This is a continuation of the reflections on “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative” by Christopher J.H. Wright. NOTE: This is NOT a review… just things that the book got me thinking about. I haven’t finished the book yet (I am slow sometimes, but I have to give it a STRONG recommendation already).
The book seeks to develop a Biblical Theology of Missions, as well as a missional hermeneutic for understanding the Bible. This got me thinking…
IS HAVING A SOLID MISSION THEOLOGY NEEDED?
With some reflection it seems to me that the obvious answer is YES and NO. It is NO in the sense that most Christians can carry out God’s mission on earth quite effectively without having a very strong theological foundation for what they do and why. But where does YES come in?
1. History has shown that Christian missions has moved forward in fits and starts (and stops). It pops up here with great fervor and dies away over there. Among missional people there is often a belief that missions people are more godly or spiritual or “on fire” than those who are not. I have not seen this as true. Perhaps missional fervor is NOT a good judge of spirituality. Perhaps the fact that missions is often disconnected from normal Christian life, and ecclesiastical life means that missions is commonly borne along through a few who are motivated in that specific area of the Christian walk. Perhaps, having a missional theology that is linked better with the overall understanding of the theology of God, Man, World, and Church, would reduce the fickleness of the overall movement of Christian missions. (Just a theory.)
2. When there is a disconnect between theology and its application, problems often spring up. Let me give an example. William Carey was a pastor of the Particular Baptists, a strongly Calvinistic group in England. This group had little interest in missions. God preordained people to Heaven or Hell after all… so what is the point of reaching out? William Carey wrote a booklet challenging this logic. He used the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to argue that Jesus gave the command to evangelize to all Christians not just the original Twelve. He made a strong case for this.
However, note this. He did not really challenge the Calvinistic doctrines… just argued that one should not use those doctrines to deny something the Jesus commanded us to do. Calvinism (particularly consistent Calvinists) always had a gaping hole when it came to missions going back to… well… John Calvin. Carey made it clear that regardless of what one believes doctrinely, one should evangelize because Jesus commanded us to. There is a seeming disconnect here. It is hardly surprising that just decades later among the Baptists (and the Campbellite offshoot) developed the “Antimissional Movement.” It was a reaction away from missions, in part because of the Calvinistic theology of its members.
This is not a diatribe against Calvinism (I am neither Calvinist nor Anti-Calvinist). But when one’s theology is not consistent with the ministerial application, it is hardly a shock that problems recur. One could argue that Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years, also known as the Hocking Report (1932) got much of its strength from the fact that missions was built on a poor theological foundation… and as such was easy to topple or redirect.
3. Missions is often drawn from a “gerrymandering” of Bible verses. Often it seems as the practitioners of missions have already determined what they want to do and why, and simply pick those verses that seem to support what they are already doing. I know churches who have dumped all social missions because missions to them is proclamation, conversion, discipleship, and church-planting. I have known of churches who have cut off funding to orphanages because orphanages are not evangelistic… and so are not missional. They have verses to support their view… but they have to throw out an awful lot of the Bible to support such an idea. I have known missions agencies that have (incredibly) stopped working in very productive areas because people in those areas were no longer labeled “unreached people groups.” The Biblical justification for this is shallow, and the logic of stopping work because it is productive is… odd to say the least. Wouldn’t it be better to understand what God’s mission is (based on God’s revelation and character) and then come alongside… rather than doing what we want to do and then select verses (“prooftexts”) to back it up?
4. There is some really sloppy missions methodology out there… some of which comes from a very poor theological foundation. The focus on Unreached People Groups has been justified by utilizing Matthew 24:14. Some have taught that once we have reached all “people groups” Christ will immediately (or at least almost immediately) return. First, the passage never says that, nor, in my mind, even implies it. Second, the application of that interpretation results in a behavior that comes close to… well… evil. Think about it. People focus on trying to get the gospel into every “people group” (however one chooses to define such an entity) pulling resources away from successful outreaches among “reached” peoples in hopes that God would come back sooner. In practice that means one is seeking to reduce outreach to many people and shorten the time that the Gospel is available for response. One is actually trying to send more people to hell by giving them less time and opportunity to respond. Weird! If one truly believed the quite fanciful interpretation of the Matthew passage and believed (equally fancifully) that one could define exact “people groups” (ethne)… the proper response would seem to be to reach as many people as possible among all people groups as possible— except one. Only after evangelistic saturation of all peoples (is that realistic?) would one saturate the last people group with the gospel. <Thankfully, God did not give us control of when He comes, nor gave us the calling to “time” His return.> By the way, I am not against reaching all people in all cultures… nor do I believe that doing so nor failing to do so will change God’s timing one iota.
Some evangelical missions leaders back in the 1950s and 60s had embraced an apocalyptic view of Christianity (Christ is coming any day… at least any day really really soon.) As such, they tossed aside God’s work in caring for people’s needs in favor of quick conversion. But they were wrong… 50, 60 years later and Christ is not here yet. What if investment in demonstrating God’s love had been effectively linked to proclaiming God’s love over the last several decades (rather than disconnected). Personally, I think carrying out God’s full mission faithfully without trying to “read the signs” would have been more effective, and is still more effective today.
The Missionary Call seems to be another area of sloppiness. There seems to be little Biblical support for it at all. Christ calls all to follow Him. The church may call people to be pastors or missionaries (apostles)… but does God? I don’t think so. If He did, then the missionary call is primarily an “anti-missionary call” since the vast majority of Christians are, presumably, not so called. The missionary call seems to be more of an excuse not to be missional than it is to motivate people to missions. Defining missions in terms of only being cross-cultural, or only to the “called”, or only for “professionals” seems to be without theological basis as well. It is hardly surprising that there are good Christians that argue that missions and missionaries are unbiblical. I have even seen blogsites that challenge Christians to show that missions and missionaries are Biblical. You know, IF one uses the common definitions utilized today, I think they have a point. However, if one is willing to challenge the definitions I believe we see the Bible as a missional book and a book of God on mission and us on God’s mission.
5. The poor theology has led to questions about even what is the goals of missions. What is missions supposed to do?
- Get conversions and baptisms?
- Get churches planted?
- “Civilize” the people?
- Help social needs?
- Socially liberate?
- Promote specific denomination or theological goals?
A sound theology of missions should help determine what are our priorities and what are extraneous.
Yes, I think it is high time that God’s people take seriously Missions Theology… or a missional understanding of God.
2013 has come to an end. I am just going to throw out some fairly random items to close out the year.
I. The following shows the top posts over 2013. I am not sure what to make of them. “St. Boniface and the Peregrini” seemed to be caught up in some search engines for those who had interest in the term “peregrini” disconnected from its Celtic missions roots. “Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”?” seems to be because it became a popular tie in to a huge number of spam messages. Why? Don’t know. “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon” get’s triggered every holiday season since it is Tagalog for “Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.” I am sad that “Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order)” has gotten so many hits. Unfortunately, there seems to be a morbid fascination in Evangelical (or at least Apostolic) Christianity for doomsday prophets. For outsiders, it is fun to point fingers at others and say “See… that’s what you get when you mess with God!” It lures people into trying to link bad news to divine judgment and the end of the world. I still believe that Jesus call to be faithful to the end rather than trying to time God’s coming is the best advice. I wrote a joyous post on God’s protection of islanders in the face of almost certain devastation… got very few hits. Sad.
2. It is likely that before year’s end, this blog will reach 20,000 hits. That may not be that impressive for some, but as someone who makes no real attempt to optimize SEO, and one who doesn’t make much of an attempt, normally, to be topical, it kind of feels good. However, it is still true that I write more for my own benefit. It helps me clarify my thoughts. I think better through the keyboard than through the weird meanderings of my mind and voice. If someone benefits from it other than myself, that is great. If not… well, I hope none are the worse for the experience.
3. I feel like it is time to move to the next step of sorts. I have been asked to write an introductory book of missions. I suppose that it is time to do it. The Philippines doesn’t have that much on Missions that is locally produced. We tend to recopy what others have done elsewhere. I believe that a Missiology built on local church foundation rather than an international or ethnological foundation, would be more functional (and perhaps even more “accurate”) for Filipinos. Philippines is growing as a mission sending nation but is limited somewhat by external models of mission on one side, and post-colonial/missions attitude in churches on the other side. I am not at all sure that I can fix that. If I can help add to the early stages of dialogue, it would be an effort well invested.
4. I pray that Christians worldwide would embrace Interdependency rather than dependency or independence. That they would see wielding love as more Christlike than wielding power. That they would not fear doubt but grow in faith through doubt. That they would see right doctrine, right ethics, and the fruit of the spirit (Mind, Body, Spirit) as different facets of the same jewel that is a godly life.
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon.
“The growth of the church is both natural and supernatural. The church was designed by God to grow naturally, but all church growth is a supernatural miracle. In truth, the church will experience growth if we remove artificial and often selfish barriers we have used to keep our church artificially small– to keep it a bonsai church.
… The bonsai church may be cute, but it’s not practical. It is ornamental rather than fruit-bearing. It is a distortion of God’s original plan.”
-Ken Hemphill, “Bonsai Theory of Church. Grow Your Church to Its Natural God-Given Size.”, pp. 106-107.
- Church Growth: Not with THOSE people (genebrooks.blogspot.com)
I have been reading a book “A Higher Purpose for Your Overseas Jobs” by Roberto Claro> Also had the opportunity to attend a one-day seminar led by the author. Strangely, I had assigned the book to my missions students before, but had not really taken the time to get into it personally.
I found the book extremely practical, but without the cardinal sin of ignoring the underlying principles of missions. The book focuses on the OFW (overseas foreign workers) experience of approximately 8 million Filipinos. The question is whether one can use their work overseas as an opportunity to serve God missionally. The writer likes to separate between same culture outreach overseas (also known as Diaspora Missions), and cross-cultural missions. I consider both to be missions… but I have to admit that it is mostly a matter of nomenclature rather than a fundamental difference.
The paper version of the book is available on-line (Amazon) as well as a number of bookstore chains in the Philippines. Recommend a paper version, but a free pdf version is available at HERE.
A nice blogsite for a lot of information about Philippine Bivocational Missions is Philippine Bi-Professionals.
- Bivocational Ministry is a Thing of Great Beauty (columbiapartnership.typepad.com)
I love teaching Missions. As a missions professor, I don’t have to be an expert in Biblical
Studies. I don’t have to be an expert in Theology. That’s a shame since Missions should have strong Biblical and Theological underpinnings. Still, it is a bit freeing that expectations of others is low in these areas. Additionally, as a Missions professor, one doesn’t even have to be very knowledgeable in missions, since there is little agreement as to what missions is, and how it is to be done.
Consider the definition of missions, by their focus.
Focus #1. Heathen. Historically, missions was based on the target. William Carey wrote the tract, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversions of the Heathens.” That title describes a common view. Missions is conversion of the heathen. Who are the “heathen?” Well, that term is now considered old-fashioned. But it essentially describes people who are not part of a Christian culture (or, perhaps, not part of a Christian or Jewish culture). So the separation between missions and other types of Christian ministry is whether the people group or nation is considered “Christian” or “Heathen.” This view is generally replaced with one of two other choices.
Focus #2. Culture. More recently, the focus is on the culture. If ministry is cross-cultural, then it is missions. If the ministry is not cross-cultural, then it is some other type of ministry (such as evangelism or discipleship). Ministry is divided into E-0 (within the same faith group), E-1 (same “cultural” neighborhood), E-2 (similar but different culture), and E-3 (very different culture). In this, missions is considered to be E-2 or E-3. This is probably the most common understanding of missions.
Focus #3. Church. Another view defines missions in terms of its relationship to the local church. Church ministry could be divided up into three basic categories. Category 1 would be ministry to its own members/congregation. One could call it “Member Care.” Category 2 would be ministry that seeks to bring people from outside of the local church into the same church. One could call it “Church Growth.” Category 3 would be ministry that the local church does outside of itself without the intent of bringing people into its own church. One could call that “Missions.” In this light, missions can be local, regional, national, or international. It can also be same sub-culture, different sub-culture, same culture, or different culture.
I, personally, prefer the third type… a church-based understanding of missions. There are several reasons for this.
A. It is more in line with missions as we see it in the New Testament. Most of us would agree that Paul and Barnabas were missionaries going out on missions. Barnabas was from the Island of Cyprus, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. Paul was from Asia Minor, living in a Jewish sub-culture in a broader Hellenistic culture. On their first missionary journey, the first place they went was Cyprus where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. Then they went to Asia Minor where they first targeted members of the Jewish sub-culture there, and then those in the broader Hellenistic culture. From a cultural understanding of missions, it is not clear that Paul and Barnabas were doing missions. However, from a church understanding, they definitely were doing missions.
B. It challenges the theology of “Missionary Call.” For some, that would be a bad thing. But I think that is a good thing. If one reads Acts 13, we find that Paul and Barnabas were not called to missions. Rather, the church was called to send Paul and Barnabas on missions. There is actually little Biblical justification for a separate “Missionary Call” from the normal call for all Christians to follow Christ. Some (almost) violently disagree with this… but there IS little justification for a professional call that goes beyond a general call of all to serve. Generally, even those that strongly believe in a necessary “missionary call” will acknowledge the need for the church to “affirm” that calling. Perhaps it is better to see the church as taking a more active, less passive, role in sending missionaries. Why does this matter? If there is a clear and necessary “Missionary Call,” this implies that there is a “Non-missions Call.” It only makes sense. If a missionary must be called, then most people are called NOT to do missions. If the church sends, then the problem goes away. All churches SHOULD be involved in Member Care, Church Growth, and Missions, and guide it’s members in finding how they can fit into any or all of these roles.
C. It de-professionalizes missions. Missions stops being the work of professionals. It is the job of the church. Obviously, the church needs help by experts and and mobilizing groups… but cannot leave it for “someone else to do.” Of course, there should be a continued role for professional missions… it just stops being something limited to the professionals.
D. It removes some confusions in what is or is not missions. Is diaspora (same culture) missions carried out in a foreign country really missions or no? Is local outreach to a different sub-culture missions or not?
E. Related to what was listed above, if missions is a necessary aspect of church ministry, then the church can’t dump it off on sodality structures (such as mission agencies). Now, when I say this, I am not rejecting sodality structures. They are not unbiblical, and they can be effective. It is just that the church must take responsibility for missions and recognize sodality structures as partners.
F. It can bring a healthier perspective to the missional church movement. This movement has promoted the role of the local church reaching out. But some don’t take cross-cultural or international missions seriously. PERHAPS it would be taken more seriously if it was seen as an integral part of the missional role of the church, not an add-on.
Let’s stop here. Does this matter… how one defines missions? Maybe, maybe not. But generally, an interpretation of missions that leaves it to professionals outside of the church, removes it from the concern of the common membership of churches. That is not healthy.
- William Carey (1761 – 1834): A sample of the Gospel message from the great missionary to India (deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com)
- Missions vs. Missional? Why We Really Need Both (christianitytoday.com)
Suppose I needed to contact people but I had no load on my phone. It’s a problem because it is an emergency. Perhaps someone would come by and share a load with me, or give me money to get a phone card. I would be grateful but now I am in debt. So I offer to find some way to pay him back. But he says, “No… just pay it forward.” What that means is this. I don’t want you to give me anything back. Rather, you pay me back when you help someone else who is in need.
Consider this verse from the Bible:
“And what you have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others. -II Timothy 2:2
Consider the chain of
Those before Paul (Jesus of course… but also the Twelve… and Moses and the Prophets)
Timothy and witnesses
Faithful men and women
And this is the pattern of discipleship. This is the pattern of paying it forward. Train up the next generation… and not just train the next generation but those who would be faithful to train others.
The church is always one or two generations from extinction. If a generation does not pass on the faith to the next… it will cease to be. And THAT has happened. In North Africa (present day Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria) the church died. It ceased to be back in the 8th century. In the 10th century in China, the church ceased to be. In both of those cases, there was persecution going on. However, in many parts of the world at many times in history, the church has grown and thrived in the face of persecution. While the church was dying in Libya, the church was thriving in Egypt… even though persecuted. While the church in China died under persecution in the 10th century… it thrived under persecution in the 20th century.What happened? I don’t know. Persecution doesn’t seem to be a full answer. Ultimately, some churches stopped PAYING FORWARD to the next generation.
Paying it forward violates the typical understanding of indebtedness, but the Bible seems to place greater focus on paying forward.
Some look to verses Paul’s collection of money for the Jerusalem church for inspiration in a “PAY BACK” mentality. Perhaps the idea that from Jerusalem came spiritual care to the Gentiles, and so payback to Jerusalem with earthly things repays that debt. I have certainly seen that interpretation applied here in the Philippines. I have seen self-described “apostles” (using a revisionist definition of that term/role) train up Filipino “disciples” and then require them to pay a tithe back to themselves. I have seen a local church in the Philippines that was started as a mission action from an American denomination. The home denomination in the US demanded money to be annually sent back from the Filipino church. When that church refused, the denomination sent over people to set up a competing church. While that is not wrong (albeit distasteful), they actively pressured members of the local church to switch to the church that would PAY BACK. There is something seriously wrong with that. The church that refused to pay back wasn’t selfish. In fact it was very active in outreach. They paid back by PAYING FORWARD. I can understand why a denomination would not find that acceptable, but it would be nice to part of a denomination that would recognize that paying forward is BETTER than paying back.
To be honest, PAY BACK is not wrong. It is normal, fair, and human. But I believe it is not the normal way of Christ. I see nothing to think that the collection by Paul for the needy in Jerusalem was a “normal” or annual, or expected thing. Care is to be given for those in need, be they predecessors, friends, or strangers.
However, as it pertains to God’s mission, PAY BACK is clearly not the idea. It is PAY FORWARD. Paul recognized that he had the right to be supported by the churches he worked with, but chose not to do it. He did not want to give a wrong impression (in it for the money). He did not want churches to feel indebted to PAY BACK.
Churches here in the Philippines have a debt to mission work before. Our church here in Baguio City is West Baguio Baptist Church. It was founded as an offshoot of University Baptist Church with the assistance of the Gammages. The Gammages, an American missionary family, were able to serve in Baguio because of the foundation laid by Winston Crawley and others with him. The Crawleys were able to serve because of the financial structure inspired by Lottie Moon. Lottie Moon was able to serve because of the organizational structure set up through the vision of Luther Rice. Luther Rice was inspired by the writings and actions of William Carey. And one can go back century upon century back to Jesus.
Today, our church is supporting a missionary working in Southeast Asia, and is actively involved in a churchplanting effort. Our church is not looking to PAY BACK. Thankfully that is not being requested from those who have come before. Our church is looking to PAY FORWARD. I believe that is God’s better plan.
- Pope Francis on 10 Reasons Why People Reject the Church (BrandonVogt.com)
- Wild Goose Festival Part 2: Thoughts on Chick-fil-A and faith (cbfportal.wordpress.com)
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.
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.”
- Living out the Word (pleromateam.wordpress.com)
“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.
What is the most important social unit in Missions? In fact, there are many social units that could be selected. First of all, however, what is a “social unit”?
Here are some options for the most important social unit in Missions:
1. The Individual. This seems like a pretty obvious choice. After all, salvation certainly has an individualized quality to it. A “personal relationship” with God emphasizes the choice in the individual person. The individual as the most important social group certainly also fits well with the Western mindset from which the Modern Protestant missions movement has sprung.
2. The Family or Community. If the individual is the pillar of Western society, then the family or local community could be thought of as the pillar of (at least some) Eastern societies. With missions moving from Western nations to “Eastern nations” (or 2/3 world or NSCs) one might suggest the need to emphasize family and local community. Of course with group conversions, and recognition of family and community dynamics in evangelism and church planting movements, one could argue that family/community is the most important… or at least should be.
3. The Cultural Unit or People Group. In recent times, this has become of key importance. Some of this springs from (what I consider to be) a flawed understanding of Matthew 24:14. It seems to be poor scholarship to believe that we can make an arbitrary list of ethnic groups and expect that God will speed up the Second coming if we express the Gospel in an understandable way to group on that list. Still… evangelism, church-planting, and discipleship tends to work effectively within cultural units. As my former Missions Professor said, “Missions… sharing the Gospel cross-culturally… is like pouring syrup on a waffle, not a pancake.” By this he meant that the Gospel tends to be accepted, pooled, in little cultural pockets (like syrup on a waffle) rather than spread out and responded uniformly by many groups like syrup spreading over a pancake. Cultural groups are important… they can’t be ignored.
4. Local Church. Maybe the local church is the center of our understanding in missions. I do tend to appreciate a Missional church understanding of Missions over the common Cross-cultural understanding of Missions. The importance of the local church as the sender… and a local church as a primary result of Missions is very true.
5. Universal Church. Maybe the focus is on the Body of Christ as a whole. We are baptized into one church and one Spirit. We are all new creations with (my opinion) a new (missional) calling. And while the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ are not (and should not be thought of as) synonymous… there is a lot of overlap since the Body of Christ has a very important role as salt and light and as leaven (in a good way) bringing in God’s Kingdom in some small, but critical, way.
6 and 7. There are other choices as far as other social units as well. Some might focus on Denominations, and Particularists (both cultic and noncultic) often do. Others might focus on Nations (particularly in the past era of State Churches). Both of these are generally less favored now.
My choice is HUMANITY.
However, one may choose to interpret the first three chapters of Genesis, one thing is clear, WE ARE ALL CREATED AS LIVING CREATURES (of Nature) AND AS BEINGS IN THE IMAGE (authority) OF GOD. We are all children of God in the sense of our Creation, and we share in the turmoil of a shared Fall, and share the common need of Restoration. This common kinship, and common need should motivate us (in part) to love and act as channels of God’s love and blessing.
Often Missions (and followers of God) has not seen the great importance in the shared experience of our common humanity. Many have embraced Jonah’s attitude in which one’s people group needs (deserves?) God’s blessing, while others need God’s retribution. I am reminded of the amazing quote of a German cleric (17th century) about an early Lutheran missionary, Justinian Von Welz. Von Welz was described as “… a dreamer, fanatic, hypocrite and heretic, … it was absurd, even wicked, to cast the pearls of the gospel before the heathen.” (Robert Glover, “The Progress of Worldwide Missions,” 1953, pg. 46). This quote makes NO sense at all unless one sees the relationship as fellow humans (brothers of a common God, and in need of a common savior) taking secondary precedence to both church and ethnicity.
Perhaps we need a missiology that starts with Genesis 1:24ff before it gets to Acts 1:8.
- Revisiting the Gospel and Evangelism (bostoncovarbor.wordpress.com)