There seems to me to be confusion as to what the relationship of the Christian is to the church and the unique roles of each. Many churches and Christians make the mistake of blending the respective roles of the church and the individual follower of Jesus. Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert have written a fantastic book entitled What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Sholom, and the Great Commission. While you can read a review of the book here I need to say that I enjoyed this book immensely! Most books start well and then fizzle. This book finished better than it started (and it started at a sizzle – like what I did there with fizzle and sizzle – that’s good word-smithing right?). And just in case you are like me and want to peruse the book a little before you buy it then you can browse through some of the sample pages on the website by clicking on the title above.
Here is what Deyoung and Gilbert write concerning the differences between the church’s mission and that of Christians.
“We need to bear in mind that there is a difference between the church considered as a bunch of individual Christians and the church understood as an institution — as an organization of Christians that can and indeed must do some things that individual Christians cannot and indeed should not do. Perhaps we can talk about these two different entities as “the church organic” and “the church institutional.”
When a group of Christians decides to become a church, they covenant together to take on certain responsibilities. they take on the responsibility, for example, to make sure the Word is preached regularly among them, to make sure the ordinances — baptism and the Lord’s Supper — are regularly practiced, and to make sure that discipline is practiced among them, even to the point of delivering on of their number over to Satan by excommunicating them (1 Cor. 5:5).
Not only so, but you can see the difference between the church and an individual Christian just by looking at the way Scripture talks to each — that is, by looking at the commands it gives. Think about it. There are some commands given to the local church that an individual Christian should not undertake to obey on his own. An individual Christian, for example can’t excommunicate another Christian; but the local church is commanded to do so in certain situations. Nor should an individual Christian take the Lord’s Supper on his own; that’s an activity the local church is to do “when you come together” (1 Cor. 11:17-18, 20, 33-34). In the same way, there are commands given to individual Christians that are clearly not meant for the local church as an organized group. A Christian man is commanded to “give to his wife her conjugal rights,” but the church institutional better not try that! (Roll your eyes — but it makes the point!) There is a difference between the individual Christian and the local church, and therefore we can’t just say that whatever we see commanded of the individual Christian is also commanded of the local church.
…The mission of the church, as we’ve been arguing throughout this book, seem to be something narrower than the set of all commands given to individual Christians — it’s proclamation, witness, and disciple making (which includes teaching everything that Jesus commanded). This is simply another way of saying that bearing witness to Christ is the church’s unique responsibility in a way that film making or auto repair or tree planting is not, though all of these may be examples of ways in which an individual Christian follows Jesus.
What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Sholom, and the Great Commission by Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert (pg. 232-233