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The church and its ministry (part 5)

Gary Deddo

Here is part 5 of an essay from Gary Deddo on the nature of the church and its ministry. For other parts of the essay, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. We encourage you to add your thoughts and questions in the “comments” box at the end of each post to get a discussion going. To read the full essay in booklet form, click here. To read the related essay, “Clarifying Our Theological Vision,” click here.

A Brief Theology of the Church
(with a view to equipping the saints for the work of ministry)

by Dr. Gary Deddo

Part 5: The church’s ministry of proclamation

Last time we noted that the church is God’s creation under the Word of God (both Living and written). This time we’ll see how the central and defining goal of the church’s ministry is to point to whose church it is by bearing witness to Christ, the head of his body. The church is committed to that ministry because it trusts, loves, honors, hopes in and worships God through Jesus Christ above all else, and because there is nothing better to pass on to others. Jesus is the best we have because the Father has given us the best that he has—his Son, by his Holy Spirit.

The church’s primary ministry

The purpose of the church determines its primary ministry, which is to communicate (proclaim) by word and deed, who Jesus Christ is (according to his Word), then direct those in the church’s care to Christ and his written Word, leading them toward repentance along with faith, hope and love for the triune God. The goal is that these people will grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means growing up (maturing) into the fullness of Christ. Fundamental to their maturing in Christ is their participation in Christ’s continuing ministry—a ministry both within the church and then beyond to those who are not yet members of the body of Christ.

This ministry of the church involves passing on to others what we (believers) have already been receiving from our Lord. The first thing he gives us (by his Word and Spirit) is knowledge and awareness of himself. We first discover who he is and then who we are in relationship to him. Then we discover who others are, also in relationship to him. The ministry of passing on what we have received (proclamation) centers on identifying to others who Christ is, what he has done for them and their salvation, and who they are now in ongoing relationship with him. In short, we can say that the ministry of the church is to know Christ and make him known.

Proclamation of the gospel

The special Greek word in the New Testament for the central task and focus of the church’s ministry is kerygma, which means “proclamation.” It corresponds in meaning to the Greek word euangelízomai, which means “proclaim the gospel.” In the New Testament, this word is often translated “preach.” Indeed, the church exists to hear and receive the gospel and then proclaim (preach, communicate) it to others. Some modern approaches to this preaching fall short of this biblical purpose, by focusing merely on conveying “nuggets” of biblical knowledge, or on telling people what they should (or should not) do using various techniques to move (sometimes coerce) people to take action. With these approaches, the preacher is sometimes viewed as someone with special (even secret) knowledge, derived from Scripture or even from a message directly from God. In contrast, the goal of truly biblical preaching is primarily to proclaim who Jesus is and what he has done for us, then who we are in relationship to him as revealed to us in the written Word of God. This gospel-focused preaching asks and answers, from the Bible, a vital question: Who are you Lord?

St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raphael (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The indicatives must precede the imperatives

Such preaching calls for a response from the hearer to the truth that is being proclaimed. Providing direction concerning a proper response is an appropriate part of the message. We see Peter doing this in his sermon recorded in Acts 2:14-40 where the indicatives (the grammatical term for a statement of fact) of God’s grace are announced first, telling the listeners about God’s promises and how these were fulfilled in Jesus who he identifies and proclaims to be Lord and Christ. This proclamation provides a foundation on which Peter then rests the imperatives (the grammatical term for commands) of his hearers’ response to God’s grace. Peter’s sermon prompted this question from his hearers: “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s reply to that question was this: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” Note the order and priority here, as indicated in this diagram:

We see the same order and priority in Jesus’ proclamations of the gospel, including this: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). “The kingdom of God has come near” is the indicative (which comes first) and “repent and believe the good news” is the imperative that follows. Thus the indicative calls forth the imperative, namely repentance grounded in faith in what was proclaimed. Preaching that fulfills the primary ministry of the church always follows this pattern, which is found throughout the New Testament. Any and every imperative in our proclamations must be built on the indicatives of the good news of Jesus Christ—who he is and what he has done and has promised. That proclamation will include the truth that Jesus is Lord, that as Lord he reveals God, that he has reconciled all people to God, and that he has established his kingdom (rule and reign), which has broken into the world (is “near”), to be revealed in all its fullness when Jesus returns to earth in glory (thus establishing our hope for the future).

Proclamation with words…

Faithful proclamation of these gospel truths appropriately uses words, concepts, ideas and illustrations in order to give faithful witness to who Christ is. Such proclamation always places itself under the authority of the apostolic witness of Scripture, no matter what the genre of the particular passage being expounded (be it historical, figurative, symbolic or theological). Our proclamations (including our doctrinal statements, stories, testimonies, etc.) will, appropriately, use additional words to explain and help listeners understand the normative witness of Scripture. But our words, witnessing faithfully to the proclamation of the gospel in Scripture, must be weighed and tested for alignment with the reality of the identity of God in Christ to which the Bible normatively, irreplaceably and unsurpassably points. And of course, we do not do this weighing and testing on our own, but in ongoing fellowship with those who have gone before us, and with those with whom we are in ongoing, worshipping communion.

…and deeds

The church, through its ministry (including its worship) under the authority of Christ and his written Word, bears witness to the One it proclaims and worships. It does this not only with words of witness, but also with deeds (actions) that confirm and corroborate the words. Such actions are a true witness to Christ when they accurately proclaim the indicatives of grace through deeds reflecting and thus showing forth the imperatives of grace. Such deeds point to the same character seen in Jesus, and so direct people to him.

Words take precedence

Though deeds are vital, proclamation using words takes precedence because, as Scripture tells us, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17 NKJV). Why is that so? Because the primary things declared in the gospel cannot be seen and thus cannot be exemplified in deeds alone. For example, the eternal existence of God before time cannot be seen. The eternal unity yet distinction in Persons of the Trinity cannot be seen. The eternal purposes of God for the entire cosmos cannot be seen or demonstrated. The meaning and significance of the cross of Christ cannot be seen or exemplified. The resurrection and its meaning cannot be seen or exemplified. The hope of the coming kingdom cannot be seen. God’s yet unfulfilled promises cannot be seen (including the promise of Christ’s return). The nature of the Holy Spirit and the movement of ministry of the Holy Spirit cannot be directly seen or predicted or demonstrated by our deeds. God’s ultimate justice, providence and victory over all evil cannot be seen or demonstrated. All these and more can only be conveyed by passing on a message using words—words that indeed can be heard by those who have “ears to hear.” And that is the primary way the faith, hope and love of the church is nourished and strengthened.

Conclusion: equipping for proclamation

The central vocation (ministry) of the church is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and the primary way that takes place is by means of proclamation (preaching and teaching)—largely with words, but also with deeds that confirm the words, with the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ interpreting the deeds that are being done in his name. Thus the primary responsibility of those who pastor and otherwise have a leadership role in the church is to know Christ and to make him known through such proclamation. Accordingly, we as a church must emphasize equipping of leaders (pastors and ministry leaders) in formal and informal ways for the church’s ministry of proclamation.

One thought on “The church and its ministry (part 5)”

  1. That is some of the best I’ve heard and learned from the Church yet on why proclaiming the Word takes precedence over deeds! I agree, and have always quoted the same scripture in the same way, but the insight on how much is yet hidden about God and his purposes added depth to that biblical truth! Yay and Thanks!

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