A Theology of Mission

*This entry was originally written as a sermon for a special teaching night at a Baptist Collegiate Ministry.  I submit it here as a way to continue thinking through the nature and purpose of “church” in our particular context.

 

Mission is rooted in theology proper, i.e. in the study of God Himself.  Mission is not merely something God does, it is rooted deeply in who He is.

  • This point is not to say that God must go or send Himself in relation to humanity.
  • It is rather to point out that God is relational by His very nature and even within His            own Being.

 

In this respect, the Trinity is not primarily an abstract doctrinal hypothesis created to identify heresy.  It is instead one way of describing how God has chosen to reveal Himself (“economic” Trinity) – and thus, by implication, to describe how He actually is within Himself (“immanent” Trinity).  The Scripture teaches us that:

  • God exists eternally as One (Deut 6:4-6).
  • Paradoxically, the One divine Being expresses Himself in three                                                  mutually interdependent and yet distinct Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit                    (Mark 1:9-11; John 14:10-11).
  • In this three-in-oneness, God is both absolutely free to do as He wills and yet                      intensely relational.  He depends upon no one else for anything, yet He exists in                  perfect relationship within Himself and He desires to live in relation to the others He        has created.

 

This intrinsic relationality in the Godhead undergirds a thoroughgoing theology of mission.  In a sense, all genuinely Christian theology is missional.  All three Persons of the one Divine Being express this missional relationality in various ways.  For example:

  • The Father has created solely for His own good pleasure – and He created humanity in         His own image as the only creature uniquely suited for relationship with Him                       precisely because it pleased Him (Genesis 1:27-31; Revelation 4:11).
  • The Son, in response to the fallen reality of humanity and the rest of creation, is                sent by the Father, and willingly goes, in agreement with the Father’s will, precisely          to restore the broken relationship between God and His Creation                                             (John 3:17; Revelation 4:9-10).
  • The Spirit continues the Son’s work, being sent by the Father and the Son, by                      coming to dwell within redeemed humanity in an intimacy which in some mysterious        measure mirrors the Triune nature of God Himself (John 16:7; 17:20-21).

 

In this altogether-too-brief summary of the work of the Triune God, we see already many of the great themes of Scripture emerging: in the Father’s work of creation; in the Son’s work of redemption and in the Spirit’s work of sanctification.  If we but carry this mutually interdependent work forward, we see that even eschatology (the doctrine of last things) is missional.  Instead of redeeming humanity from history, and thereby removing the church from the reality of this present, evil age, the mutual work of the Triune God has explicitly left His people within history.  Indeed, the people of God are no longer merely preserving and sustaining things as “salt and light,” we have now inexplicably been placed at the vanguard of the once and future Kingdom of God (Luke 17:20-21). 
We are now already the leaven that works through the entire lump of dough, transforming it (Matthew 13:33).  We are the first fruits of a great harvest to come, heralds of the divine in-breaking of God’s sovereign rule in history (Romans 11:16; James 1:18: Revelation 14:4).  We are the sign for which the rest of creation groans as in the pangs of childbirth (Romans 8:22-23).  The revelation of which shall signify the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth – and a glory by which this present suffering pales in comparison (Romans 8:18).

It is the church, the redeemed and sanctified people of the age to come, if not necessarily the institution, upon which God has placed so much of His plan.  It is His church, which He calls into existence through the Spirit-empowered proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.  It is His church, which He equips with every conceivable gift of which she has need.  It is His church, which He multiplies by the Spirit’s regeneration, deepens by the teaching of Jesus and His apostles and confirms in the loving accountability of life lived, not singly and alone, but together and in covenant relationship.  It is His church, which God has ordained for the outworking of His divine plan in history.  It is His church – frumpy, cheesy, often misguided and even silly – and yet chosen by God to carry on His mission.  This church, founded by Jesus in His own historic mission and propelled forward under the Spirit’s power on Pentecost, is commissioned by her Lord to make disciples, not just once, but on at least three separate occasions in the New Testament. 

Given this incontrovertible fact, it seems no hyperbole to claim, in accordance with Scripture, that a church without a mission is a contradiction in terms.  A group of people may meet in a building and claim to worship Jesus, they may favor one political party over another and justify their choice by appeal to the Risen Lord, they may even perform necessary and laudable social work and call it a mission – but unless they are making disciples of Jesus, they ought not call themselves a church.  Lest you be taken aback by any of the above, let me cite three crucial texts in support of my thesis.

 

  • (John 20:21-22) “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent               me, even so I am sending you.’  And when He had said this, He breathed on them and          said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”  From this brief passage, two points seem apparent:
  • His mission is now our mission.  The primary purpose of His mission was to prepare            people to enter life, i.e. the Kingdom of God, though He certainly also relieved pain            and suffering and accomplished many other good things.  How can we not have the            same purpose in our own mission?
  • The giving of the Spirit is specifically to empower the followers of Jesus for the                 mission of Jesus, not for personal enrichment or gain and certainly not for self-                 glorification.  While the Spirit’s work in sanctification is central, even this aspect of         the mission is ultimately for the glory of God, and thus missional.

 

  • (Acts 1:8) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you         will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the         earth.” 
  • Notice the preceding discussion .  Let us stop worrying about endless eschatological         speculation and get busy with the mission we’ve been given.
  • Once again, the role of the Holy Spirit in empowering the mission is too notable not           to mention prominently.
  • Bearing “witness” implies personal experience.  The implication is that each one of           those present had seen and heard the Risen Jesus.
  • Traditional cultural and geographical barriers are explicitly mentioned as boundaries         to cross, rather than as limits to respect.

 

  • (Matthew 28:18-20) “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on               earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,                           baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,                  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you          always, to the end of the age.’”

 

  • Our mission is grounded in the authority given to Jesus by the Father.
  • Our mission is singular in nature – to make disciples.  Grammatically, the only                       command in the passage is the command to make disciples.  Going, baptizing and               teaching are all grammatically subordinate to this singular command.
  • The verbs denote the process of making disciples.  We must go intentionally.  We              must baptize those who come to faith in Jesus. We must teach every follower of               Jesus the things He has taught us. We must send those who have been taught to               make even more disciples.

 

Our mission is clear.  There is no compelling Biblical argument otherwise.  The church of the Risen Lord must intentionally make disciples of Jesus Christ.  If we refuse this assignment, we are not merely catering to our own cowardice or slothfulness; we are denying the reality of our most basic proclamation.  If  “Jesus is Lord,” then His church must be missional!



A Meditation on Lamentations 3:16-25

A Meditation on Lamentations 3:16-25

 

Over the past two years, the Lord has moved my heart repeatedly to the sad, strange book of Lamentations.  Comprised of a series of acrostic poems mourning the fall of Jerusalem, the emotion of the prophet Jeremiah has become a sort of companion for my soul.  No, I have not suffered as this man did.  My nation has never endured anything as remotely tragic as the destruction of our capital and the mass deportation of our people by a foreign power, as Judah did during this period.  Yet, as I consider the reality of those around me, I am often overwhelmed.  A mother grieves the loss of her only son . . . a dear friend receives a devastating diagnosis . . . my own nation continues its headlong pursuit of emptiness and self-destruction . . . the people of God cry out to politicians for rescue . . . the greedy and the powerful prevail . . .

I cannot claim the context, but I resonate with the words of the prophet as he weeps . . .

            “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; 

              my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;

              so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’

              Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!

             My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me (Lamentations 3:16-20).”
 

 And yet . . . out of the depths of depression and despair, I hear another note to this song.  Even as my soul sinks under the weight of this world’s utter hopelessness, the Spirit of the living God reminds me of a blood-stained cross and an empty tomb and a Spirit-filled people.  And I hear another chorus rising up within me, joining the throng of the redeemed, turning together with Jeremiah and singing,

            “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

             The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases;

             His mercies never come to an end;

             they are new every morning;

             great is your faithfulness.

            ‘Yahweh is my portion,’ says my soul,

            ‘therefore I will hope in him’ (Lamentations 3:21-24).”

 

In the midst of a world gone mad, child of God, would you cry out with me to the living God?  Won’t you join me in worship, even as we weep at the realities of this fallen world?  Our hope is set on Him! It is He who has made us!  Our Redeemer lives!  Let us never forget that “Yahweh is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”



A Brief Meditation on the Cross and Resurrection

A Brief Meditation on the Cross and Resurrection

Prompted by the third chapter of Job

Job’s cursing of his own birth betrays an anger and despair at his circumstances turned inward rather than outward.  Job refuses to curse God, but it does not stop him from cursing himself.  Grief has overwhelmed him.  He is immersed in suffering – and yet God does not censure him. 

God allows these cries of anguish and self-recrimination not because they are inherently good or healthy, but because they are real 
Trapped in our own limited vision of the world, and even of God, we cannot help but grieve.  At times, perhaps, we cannot help but wonder whether it might not have been better to have died before this present misery. 

Joy should not, indeed it cannot, be discovered by denying reality, but by transcending it!  At its heart, Jesus’ resurrection illustrates this principle.  Jesus experienced the depths of human suffering – mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually (Hebrews 4:15).  He did not shy from it.  He never once shielded Himself from the ugly terror of sin, death and hell.  On the contrary, Jesus “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).” The cross was a form of execution cruelly designed to magnify not only physical suffering, often stretching the death process out for days at a time, but mental anguish and public humiliation as well.    It was not by escaping this reality that our Lord rescued us, but by graciously entering it.  Only then did the Father raise Him in victory, “exalting Him and bestowing upon Him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9).”  All of this Jesus did “for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2),” but He did not avoid our misery.  In freely entering our brokenness and suffering, Jesus ultimately transcends it – and in Him, so can you and I.

During this holy season, let us not deny the reality of human suffering, vainly pretending that it is some sort of wicked delusion.  Suffering is our reality.  Let us then face it fully, emboldened by the vision of our Lord, crucified and risen, “the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith (

Hebrews 12:2).”  Only in this way can we know the true heights of transcendent joy – when we join our Savior in embracing the bitter experience of authentic suffering with those around us.

 




The Benefit of a Doubt

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  

“And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me.  The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me knows no rest . . . My inward parts are in turmoil and never still; days of affliction come to meet me.  I go about darkened, but not by the sun . . .” (Job 30:16-17, 27-28a)

 

I have a confession to make, which many may think unbecoming of a pastor.

I am often overcome by anxiety.  I am periodically racked by doubts.  I find genuine joy ephemeral and elusive. 

I don’t think I’m alone.  I am sure some of you are blessed with good, simple, wholesome faith – and I would not have you doubt it.  You are blessed.  Rest in the supreme gift of your faith.  If you choose to read further, please do so in an attempt to understand and empathize with the rest of us.  For those who share my struggle, I hope my testimony might bring you some measure of encouragement.


Read more...