The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Taken from The Hiscox Standard Baptist Manual, 1936
Churches are God's appointed agencies for salvation of men. Though it would be false to say that men could not be saved outside the churches and without their aid, yet, as a matter of fact, such is rarely the case.
The mission of a Christian church, therefore, is to a "world lying in wickedness," to men "dead in trespasses and sins," as the bearer of glad tidings to "prisoners of hope," and herald of the great salvation to lost men. In order to accomplish this, the church must maintain the faith and discipline, the order and ordinances of the gospel. Indeed, for this cause Christ gave himself for the church, "that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having, spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:27). A self-centered and materialistic church can never perform this holy mission; indeed, it is neither worthy of it, nor fitted, for it.
The responsibility of a church is both corporate and personal. As a body it is to make its influence far and near. Each member, therefore, should strive to be and to do what the entire church ought to be and do, "the light of the world," "the salt of the earth," "a city set on a hill, that cannot be hid." There is work for all, and work adapted to the condition and ability and capacity of each, old and young, great and small, male and female. The efficiency and usefulness of a church depend on each member's doing his own work, so as neither to attempt the work of others, nor yet to stand idly by while others serve. In nothing, perhaps, are the wisdom and skill of the pastor and officers more apparent than in finding suitable work for all.
It is a sad and somewhat humiliating reflection that so many churches exert so small an influence on their communities. The moral influence of these institutions of Christianity ought to do more to repress evil, and to increase righteousness. The results of church life and action are often more apparent in the lands of the younger churches overseas than in our own country. Doubtless the explanation of this is to be found in the lack of vitality of Christian faith and life among us.
Some common methods of Christian work are as follows:
Proclamation of the Gospel
The preaching of the gospel, the proclamation of pardon and eternal life through faith in Christ, is the foremost and the most effective instrumentality for the salvation of the world. It is divinely ordained and divinely sanctioned and sustained. The command is, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). The promise is, "My word ... shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). Four types of situations which provide opportunities for preaching may be noted:
Every church will support its own evangelical preaching ministry for the instruction and conversion of all who may be attracted to it. This ministry should be able and faithful, and generously sustained. If the nations are to be fed, the family at home must be built up and instructed in the purposes of grace.
At certain times, special preaching missions or evangelistic campaigns seem demanded, special occasions indicated by the Spirit's movement, and an unusual disposition on the part of the people to give heed to spiritual and eternal concerns.
Within the range of many churches, there are certain institutions, such as prisons, mental hospitals, or nursing homes, whose residents cannot or do not attend the churches. If they are to have the gospel it must be carried to them. And often they are more ready and eager hearers of the word than stated congregations.
But the world is the field, whose bounds extend beyond home and country and kindred. Begin at Jerusalem, but do not stop till all nations are reached, and every creature taught the way of life through Christ crucified. Each church and each individual should feel his obligation to aid in sending the gospel to people the world over. That was Christ's purpose and design. For that he died. Those who have his spirit will strive to carry forward the work he began; "...If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9).
Religious visitation is an effective means by which the churches can further their mission among the families of the neighborhoods they serve, especially those families which have no church relationships, and who therefore are under no definite religious influence.
It is presumed, of course, that the minister will visit such households, and offer them religious guidance and counseling. But this is not enough. The church, under the leadership of the pastor, should adopt some plan for systematic religious visitation carried on by the lay members. Such a plan may serve a variety of purposes, for example:
(1) to invite to the house of God, and bring the children to Sunday school;
(2) if in sickness, want, or other misfortune, to report the fact to the church, and furnish such relief as may be practicable;
(3) to provide, a ministry of friendship to the sick; and to those who mourn; and
(4) to invite individuals to accept Christ and unite with his church (lay visitation evangelism). Thus the reality of the Christian fellowship can be demonstrated to those who do not know it.
In no other way can Christians more effectually imitate their Lord and Master, who "went about doing good," relieving and removing the temporal sufferings of men, that he might effectually reach their souls with spiritual food. There is no more Christly mission for the churches than this, and every member can bear some part in it. Hearts oppressed with sorrow hunger for sympathy, and welcome the counsels of those who will give it.
This ministry of Christian faith and love cannot well be overestimated in its value, both to those who perform it, and to those who receive it. James was right: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). And yet how few of God's people appreciate this work, or are anxious to imitate this most notable feature of the life and character of Jesus!
Another practicable and effective means for bringing religious truth in contact with human minds is the use of the printed page. Every good book or periodical put into circulation is a personal and a public blessing, and this means of grace is so accessible that none need be without it. Aside from the periodical religious press, there are numerous societies whose only business is the publication and circulation of religious reading at prices within the reach of all. Our own, as well as other Christian denominations, has its publication society, doing nobly and well this work, and deserving the utmost confidence and the largest patronage.
A few good religious books should be in every home. A few, read over and over until the mind is thoroughly imbued with their spirit, are better than many carelessly read, or not read at all. Many Christian families, it is a pity to say, have a generous supply of secular books in their homes, but few or none at all of a religious nature.
Church libraries are an excellent means for intellectual and religious instruction.
Religious periodicals are, if possible, still more important than books, not in their intrinsic worth indeed, but because they are so much more easily obtained, and so much more likely to be read. Few things could become so great a help to a pastor in his pulpit and pastoral work as a really good religious paper in every family.
Christianity is the most emphatic missionary force in the world, and every Christian church is a divinely appointed missionary society. If every church could be fully true to the purpose for which it was instituted, no other missionary organizations would be needed to send the gospel of the blessed God to the ends of the earth. In apostolic history, no others were known, and yet they went everywhere preaching Christ, and filled the world with the gospel of his salvation.
Every church and every disciple is under bonds to Christ to aid in carrying out the great commission, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). No church can hope for prosperity at home unless it strives to give the means of salvation to all men.
Because it is not practicable in our day for all to go out into the world as career missionaries, Christians may avail themselves of the alternative of contributing financially to the support of those who do go. There are, of course, many who say that they have hard work to sustain their own church, and therefore cannot help others. This, however, is false reasoning. They that withhold from others who need, dry up the fountains of their benevolence, and have less for themselves, instead of more. God, who alone can give the increase, prospers those who trust and honor him. The churches that do not sympathize with, and aid missionary endeavor, are not likely to be very flourishing or prosperous.
The missionary churches are uniformly the most honored and useful, whether rich or poor, large or small. Thereby they help to give the knowledge of salvation to those beyond the reach of their individual endeavors. The success which has attended the missionary work of American Baptists, through these societies, both in our own country; and in foreign lands, is most amazing, and testifies unmistakably to God's blessing on the work, and the favor with which he regards the methods that have been pursued.
In all that is said or may be said, it must be constantly borne in mind that a very large responsibility does and necessarily must rest on the pastors. For such purposes is the pastor made overseer of the flock, to instruct in duty as well as in privilege, and lead on to the discharge of every obligation. Few churches will be missionary churches if the pastors feel no interest in such work, and do not stimulate them, propose plans, impart information, and lead the people forward. With a pastor to do this faithfully, few churches would fail or fall short of a good degree of effectiveness.