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INTRO

My aim is not to teach you anything that you don’t already know.

Rather, my aim, by the Spirit’s help is simply to remind us from Scripture of the glorious mission we have as the Church of Jesus Christ.  My prayer is that by doing so, you will be both encouraged and re-energized in your calling and work in connection with the church to which you call home.

The title of my message is OUR GLORIOUS MISSION.

Obviously, I am referring to our mission as Christians, and that mission as individual Christians is not, nor should it ever be, considered alienated from the local church.

So, I am addressing OUR GLORIOUS MISSION as individual Christians who are, according to the Scriptures, called to gather ourselves together for the united commissioned purpose that Jesus has assigned us as His church here on earth. 

This mission, our mission , is a mission that hasn’t been entrusted to any other earthly institution…indeed, we can go a step further and say…it hasn’t been entrusted to any other part of creation (physical or spiritual).  IT IS OUR GLORIOUS MISSION.

*It might be helpful if we had a working definition.

THE DEFINITION DELIMA.

For those of you who are not aware, the very definition of “mission” for the church has become, rather difficult to define in the modern era. 

 

In fact, one strives in vain to find agreement among the various missiological scholars and practitioners of our day.

Competing for our attention nowadays we have on the one side the Reconstructionist, & Restorationists…and on the other side we have the old Social Gospel guard sporting new gear under the title ‘christian’ Social Justice or ‘christian’ Wokeness.

(…while these various groups would never like to be placed in the same sentence with one another, fundamentally, I believe they end up making the same mistake when it comes to defining the mission of the Church.)

Upon carefully examining their various arguments, one quickly realizes that because of the overemphasizing of certain cultural and/or political concerns the nature of the church’s mission becomes distorted.

It’s against such clutter, that I hope to set our glorious mission in its proper and most fundamental light by:

FIRST seeing it in connection to the “Missio Dei” (God’s mission).


SECOND in relationship to Jesus’ mission & ministry.


THIRD understanding it in view of the apostolic pattern we find in the New Testament.

MISSIO DEI.

Missio Dei is a Latin theological term that can be translated as the "mission of God", or the "sending of God".

Before the sixteenth century, the term “mission” or “sending” was primarily a word used by the church, not in connection with evangelism, per-se, but rather in connection with the Trinity.

The “sending” that theologians talked about was the sending of the Son by the Father, and the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son…all with the purpose of God’s overarching Missio Dei.

NICENE CREED.
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”

From the earliest creeds of the church, it’s clear that the Missio Dei had Jesus Christ at its center.

The early church fathers would cite Scripture upon Scripture in support of this Missio Dei paradigm, and among their favorites was Jesus’ prayer as recorded in JOHN 17.

JHN.17 provides us the unique privilege of ‘listening in’ to the Son speak to the Father regarding their eternal covenant arrangements.  Arrangements which included the Son being sent to earth for a distinct purpose.

JHN.17vv.1-3 “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

The centrality of Christ in the Missio Dei is a crucial point that we must fully appreciate, if we are to rightly understand and define our mission as His church.

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, in their book “to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission”  further contend that we will not rightly understand the mission of the church without the conviction that, “the sending of Jesus by the Father is still the essential mission.”

NATURE of JESUS’ MISSION (the core of the Missio Dei).

Of course, when speaking of the nature of Jesus’ mission it goes without saying, in a group such as this, that UNIQUE to his identity as the divine Messiah, and central to His mission, was His penial substitutionary and propitiatory death for the sins of his church (Matt. 1:21; Mark 10:45).

However, for our purposes today, I want us to focus upon the nature of his public mission and ministry activities leading up to his atoning cross-work.

When we read the NT we discover that Jesus primarily ministered to lame and diseased bodies of individuals, as well as lost and condemned souls.

But, within this holistic ministry to both body and soul…physical pain and spiritual ruin, Jesus made preaching his top priority.

(Mark 1:38-39) teaches us that Preaching is why he came out in public ministry and why he moved from town to town.

In (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isa.61:1-3) Our Lord tells us the purpose of his Spirit-anointed ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised...”

 

It is from this, and His other recorded sermons we learn that calling sinners to repentance and faith was fundamental to the nature of our Lord’s mission and ministry.

For example, He declared in Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Likewise in Mark 2:17 “…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

I think its worth noting that while Jesus did frequently attend to the physical needs of those around him in need, there is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the sole purpose of healing or casting out demons.

In other words, the Son of Man, being Sent by the Father never ventured out on a healing or exorcism tour, a political rally, or cultural protest, rather His stated purpose was to seek and to save the lost Luke 19:10 “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Brethren, the NT definitively reveals that Jesus’s public ministry, that is, the activity of His mission,…the core of the Missio Dei – was the redemption and eternal life of sinful man which could only come through faith in Him as the Christ which in turn glorifies the Father!  (John 3:16-17; 14:6; 20:21).

It’s no wonder, then, that all four Gospels (plus Acts) included some version of the “Great Commission” and not just in Matthew.

Matt. 28:16 “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”

Mark 13:10 “…the gospel must first be published among all nations.”

Luke 24:46-47 “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

(The Upper room) John 20:19-21 “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

(The Ascension) Acts 1:8 “…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.”

From these passages and others, defining the mission of the church begins to take a more athorataive and structured framework.

become clearer and a lot more simpler than what is often

The glorious mission given to the early band of disciples was not one of cultural & political transformation—though, per God’s will, that would often come as a result—but their mission was unquestionably and fundamentally a mission of gospel proclamation.

To be sure, God’s cosmic mission is bigger than the Great Commission, but it is telling that while the church is not commanded to participate with God in the renewal of all things—which would, presumably, include not only re-creation abut also fiery judgment—we are often told to bear witness to the one will do all these things.

In short, while the disciples were never told to be avatars of Christ, it is everywhere stated, either explicitly or implicitly, that they were to be ambassadors for Christ (2Cor. 5:20).

 

A Mission Too Small?

No Christian disagrees with the importance of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples, but many missiological scholars and practitioners have disagreed with the central or controlling importance of the Great Commission. John Stott, for example, in arguing for social action as an equal partner of evangelism suggested that “we give the Great Commission too prominent a place in our Christian thinking.”7 Similarly, Lesslie Newbigin concluded that the “Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord.”8 The mission of the church, in other words, cannot be reduced to our traditional understanding of missions.

In the past fifty years, we have seen, to quote the title of one seminal book, “paradigm shifts in theology of mission.”9 At the heart of this shift has been a much more expansive view of the mission of the church, one that recasts the identity of the church as missional communities “called and sent to represent the reign of God” or as “communities of common people doing uncommon deeds.” No longer is the role of the church defined mainly as an ambassador or a witness. Instead, we are collaborators with God in the missio Dei (mission of God), co-operators in the redemption and renewal of all things. As Christopher Wright puts it, “Fundamentally, our mission (if it is biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.”11 The church’s task in the world is to partner with God as he establishes shalom and brings his reign and rule to bear on the peoples and places of the earth.

 

The Mission of the Church in Acts

As attractive as this newer model may seem, there are a number of problems with the missio Dei paradigm for the mission of the church. It undervalues the Great Commission, underemphasizes what is central in the mission of the Son, and overextends our role in God’s cosmic mission on earth.

Besides all this, the new model has a hard time accounting for the pattern of mission in the earliest days of the church. Acts is the inspired history of the mission of the church. This second volume from Luke describes what those commissioned at the end of the first volume were sent out to do (Luke 24:47-48). If the Luke’s Gospel was the book of everything Jesus began to do and teach (1:1), then Acts must be the record of all that Jesus continues to do and teach.

We could look at almost any chapter in Acts to gain insight into the mission of the church, but Acts 14 is especially instructive, verses 21-23 in particular. At the beginning of Acts 13, the church at Antioch, prompted by the Holy Spirit, set apart Paul and Barnabas “for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). This isn’t the first time the gospel is going to preached to unbelievers in Acts, neither is it the first gospel work Paul and Barnabas will do. But it is the first time we see a church intentionally sending out Christian workers with a mission to another location.

Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus, then to Pisidian Antioch, then to Iconium, then to Lystra, then to Derbe, and from there back through Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, and then to Perga, and back to Antioch in Syria. The final section in Acts 14 is not only a good summary of Paul’s missionary work, it is the sort of information Paul would have shared with the church in Antioch when he returned (v. 27). These verses are like the power point presentation Paul and Barnabas shared with their sending church. “This is how we saw God at work. Here’s what where we went and what we did.” In other words, if any verses are going to give us a succinct description of what mission was about in the early church, it’s verses like these at the end of Acts 14.

Acts 14:21-23 presents us with the three-legged stool of the church’s mission. Through the missionary work of the Apostle Paul, the early church aimed for:

 

  • New converts: “when they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples” (v. 21)

  • New communities: “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church” (v. 23)

  • Nurtured churches: “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith” (v. 22).

If the apostles are meant to be the church’s model for mission, then we should expect our missionaries to be engaged in these activities and pray for them to that end. The goal of mission work is to win new converts, establish these young disciples in the faith, and incorporate them into a local church.12

 

Schnabel’s definition of missionary work sounds the same note:

 

“Missionaries communicate the news of Jesus the Messiah and Savior to people who have not heard or accepted this news.”

“Missionaries communicate a new way of life that replaces, at least partially, the social norms and the behavioral patterns of the society in which the new believers have been converted.”

“Missionaries integrate the new believers into a new community.”13

Evangelism, discipleship, church planting—that’s what the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to do, and these should be the goals of all mission work. Missionaries may aim at one of these components more than the other two, but all three should be present in the church’s overall mission strategy.

 

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

As is true with almost every Christian doctrine, there are ditches on either side of the road when trying to define the mission of the church. On the one hand, we want to avoid the danger of making our mission too small. Some well-meaning Christians act like conversion is the only thing that counts. They put all their efforts into getting to the field as quickly as possible, speaking to as many people as possible, and then leaving as soon as possible. Mission becomes synonymous with first-time gospel proclamation. Clearly, Paul’s did not practice blitzkrieg evangelism, nor was he motivated by an impatient hankering for numbers to report back home.

On the other hand, we want to avoid the danger of making our mission too broad. Some well-meaning Christians act like everything counts as mission. They put all their efforts into improving job skills, digging wells, setting up medical centers, establishing great schools, and working for better crop yields—all of which can be wonderful expressions of Christian love, but bear little resemblance to what we see Paul and Barnabas sent out to do on their mission in Acts.

Without denigrating the good work Christians do as salt and light in the world, we must conclude from Acts 14—and from the New Testament more broadly, that the church’s mission is more specific than common people doing uncommon deeds. As Schnabel argues, those demanding a “‘revolution’ in our understanding of mission—away from the traditional missionary focus on winning people to faith in Jesus Christ, concentrating rather on a ‘holistic’ understanding of Jesus’ claims” do so without strong supporting evidence.

14 We see over and over in Paul’s missionary journeys, and again in his letters, that the central work to which he was been called was the verbal proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:14-17; 15:18; 1Cor. 15:1-2, 11; Col. 1:28). Paul saw his identity as an apostle, as a sent-out one, in terms of being set apart for the gospel of God (Rom. 1:1). That’s why in Acts 14:27 the singular summary of his just-completed mission work is that God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. His goal as a missionary was the conversion of Jews and pagans, the transformation of their hearts and minds, and the incorporation of these new believers into a mature, duly constituted church. What Paul aimed to accomplish as a missionary in the first century is an apt description of the mission of the church for every century.

 

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert offers a helpful definition:

“[T]o go into all the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”[2]

 

 

[1] (Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission).

[2] What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. (2001) Crossway.

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