The Mission of God as the Grounds of Church Planting

Written by Michael G. Brown |
Monday, May 13, 2024

Having accomplished His mission, Christ has been awarded all authority in heaven and on earth. He has authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom the Father gave to Him (John 17:2). He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). The ordinary ministry of Word and sacrament are the means that God uses to build His church. Church planting, therefore, is an essential component of the mission of God.

Before our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His Apostles the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). This is arguably the most important text in all Scripture for understanding the church’s responsibility in missions and church planting. We must be careful, however, not to overlook the first part of this divine mandate. The Great Commission does not begin with the command “Go.”

Instead, it begins with an awe-inspiring announcement that Christ possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. To put it in grammatical terms, Christ stated an indicative before He issued an imperative. The church’s mission of going into the world, preaching the gospel, planting churches, and making disciples of Jesus is grounded in what God has already accomplished in His mission.

God is the original missionary. From the beginning, His mission was to create the world and redeem a people for Himself who would glorify and enjoy Him forever. In one sense, the whole Bible is a mission document. It reveals how the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption for the elect, and how the Son sent the Spirit to call the elect from every tongue, nation, and tribe into His kingdom, equipping them for a life of worship and service to the glory of God.

God’s Mission from Eternity

R.B. Kuiper said, “Evangelism has its roots in eternity.” We can say the same about church planting. The underlying reason that we plant churches is that before the creation of the world, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit established a covenant with one another to redeem the elect and bring them to glory. Reformed theologians call this the covenant of redemption. In this covenant, the Father gave to the Son those whom He chose to save (John 6:37; 10:29; Eph. 1:4–6; 2 Tim. 1:9) and appointed Him to accomplish their salvation through His obedient life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection (John 5:30, 36, 43; 10:18; Rom. 5:12–19). He also promised the Son a reward upon the completion of His work (Pss. 40:6–8; 110; Isa. 53; Heb. 1:1–13; 5:5–6). The Son accepted the Father’s gift and freely consented to be our Mediator, who as the incarnate Savior would submit to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42; John 4:34; 6:38).

This is why during His earthly ministry, Jesus often spoke of a commission given to Him by the Father. For example, the night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:1–2, 4–5)

Throughout this prayer, Jesus refers to those whom the Father “gave” to Him (that is, the elect in Christ) at least seven times (17:2, 6, 9, 10, 11, 24). His mission was to save them through His obedience to the will of the Father. The next day, as He hung on the cross and suffered the wrath of God for the sins of those whom the Father had given to Him, His last words were “It is finished” (19:30). What was finished? The work that the Father had given Him to do. These comments reveal a mutual predetermined plan between the Father and the Son made in eternity past.

The Holy Spirit also had a role in the covenant of redemption. As a member of the triune Godhead, the Holy Spirit always acts in concert with the Father and the Son, and the Father and Son never act apart from the Spirit. His responsibility was to apply the benefits earned by the Son to the elect and unite them with the Son forever (Eph. 1:13–14; see also John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). Moreover, the Scriptures reveal that the Spirit caused the Son to assume a real human nature by the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:35; 2:40). It was through the Spirit that Christ offered Himself to the Father (Heb. 9:14). And it was the Spirit who caused Christ to be raised from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Without the Spirit’s fulfilling these critical tasks, the covenant of redemption would never have been accomplished.

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