2020 has brought the world plenty of trouble. Issues relating to COVID-19, racial justice, and the upcoming elections have inundated our lives through 24-hour news networks and social media. In these days, how should the church think about her mission?
For many, the answer is obvious. The issues of the culture define the mission of the church. The church should have a response, both in word and deed, to every trending topic.
The church should march for every cause, advocate for local policy, and provide care for the poor. In this sense, the church must be political in her mission because she must be engaged in the work of public affairs. Ironically, this sort of “political church” seems welcomed by the separation of church and state groups because the church is engaged in the same social causes they care about.
But, what if God’s vision of the church was less like a charity and more like an embassy within a foreign nation?
What if the church is political not because she is engaged in the world’s affairs, but because she represents a Kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36). 1 Peter describes the church as, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” who are simultaneously “sojourners and exiles” in this world (2:9, 11).
This means the believer’s primary allegiance is to Jesus as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Christians represent the Kingdom of God in word and deed.
King Jesus gave two great commandments, love God and love neighbor, and He modeled how to obey them. Similarly churches, communities of God’s Kingdom, are constituted and governed by the orders of their King.
Ambassadors are free, within the confines of both their country’s law and the resident country’s law, to give their time to a variety of causes. Believers are free to be involved in a community task force, feeding the poor, peaceful protests, and organized marches as long as they align with both the laws of the land they dwell in and the laws and interests of the Land they belong to.
But, does the embassy have the same freedoms as the ambassador? While they both serve the interests of their Nation, do they serve them in the same way? I believe the answer is, “No.” While the ambassador represents their home county by how they live in their residential country, the embassy exists to enable ambassadors to represent well.
The mission of the local church as an embassy of the Kingdom of God is not to do the daily work of representing the King of Kings. The mission of the church is to equip believers to be faithful and effective ambassadors for the Kingdom.
Despite the situation of the resident nation, the embassy’s job doesn’t change. The King of the Heavenly Nation has told the church how to do His work.
Jesus gave what is historically called the Great Commission, which is found in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The church exists to make disciples by going with the good news about King Jesus, baptizing new believers as a mark of their kingdom citizenship, and teaching them to be effective ambassadors for the King of Kings.
Oh, how a renewed commitment to this mission is needed in our day! More effective ambassadors means more people “observing all that [Jesus] has commanded,” which means more of the kingdom of light at work in a world of darkness.
This mission does what marches never will: Changes hearts and eternity through the gospel.
These days believers are tempted to try to be effective apart from the church and her mission.
There is a temptation, especially right now, to confuse the mission of the church for political aspirations, community reform, or charity work. But as God’s Embassy on earth, the church has far greater work and a far more unique mission to do: Discipling nations.
Matt Shown has served in various churches and ministries in the Owensboro area for the last nine years. He has a Master’s of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.