On the Theme “Walking With” : A Missions Theology. Part 5


Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane), oil painting by Heinrich Ferdinand Hofmann (Heinrich Hofmann). The original is at the Riverside Church (Riverside Church, New York City). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next step is to look at the relationship between the church and the world. As we look at the relationship between the world and the church we are drawn into the idea of missions… or joining in God’s mission to the world.

I believe there is a lot of value in the metaphor “walking with” as it pertains to missions, or the church’s involvement with the world. However, there are some deep problems with the metaphor as well. Until we deal with the problems, we cannot see its valued use.

A major challenge with the metaphor “walking with” for the church and the world is strong negative messages in the Bible associated with the term world. Read Psalm 1 for the challenge of walking with or living in “the way” of the world. I John 2:15 says that Christians are not to love the world and that love of God is incompatible with love for the world. Likewise, James 4:4 says that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. I John 2:16-17 notes that ways of the world are sinful and that the world is passing away. James 1:27 warns Christians not to be polluted by the world.

If we stopped here, we would be pretty sure that Christians should only have a combative relationship with the world… and certainly there are war metaphors in the Bible for Christians. However, there are other passages in the Bible that add complexity to God’s attitude about the world, and the recommended relationship between the Christians and the world. God made the world (Acts 17:24) Jesus was sent into the world (John 1) because of God’s love for the world (John 3:16, 17). Jesus is the light of the word (John 1:9), its Savior (John 4:42), and gives life to the world (John 6:33). God is presently working to reconcile the world to Himself (II Corinthians 5:19).

How does one reconcile this? Some like to focus on the world as God’s creation (something God loves) versus the world system (something God hates). To me, I feel it more useful to see the difference as “the world” versus “the way of the world.” The way of the world is the wide path that leads to destruction. A Christian is one who should follow Christ, and the path of light. As such, a Christian should reject the path of the world.

Christians are supposed to be on the way of righteousness (II Peter 2:21), the way of the Lord (Acts 18:26), the way of God (Matthew 22:16), the way of peace (Luke 1:79), the way of love (I Corinthians 14:1), the way of truth (II Peter 2:2). But… where is this way, where is this path? The way is IN THE WORLD. The narrow path, the path that Christians are supposed to follow is in opposition to the way of the world, but is still in the world.

The issue then is not where Christians are, but who they are following. Christians are supposed to be following Christ. So what is the relationship between Christians and the world? I would like to suggest three relationships associated with the idea of walking with.

  1. We are to be sent out by Christ. John 20:21 says that as Jesus was sent by the Father, we are, in like manner to be sent out by Christ (Also see John 18:17). Being sent out might imply that we are not following Christ. However, following means following the direction of Christ. Since Jesus also noted that he would always be with us, even to the end of the age, and that He gave us a Comforter (God’s Spirit) to be with us everywhere, sending us out is still leading us while walking with us. Related to this was the term used for Christ’s disciples… apostles. The term literally means “sent out ones.” Even though one cannot rely strictly on etymology, the idea of being an ambassador.
  2. We are to be prepare the way for Christ. John the Baptist was given the responsibility to go ahead of Christ’s arrival to prepare His way. The disciples of Christ were also told to do the same (Luke 10). We may be following Christ’s command as “sent out ones,” but we are to prepare the hearts of others so that they are ready for the message of Christ. Again, the idea of being an apostle applies. An apostle goes out as an ambassador to prepare the way for their leader… their king.
  3. We are to to show the way for people of the world to follow. The first term used to describe Christians was “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) implying I believe, that not only did they believe that they were following the way of God, but the way that others should follow as well… the way to be saved (Acts 16:17).

A passage that says much about Christian’s relationship with the world is in John 17:13-21. This is Jesus praying to God the Father shortly before His death.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth. As you sent me int the world, I have sent them into the world. Them them I sanctify myself that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ”

Christians have to live in the world… and do so because of God’s will that we be in the world. Christians are in some way not of the world although born in the world… and are to be sanctified (set apart) as special. However, that special status is to be sent into the world to carry out God’s work in the world. That work includes giving the message of Christ so that others join in following Christ through believing.

“Walking with” now includes some more aspects. We are to follow Christ, being sent out by Him into the world to prepare the world for Christ and His message. Christians are to be on the path of righteousness being a guide for others to follow. In so doing, by guiding people in the way they should go, Christians are leading people into following Christ.

The last post of this series will seek to connect the principles related with walking with, to missions principles. There will be a bit of reverse engineering here… but I would like to say that it is setting up the groundwork for dialogue and evaluation.

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