The Marks of A Healthy Missional Church

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Zondervan, 2011), pages 899–902 [his|mine]:

In Acts, the mission of the church and its actual growth are always attributed to the means of grace, which the so-called marks of the church (preaching, sacrament, and discipline) identify.

The preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments have (or at least should have) such preeminence in the church not because of the desire for clerical dominance over the laity; on the contrary, it is because of the unique and essential service that this ministry provides for the health of the whole body and its mission in the world. So instead of treating the formal ministry and marks of the church as one thing and the mission of the church as another, we should regard the former not only as the source but as in fact the same thing as the latter.

Throughout the book of Acts, the growth of the church—its mission—is identified by the phrase, “And the word of God spread.” The regular gathering of the saints for “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,” “the breaking of bread,” and “the prayers” (Ac 2:42) is not treated in Acts merely as an exercise in spiritual togetherness but as itself the sign that the kingdom had arrived in the Spirit. …

The mission of the church is to execute the marks of the church, which are the same as the keys of the kingdom. Where the gospel is being preached, the sacraments are being administered, and the officers are caring for the flock, we may be confident that the mission is being executed, the keys are being exercised, and the attributes of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” are being exhibited. Preaching, sacrament, and discipline are singled out in the Great Commission and, as we have seen, in Acts 2:42. If these are missing, marginalized, or obscured, there is no office, no charismatic ministry, and no innovative program that can build and expand Christ’s kingdom. God may use many means, but he has ordained these and has promised to work the greatest signs and wonders through them. …

There is a gathering—an ekklesia—because there is a work of God through preaching and sacrament called the gospel that does its work before we can get around to ours [personal evangelism and societal transformation]. We cannot create the church by our acts of service, missionary zeal, church orders and liturgies, pragmatic programs, authenticity, or romanticizing efforts at generating community. Rather, it is God who creates his own unique community in the world by speaking it into existence and sustaining it in its pilgrimage.

We must therefore resist the false choice between looking after the sheep already gathered through preaching, sacrament, and discipline (the marks) and reaching out to the lost sheep who have yet to hear and believe (the mission). The church is created and sustained by the Spirit through preaching and sacrament, and the church grows numerically—expanding in its mission—by these same means. …

The Word that is preached, taught, sung, and prayed, along with baptism and the Eucharist, not only prepare us for mission; it is itself the missionary event, as visitors are able to hear and see the gospel that it communicates and the communion that it generates. To the extent that the marks define the mission and the mission justifies the marks, the church fulfills its apostolic identity.

3 thoughts on “The Marks of A Healthy Missional Church

  1. Thanks for the powerful quote, Tony!

    How do you think this Systematic Theology will stack up to other ones of the last few decades?

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