PART 3: APPLICATIONS – Chapter 8: The Church and the Great Commission

Kenneth L Gentry

Narrated By: Joseph Spurgeon
Book: The Greatness of the Great Commission
Topics: , ,


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Chapter Text

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church which is His body, the fullness o f Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23).

As I pointed out earlier, all theological and biblical truth necessarily has practical implications. The Bible is God’s Word given to direct us in the paths of righteousness.[1] In the Christian life, theory is foundational to practice. Or to put it in biblical terms, truth is foundational to sanctification: “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

God has ordained three basic institutions in society: the Church, the family, and the State.[2] A biblical understanding of their respective roles and inter-relationships is fundamental to developing a Christian worldview. The fulfilling of the Great Commission in history will require not only a proper understanding of each of these institutions, but also concerned involvement in each.

I now turn briefly to consider a few practical directives for promoting the truths contained in the Commission. What, then, are some initial, practical applications of the Great Commission for each of the three fundamental institutions? In this chapter, I will focus on the Church.

In 1981 the Association of Reformation Churches published a proposed additional chapter to its confessional statement. That chapter was entitled “Of the Christian Mission.” Paragraph 4 of that revision reads:

As a ministry of worship, the mission of the church is to organize the communal praise of the saints. As a ministry of redemptive grace, the church has been given the mission of calling men back into full fellowship with the Creator. The church proclaims the Word of God. To those outside the Kingdom, she calls for repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. To those within, she calls for obedience and growth in grace in every sphere of life. While the church must not usurp the duties of state and family, she must witness prophetically to those laboring in those institutions, calling on them in the Name of God to conform their labors to the requirements of Scripture….

Since Christ has promised to His Kingdom a glorious future, when all nations will flow to the house of the Lord, the growth of the church is usually to be expected. This growth, however. is to be accomplished not through any means which may come to hand, but only through means which are consonant with Holy Scripture.[3]

The Problem We Face

With all the recent negative publicity regarding the misdeeds of certain televangelists and the theological distortions by others, the Church of Jesus Christ is suffering a credibility and integrity crisis.[4] But defection from church attendance did not begin in the late 1980s with those errant men. It has for a number of decades been a problem in America.

Church is seen as optional to the Christian life by too many Christians today. Many who profess to be Christians know too little of devoted commitment to Christ.[5] They seem oblivious to the demands of the Great Commission regarding discipleship. What, then, should be the Christian’s approach to church life, as he submits himself to Christ under the Great Commission?

Principles of the Covenantal Church

  1. Commitment to the local church. A major and indispensable aspect of our commitment to Christ involves our membership in, attendance at, worship in, and service through the local church. Church attendance and membership is expected and obligated on several grounds: (a) Christ established the Church as a part of His ongoing plan for His people.[6] (b) Christ died for His Church, evidencing a great love and concern for it.[7] (c) The Church is the central place God has ordained for Christian fellowship and service.[8] (d) Church attendance puts us under the ministry of doctrine for our spiritual growth.[9] (e) Christ has ordained church officers to govern His people.[10] (f) Christ has given spiritual disciplinary power to the officers of the Church for the good of His people.[11] (g) God has given the sacraments only to the Church.[12] The Lord’s Supper specifically is designated for the corporate communing among God’s people.[13] (h) God clearly commands us not to forsake attending church.[14]
  1. Engagement to worship. Christ expects His people to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), corporately in the fellowship of God’s people.[15]

Worship is man’s highest calling. It is to be both generic and specific. That is, worship is to be engaged in every day life,[16] as well as in specific, formal exercise on the Lord’s Day.[17] The various elements of Christian worship are to be engaged with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), not while asleep, in a trance, or fidgeting while wondering about lunch. The manner of worship is legislated by God in Scripture; we must approach the Covenant God on His terms (e.g., Lev. 10:1, 2). Hymns, prayers, offerings, exhortations, confessions, Scripture readings, sermons, and other aspects of worship are not to be performed by mere rote reflex. They are to be engaged with devotion, as unto the Lord. In other words, we must remember that Christ is with us “all the days” (Matt. 28:20, Gk.) – including while we worship. We are to rejoice in the baptism of new converts, as an aspect of our worship and as we witness the discipling of the nations (Matt. 28: 19).

  1. Training in the truth. The Christian should seek a church that promotes sound doctrine and the development of a Christian worldview based on biblical teaching.

The church should be a covenant-community fellowship, committed to the historic creeds of the Christian faith (the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.).[18] It should not be associated with the National or World Council of Churches. It should have a solid educational program.

The piecemeal Christian faith so widespread today does not measure up to the calling of discipling toward a Christian culture (Matt. 28:19). The church should actively train people to submit to Christ’s authority (Matt. 28:18) and work (Matt. 28:19-20). As a leading officer in the Church, Paul was concerned to promote “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Several programs could be used to promote education in the truth.[19] These include: catechetical training, a church library, a small group book-of-the-month fellowship and discussion program,[20] a local theological seminary program for members and the community,[21] and either the setting up of or the supporting of an already established Christian day school.[22]

  1. Training in hierarchical covenantalism. The church is to be composed of a system of courts designed to locate responsibility and resolve problems, as Christ’s people have His authority ministered to them.

The influences of the democratic spirit and of voluntarism are alive and well in American Christianity. And this is unfortunate. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is viewed by many as so many islands in the stream of history, unconnected and unconnectable. Bold claims to independency are proudly displayed on thousands of church signs across the land.

Yet the Scripture has ordained a covenantal government of elected hierarchical rule in the church – a rule patterned on the Old Testament revelation (Exo. 18:19-23; Deut. 1:13-15). In the Old Testament, elders possessed jurisdictional authority (Exo. 12:21, cp. v. 3)[23] and were organized into graduated levels of courts (Deut. 1:15). The New Testament office of rulership in the Church even adopts the same name as the Old Testament office: elder (1 Tim. 3:1ff).[24]

We need to teach our churches of the divinely ordained system of covenantal government in the Church. In the New Testament Church, each church was to have a plurality [of] elders (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5). New Testament elders are vested with real governmental authority not exercised by the congregation at large, as the following indicate: (1) Though Christ ultimately “builds” His Church, He gave its keys to men to exercise “binding” authority (Matt. 16:18-19). (2) There is a gift of government given to some, not all Christians (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:28). (3) Titles expressive of authoritative power are given to some, not all Christians (1 Tim. 3:1, 2, 6; 5:19). (4) Office is granted by divine appointment and entered by solemn rite; it is not automatic with conversion (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22). (5) The functions of office are expressive of real authority (Acts 20:28).[25]

This hierarchical authority is graduated into lower and higher courts having authority over individual and multiple congregations. The classic illustration of this is found in Acts 15. There we discover the Church functioning hierarchically to resolve a doctrinal dispute in a particular church at Antioch (Acts 15:1, 2). The matter was sent by representatives to a trial before a joint council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). The matter was debated before the entire council (Acts 15:4-19).[26] The conclusion of this non-local court action was sent back down to the court of original jurisdiction (Acts 15:20-23). It was considered binding upon the Antiochian church (Acts 15:28) and was sent to other churches for their instruction (Acts 16:4).

Discipling in regard to the nature and structure of church government is important for the vitality of the Christian faith in itself. What is more, the divinely ordained government of the Church is to be a model for the civil government, as well (Deut. 4:5-8).


  1. Promotion of Christ’s cause. In that the church is commanded to go into the world (Matt. 28: 19a), it should do so in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28:19b).

There are a number of opportunities for local evangelistic outreach for the church: friendship evangelism, Bible conferences/seminars, radio and/or television ministry, tape ministry, campus outreach, newsletter ministry,[27] and more. Contrary to much church growth advocacy, however, these should be employed to diffuse light (Matt. 5:14), not to entertain the carnal masses.[28]

In friendship evangelism, for instance, the church is to engage its members in evangelistic outreach through one of the most natural and successful means of evangelism: friendship associations through personal acquaintances and family members.[29] Statistically it is reported that the average Christian knows 8.4 unchurched individuals.[30] These are prime targets for friendly overtures by Christians. Furthermore, most Christians today can trace their initial point of contact with Christ through friends and families.[31]

The friendship evangelism methodology is really quite simple. In special training sessions, the church should have each member jot down the names of unchurched acquaintances. These names should be made the matter of specific, long term prayer. A few of these names should be especially set apart by each individual for the purpose of building bridges, i.e. nurturing friendship ties by various means. The ultimate goal of these strengthened ties should be eventually to confront them with the gospel claims either directly or by merely inviting to take them to church with you.

  1. Service in the world. Although the Church is not of the world, it is in it and must make her presence felt as “salt” in the earth (Matt. 5:13).

This will involve organizing a truly functional diaconal ministry of social concern and outreach in the name of Christ. Again, this promotes a biblical model for social concern and Christian culture building (Matt. 28:19).[32]

Also the Church should pray about and study social and political issues and encourage social/political involvement through letter writing campaigns and other means.[33] Of course, there is a need to be careful not to endorse candidates and become too “political.”[34] In America’s colonial history, the Church played an important role as a source of direction and information regarding social and civil affairs. Unfortunately, the Church today is too often a study in irrelevance. Yet Christ calls His Church to be “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13-14). Hence, Paul’s appointment to take the gospel to nations and kings (Acts 9:15).

[1] Psa. 119:105; Isa. 2:3; Matt. 7:24; Jms. 1:22.

[2] See: Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), ch. 3: “Oaths, Covenants, and Contracts.”

[3] “Of the Christian Mission” in The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, vol. 1 of Christianity and Civilization (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School, 1982), pp. 95-96.

[4] Mike Horton, ed., The Agony of Deceit: What Some TV Preachers Are Really Teaching (Chicago: Moody, 1990). James R. Goff, Jr., “The Faith that Claims,” Christianity 1bday 34:3 (February 19, 1990) 18-21.

[5] Ryrie is concerned over Lordship doctrine as taught by John MacArthur, myself, and others, when he asks: “where is there room for carnal Christians?” Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody, 1969), p. 170. See: John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy,” Baptist Reformation Review 5:52 (Spring, 1976), pp. 40ff.

[6] Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:29; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5-9.

[7] John 15:10; Acts 20:29; Eph. 5:25.

[8] Acts 2:42; Rom. 12:3-16; 1 Cor. 12:13ff; Gal. 6:1-6.

[9] Eph. 4:11-14; 1 Tim. 4:13; 1 Pet. 2:1-3.

[10] Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3; 15:1-32; 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:1-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-5.

[11] Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 1 Thess. 5:13-14; Heb. 13:17.

[12] Matt. 28:18-19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23ff:

[13] Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:20-34.

[14] Heb. 10:24, 25; 1 Cor. 12:12-25. See the symbolism of systemic unity in John

15:1ff; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5-9.

[15] Acts 1:14; 2:42; Deut. 12:32; Acts 17:25; See also: Paul E. Engle, Discovering the

Fullness of Worship (Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1978).

[16] Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:31.

[17] Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11: 26; Heb. 10:25.

[18] See: R. J. Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and

Councils of the Early Church (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn, 1968) and Kenneth L Gentry, Jr., The Usefulness of Creeds (Mauldin, SC: GoodBirth, 1980).

[19] An excellent resource and idea book is Gary North, Backward Christian Soldiers: An Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984).

[20] It might be profitable to have participants read: Read Mortimer Adler and

Charles Van Dorenen, How to Read a Book (Rev. ed.: New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972 [1939]).

[21] Whitefield Theological Seminary (P. O. Box 6321, Lakeland, Florida 33807), has a program that is designed to operate in local communities.

[22] Robert Thoburn, How to Establish and Operate a Successful Christian School (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn, 1975).

[23] See also: Num. 35:12, 24 (cp. Josh. 20:4); 2 Sam. 5:3 (cp. v. 1).

[24] “Elder” appears 100 times in the Old Testament and thirty-one times in the New Testament.

[25] See also: 1 Tim. 3:5; 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1, 2.

[26] Notice that although apostles were present, they chose not to close the matter by direct apostolic authority. Rather, they encouraged the appeals process.

[27] Newsletters should be informative, promotional, and Christ glorifying. They can be used as promotional tools by sending them to new area residents. Two computerized mail services that publish regular update lists of new residents moving into any zip code area are: COR Information, 430 Oakmears Crescent, Virginia Beach, VA 23462 and GGC Associates, Inc., 2900 Bristol Street, Suite H-203, Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

[28] See Conclusion.

[29] See its use among family members, friends, neighbors, employer-employee relationships, and so forth, in: Matt. 9:9-13; Luke 15:3-6, 8-9; John 1:40-45; Acts 10:1-2, 22-24; 16:12-15, 23-31.

[30] Jerry W. Lynn. Sowing Upon the Good Soil (Clinton. SC: Calvary Presbytery. 1990). p.3.

[31] Lynn’s survey statistics indicate the following percentages for getting people into churches: Pastoral influence (3-6%), Sunday school program (4-5%), special needs (3-4%), crusades or revivals (.001%), visitation program (3-6%). special programs (2-5%). and friendship/family overtures (75+%).

[32] The following books by George Grant are excellent resources: Bringing in The Sheaves: 1ransforming Poverty into Productivity (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1985); The Dispossessed: Homelessness in America (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion, 1986); and In The Shadow of Plenty: Biblical Principles of Welfare and Poverty (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986). Also see: Gerard Berghoef and Lester De Koster, The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 1980) and Leonard J. Coppes, Who Wall Lead Us, A Study in the Development of Biblical Offices with Emphasis on the Diaconate (Phillipsburg, NJ: Pilgrim, 1977).

[33] For several resources of socio-political issues of Christian concern, see: Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Christian Case Against Abortion (2nd ed.: Memphis, TN: Footstool, 1990) (abortion morality). Journal of the American Family Association, P. O. Drawer 2440, Tupelo, MS 38802 (pornography). Candidates Biblical Scoreboard, P. O. Box 10428, Costa Mesa, CA 92627 (political candidates). A Letterwriter’s Guide to Congress, Chamber of Commerce of the United States, 1615 H St. N. W., Washington, CD 20002 (letter writing campaigns). Remnant Review, P. O. Box 8204, Ft. Worth, TX, 76124 (economic/social issues). Rutherford Institute Report, P. O. Box 5101, Manassas, VA, 22110 (legal issues). Franky Schaeffer, A Time for Anger: The Myth of Neutrality (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1982).

[34] George Grant, The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action (Ft. Worth: Dominion, 1987); Lynn Buzzard and Paula Campbell, Holy Disobedience: When Christians Must Resist the State (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1984). Robert L. Thobum, The Christian and Politics (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, 1984).