Recently I’ve been considering the mission of the church from the lens of Noah’s life and work.
Jesus Himself reveals how relevant the story of Noah is today.
For just as the days of Noah were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. –Matt. 24:37
Noah’s living and work parallels and prefigures the critical aspects of the church’s mission in view of Christ’s return.
If the society of Noah’s day will be characteristic of the society immediately before Christ’s return, then the work of Noah’s family provides insight into the work of the church at the end of this age.
Noah received a twofold revelation from God concerning the destiny of the world and the building of the ark.
In response to this vision Noah did a twofold work. He was a herald of righteousness and he built the ark.
This perspective on the mission of the church corresponds to the missio Dei, which Christ (THE Commissioned One) concisely states, with all it entails, as “I will build My church (Matt. 16:18).”
It is not the church which “undertakes” mission; it is the missio Dei which constitutes the church.
–David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 519
The gospel and the building of the church interface on an organic level as the means of accomplishing God’s economy.
Paul also sums up his role in this great endeavor with these two aspects. Ephesians 3:8-9 is the abstract of his ministry and here he highlights two objectives- to announce the unsearchable riches of Christ as the gospel and to enlighten all concerning God’s economy to produce the church as His expression.
Whatever definition we assign to missiones ecclesiae it should respect these fundamentals.
Herald of Righteousness
…Noah, a herald of righteousness… –2 Peter 2:5
Noah is described as a herald of righteousness, which corresponds to preaching the gospel.
I think all would agree this is a salient and non-negotiable aspect of the mission of the church. Whatever else we may ascribe to “disciple all the nations”, proclaiming the gospel is certainly the point of embarkation. The book of Acts makes this clear. If we understand the first disciples to be “on mission” then being a witness of the things we’ve seen and heard (Acts 4:20) cannot be marginalized, hushed, or reluctantly retained.
Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions.
–David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 10
Here, the disciples’ work in relation to the uttermost parts of the earth (all the nations) is simply conveyed as “be My witnesses.” Thus, if we understand the record in Acts to be related to the commission in Matthew, then preaching the gospel is central. The persecution in Acts 8:1 was God’s environmental sovereignty to push the disciples out of Jerusalem in light of Acts 1:8.
Acts 8:4 tells us what these emigrants did- “Those therefore who were scattered went throughout the land announcing the word as the gospel.”
In this same chapter Philip the Evangelist announces Jesus as the gospel (Acts 8:35). Thus preaching the gospel to propagate the resurrected Christ as life is always central to any consideration of what the church is commissioned to do.
Building the Ark
…Noah, having been divinely instructed… prepared an ark… –Hebrews 11:7
However, conversations at this point typically turn to social justice, economic inequality, political agendas, or cultural divides.
Again, I’m not saying these are unimportant issues. But it is possible that these social problems loom larger than other tasks at hand. And this is where I find the story of Noah so enlightening.
Noah not only heralded righteousness. He built the ark. The ark is what saved him and others from the coming judgement. His salvation was a building and this building brought in a new age.
God revealed the ark to Noah, even as a divine instruction, but Noah still had to build it, and in a sense build himself into it, to experience it’s saving efficacy.
Today’s ark is not only Christ but more practically, the church, the corporate Christ. To me the most significant issue in the mission of the church is the building of the church. Watchman Nee and Witness Lee speak at length on this point.
The best thing Noah could do for his corrupt and problematic society was preach the gospel to them and provide the ark as the means of escape from God’s judgement on the world.
Imagine if all Noah had done was establish pregnancy centers or food banks. He would have been wiped out with the flood too. The flood was God’s solution to the godless age and the ark was the salvation from it. The building of the ark ushered Noah’s family into a new society and a new age.
Similarly, Christ prophesied that He would build the church. However, all the believers have the opportunity and responsibility to participate in the direct building work through our growth in the divine life, our function and prophesying in the church meetings, and our being knit together in love in the divine fellowship (Eph. 4:16, 1 Cor. 14:4, Col. 2:19).
His second coming will be the solution to all national, social, and economic problems.
The word of our gospel and the work of our building the church are the indirect solution to these problems.