Category Archives: Missions

The Mission of God

My sermon series on the Mission of God has provided me with plenty of opportunities to meditate on redemptive history. What follows is a large portion of my Sunday homily largely dependent on Christopher Wright’s massive tome, The Mission of God’s People:

The Bible does not begin with the Fall of man in Genesis 3 nor the restoration of man in Revelation 20. To put it simply, the Bible is not just about solving our sin problem. It has a more foundational beginning. It begins with the creation account. “Well, of course it does you may say!” But remarkably the creation account is rarely mentioned in conversations about mission. Creation is the fundamental starting point of mission. In the creation we learn to answer the questions, “Who owns this world?” and “What is our mission in it?” These questions only find an answer in the creation account.

If you skip this part, everything about the way you view the world will be thwarted. You can’t begin with creation fallen. You must begin with creation as it was intended, and then move from there.

Only then can you move into the second stage of God’s history, which is the Fall. Creation was united under the cause of seeing God’s world prosper in grace and truth. This was the mission of God, but men decided to go on their own mission; to take their own journey apart from God. This, of course, did not catch God by surprise. Evil and sin weave their way into every aspect of human society. Intellectually, we use our mental powers to justify our sins, rather then confess them. Socially, our relationships are fractured: sexual, parental, familial, societal, ethic and on and on. So, if all of creation is broken down, then all of creation needs to be restored. How much of creation was damaged by the fall? All. How much of it needs to be restored? All.

The third part of this narrative is the element of redemption. Creation, Fall, Redemption in history. But here’s where we need to see things aright, because we are not talking simply about redemption in an abstract fashion, nor are we speaking about redemption only of individual souls, we are talking about redemption in history. The mission of God is to redeem creation within history through persons and events that run from the call of Abraham to the return of Christ. By Genesis 11 the human race faced two major problems: the sinfulness of every human heart and the fracturing and confusion of the nations of humanity. What did God do to begin to fix these catastrophic problems? He called and elected Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. We can say that the first Great Commission was given to Abraham. Genesis 12 says: “Go…be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” In Exodus God came as redeemer showing simultaneous his mercy, love, and justice. At Sinai God entered into covenant with his people calling Israel to be his representatives and to be distinctive. Why would God ask Israel of these things? Why would God ask Israel to be holy? Was it so that Israel could grow up to be a good role model to her father? Well, certainly, but any sane reader will know that there is much more at stake. Israel was to be a light to the nations. By serving one another, obeying Yahweh’s commandments, Israel was teaching the nations how to be faithful children. We always tell our children: be faithful, be obedient because others are watching. In Israel’s case, God knew that Israel’s testimony would influence the nations. But we know the rest of the story. Like their father Adam, Israel failed. She was blind to God’s ways, so God sent His Son in the fullness of time to do what Israel could not do.

In Jesus, the reign of God entered human history in a way not previously experienced. With Jesus’ arrival we are asserting that He is Lord and Caesar and his ancestors have no right to rule. That is a fantastic missional mandate in itself.

The Gospel presents us with an accomplished victory that will ultimately be universally visible and vindicated.[1] And as we see this beautiful image emerging we see the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is the proof that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The Church exists to carry out this mission faithfully locally and also to the ends of the earth. For the Church is nothing less than the multinational fulfillment of the hope of Israel, that all the nations will be blessed through the people of Abraham.[2]

If this redemption occurs in history, then the only thing that is left in this grand mission is the New Creation. The mission of God will inaugurate at the end of history the renewal of God’s whole creation. God is going to tear down whatever evil is left on earth, judge the wicked, and usher in eternity. As John says in Revelation 21: “He who was seated on the throne said: Behold, I make all things new!”

We see then that the entire panorama of history from creation to new creation echoes the mission of God to restore and renew his earth.

This is then the way God intends to put his world right again.

What is mission? Mission is the overflowing of the love of God towards his creation. This overflowing of love lavishes us as his children and calls us to participate in God’s mission to turn the world upside down as the saints did in the first century.

Evil and sin will always be with us, but the Church has a responsibility to turn away from these things and push against it whenever required.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

This story composed of creation, fall, redemption in history, and new creation is your story. The first century church understood it, which is why they always alluded to it. You can’t understand your role in the story unless you know the story. And creation provides us with a little sample of the whole story. It is there where we get our values and principles. It is there where we get the introduction to God’s missional manual. I don’t know if you have this habit, but every new book I receive the first thing I do is to read the acknowledgments. It’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s usually the most intimate part of the book. It’s there where authors thank their friends, their children and spouse.. It’s there where the authors describe the process of writing the book, the hardships involved, etc. It’s an intimate section. The Bible is very similar. The Bible is God’s intimate self-description. It’s his revelation of how the world was made and what he plans to accomplish through his creation. Yes, of course, you can open up to the last chapter or page, but then you wouldn’t know how we got to where we are. We need the acknowledgement section of the Bible. We need Genesis 1 to acknowledge God’s purposes not only in creating, but in restoring his creation.

The way we look at the world and people is shaped very much by how we understand the initial creation account. If we begin in Genesis –where we should– we will have a view of restoration that is more beautiful; we will have a view of reconciliation that is more lovely in God’s eyes and we will have a view of the restoration of creation that is more in accord with God’s self-revelation.

Finally, we need to see that our roles are redemptive as human beings. Everything we do and everything we say needs to be in line with answering the question, “How can I participate in God’s story in a way that builds the body, rather than tear it down?” How can I communicate in the way I worship redemption to my children and those around me?” Does my demeanor communicate truth, grace, gospel rest to those around me? Is my life a story of redemption? Can those around me say that as they contemplate past and present interactions with me that I have been a source of redemption to them? If not, it is never too late to start.

The story of God’s mission began with a purpose: to save humanity and to restore human beings from their own self-destructive mission. We create missionary agendas that have nothing to do with God’s agenda. We see our places in the world like alien visitors taking a little same of dirt here and there, as opposed to resident aliens actually taking the dirt with us. Because believe me: everything you see here: dirt, trees, birds will most certainly be a part of your reality in the new creation. You are here to stay whether you like it or not. When you die, your body will be buried on earth only to be raised again in a new earth, just like this one, except with no pain, sorrow, or sin. On that day you will acknowledge that God’s mission was perfect and redeemed humanity will feast in his eternal presence.

[1] Wright, 43.

[2] Ibid.

Understanding God’s Mission

In his outstanding work, The Mission of God’s People: A Bibical Theology of the Church’s MissionChristopher Wright shatters modern conceptions of mission and builds in its place a rich biblical theology of missiology. He turns the attention from mission narrowly defined to mission broadly considered. And he does this with tremendous genius and biblical rationale as he navigates the beauty of the Old Covenant scriptures.

According to Wright, echoing closely the more well-known N.T. Wright, “Not everything is cross-cultural evangelistic mission, but everything a Christian and a Christian church is, says and does should be missional in its conscious participation in the mission of God in God’s world.”

Wright sees the whole world as the arena of our mission and calls the Christian church to engage this phenomenal story of creation, fall, redemption in history, and new creation.a As a child of evangelicalism, Wright has seen the concept of mission as a special calling to serve in a far country as the only definition of mission. Instead he calls Christians everywhere to see their calling amidst ignorance and outright rejection of Jesus as their mission field.

There is no intention here of trivializing foreign mission. Its necessity and its supreme importance need to be stressed continually, but the assertion that unless you are engaged in such a task you are not engaging in mission is the mentality Wright so carefully seeks to correct.

  1. Four-fold pattern developed by Wright. Unique to this is the more triumphal addition of the words “in history.”  (back)

Mission and the World; opening introduction for our Lord’s Day Service

Grace, mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are at a unique stage in history; a stage when the world is now being exposed to the Gospel as fast as hitting the refresh button on your computer screen. We have today in our congregation someone who is developing software to facilitate the job of Bible translation, or as I call it “the modern gift of tongues.”

We have with us our speaker this morning, Rev. Blake Purcell, who has invested his life in the training and equipping of God’s people and the proclaiming of the reign of King Jesus in Eurasia, and who has served with zeal in what the Apostle Paul calls the “defense and confirmation of the Gospel.”

This morning we have the opportunity in worship, Sunday School, and later this evening to expand our world to see what God is doing in the world.

We have the opportunity to hear what one missiologist referred to as the “social continuation of the incarnation;” the work of the gospel going forth and continuing what began at Pentecost.

I pray that you will have ears to hear Pastor Blake Purcell, but beyond that, to be caught up into the vision of the kingdom of God.

Let us pray:

Father, Son, and Spirit, apart from your work, we are all dead and incapable of uttering an intelligible word, but by your grace you have enabled us to speak words of wisdom; words of gospel transformation; words of life. Hear us when we pray and beseech you to change the hearts of the lost and bring them into your everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finality and Sufficiency of Jesus for Mankind

Leslie Newbigin, the remarkable missiologist and theologian, writes in his delightful little book Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission that there was a time when religions were observed from afar in the Western world as “objects of compassion and curiosity.” But now (writing in the 70’s), students have the opportunity to discuss them openly in universities.

Critics of the Christian missionary movement argue that humanity “is now in a new situation where it must learn to live as one community or perish… All parts of the human race are increasingly involved with one another in all phases of human activity.” But Newbigin argues that the greatest need of mankind is not some form of unity founded on pluralistic ideals, but rather mankind is dependent upon the sufficiency and finality of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Savior of the world.

Localized Theology

We may have great expectations for the world and indeed we should, but we fail at times to have similar expectations for our community; the community we have been called to serve. Churches are called to specific areas, and so we need to remember that we are missional whether we give a portion of our giving to foreign missions or not (of course, we desire that missional endeavors worldwide will succeed through our financial and prayerful support) We are missional by the very fact that we are the church.

Localized theology forces us to be more tangible about our labor. One way this plays out is by taking small steps in community service. A church cannot begin by investing too much, otherwise it loses its interest. Incremental giving and participation is ideal. Pastors need to bring their congregations along. Parishioners need to see that this is a long term goal. Missions is not accomplished overnight, it is lived out day to day.

Martyrs and Unity

Fellow CREC pastor, Toby Sumpter writes:

Over at First Things, George Weigel reports on the latest findings of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

Some of the statistics are provocative, particularly those related to the number of martyrs:

“The provocation in the 2011 report involves martyrdom. For purposes of research, the report defines “martyrs” as “believers in Christ who have lost their lives, prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility.” The report estimates that there were, on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade, such that “the number of martyrs [in the period 2000-2010] was approximately 1 million.” Compare this to an estimated 34,000 Christian martyrs in 1900.”

This is stunning and seems unbelievable, and one wonders how well we (western Christians) really are mourning with those who mourn. Are we really bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters suffering for the sake of the gospel? How can we stand with them?

Meanwhile, we continue to splinter: Weigel writes, “As for the quest for Christian unity: There were 1,600 Christian denominations in 1900; there were 18,800 in 1970; and there are 42,000 today.”

But as God frequently does, for all the dividing there is growth. The report suggests an overall, worldwide growth in Christianity, but the growth of Christianity in Africa is the most astonishing:

“Africa has been the most stunning area of Christian growth over the past century. There were 8.7 million African Christians in 1900 (primarily in Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa); there are 475 million African Christians today and their numbers are projected to reach 670 million by 2025.”

You can read the whole article here.

 

The Suffering Church

The latest edition of Touchstone Magazine relays the story of two Christians executed in Pakistan. After being sent to prison–due to false charges–the story unfolds thusly:

In fact, the police were set to exonerate the two brothers because a handwriting examination by the prosecution showed that the signatures on the leaflets did not match the brothers’ signatures.

As they emerged from the court after the proceedings, five armed, masked men opened fire on them, killing both and severely wounding a member of their police escort. The shooters escaped into the crowd.

May God grant grace and protection to these Pakistani Christians.

What the Liturgy does…

Aidan Kavanaugh writes:

The Sunday liturgy of Christians addresses itself primarily to the object of the assembly’s ministry, the world. The Sunday liturgy is not the Church assembled to address itself. The liturgy thus does not cater to the assembly. It summons the assembly to enact itself publicly for the life of the world. Nor does this take place as a dialogue with the world, often a partner whose uninterested absence reduces the dialogue to an ecclesiastical monologue. The liturgy presumes that the world is always present in the summoned assembly, which although not of “this world” lives deep in its midst as the corporate agent, under God in Christ, of its salvation. In this view, the liturgical assembly IS the world being renovated according to the divine pleasure – not as patient being passively worked upon but as active agent faithfully cooperating in its rehabilitation. What one witnesses in the liturgy is the world being done as the world’s Creator and Redeemer will the world to be done. The liturgy does the world and does it at its very center, for it is here that the world’s malaise and its cure well up together, inextricably entwined.

My friend C. Frank Bernard responds:

The liturgy most certainly caters to the assembly. It is not merely a summons for the assembly to enact itself publicly for the life of the world. We are fed the Word and Communion as an assembled body while the world is fenced out. We are liturgically lifted up to heaven while the world is liturgically rained upon with calls to repent and imprecations. And due to the catering, we exit the gate more prepared for another week of warfare and delicious dialog.

Monks Turning to Christ

Phil Ryken reports:

In a March 18 report, Christian Aid reports that nearly 5000 Buddhist monks (location undisclosed) have recently turned to Christ.  A worker reports: “It appears that the Holy Spirit had urged these monks and nuns to call our evangelists to come and share the gospel of hope and love. After several intense discussions, close to 80 percent of the monks present in each of the monasteries raised their hands to accept Christ, and then kneeled down to pray and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

Christian Aid reports that baptisms are being quietly performed, for the safety of both the monks and the evangelists.

The Missio Dei in action

Neil Boortz (the famous Libertarian talk-show host) expounded briefly today on the psychology of giving. Among many of his points was the idea that when one does not respond immediately to disasters, then the chances of supporting relief efforts at a later date are dim. The Missio Dei ( The Mission of God) encompasses feeding the poor and helping the homeless. There is no greater manifestation of God’s great mission than to relieve someone or many from the deep despair of total destruction and death. In order to facilitate your donation I have added the PCA’s site where donations are being made and immediate help is provided. Click here to donate. If you do not donate via this site please seek information at your local church on how you can support the Katrina victims.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:40)