often taught the Churches about various theological, ethical and missiological issues through his letters. With out teaching the believers can not be a perfect man in Christ. The author of Hebrew says it clearly about how the teaching develops the member of the Church,

"In fact, through by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Any one who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not aquatinted with the teaching of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good and evil."

This passage explains the Paul's method of teaching and from this we can know the emphasis for teaching in the early churches. The early church believers "never stopped teaching" when they met in their houses (Acts 5:42). So in the early church, every Christian was a missionary and every non-Christian was the mission field. Teaching develops a newly converted believer to the missionary into the world. Jones feels, the local congregation should be a missionary training center preparing men and women to go out into the world to witness effectively to the meaning of their Christian faith within an emerging world civilization. So teaching is a vital part to equip the members of the church into a missionary Christians to witness in the world.

5.3. EVANGELISM AND SOCIAL ACTION

Evangelism and social action is called as outward mission of the Church. Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sin, and inviting them to become living members of Church the community of Christ and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit. A holistic mission has two sides. One is concern about the spiritual life of people and another is the social concern. Mission represents one reality, Love, in these two aspects.

5.3.1. Evangelism

Das says, "Evangelization can not be an occasional or temporary task but a permanent and a constitutive necessity of the Church." The very survival of the Church in the world is to evangelize the whole world. Early church involved in two kinds of evangelism. One is, being a missionary, everyone did the evangelistic mission in their local place. Though he was not sent any where, Stephen proclaimed the gospel and performed miracles in his native place (Acts 6:8-7:60). The co-workers of Paul like Aquila and Pricilla did the evangelistic mission in their houses.

Jones assumes, " Christians have tended to think of the minister as the person ministering to those within the Church, they have thought of professional missionaries as those going outside." But every Christian is a missionary obliged to proclaim the gospel. In the early church every believer has taken part in the evangelistic mission along their professional jobs.

Another kind of evangelistic mission is to send the missionaries from the Church to reach the unreached. Early church was a sending church. In Acts 13:1-3, the Antioch church sends Paul and Barnabas to missionary work. Later we can see that through Paul God has done a lot among Jews and gentiles. The churches not only sent but also supported missionaries with their economical support (1corindians .

5.3.2. Social service and social action

Another phase of holistic mission is social service and social action. Social service is taking pity, doing charity or indulging in paternalism. But social action is doing something to bring justice and peace to the country. The early church has duly fulfilled this mission. "There were no needy persons among them" (Acts 4:33). also we can see that Paul was advising the churches about tax payment, authorities and master-servants. Church should concentrate on social justice, economic development, political stability and ecology of the country. Das observes, "It is important to realise that the social servise is not option or secondary to evangelism." Church has the responsibility to do good work for the country.

First of all we can pray for the welfare of the country. Then we do something to bring the peace in the country. The believers who are doing professional jobs can use their job to do social service and social action. For example, a Christian Doctor can use his medical practice to serve the poor and a Christian police officer can do just and hard work to keep peace in the country. However Das clarifies the relation between spiritual and social actions that, "Social action is not the whole of evangelism and political liberation is not the whole of salvation but they are integrally related." Realizing this truth, the Church should keenly concentrate both in evangelism and social action.

6. COMPARITIVE STUDY ON HOUSE CHURCHES AND CORPORATE CHURCHES IN FULFILLING THE MISSIONS OF THE CHURCH

The Church in the world should fulfill the God's Mission in the world. We have seen about the basic missions of the Church in the world. However, when compared to early church, the churches today are not effective in fulfilling all the missions. So the missiologists began to think about the form of early church. Early churches were not established churches but they were house churches.

6.1. House churches

Mattison defines house church, "A house church is a group of Christians who meet regularly in the intimacy of homes rather than in formal church buildings. By their very nature, house churches tend to be smaller in size and counter-cultural in many ways." Likewise, a house church is a small gathering or assembly of believers of Jesus Christ in the houses, to fulfill God's Mission. The book of Acts regularly describes Christian assemblies taking place in peoples' homes (Acts 2:42; 5:42; 20:20). Church meetings are recorded in the homes of John's mother (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:40), Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), Gaius (Romans 16:23), Nympha (Colossians 4:15), and Philemon (Philemon 2).

Advantages in the early house churches

1. The early house churches have good Christian fellowship and worship. It is a natural setting which enabled them to have a good relationship. Birkey cites Filson, "it was the hospitality of these homes which made possible the Christian worship, common meals and courage-sustaining fellowship of the group." So with in the small group the believers were happy to worship God together.

2. The family house-hold system in the early church is the theology of the Church. Paul writes church or believers as household, family, children and brothers (Ephesians 2:19; 3:14-15; 5:1; 6:23). In house church the members are considered as family of God. So this is more effective system for developing fellowship.

3. The house church concentrated in conversion of families rather than individuals. This is Paul's mission strategy to reach the whole family. The power and ability of a family is hundred times more than individuals. Few examples for household conversions are Cornelius (Acts 10:1,2), Lydia (Acts 16:13-15), Crispus (Acts 18:18) and the Philipian jailor (Acts 16:31-34).

4. The house church nurtured a healthy social integration of the early Christians. In the early house churches there were masters and slaves, land owner and tenant, rich and poor, young and aged. We can know this through Paul's teaching to various kinds of people. (Ephesians 6:5-9) There was a mixture of social positions in the Church and they were considered as equal.

5. There was good nurturing happening in the early house churches through the word of God. Acts 5:42 says, they never stopped teaching. Apostles were taught and trained the early church perfectly. So the members of early church stood for gospel even in persecution.

6. Finally the house churches were very quick in evangelism. There was a rapid growth in the number of believers. Acts 9:31 says that the Church grew in numbers. Acts 12:24 says, "word of God continued to increase and spread." Since every one was equipped for the mission, they were acted as a missionaries outside the Church.

6.2. Corporate churches

Corporate churches are well established in structure having an administrative office. The church will be under a denomination background. The members are large in number and every activity will be a formal. There will be an appointed clergy to lead the services and deacons to carryout the works in the Church. These churches have uniformity and discipline. Because of accountability to the head organisation, the Church functions carefully.

Limitations of corporate churches

Unlike house churches in the corporate churches, the involvement of people in mission is less. Membership is a function of participation, determined by the participant. The members in big churches lack biblical fellowship among themselves. Some members seem to be passive and sometime they are not even identified as a member. The formal worship services lacks to cater the spiritual needs of the individual. Hence there is no individual care and affection for the members. The Church plans for the big projects of mission but it lacks to equip and involve every believer in the mission. The Church concentrates only on quantity of members and the improvement in quality of members is totally ignored.

7. THE IDEAL CHURCH – EARLY CHURCH – HOUSE CHURCH

The today's Church can not be compared with the early church. Though there is a huge development in theology, ecclesialogy, strategies and administration, the Church could not repeat the revival of early church. In order to get the revival again, we should go back to the Bible. The most Biblical place to gather is in the houses of the believers. The Church, Paul means are all house churches. Even the big churches realized this fact. So in many big churches there are cell groups which have the similar principles of house churches. Most of the Church growth missiologists started to emphasize the house church concept. So its the time to follow the biblical form of church and it is the house church.

8. House church in Indian context

In multicultural society like India, house church system will be more effective than any other system. Indian family system is under Hindu joint family system. To reach a person in the family, we need to reach whole family circle. For reaching the whole family or whole cultural group, house church is more fruitful. Because house church concentrates on culture based and relationship oriented evangelism. Shibu K. Matthew writes in the ethane magazine, "There is a move toward house church movements and cell groups. House churches are rapidly growing in North India. Victor Choudrie commented that, logistically, local house churches are more viable and suited for the Indian context." In support of this opinion, Olson testifies that a missionary in Madhya Pradesh planted 500 house churches in past three years. The house church system is developing in India rapidly. So in all dimensions, house church is better suited for India.

9. CONCLUSION

The Church is the one body of Christ. As a part of the body of Christ, we all are responsible for the God's Mission. The Church has three different missions such as upward mission, inward mission and outward mission. However, everything is for fulfilling the Divine Mission of restoration of man and the world towards the original nature.

The structure and missions of the Church is so complicated today. But the early church was simple structured and effective in mission. So the early church is an example for us to go forward in this entrusted God's Mission. Through house churches, the Christians or disciples in the early church carryout the missions efficiently. Let us follow the footsteps of early church to bring back the revival in our country.

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