The Meaning of Life: To Spread the Gospel Through Churches
We’ve been investigating the meaning of life and the question: Why are we here? Jesus tells us in the Great Commission to go out, baptize believers, and teach them to obey everything he taught. But how are we to do this? Before baptizing believers evangelists must tell them the news of Jesus’s coming. But from where do they come? And when a new believer is baptized, who baptizes them? And into what are they baptized?
The last thing Jesus commanded was to teach new believers “to obey all the commands I have given you.” So who teaches them? And where did the teachers learn what to teach? And who guarded, protected, and maintained the doctrine through the turmoil, wars, purges, and oppression of the ages of men?
We can boil our questions down to one: What is the one “institution” the Great Commission requires, without which it cannot occur?
The answer—the local church of which Christ is the head.
Yes, the ultimate meaning of the Great Commission is that we are to go out and plant churches. We create new churches. And note we are talking about “local churches”, not the church universal. We mean the concrete church down the street, the one that’s real, not just an abstract concept. We mean the one meeting in the hotel ballroom on Broadway at 10:00 on Sunday morning. For only the local church can carry out the work of the Great Commission.
What’s the source of the evangelists who go out, preach the gospel, and make converts? The local church. Individuals can do this, but if not done in the context of a local church, their efforts will be for naught. For the new converts may quickly fall away.
Who baptizes new believers? The local church. Baptism itself is a rite of passage. It’s a public ceremony marking the beginning of an adult believer’s new life in Christ. It should not be done in secret, but openly. Baptism is a public statement that says, “I now identify myself as a Christian and have joined the body of Christ.” The new convert is not joining an idea, but an actual group of believers who meet at a certain time and a place. Of course they’re joining the “church universal” but that’s an abstract concept.
What is the local church? It’s not a building. It’s the body of believers who meet regularly for worship, prayer, sharing the Lord’s Supper, and studying Jesus and the Apostle’s teachings. It may never have a building to call its own. The local church is who baptizes, what the new believer joins, and which provides the witnesses to the event.
Who maintains and teaches sound doctrine and grounds new believers in the faith? The local church. If new believers are not firmly “established” in Jesus’s teachings, they’ll be like the seeds planted on rocky ground, and their faith will not take root. The local church teaches the teachers who teach new converts. Without the local church the gospel will not spread.
Who guards, maintains, and protects sound doctrine—the teachings of Jesus? The local church. And if a church fails to do so, it’s doomed to failure. A church that teaches the doctrines of men, that doesn’t take the teachings of the Bible as truth might just as well be a yoga class at the community center or a meeting of the Sierra Club. And if new converts are not grounded in sound doctrine they may well fall prey to the first false teaching that comes along—Jehovah’s Witnesses; Mormonism; Hare Krishna; Buddhism; Islam; or Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel.
Where does the believer find a Christian community that’s necessary for them to grow strong in their faith? The local church. For without a commitment to community, that new believer has only a tenuous connection to the body of Christ.
So to follow the Great Commission means this: We should plant new churches and firmly establish existing ones. It’s what Paul did. It’s what the book of Acts tells us. (Read Acts Ch. 13 and Ch. 14.) And it’s what St. Patrick did in ancient, Celtic Ireland.
We’ll stop here for today. Next week we’ll look at the life cycle of a healthy church and what we, as believers in Christ, can do to help the Great Commission through the local church. For surely, that is one reason why we are here on this earth.