The following is the final post in a series summarizing my nascent thoughts on a theology of mission. You can view the previous post here.
Merging missio Dei with missiones ecclesiae
Thus, given a proper understanding of God’s providence and of the missio Dei, the Christian mission, or missiones ecclesiae, is best defined as a holistic transformation of rebellious humanity into a radically humble, obedient, and loving community of Holy Spirit indwelt people from every tribe, nation, and tongue worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ in catholic unity (Rev 5; 7).
So I finished my most recent post on my growing understanding of a theology of mission. This mission is holistic in that no realm of life is outside of God’s providential rule. It is a transformation because the effects of the fall have turned the best of human culture against God and the gospel reverses the pervasive and perverse nature of sin (Romans). The new community is radical because it is opposite of everything the world stands for (1 John 2:15-7). It is humble because God hates pride (Prov 8:13), pride is the enemy of wisdom (Prov 11:2), pride leads to rebellion against God (2 Chr 26:16; 32:25; etc), while God gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud (James 4:6). It is obedient because love of Christ is marked by obedience to his commands (John 3:36, etc) and the church is contrasted with the unbelieving and disobedient Israelites (Heb 3; 4; 10). It is loving because the greatest commandments are to love God and to love one’s neighbor (Mark 12:28-34) and the church is known because of its love for one another (John 13:34-5). There are no aspects of life, however mundane, that fall outside of the transforming power of the gospel.
Transformation redefines the whole life of the believer based on Spirit-given gifts of service, not just for a church setting, but for the whole of life (Romans 12; 1 Cor 12-4; 1 Pet 4:8-10; Eph 4). Thus, the New Testament speaks to the poor, the orphan, the widow, the single, the married, the family, the master and slave, to the relationship of the believer to persecutors, to the government, to the marketplace, to the pagan idolaters. It talks about sex, eating, drinking, working, obeying one’s parents, taking others to court, money, how one talks, everyday, common, and the mundane and noble activities of life.
Though the Great Commission includes an implicit command to go (see the relationship of a fronted present active participle connected to an imperative by “kai”), the writers of the epistles go to great lengths to address the church within their particular contexts according to their particular situations. In other words, even with the example of the apostles, especially Paul himself, the writers of the epistles encourage gospel faithfulness where the church was at, not where they were going (though they do this too). The role of the church in its local context was on the mind of the writers of the New Testament. Thus, the churches were not being called out of the world, but called to serve the world through love. It is, then, the whole church, full of Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-gifted believers, that is enabled by the gospel to extend Christ’s mission to the ends of the earth.
This is not done, primarily, by a special class of priveleged missionaries (if you are a missionary reading this, do not be offended, I am not denigrating your work). Rather, the mission of the Christ is carried out by the church as a whole. It is the whole body, full of hands, feet, eyes, noble and ignoble parts, serving, giving, prophesying, teaching, speaking the very words of God, loving in response to persecution, looking to Jesus as the supreme value in all of life. The lay person and the clergy united in mission. All serving faithfully with the gifts God has given them (Romans 12). In other words, though there are examples of missionaries and apostles, short term (Epaphroditus–see recent edition of EMQ) and long term (Paul, Barnabas), the mission is for all. Thus, faith is known by obedience (James) in the whole of life. All of life is redeemed, not just some spiritual part (as if there could actually be a disjunct between spiritual/private and secular/public; we may try to ignore it, but it doesn’t change the reality).
Finally, it is the whole church. Though it is hard to see unity in the body, with an estimated 10,000+ denominations, we must conclude that the mission is uniform, not pluriform. To the degree that we focus on the mission (note that I did not say “on missions”; there is an important distinction, especially given my definition of mission), the more we reflect the unity of the body that will be realized in the eschaton (Rev 5; 7). Thus, I can rejoice with my Dutch Reformed brethren in South Africa (and Swaziland especially), my Anglican brethren in Nigeria, my charismatic brethren in the 10/40 window, my Baptist brethren in Cambodia, etc. This does not erase doctrinal distinctions. But it submits them all to scripture and opens dialogue in the process of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. It helps us love one another in the process and put the focus on Jesus, not on each other. Idealistic maybe, but I trust that Jesus’s prayer for His church will come true (John 17)–Let them be one as we are one!