More Than a Command

Since the advent of Protestant missions, the dominant motivation for missions has been an appeal to the “missionary mandate.”  Thus, missions became a response of obedience to a particular set of commands, most notably those texts commonly referred to as embodying the Great Commission.  In contrast, Lesslie Newbigin has pointed out that in the New Testament we witness not the burden of obeying a command, but rather a vast “explosion of joy.”[1] Jürgen Moltmann described it as the joyous invitation to all peoples to come to a “feast without end.”[2] Missions is, of course, never less than a command of Christ, but it is certainly far more than that.  The perspective of the New Testament is never, how-can-we-motivate-someone-to-go, but, rather, who could possibly be silent in light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Harry Boer in his Pentecost and Missions rightly points out that none of the key figures in the book of Acts ever makes a direct appeal to any of the Great Commission passages to justify their preaching, even when questions are raised about the emerging Gentile mission.  He further points out that the earliest believers who took the initiative to preach the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 11:20) were very likely not even present at any of those post-resurrection commissioning events.[3] However, this is less a statement (one way or the other) about the importance of Jesus’ final commission in their minds as it is about the effect of the transformative events of Resurrection and Pentecost in the lives of those earliest witnesses.  The 19th century missiologist, Gustav Warneck (1834-1910) was probably correct when he stated that “the Great Commission was the silent presupposition underlying the witness of the earliest Christian community.”[4] The point, however, is that the Great Commission cannot, nor should it, be viewed in isolation from either of the two determinative, supernatural events which precede and follow the commissions; namely, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Sprit on the Day of Pentecost.  It was the transforming reality of these two supernatural events which thrust the early church outward into that “explosion of joy.”

Understanding missions as an extension of the Holy Spirit’s life and work through the Church and into the world carries with it a wide range of implications for missions.  However, in a more general way, three representative examples will be noted here.  First, this new perspective should help to liberate the undue emphasis on human strategies which all too often have been articulated in isolation from the Spirit’s work.  Contemporary missiology places great emphasis on the skill of human efforts, sociological models and elaborate strategies, but comparatively less emphasis on conceptualizing missions as primarily an extension of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  We need to prepare missionaries not only in what to say and do, but, more importantly, how to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the world.

Moonjang Lee, one of my former colleagues and teacher of  missions at Gordon-Conwell, once surprised some of our students in a chapel service where he was preaching.  He commented that no missionary should go out onto the field until they were certain that their own spirituality was deeper than those to whom they were being sent.  We have emphasized so much the inherent power of the Christian message, that we sometimes forget the importance of the messenger, whose life fully reflects what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Second, the under-developed doctrine of the Holy Spirit has limited the church’s ability to integrate missionary training with important biblical themes such as understanding the role of persecution, or the role of signs and wonders in the proclamation of the gospel.  Yet, even a casual reading of the Book of Acts reveals that “signs and wonders” as well as persecution often accompany and attest to the faithful preaching of the gospel.

Third, placing missions within the larger context of the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing in the new Creation has important implications for how we understand and define the “task” or “goal” of missions.  In missions writings dating back to the 19th century there is a great deal of emphasis on “completing the task” and “fulfilling the Great Commission.”  Probably the most famous missionary slogan emerged out of the Student Volunteer Missionary Movement:  “The Evangelization of the World in this Generation.”  Since that time, the language of “completion” and “fulfillment” has typified evangelical, missions literature.  In the 20th century, the most important movement which focused the church’s energy on “completing” the Great Commission was the A.D. 2000 Movement.  The motto of the A.D. 2000 movement was “A Church for Every People and the Gospel for Every Person by 2000.”

All of these movements have wonderfully served the church.  Indeed, the global church is stronger today because of the zeal, commitment and the genuine Christian fruit which these movements produced.  However, we must increasingly recognize that the language of “completion” can only be comprehended when missions is being built on the foundation of Christendom, not on the Trinity.  Through the lens of the missio dei we no longer isolate soteriology from pneumatology and eschatology.  Therefore, even when every person has had an opportunity to hear the gospel, or even if a church is planted in every people-group of the world, missions will not be over.  Once missions is linked inseparably to the Triune God, then the church recognizes that the ultimate goal of missions can only be found in the New Creation.  This does not negate important goals such as planting a church in every people-group in the world.  However, it does mean that the church must always live in the tension of “unfinished business”   The mission of the church (missions) is to participate in the missio dei by continuing the mission of Jesus throughout the world until the end of history.


[1] Lesslie Newbigin, “The Logic of Missions” as found in New Directions in Mission and Evangelization, vol. 2; James Scherer and Stephen Bevans, eds. (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1994), 16.  Original context found in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, chapter 10, pp. 116-127.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (London:  SCM Press, 1975), 75.

[3] Harry Boer, Pentecost and Missions, 43.

[4] As quoted by Harry Boer, Pentecost and Missions, 36.

The Boundaries of the Church

Nicea is a line in the sand about boundaries.  The original Nicea formulation contained all kinds of anathemas to protect the boundaries:

whoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance of essence from the Father or that he is a creature or subject to change.. the Catholic church anathematizes them.[i]

In the Protestant church this method of defending the church’s boundaries became untenable, but the church has found other ways to defend its boundaries.  Most importantly, however, it is God in His sovereignty who continues to preserve His Church. We must remember, however, that our question here is not how best to defend the church’s boundaries, but what those boundaries are.

Hillary of Potier woke up one morning and discovered that the whole world it seemed had become Arian, but he vigorously reminded the church that the position of Arius was not faithful to the Apostolic witness.  In time, Arianism did not prevail, and the church re-emerged.  In our own time, we woke up one morning and found that much of the entire mainstream Protestant churches which flowed from the Reformation:  Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed had pushed beyond the boundaries and begun to seriously erode the unity of Nicea.   Many liberal Protestants – and a few daring Roman Catholics finally came out in the open and, like Arius of old, denied the true Deity of Christ or the inseparable link between a truly Risen Christ and the Church.  Christ, they argued, must be made more reasonable for modern men and women.  Christ did not truly, bodily rise they insisted, but arose in the preaching of the Apostles. Some boldly claimed that the Enlightenment had finally delivered the crushing blow and called for the church to re-invent itself along lines more compatible with modernity, lest the church have no future in a secularized world.  More recently, in some of the post modern readings, we are called to all experience Christ in our own way and not be bothered by the confines of some ancient Apostolic proclamation.  Post modernism urges us to live as independent islands in a sea of meaninglessness.  Your autonomous opinions, they argue, are just as meaningful and valid as those who deliberated at Nicea or who were first commissioned by the Risen Lord.  A hermeneutic of proclamation and faith is replaced by a hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt and both called equally valid.  According to this scheme, theology, it seems, is really – after all – only anthropology.  The church is a human construct, not a divinely ordained community.  Yet, in the face of all of this -  though the tempest rages for a season, the church is once again reconstituted into the truth.   What we are experiencing in our day has been the re-emergence of a more faithful church from other quarters, mainly in the non-western world and the great unanimity of the church throughout the ages marches on, because God is the one who preserves His church and its living witness to Jesus Christ.

The church is constantly being reconstituted in the truth.  In fact, it is Dr. Cox who in his book Fire from Heaven observes this phenomena, calling it in the words of the Frenchman Gilles Kepel, “the revenge of God.”[ii] Indeed, every time the NT is opened and the gospel is proclaimed it happens again and again throughout the world.  The church, therefore, is called to persevere as the public witnesses of the apostolic message.  We are a living community united to the Risen Christ.  The word “saint” never appears in the singular a single time in the NT.  The word for church, ekklesia denotes a public assembly, not a private cult.[iii] We are a community of witnesses and we cannot bear witness in isolation from our brothers and sisters in the faith around the world in space or the witness of the church through the ages in time.  We are united to them both in worship and in witness…in what the Apostles’ Creed calls the communion of the saints, the communio sanctorum.  To forsake either that worship or that witness is to cross the boundaries and to cease to be the true church.

Today, 2000 years into this great proclamation, after having weathered every storm from Gnosticism to Arianism to Protestant Liberalism to the current storm of post-modernism, I remain convinced that the true church will always re-emerge as the faithful witness.  Indeed, in the final analysis it is not really that significant what my view of the church’s boundaries are if it is merely an expression of a private opinion.  However, if we are all but witnesses and stewards of a worship and a witness summoned forth by the Father, through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and heralded through the ages by countless millions, then our voice joins the great chorus and takes on eternal meaning.  Indeed, it seems the great burden of proof rests on those who want to part from Nicea, either Christologically or hermeneutically.

If Nicea does not lay out boundaries, then we are left only with self-identification and we can no longer use the word ‘Christian’ or ‘Body of Christ’ with any real meaning.  For if you don’t have doctrinal stability, you cannot have ethical stability and if you don’t have ethical stability you don’t have stability of worship and therefore we are no longer related vitality and necessarily to the headship of Jesus Christ.   Our historic boundaries would become lost in a post-modern sea of autonomous self-definitions.  What a contrast from the Apostle John who gives that final testimony at the end of time which gives us the courage to know that in the Final Day the church will be preserved out of every snare for he hears this act of worship in heaven, testifying not to another gospel or something novel, but to the Apostolic proclamation:

You were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…and so… to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever (Rev. 5:9,13), thus fulfilling those words of the Apostle Paul in Col. 1:18:  And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything He might have supremacy.


[i] P. Schaff and H. Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-N icene Fathers, vol. 14:  The Seven Ecumenical

Councils, 3.

[ii] Harvey Cox, Fire From Heaven:  The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in

the 21st Century, (Addison Wesley Longman, 1995) xvii.

[iii] Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans,

1965)  501-536 .

Being a ‘Glocal’ Preacher

All of us who are involved in regular preaching and pastoring know that preaching does not occur in a vacuum, but is a contextual event.  Authentic preaching must faithfully bridge the gap between the sacred text and the local context.  This is a challenge which all preachers of the gospel face.  However, today the forces of globalization have created a new situation where there is no such thing as a mere local context.  Today, every local context is informed by the larger global context.  In short, whether we like it or not we preach within the larger context of globalization.  Globalization has been summarized as a “complex connectivity”[1] whereby local events and social relationships are influenced and shaped by distant events.  This “complex connectivity” has influenced every sphere of life, including, politics, social relationships, economics, technology, science, culture and religion.  Today, even if you are the pastor of a small church in Kansas, you still cannot think about your ministry apart from the larger global context.  Whether it is our use of cell phones or chat rooms or drinking Starbucks coffee, we are participants in globalization.

This new context requires that all preachers become ‘glocal’ preachers.  The word ‘glocal’ is a combination of the words local and global.  The word glocal was first coined with a distinctively Christian application by Roland Robertson in 1995, but was quickly picked up and used by others.[2] It reflects the need for pastoral practice to be both local and global at the same time.  How can you best become a glocal preacher?  There are several things which every pastor needs to know to effectively live and minister in this new global context.

FIRST, WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE GLOBALIZATION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

For over 1,000 years Christian demographic growth was increasingly western among European and European descent peoples of the world.  In fact, by the turn of the 19th century all of the Protestant Christians in all of Asia, Africa and Latin America combined only amounted to 1% of the world’s Protestants.  This long-standing dominance of Western people-groups began to wane in the 20th century, so that today 67% of the world Christian movement lies outside the West.  The new heartlands of Christianity are in Africa, Asia and Latin America, not in North America or Western Europe.  Today there are 367 million Christians in Africa (up from 9 million in 1900), 60 million in India (expected to be ¼ of a billion Christians by 2050) and nearly 100 million Christians in China (growing by 20,000 people per day!).  Since the time of the 16th century Reformation a Western Christian naturally envisioned themselves at the center of the world Christian movement.  Missions was about the “West reaching the Rest.”  We were at the center and the mission field lay at the periphery, outside the West.  However, as Philip Jenkins has pointed out in his popular, bestselling book, The Next Christendom, all of this has now changed.   For example, during the period from 1970 to 1985 the Church in Africa grew on average by 16,500 people every single day.  Today’s growth is closer to 20,000 per day.  In contrast, during the same period from 1970 to 1985, the church in N. America and Western Europe, the traditional heartlands of Christianity, lost 4,300 per day.[3] Western Christians need to recalibrate their thinking to see themselves as a part of a larger, global movement which is extremely vibrant and growing.   As preachers of the gospel we can no longer afford to preach in a way which assumes that the Western church represents normative Christianity and the rest of the world is the “mission field.”  We must find regularly ways to help our congregations re-situate themselves within the new global context.  This means we must nurture this heightened sense of “complex connectvitiy.”  This does not mean that we do not encourage our members to go out into the world. On the contrary, to be truly ‘glocal’ we must continue to network around the world and celebrate our connectivity, but we go out with an increased awareness that there are many Asian and African and Latino Christians who will be there to meet us and who are also burdened to reach their own for Jesus Christ.

SECOND, TO BE A ‘GLOCAL’ PREACHER, WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT OUR OWN COMMUNITIES HAVE DRASTICALLY CHANGED

 

Beginning in the mid 1960’s the new Immigration Act dramatically changed who was immigrating into the United States.  Today, our communities are made up of people from all over the world.  The United States is the only country in the world with people from every other country in the world living here.  The fastest growing groups becoming Christians in America are the peoples from the non-western world.  It is not unusual in the urban areas to find struggling mainline churches who meet at 11:00, but who rent their spacious facilities to Korean or Chinese or Latino immigrants who fill the churches in Sunday afternoon or Sunday night.  One of the best ways we can reach the world for Christ is to recognize that the world is now all around us, literally just a few steps from our own doors.  John Wesley famously once declared that “the world is my parish.”  He was reminding his generation that we have a responsibility to preach the gospel to the entire world.  Today, we should re-phrase Wesley’s famous statement, and declare that “the world is in my parish.”

THIRD, IN ORDER TO BE A ‘GLOCAL’ PREACHER WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE NOW IN A POST-DENOMINATIONAL WORLD.

 

According to the 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are over 34,000 distinct denominations in the world today.  You may see yourself as part of the Presbyterian Church of America or Southern Baptist or some other identifiable confession.  There is nothing wrong with this identity, as long as we see our place within the larger Christian movement.  In an increasingly secularized world, shaped by the forces of globalization, we must recognize that our “micro-identities” must be seen in the context of our larger “macro-identity” as members of a global Christian movement.  As a ‘local’ Christian we may be a member of a particular movement, but as a ‘global’ Christian, we belong to a world-wide community of those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  We have to learn how to live with these creative tensions and allow the Holy Spirit to help us find ways to express our particularity as members of a distinct community of Christians within the larger context of our universality as members of the Body of Christ.


[1]John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1999), 2.

[2] Roland Robertson, “Globalization, Modernization and postmodernization:  The Ambiguous Position of Religion,” in Religion and Global Order, ed., Roland Robertson and William Garrett, eds., (New York:  Paragon, 1991), 281-291.

[3] Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity?:  The Gospel Beyond the West (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2003), 15.  Elizabeth Isichei says that the number leaving the church in the West was 7,500 per day.  See, Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1995), 1.