Mission:An Essential Narrative

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Anglican Church The Mission

The Anglican Church’s mission statement was adopted by the Lambeth Conference of bishops in 1988 as the ‘Five Marks of Mission’—clarifying that ‘The mission of the church is the mission of Christ’:

  1. To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth.

Although these ‘Five Marks of Mission’ are a standard part of the Church of England’s statement regarding its ‘Practice of Mission’ it is most likely the case that other missiological ideas have, in practice, been more influential.Rather than use the afore mentioned 5 points’ Wright prefers a ‘3 point approach’[2]:

wright 3 points

Early in his magnificent biblical survey of God’s ‘mission’ The Mission of God, Christopher Wright expresses his dissatisfaction with a definition of mission that stresses only the root meaning of the Latin verb mitto, ‘to send’. From Wright’s perspective, mission flows from and participates in the mission of God’[1]. “The New Testament mission of the  church, according to Wright, is holistic, by which he means that the Great Commission is about more than seeing people ‘saved’ in the traditional sense. For Wright and others, the gospel is about participation in God’s healing of the world and therefore involves issues such as injustice, poverty, politics, economics and ecology. M.Moore (2012)

Church,Society,Creation

The 5 Marks of Mission’, similar to Wright’s, offers a ‘3 Way Perspective’–a mandate, in no particular order, to serve society, care for creation and to build the church; the hope being that the three together will bring about the transformation of, not just our particular society, but the World. However, you will  have noticed, in particular, that two of the five points from the 1988 Lambeth Conference: (1) ‘to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom’ and (2) ‘to teach, baptise and nurture new believers’ have been subsumed under the one rather nebulous heading of ‘Building the Church’.Though it is appreciated that a ‘lone hub’ gives no indication of direction (it depends on which angle it is observed).

Regarding ‘Transformation’ Wright suggests that, “in ways only God can accomplish, through his purging and redeeming power, the work of the church will contribute to the new creation in which God will reign and we will reign with him.” (2017, P52)

A few years ago I had a conversation with a ‘missional practitioner’ colleague. Being a former senior social worker he, quite rightly, retained his concern for the social and psychological needs of those he was now in contact with as a missioner (aka evangelist). The area he was working in was quite a socially deprived area of the UK. It seemed, at least to me, that his ‘heart’ for the work was to bring about transformation by working to bring about a social dynamic that would enable those in the area to ‘move up the social ladder’. Moreover, there seemed to be a lack of clarity regarding his actual raison d’etre. The social depravation my colleague was trying to alleviate was accompanied by spiritual depravation. Like the majority of the UK (whether physically poor or otherwise), the people my friend was reaching out to lived ‘gospel deprived lives’; along with the social deprivation, the average person brought with them the worst possible baggage. They really did need to come to know Christ—who is ‘The Resurrection and The Life’ (John 11:25).  It wasn’t that my colleague had no desire to make Christ known but rather that he felt constrained to prioritise his example—his witness to Christ through managing social change for the individuals for whom he so tirelessly worked.

Having been, ‘reasonably’ committed to the cause of the ‘liberal left’ in my mid- twenties to mid-thirties, and having seen the vehemence ‘annunciated’ against the ‘perpetrators’ of social injustice here and around the world—by Secularists and Christians alike—it seems to me that there has been and is considerable confusion as to the cause of ‘God, in Christ’. I am convinced that much of the energy that has been spent/is being spent under the ‘banner’ of Christian Mission—may have missed/is missing something crucial in their reading of the Mission of God. It is almost as if it is the case that ‘GOD’ is the problem—that it is God’s failure to produce a better state of affairs here on earth where the problem lies. But, of course, the problem that the Gospel addresses  is ‘the heart of mankind’ rather than the heart of God—that it is the malevolence within the ‘heart of mankind’ (as well as fallen angels) that is the issue—that is the reason the Son of God appeared (1 John 3:1-10). Of course I am not suggesting that the church has no need to engage socially:

Is it our mission to “eradicate social problems”? I would say, in a sense, ‘no’.  Our mission is to believe the Gospel and seek to glorify God by collectively  making more and more disciples who believe this historical message of good   news. But if that is true, then in another indirect sense, the answer has to be     ‘yes’. If the church is the gathering of individuals who collectively believe and   speak the message of the Gospel and also live in light of its implications then we’ll together have much to say and do to address the social problems that  we see around us. How could we not?

Dr. Patrick Schreiner (Western  Seminary USA)

Wright (2008 & 2017) opines that the mission of the Church is to be that of a preparation for a ‘new heaven on earth’—a prelude to a world without need of any kind—even the need of ‘personal salvation’.In the forward of the (2017) book ‘Four Views On The Church’s Mission’ Jason S. Sexton states that Wright’s, 2006 Magnus opus, ‘The Mission Of God’ has been, ‘…an inspiration for a generation of evangelical engagement in thinking freshly about mission. Sexton notes, however, that in spite of Wright’s innovative approach to Missiology, his efforts have recently (2017) led to a ‘trenchant reaction from a conservative wing of the evangelical movement. it is clearly the case that the evangelical-movement is a ‘Broad Church’ but it is, also the case that reactions like Sexton’s are more to with the prevailing social mores than with Scripture. It seems to me that much of what the church does has,in some way, to meet the approval of its broader society—at least this is is one of the reasons that the ‘Church’, in some way, seeks the approval of society to carry out its ‘mission’. It is what #socialmores tend so to do.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the ‘decades of political correctness’ have had/are having a profound effect on the church’s confidence in sharing testimony with the increasingly growing number of ‘unchurched’ in our society. Moreover, it is the case that these past decades have had a deleterious effect on confidence in Scripture. The notion of ‘Sola scriptura’  has vanished from the mindset of 21st Century Theologians—cascading into the ‘pews’—being  replaced by the ‘omnipotence’ of post-modern confusion—a confusion that denies any notion of truth but, by its very nature, demands allegiance as an ‘absolute expression’ of reality. The, watering down of the authority of Scripture has, of course, not happened over night or even over two or so decades—it has been a while coming; indeed the influences of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries looms large. Francis Schaeffer wrote prophetically about the effects of post-modernity on the West. In his book, ’Death in the City’ (1968) Schaeffer stated that what he found in evangelicalism was, “… not only weakness of sensing the lostness of the lost, but a tremendous weakness of compassion for the needs of my kind in this life.” [3]

In the early twentieth century the ‘Social Gospel’ movement attempted to apply Christian ethics to the issues of social justice, excessive wealth, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, child labour, trade unions, poor schools and war. In a nutshell,  advocates of the Social Gospel believed the kingdom of heaven could  be initiated by human effort. Social Gospellers were undoubtedly addressing a weakness in the Church’s witness but they went too far and the Good News of individual salvation from sin faded into the background of their thinking to the point of being non-existent. Anon

garden-of-eden-first-sin

Christopher Wright’s eschatological view (along with other high profile theologians) is somewhat the view of the physicalist. What I mean is that (from what I can gather), due to Wright’s particular aversion to the influences of the Greeks (a view that assumed the soul’s immortality and that that any postmortem existence is a continuation of the previous existence —if you follow my #reasoning) there has, by Wright et el, evolved/developed an aversion to the possibility that the #NewEarth is anywhere other than here, and that it is here that mankind’s future (redeemed or otherwise) is mapped out. Wright’s (along with many other theologians) eschatology is based, very much, on the future of the planet that we, presently, inhabit—that it is this #project with which God, apparently, needs help’. With regards to the ‘creation mandate’ i.e. Adamah’s  instruction to take care of the ‘Garden’ (Genesis2:15): It has to be noted that this was a ‘Pre-Fall’ instruction—given before any drastic changes to the status quo. Moreover, should one take seriously the devastation caused by the [Noahic] flood, one can only assume that, considering the effects of the Flood, any likelihood of the Creator charging mankind with the job of ‘reversing the curse’ would have been most unlikely. [1]Richard Middleton[4]  argues that the psalms (particularly Psalm 8:5) indicate mankind being granted authority or dominion. How exactly the psalms relate to historical events isn’t clear.[5][6]

            Wright’s view is, it seems to me, a naturalistic evolutionary view but his view on the location of the #New-Order has to be considered rather speculative. Should this world—whatever the transformation—be the ‘eternal’ home of ‘whoever may be given new [glorified] bodies’ then it cannot expect a long retirement as this world will (should God not change the physical laws that govern the present universe) be left with the effects of the present laws of physics. It’s not that I, personally, doubt God’s ability to bring about a ‘New Eden’ but that Scripture seems to indicate that there will be some universal changes—and that they may, negatively, affect the environment we live in now and may live in in the future. See: 2 Peter 3:10, 17; Revelation 21:21. Indeed, the ‘Risen Christ’ most likely dwells in the #newcreation presently—along with…

On Evangelism

ourmissionstatement

Traditionally evangelicals have spoken of the ‘primacy’ of evangelism’. They  do so because, they argue, evangelism addresses the greatest human need.  I do not deny that, but it frames the issue in human-centred terms*. I [now] prefer to speak of the ‘centrality of the gospel’. That phrase reminds us that the gospel is essentially the good news of what God has done in witnessed historical events to save the world and evangelism is the telling of that story…So when I speak of the centrality of the gospel, and the evangelistic    task of telling the good news, I do not mean a centre that makes everything else peripheral—marginal and secondary, out there, far off from the centre. Rather I mean central in the way a hub is central to a wheel—connecting and integrating everything around itself. (Christopher Wright, 2017 P82)

For better or for worse, Wright’s views have become widely integrated into the psyche of the, broadly defined, ‘Evangelical Church’. Wright suggests that the gospel is, ‘essentially the good news of what God has done in witnessed historical events to save the world and that evangelism is the telling of that story. In trying to avoid what could be pejoratively considered (by some) as ‘anthropocentrism’ Wright introduces ways in which the gospel can be defined in much broader terms—in terms that gives equal distinction between the three in his hub. So, as he says above: When he ‘speaks of the centrality of the ‘gospel’, he is speaking of something other than that which has been the view of conservative evangelicals—and, is, dare I suggest, what the New Testament clearly annunciates. We shall return to this point in the conclusion of this paper. However, I firstly need to show my agreement with Wright that the gospel not only changes lives—but that, through these changed lives, so much else does, indeed, receive transformation. Of course, it is not the case that it is only Christian believers who are making a difference to society and, indeed, to the world. It is, however, the case that most of the charity organisations that are impacting the world were founded by Christians, and it is the case that many such organisations are that still at the fore of such efforts. Nevertheless, it is this gospel (by the God of the Judeo Christian Scriptures, through the power of the Holy Spirit), that is The Central Part of the ‘#goodnews’.

On Transformation

harvest is ripe

Modern technology has enabled mankind to make amazing advances through the world of science and technology—resulting in amazing benefits to the eco-system, to medicine, to farming— reducing the effects of pollution and disease (though need I remind you that all that is born dies—nothing in this present world lasts—it all wears out). Yet creation will not, according to Scripture, be released from its bondage until the Parousia. Please note the intentional use of the passive voice here. It is GOD who shall release the creation from its bondage—‘when the children of God are revealed’ (Romans 8:19). Who, we may inquire,are these children of GOD?

                Some would say that we cannot transform or redeem anything from which the curse has not been lifted. Of course we can, and do. However it is the case that, whatever changes are made by the advances of science and engineering—through mankind’s ingenuity—any such changes are still subject to the negative effects of the physical laws. Should we take seriously what the apostle Paul refers to in Romans eight: that ‘…the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons (children) of God. (Romans 8:18-23) we might realise that it is the creator and sustainer of the universe who has brought about the subjugation of the biosphere as well as all that inhabits it. Moreover, it is, as I have already stated previously, the Creator who shall release it from its bondage to decay—that is:  ‘the attainment of the freedom—of the glory of the children of God. (8:21)

                Is it not the case that the idea of transformation could be seen as a kind of prosperity gospel.The idea of transforming our immediate society is a grand gesture but such a  transformation of the ‘space around us’ isn’t likely to bring people ‘face to face’ with the Gospel. Jesus, asked the, none-rhetorical, question of ‘what might be the benefit of gaining the whole world but losing one’s soul?’—or ‘What might one offer in exchange for his soul?’ (Mark 8:36). Prior to this Mark records the words of Jesus as he challenges both his disciples and the crowd with these words:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34,35) The sentiment that desires to bless others is wonderful but it isn’t what the church is, primarily, called to do. However, it is the case that professing Christians ought to take seriously Jesus’ words above. Now that is where Transformation ought to be happening more often, isn’t it. Why would the church desire material success for the world yet fail to take seriously Christ’s commands to go and make disciples? I, for one, would not give up my life for such a ‘gospel’—neither did Paul et el. Karl Marx et el had the idea that by changing the balance of power the world could be transformed but he hadn’t realised that all of mankind, and not just the bourgeoise, were in need of the transforming work of Christ. History knows better.

The church’s role is not to transform the world but to live together as a        ‘transformed world’ and to invite the nations in word and deed. (Jonathan Leeman 2017, P43)

I work on commision

The Mission of Christ’s Church

One of the problems the church has inherited from the ‘New Perspective on Mission’ is, as has been discussed above, its eclectic nature. Christopher Wright opines that the Church exists for the sake of God’s mission but doesn’t say what that mission really is: Is it for serving society, for saving the planet or is it, possibly, for building the church?  Is it really the case that the gospel is one of reconciliation? Moreover, is it the case that God shares the new heaven and earth with the redeemed or with #everyman? When Wright refers to the ‘Centrality of the Gospel’ he is not referring to a centrality that makes everything else peripheral—marginal and secondary—but about a centrality in a way that a hub is to a wheel—connecting and integrating everything else around itself.(see:Wright,2017 PP.82-85). It is a question of identifying priorities and one suspects that the gospel as a means of changing the relational status quo between Creator and creature is hardly a priority. Indeed, how can it be when it is simply one of (even) three options?

Mission is all to do with the eternal versus the temporal. Indeed, as we’ve been reminded, Jesus warned about the one who will throw both body and soul into hell. Jonathan Leeman (2017 P.30) notes that, “…It’s not surprising to observe that the indexes of so many on mission—or the church’s mission contain references to either judgement or justice…We rightly dismiss the secular/sacred divide but we cannot dismiss the regenerate/ unregenerate or ‘Spirit restored-under-the-curse divide. Only the Spirit of God can regenerate and remove the effects of the curse.” (2017 P22)

It really isn’t surprising that recent missiological theory has brought with it a diminution regarding the priority of sharing ‘the Gospel of Grace’—of actually making disciples of all nations. There are reasons for this—mostly to do with a misinterpretation of the Goal of The Gospel, disbelief but also to with the challenge of making disciples. With regards to disbelief, it seems to me that evolutionary theory, for example, offers another narrative—a story that doesn’t include the possibility of there being a ‘literal Adam & Eve—or a story of the ‘fall from grace’ in a ‘mythical’ garden—inherited sin etc. According to this story mankind is ‘on the way up’ and in need of encouragement rather than condemnation. I personally believe that God has used an evolutionary process and I do believe that the universe is as old as modern science suggests. However, none of this affects the possibility of there being an ‘original couple’ who were banished from a particular garden—and who were barred from access to the ‘Tree of Life’—and whose only hope of redemption came through the salvific work of the second person of the Trinity. I do believe it and it is the GOSPEL.

emergent-church-theology

The Gospel as ‘God’s all-embracing and accepting love’

The view that the Victory of Christ over ‘sin and death’ offers an ‘inclusive universal salvation’ is an increasingly popular option because it appeals to the postmodern mind-set—a mind-set in which ‘absolutes’ of any kind are [absolutely] disallowed; naturally this includes/excludes any notion of a gospel which might exclude anyone. Universalism allows for the reconciliation of all humanity without exception. One can only wonder what, in a Universalist World, the role of the church, apart from working for social justice and caring for creation, might be. Of course these are noble options but they are not the gospel per se, are they?

             With this ‘gospel’ there need be no ‘original sin’ and no atonement from an inherited ‘falleness’.This notion of ‘salvation’ is one of ‘human rights’ and the nebulous ‘Love of God’.  And because God is Love—‘love is all there is. Of course, the very idea  of such a ‘gospel’ begs the question of why it should be that the son of God should need to die on the cross—if there were no need for justification of any kind. If, indeed, there was no Fall—and therefore no need of ransom, reconciliation, redemption, rescue, reprieve etc.—what would be the point of the Church—apart from it being an agent for ‘serving society’ or ‘caring for creation’?  Though the ‘church’ as an institution may still continue along its steady path of decline and, even serve some kind of purpose—something akin to a church for atheists and agnostics or for those wishing to form a commune. Of course there will always be theists as opposed to atheists, and they could join the work of others (not necessarily theists) caring for society and working to save the planet. They could make use of the increasing number of vacant facilities.

John3v16

Holiness & The Gospel

Starting with ‘The Love of God’ is essential for mission: “For God so loved the world that He gave—so that whoever believes in him shall not perish…” (John 3:16). God’s love is, indeed crucial without it there is no hope for anything whatsoever. But, that is not all there is to it—as if ‘love’ somehow, was all there is to the personality that is GOD. The question ought to be: Is it at all possible to comprehend God’s love or (mission) apart from holiness? What indeed is LOVE? However God’s love is described—and there are numerous ways of describing God’s love—here’s an example: “When the divine Father beholds the divine Son, there is gift and desire. The Father gives all he is to the Son, and he delights utterly in what he beholds in the Son. ’You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased,’ (Mark 1:11)” (Jonathan Leeman2017, P.135). This is a #manifest example of LOVE within the Triunity of God. It follows, therefore, that God (The Father) desires that the world both loves and appreciates The Son, who gave himself that we might live. The apostle Paul puts it thus: “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again..” (2 Corinthians 5:15). NB. The context of this quote is that of ‘Reconciliation’. Indeed, Paul expresses himself clearly and unequivocally when he refers to the ‘fear of the Lord’: “Since, then we know what it is to fear he Lord, we try to persuade others….” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Of course, it might be argued, by some, that we do need to persuade ‘others’ that everything concerning God and them is OK—because GOD’s love is universal and never condemnatory.  So what does ‘holiness’ have to do with mission? Leeman puts it this way, “Mission exists not ‘just because’ God loves, Mission exists to call people to worship.” (2017, P135) It is, as John Piper suggests in his book ‘Let the Nations Be Glad’, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”

Jesus Encounter

The dictionary definition of the word ‘Worship’ is that of ‘reverence and adoration for the #deity’; synonyms include: reverence, veneration, adoration and glorification. Of course it is possible that ‘worship’ may be offered to anything other than ‘the deity’, but this would be a question of ‘mistaken identity’. The problem is that ‘unholy, idolatrous love’ opposes the worship of God and is, therefore, opposed to mission.

No holiness, no worship or mission…Unholy, idolatrous love will not share the gospel because, again, it does not value the worship of God. No holiness, no evangelism. Holiness is crucial to mission because it requires repentance, which issues in discipleship…Unholy idolatrous love does not require repentance or discipleship. No holiness, no Christian discipleship. (Leeman, 2017, P136)

The problem for the:  ‘liberal mind-set of the age’ is that it hates ‘exclusivism’ with a vengeance. Nevertheless, it is the case, that ‘holy love’ does exclude. It excludes because it is a ‘holy love’ and not a cheap imitation of that love. The ‘Love of God in Christ’ demands a response—but so does the manmade version; it demands ‘absolute’ allegiance—even in an, allegedly, ‘age of tolerance and acceptance’ it demands respect—it demands WORSHIP. It demands Holiness.

Conclusion

John R. Franke (2017 P.99) says that we (the church) are shaped by what he refers to as ‘our cultural situatedness’. He refers to Bishop Newbigin’s view that Christians had to find ways of using the ‘biblical story’ which makes use of the prevailing social mores—without that is—being controlled by them. The fact is that the ‘Good News’, in the UK and elsewhere, has been not only controlled but has been, de facto, stifled by them. The liberalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been ‘re-born’ under another guise.

In 2017 The Evangelical Alliance held a number of day conferences entitled, ‘Whatever Happened to Evangelism’. In his plenary presentation at the event held a tMoorlands College, Gavin Calver (Director for Mission UK), referred to ‘the missing word’ in Christian Mission. Unsurprisingly the missing word was ‘Intentionality’. Calver’s presentation clearly enunciated that, in spite of nearly two decades of ‘fresh expressions’ of church, the church, generally, had failed to bring about situations in which the #gospel was shared with the unchurched. In fact the church had done every other activity apart from activities that were intended to bring about conversion to Christ. One can assume that any kind of ‘fresh expression’ initiative will have been a ‘salty’ expression of the life of the body of Christ. It seems then that either the ‘social mores’ of the UK have, in some way, dictated the terms, or that the church has failed to engage with the unchurched—apart from making available to the many what the former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, referred to as ‘The Big Society’.  Indeed. Without the ‘Body of Christ’ the UK will have been, noticeably, the worse for wear. What is clear, at least to me, is that whatever one may conclude about the church’s social interaction or its input into the fight against ‘Global warming’ etc. the facts are that the world is full of death and the dying. is The world is a glorious expression of God’s creativity—even though there are many unanswered questions about such things as natural evil and the actual ‘nature’ of the New Heaven and New Earth it is clear to me that the Missio Deo is primarily one of redemption—the prime task of the church being to make disciples, to baptise them (immerse them into the life of Christ/into the body of Christ) in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The ‘Main Thing’ is: (1) To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom (2) To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

whats your mission

CHURCH: Our calling is to ‘live together as a transformed world and to invite the nations, in word and deed, to the Transformer, Who is Christ the Son. Indeed: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to …Him (who was and is and is to come)” (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:8)

 Soli Deo Gloria

Derek J. White  (June 2018)

 

[1] Christopher J.H. Wright, ‘The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (2006), IVP

[2] Christopher J.H.Wright, ‘Four Views on The Church’s Mission’ (2017) Zondervan

[3] I suspect that the majority of Christians/Church attendees have no idea of the impact that Francis Schaeffer had on so many, Americans and Europeans, who would be classified as middle class—but who were looking for meaning in an era of drugs and ‘free love’. The Schaeffer’ L’Abri organisation was responsible for the nurturing of so many [key] Christian leaders. Without the likes of Schaeffer the Church would be in an even more perilous state than it is.

[4] J. Richard Middleton, ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth’ (2014) Baker Academic

[5] Middleton argues extensively that this world is, indeed, the world that shall receive renewal. However, it isn’t the scope of this article to debate the issue—should it need debating. But it is the case that Middleton along with others has spent considerable time (PhD’s) trying to prove their point…Something I have, personally, not been convinced of. [oops  and end preposition]

[6] This is an area of interest I have—particularly as it pertains to the Imago Dei—and the eschatological state of affairs

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