Why do Christian Missions Anyway.

In “Ninety-two Questions on Humility in Theology and Science” (1999), Sir John Templeton listed as question #74:

“Is trying to help in God’s creativity processes a way to express our worship and thankfulness?”

I suppose that is a good question. One of the seeming defining characteristics of Man is the ability to

John 3:16
John 3:16 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

be creative, and the desire to act on that creativity. At times such creativity is squelched or hindered with the argument that such creators are “playing God.” And perhaps they are right. Certainly creating for the sake of creativity, without the canvas of moral limitation is dangerous (and probably mediocre… creativity in humans seems best drawn out within the context of prescribed limitations).

But for me, let’s bring this back around to missions.

“Is trying to act in concert with the Mission of God a way to express our worship and thankfulness?”

It does make one wonder why we do missions anyway. I would like to suggest, first of all that joining God in His mission is NOT a challenge to His sovereignty, any more than being creative is a challenge to God as creator. That point never made much sense to me anyway. I believe He could act without me… but does that mean that He would find offense if I, in some small way, seek to join? So ignoring this, here are a few possible reasons:

1.  Obedience to God. The Great Commission (in its various forms) seems to be a general command to all Christians at all points in History. So I suppose one could argue that we are constrained by orders. But is “legalism” our sole or primary argument for doing missions? I am not sure that Christians live in a state of Grace, while missionaries live in a state of Law. (Yes, I am stretching the point… but we are considering if obedience to the Great Commission is THE or PRIME  reason for doing missions, not merely a factor.)

2.  Duty to God (or Calling). This is related to the first. However, the first could be seen as acting on a general command to all Christians. This second may be more individualized. I feel “called” uniquely by God to carry out a unique aspect of God’s mission… so I act in accordance to the duty associated with God’s calling. If one accepts this as the primary or only reason for our doing missions, then we are using as justification a doctrine that has (frankly) little Biblical support. Not a good basis for missions. Second, since few of us really have an “Isaiah” or “Burning Bush” experience anyway, in practice such a basis has stronger roots in our passions or desires. Is the primary motivation for missions really that we “feel like it”? I hope not.

3.  God’s Glory. God has done much to restore a broken world, so when we join in the task to restore it, we reflect or increase God’s glory. I guess I have a problem with this as well. I really enjoy the book “Cat and Dog Theology.” In the book, Sjogren and Robison make a strong point that everything is to be for God’s glory and everything God does is for His own glory. Although there are verses that can be used to support it, I can’t quite accept it (not attacking the book as a whole… just questioning a bit of how I interpreted parts of the book). First, the term “glory” is pretty vague, so even if everything is to be for God’s glory, such a fact is not very informative as to what I should do. Second, if everything God does is for His own glory, then some pretty nasty things (floods, disease, and human misdeeds) were also part of God’s self-glorification activity. Again, if these things can be for God’s glory, what things could I do that would NOT be glorifying. Third, some statements seem to cast doubt on glory as the end all. Take the classic John 3:16. It says that God’s mission was motivated by His love, not His desire for personal glory.

4.  Love of Man. If John 3:16 says that at least a major part of God’s mission was motivated by love for man, perhaps that could be our prime motivation as well. It seems like our love for man should at least be a sizable part of our response to God’s initial love for us. Caring for people because we care about people is good but seems pretty limited. Our mission is greater than a social gospel. Our role is more than doing nice things because we are nice people.

5.  Great Commandment. Our activity as a response or an outflowing of our love for God (and Man) seems to be closer to the truth. Of course, one problem is that love is a concept that doesn’t give much guidance in how to act.

To me, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together provide a pretty good justification. We respond to God’s love by loving God and loving what God loves. This is the Great Commandment. The Great Commission provides one important guidance in how to express that love.

Another way to look at it is that God loved us and we respond in like fashion due to thankfulness (the Great Commandment) and then respond in service as worship (Great Commission). Maybe the statement, “”Is trying to act in concert with the Mission of God a way to express our worship and thankfulness?” both true and highly relevant for our basis for missions.

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