Friday, December 22, 2006

The missionary nature of the church

As we go about our discussion on Missions as Ecclesiology, we must discuss what we mean by missions and, ultimately, by church.

Traditionally, scholars have defined mission (singluar) separately from missions (plural). Furthermore, they have distinguished between church (local) and Church (universal)--not to mention church visible and church invisible.

First, mission usually refers to the mission of God, or the missio Dei. [The argument looms whether the discussion of missio Dei originated with Luther or Barth. This question is beyond the scope of this post. See Bosch for a discussion of the impact of Barthian theology on the discussion. David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), 389–93. See Hesselgrave for a discussion of the impact of Luther’s theology on the discussion. David J. Hesselgrave, Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 348–9.]

Second, missions usually refers to the redemptive activity of the church. However, we must ascertain the content of missions from both the Old and New Testament. What has God's plan been for his people for all time? Has that plan changed? Or have methods changed? I will argue that God's plan has never changed, but that the content of missions is the pointing to the coming Messianic King who will rule over all the nations, including Israel. Though you may argue that the method of God has changed, the purpose of both Israel and the Church (universal and local) has been to point to this "seed." [Note: In the previous sentence, one may discern a dichotomy between Israel and the Church; however, I meant Israel as the Old Testament "People of God" and the Church as the New Testament "People of God," which prophetically includes both Jew and Gentile.]

We will have to see how this pointing is played out. God's mission is eternal and his plan from creation to consumation has been to bless and multiply His people and walk among them (Gen 1; Rev 21-22). The mission of the "People of God" has been to participate in God's redemption of mankind from the effects of sin. In Genesis 3:15, God promises a "seed" who would crush Satan. God would redeem his people. In Revelation 5, Christ is praised because he has "redeemed" a people from every tribe nation and tongue by his blood. At this magnificent scene of praise, a mixed multitude of millions raise their voice as one in praise of the Lamb. Isaiah 52-3 teaches us that the Servant of the Lord, the branch, would atone for the sins of a people who despised him. The book of Isaiah tells us of a Davidic King who would restore the people of Israel and gather in the nations to himself. The gospels teach us that Jesus is this king, and Jesus commands his people to "disciple" the nations. In Acts, the Holy Spirit empowers the spread of the kingdom. Thus, the New Testament "People of God" participate in the redemption of the nations by preaching to those who never heard so that they may believe and call on the name of the Lord so that they would never be put to shame (Romans 10). The Old Testament "People of God" were called to have faith (Gen 15:6) and wait (Isa 40:31) for this one to come. Then they would go and spread the fame of God's glory to the ends of the earth (Isa 11; Isa 66:18ff; Hab 2:3-4, 14). This paragraph is a small taste of what we will discuss in depth on this blog.

Third, I will have to note when I am speaking of church universal and church local. However, the church is primarily local. No universal church exists without local churches. You cannot have a gathered universal church that makes disciples, baptizes, teaches, fellowships, encourages, etc. Therefore, if I do not otherwise state, assume that I am speaking of the local church. [I suppose this answer in itself lends to my view of visible vs invisible, but perhaps I need to clarify here, but I will do that at a later time.]

As you can see, we are forming a Biblical Theology of Mission and Church. I hope you will be blessed and encouraged.

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

15 comments:

CharlesRam said...

Dougald,

Is it possible for a church's missions activity to not be part of the mission of God? The reason I am asking is that I find many churches that are doing a lot of things that they call missions. However, they are in no way grounding them in prayer and study of scripture to fully understand how their missions actually relate to the mission of God.

Charles

CharlesRam said...

I must apologize. I thought Dougald wrote this post. Can WLH please provide the answer?

Alan Knox said...

Wes,

I think it is very smart to begin with definitions. I have a question concerning your definition of "local" and "universal" church. (You knew I would ask something like this, right?)

Anyway, when reading Scripture, how do we determine when the "local" church is indicated and when the "universal" church is indicated?

Thanks,

-Alan

IsaTengir said...

Charles, Thanks for the question, Sorry I haven't identified myself earlier, I am Wesley L Handy, henceforth, wlh (but I'll will post comments with Isatengir, I am having problems with this beta stuff).

You bring up a good question, one for which I think I have an answer. I really need to define the breadth of the term mission/missions. You are correct to point out the need for prayer and deep study of scripture in this area.

Even though I am making a distinction between the missio Dei and the mission of the church, I am not saying they is some sort of bifurcation or dichtomy here. The mission of the church is subsumed by the missio Dei, therefore, the missio Dei is the greater circle, the mission of the church being a concentric circle.

What does this mean? Well, missionary and evangelistic endeavors are part of the mission of the church and appear to be most obviously with the missio Dei. However, ministry, care for the orphan, widow, alien, giving, service, fellowship, etc, are all equally part of the missio Dei.

Now, before I go into much more detail here, I want to wait, Dougald will be discussing each chapter of Hesselgrave's "Paradigms" and one of the chapters deals specifically with this issue.

But here is my opinion. There is something about the nature of the church, rooted in the gospel, that is missionary. It has been God's design for all time that the people of God, when the Messiah would come and the Spirit given (check the prophetic literature here), that the ends of the earth would be told of the glory of God and given as offerings to the Lord (Isa 66). So, All the ministries, marks, distinctives of the church flow out of this missionary nature. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. My desire was to unpack all this in detail as the post unfolds. We'll have to wait and see the outcome.

Therefore, to answer your question, the church's missions activity can be out of line with the mission of God if the church does not live out its theology grounded in the word. But, God has been known, as Spurgeon put it, "hit straight licks with crooked sticks."

Wes

IsaTengir said...

Hey Brother Alan, Thanks for the reminder, looking over my original post, I passed over making a biblical distinction between universal and local.

And you bring up the big daddy question, when, and how, can we distinguish between universal and local? Biblically speaking.

To be honest with you, I am tempted to forego a discussion of the universal church. Nonetheless, the New Testament presents ekklesias that were connected, yet independent, co-operating, yet geographically limited. Utlimately, the universal nature of the gospel points to the universal nature of the people of God. But, the people of God is depicted as gathered, assembling for mutual encouragement and edification, for fellowship and the breaking of bread, for baptism and the Eucharist (hey, I just like the word), for discipline and electing leaders. There is something local about the church.

Now to begin to answer your question directly, when reading scripture, I believe that God intended the words of scripture to apply to, or have implications (to borrow Padgitt's dichotomy) for, the hearers and the readers. Scripture was written to be read and the Biblical example is it being read to groups, in churches. So, that fact lends to interpreting references to the church primarily in local terms. However, I need to give you scriptural and/or exegetical evidence, and I will in a later post. I am trying to build a case for the missionary nature of the church and I will be taking a diachronic approach to this biblical theological endeavor. As I come to the New Testament, we'll deal more in depth with this question.

But, I know this is a topic you have thought about quite a bit. Feel free to leave some of your thoughts.

Merry Christmas!

Wes

IsaTengir said...

Charles, feel free to leave your ideas as well, though I will be presenting a case for my understanding of a biblical theology of the church, I think God gave us brothers and sisters in Christ for encouragment as well as correction. So please, I only get the soapbox because my and some buddies are running the blog, but I value your input.

Merry Christmas!
Wes

CharlesRam said...

I guess I see so many churches (mine included at times) that jump into a missions project and ask God to bless the project rather than spend time in seeking God's will.

The result may be that God does as Spurgeon says. But too often, I find that the church becomes frustrated when they do not see the results that they hoped to receive.

I am a firm believer that God gives the increase, but I also see so much wasted promise because we do not adequately prepare our missions endeavors in prayer and Bible study.

Alan Knox said...

Wes,

Thanks for the prompt reply. I apologize for not replying sooner.

I understand the normal distinctions between "local" and "universal". I also agree that Scripture was given to people.

However, I do not see a scriptural distinction between the "local" and "universal" church. There is never a point in Scripture where the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, indicates that he is now talking about either the local or universal church. There is no such distinction. And, when we make a distinction (i.e. "this" is about "local", while "that" is for "universal") we are doing a disservice to Scripture. We should not make distinctions that Scripture does not make.

More to the point, Scripture never uses ekklesia as a means to separate believers. You will never see someone state that they are part of one church while someone else is part of another church. We are all part of the church.

Certainly there were churches and there are churches. But, that is not to distinguish between groups, but to recognize their geographical distance.

I also plan to post on this soon. So, I'm glad to see that others are studying it as well.

-Alan

IsaTengir said...

Charles, I am with you brother! God isn't looking for busyness in missions, but Spirit-directed missions. That is the Biblical example, and expectation. I am a firm believer that we (most definitely and primarily referring to myself) do not spend enough time drawing near to God (James 4) in prayer and Bible study. I also think we (see above) do not spend enough time being actively obedient to what we study either.

So here's the problem: we're about doing things we haven't prayed about, and thus lack the Spirit's power in accomplishing things for which if we had been drawing near to God then we might be doing other things altogether. Seems complicated. But sadly, my life, and, as a result of a group of people's lives, the life of the church is being driven by activities that neither are fueled by obedience or the Spirit.

But there is hope!!! God's mercy is new every morning! If we draw near to Him, (OH WHAT A PROMISE), he will draw near to us. We must be drawing near and encouraging others to draw near every moment, not being discouraged by some failure. For even Christ promises to wash clean our guilty conscience when we fail.

I could go on preaching, but I won't.

Peace,

Wes

IsaTengir said...

Alan,

I think you have a good point. Local and universal are theological, not biblical categories.

I prefer to use "local" language because scripture is applicable to assembled groups. Ekklesia undeniably refers to an assembled (or assembling) group. So, I read scripture and I ask myself two questions: How can I obey, and how can I encourage my brothers and sisters in my local assembly to obey? Local meaning the assembly with which I assemble, to whom I am accountable for encouragement and service. There has to be such a group.

Now, whether that group is in constant flux, always changing leadership and membership (not the best word, but what else?) or whether there is a more fixed, yet growing group, that is another question.

You are right, the idea of church is not a term of separation, but of fellowship. We would be terribly and biblical wrong to make such separations on this level. I think cooperation between churches is biblical and right! I will go on to argue that missions is a function of the church, not of agencies. So people from my church work together with people from your church (I am sorry for using us/them language, but what else?) and we start another fellowship, etc, etc.

Alan, I think we can work toward something here. I am excited about the possibilities and the outcome of this dialogue.

CharlesRam said...

The struggle is with a church that wants results and more people coming to church. Yet, they are unwilling to participate in prayer meeting or Bible study to prepare for missions.

Wes, I agree with what you are preaching. The problem is that my congregation will not read your blog. They are too busy with the things of life to read any religious postings. They are too busy to read their Bible. Too often, they use God as a fire insurance policy rather than the source of their strength and hope.

Thanks for the opportunity to rant a little.

Alan Knox said...

Charles,

I do not mean to answer for Wes, but I have been where you are now - and in some sense, I am still there. If I can offer you one piece of advice: stop worrying what other people are doing. You cannot make, cajole, motivate, force people to do something, even if it is good for them. What can you do? Model what God expects of them.

One of the struggles that I had as a pastor is that I held myself responsible for things that God does not hold me responsible: for example, other people's obedience. I then let my failings in those areas (areas that God does not hold me responsible) keep from obeying God in other areas (where God does hold me responsible). I hope this makes sense, and I hope it encourages you. I understand that people have expectations of you, but seek to honor God's expectations.

-Alan

CharlesRam said...

Alan,

Thanks for that word of encouragement. I find that I often violate God's commandment of loving Him with my heart, mind, body and soul by trying to love my neighbor without the dedication to God.

Thanks for reminding me of the importance of obeying God even when those around me are not doing so. May the Lord bless your ministry.

IsaTengir said...

Fellows, Happy New Year! I'm going out of town for a couple of days, so I won't be able to respond till then, But I plan to post my next segment of "The missionary nature of the Church" then. I don't want to cut this conversation short, but we can continue on the next post, Thanks for your comments. May the Peace of God rule in your hearts!!!

Lovingly,

Wes

CharlesRam said...

I just read an interesting article in Christianity Today January 2007 issue about the missionary nature of the church. It was on page 42.

It had some relevant points that went along with our discussion. I do not know if you subscribe, but I would encourage you to take a look at it.