Which Comes First

I have never cared for the assumption that the foundation for Christian Missions is the Great Commission. There are reasons for this, some of which I have talked of elsewhere. However, let’s take a fairly simple case as shown in two options:

1.  Great Commission is given priority over the Great Commandment. Behavior is given priority over the heart. So what is valued?

  • Preaching the Good News
  • Baptizing (drawing people into the unity of the church body)
  • Teaching/discipling

What happens if behavior is given priority over heart? Missions would not be easily differentiated from secular marketing. Good missions is effective missions, and effective missions is one that which brings positive results (converts/adherents).

2.  Great Commandment is given priority over the Great Commission.  If the Great Commandment is given priority over the Great Commission, then the heart is given priority over behavior. In this case then, the attitude and motivation of the Christian is to guide the behavior. We share the Gospel of Christ because we love the people we share with.

In this case, good missions is that which is motivated by love of God and love of Man. Missions must be done in good faith and good will to be considered good missions.

Let me give an example. For several years, my wife and I were part of a group that we helped found with others that did medical missions throughout the Philippines. Medical Missions is a great mission ministry from the standpoint of statistics. We were with the group from 2005 to 2009 and we treated around 30,000 people. Those who came had the gospel shared and over 50% responded. The Philippines takes seriously the idea of implied debt (“utang ng loob”) so many will respond as a way to please those who provide care.

If we are simply motivated by the Great Commission, we are simply focusing on getting as many to respond as quickly as possible and get them into the church. We are then not focused on proper medical care. We are not focused on providing what we promised. We can do “bait and switch,” deceptive marketing, and pressure tactics. But in so doing, although we might get more positive responses, we probably would be getting more negative responses as well. Unfortunately, negative responses can be poisonous in the community.

If our missions is motivated by love, then we are focused on providing good wholistic care, keeping promises, and demonstrating good will in the community. Might it get less measurable missional results? Probably… but it is likely to have more positive long-term results. People respond to divine love more over time than top-notch marketing.

I would suggest that the second case here is the correct one. While we tend to applaud big results… there is a certain “creepiness” (I swear, I can’t think of a better word) of Christian missions that seeks to be judged by numbers rather than love. Even if one desires to value “success metrics” one should take the time to view not only positive numbers, but negative numbers. When love is not the motivation, success of converts is likely to be balanced by those who have been driven away.

Importance of understanding the culture of the “Other”


When I made the decision to serve The Lord in full time ministry under the mentorship of missionaries 28 years ago, I met opposition from sources I least expected. In his attempt to caution or to deter me, a native senior minister, a member on the board of directors of the mission asked me a question that bothered me. The question was; “what have those missionaries enticed you with?” He made other negative statements about the missionaries that were mind boggling. He was trained and had served with the same missionaries for over fifteen years. I wondered why he had such an attitude about the missionaries whom he had ministered with for such a long time. It was obvious that the relationship between him (the other native ministers as well) and the missionaries was not healthy. After a period of about three years the ministry split following a sharp disagreement…

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The Church on Mission


Acts 13:1-3

1Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

St. Peter’s Grotto Church in Antioch

Let’s reflect on this short passage. First, let’s deal with some technical issues with the passage.

First, let’s look at the people in the church. It was a very diverse church. Five names are mentioned here. Three of them were definitely Jewish, the other two, we aren’t as sure. But we know that there were many Gentiles in the church.

  • Barnabas: A Jew from the Island of Cyprus. He was a Levite. He was of Greek culture. He was sent to Antioch by the church of Jerusalem to see what was going on there. Great things were happening in Antioch and the church of Jerusalem wanted to understand it better.
  • Paul: A Jew from Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). A former pharisee. Barnabbas went to Paul’s home to recruit him to help in Antioch.
  • Manaen… or Menachen… was Jewish but was a companion, the foster-brother, of Prince (later King) Herod Antipas. That meant that he was raised up in the royal family.
  • Lucius of Cyrene. Roman name, came from Cyrene/ present day Tunisia, in North Africa.
  • Simeon who was called Niger. Some of have suggested that he was also from Cyrene. If that is true, he was the man who carried the cross for Jesus. Simon of Cyrene apparently did become a follower of Christ as well as his family. If this was the case, and the fact that Lucius was from Cyrene, they may have called him Niger, or black because of his coloration. So he may have been African. Not really sure.

Second. the passage says that they were prophets and teachers. Teachers make God’s word clear to the people… it instruct. But what about prophet? In the early church, prophets went from church to church encouraging and admonishing. So that might be the idea. Perhaps these 5 went around to other local churches in this role. Or maybe in this case it simply meant that they preached God’s word… speaking on God’s behalf to God’s people.

Third. The passage says that they were ministering to the Lord and they were fasting. The term we use as ministering is the same word where we get the term liturgy. It implies both worship AND service to God in the church. But what about fasting? Commonly, in the Bible fasting symbolized sorrow– a way of expressing grief. When Nehemiah heard horrible news from home, it said that he prayed, mourned, and fasted. Praying was his mental response. Mourning was his emotional response, and Fasting was his physical response. Head, heart, body. When critics of Jesus complained that His disciples did not fast, Jesus said that they had no need. Since He was with them, it is a time for celebration, not sorrow. However, there is at least one other reason to fast. It symbolized separation from the world. When Jesus spent 40 days with the Father, He symbolically separated Himself from the world by going into the wilderness and by fasting. By symbolicaly separating from the world, they were saying they were prepared to listen to and be guided by God’s Spirit.

So these five were serving God in the church. But they were also seeking God’s guidance… and God spoke to them.

I believe there is a lesson here. God spoke to them when they were seeking guidance from God. But they also were doing God’s work while they were waiting. I have known many people who seem to be doing nothing for God because they are waiting to hear from God what they are supposed to do. I would suggest that these 5 are a better example. Do what you KNOW you should be doing while your are seeking what ELSE you should be doing. Be faithful in the little until God gives you much to be faithful with.

Note here that the message is not to Paul. The message is not to Barnabbas. The message was to the church. “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Missions isn’t about individuals leaving the church to do things for God. It is about the church being involved in missions. And the church responded.

Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. Almost certainly, this was referring to the entire church, not just the other three… Lucius, Manaen, and Simeon. In Acts 14:27 it speaks of Paul and Barnabbas returning to Antioch and reporting to the entire church, not just the other three.

So what might one gain from this:

1. God has a mission. It is the Spirit of God who initiates the action. I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission in Baguio. I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission for the Philippines. I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission in the world. And I don’t believe that we have to wonder or worry whether God has a mission for your church. God is on a mission and has a mission big enough to involve all.

2. God calls the church to join Him in His mission. Missions is not the job of specialists… missionaries. Missions is not the job of church leaders. Missions is the job of the entire church. God is on mission and invites the entire church to join in it. The church is a body and that body functions properly when each member of that body does its job correctly and faithfully.

3. The church goes on mission when it sends out missionaries. It is interesting to note that in verse 3 it says that the church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas. In the Bible, there are essentially two major reasons for laying hands on a person. One reason was in giving a blessing or gift of some sort. The other reason, frankly the more common reason, was to show a connection or a unity between the individual and the one laying on hands. I believe it’s pretty clear that the second applies here.

When the church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, they were saying that as they go on missions, the church goes with them. They are united in mission. They are united in spirit… even if they are separated by distance.

Sadly, in churches today, we don’t tend to do this… when we do lay on hands for missionaries, it tends to be with some idea of commissioning… not really a biblical concept. Then, all too often, the missionary goes away and the church forgets about them. What a shame.

The idea of laying on of hands is that when you go, we are with you. We are supporting you. The ministry you do, wherever you do it is our ministry. And what ministry we do, they are also part of.

Imagine that when a member of our church is going to a distant country, rather than feeling as if we are losing them… we feel that we have gained a new ministry location… wouldn’t that be powerful… wouldn’t that be a profound idea… seeing ministry through the eyes of God.

4. We have a choice. When God told them what to do… the Church of Antioch did not make excuses. They were not powerful… they were a modest church struggling to survive in a huge pagan trading city. Yet, this single church in the city of Antioch… changed the world. Sending out Paul, sending out Barnabbas, sending out John Mark and Silas and Nicholas, and others that we don’t even know. The planted churches all over Asia Minor, Greece, the islands of the Mediterranean, Egypt, Mesopotamia and beyond. It is hard to even imagine what the church would be like today without the church of Antioch. Even today, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch has millions of members scattered throughout the world, including the Philippines.

We have a choice… but we are all called to respond with “Yes Lord.”

Moltmann Quote: Passive Conformity

“Those who are experiencing this crisis” (crisis regarding the identity and purpose of the church in the ‘modern’ age) “tend to divide into two groups.

The one group would like to see the church become more modern, involved, contemporary and relevant. Since politics determines man’s destiny, they are demanding the church’s radical political involvement in the vital contemporary problems confronting their country and divided mankind. They look at the church as a political avant-garde on the road to justice and freedom in a world of conflicting interests and struggles for power. For them the ideal church is a moral vanguard of a better world.

The other group maintains that a church which is socially-oriented, politically up to date and relevant is bound to lose its proper identity, its Christian proprium. They are at a loss to recognize the church of their fathers; in a church which, for example, considers itself a sociotherapeutic institution. They too are aware that the number of those who still hold to the church is steadily declining. But they do not blame themselves or the church; rather they panic and extol their small number as the remnant of God’s faithful during the final apostasy of mankind at the end of time. They retreat inwards into themselves and other likeminded circles where they can support each other. They make a virtue out of their necessity and change into a sect. Compared with active conformity to the modern world this is nothing but passive conformity. In confrontation with the ‘flood of unbelief’, which they bemoan, their own faith shrinks into little faith. They have lost confidence in him whom they believe. They fight for pope and church or Bible and confession. They want no ‘experiments’, no new experiences, and no dialogue with non-Christians. They are most adamant in their hostility towards those who share with them the experience of threatened identity and have chosen to act otherwise. The ghetto mentality continues to grow. Under the impact of the self-imposed retreat of the orthodox and the self-chosen challenges of the assimilators the self-confidence of the church is falling apart. The question of the church’s purpose elicits a confusing variety of answers depending on the respective needs, but there is no longer a single, clear, and necessary answer.        –Jurgen Moltmann “Theology of Joy,” SCM Press, 1973, pg 76-77.

I was brought up in a Christian environment that tended towards the Separatist tradition. There is a place for that. During the time of King Ahab and Elijah, 7000 were hidden away to preserve God’s message and work for a time when they can come back out and interact and transform the world around them. The C6 (hidden) Christans in hostile communities have their place… at least as a transitional phenomenon. However, a condition of self-imposed ghettoization should not become a long-standing activity or a virture. Although it may be incorrect to confuse the Church with the Kingdom of God, the two clearly interrelate. The Kingdom of God is to be as live yeast that may seem insignificant at first, but will transform the dough. It is to be as a mustard seed that is forgettable of itself, but is full of life and will grow and become impossible to ignore. The church (and Christians) are to be salt and light in this world.

Perhaps Moltmann is correct… churches (and members) that focus on protecting and hiding themselves from the world rather than interacting and changing the world, are guilty of passively conforming to the world they are defending themselves from.