Missiology

Index
Lecture 1: The Missio Dei
Lecture 2: Missional Hermeneutics
Lecture 3: Bloodlines – the Bible – Race – nation, ethnicity and people!
Lecture 4: the Bible and Evangelism
Lecture 5: Evangelism in the New Testament
Lecture 6: Evangelism in the Book of Acts
Lecture 7: The Integrity of Evangelism
Lecture 8: Evangelism & Syncritism
Lecture 9: Leading the Missional Church
Lecture 10: The Missional Church & Culture
Lecture 11: The Missional Community
Lecture 12: Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism

Lecture 1

Lecture Outcomes:

Missio Dei is a Latin Christian theological term that can be translated as the “mission of God,” or the “sending of God.” It is a concept which has become increasingly important in missiology and in understanding the mission of the church since the second half of the 20th century.

1 – Define mission, missionary, Missio Dei, missional, church

2 – Understand the Missio Dei in broad terms

Key Verse:

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”(John 20:21)

Visuals:

Missio Dei

Dr. Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research shares with us about the missional church

7min

Information:

Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/

In 1934, the German missiologist Karl Hartenstein first coined the term missio Dei to distinguish it from the missio ecclesiae, that is, the mission of the church. Some scholars holds that this coinage, which can be traced as far back as Augustine, had a strong trinitarian basis

During the past half a century or so there has been a subtle but nevertheless decisive shift toward understanding mission as God’s mission. During preceding centuries mission was understood in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was interpreted primarily in soteriological terms: as saving individuals from eternal damnation. Or it was understood in cultural terms: as introducing people from East and the South to the blessings and privileges of the Christian West. Often it was perceived in ecclesiastical categories: as the expansion of the church (or of a specific denomination). Sometimes it was defined salvation-historically: as the process by which the world—evolutionary or by means of a cataclysmic event—would be transformed into the kingdom of God. In all these instances, and in various, frequently conflicting ways, the intrinsic interrelationship between christology, soteriology, and the doctrine of the Trinity, so important for the early church, was gradually displaced by one of several versions of the doctrine of grace …

Mission was understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It was thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine on the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit was expanded to include yet another “movement”: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world. As far as missionary thinking was concerned, this linking with the doctrine of the Trinity constituted an important innovation …

Our mission has not life of its own: only in the hands of the sending God can it truly be called mission. Not least since the missionary initiative comes from God alone …

Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.

The mission theology expressed in the Latin Missio Dei articulates the belief that mission is God’s mission and we are God’s instruments in that mission.  The starting point of Missio Dei is a Trinitarian God: mission is the purpose and action of the triune God.   The internal relationships of the Trinity also embody the way God acts in the world.  The church, as a community of God’s followers, becomes an instrument of God rather than the proprietor of the action.  Mission then moves from something that churches do for the sake of God, to understanding the very nature of God as missionary and sending.  It changes missions in the plural as if every church has a mission to mission in the singular.  Because God is one, mission is one. In 1964 Stephen Neill, a mission historian from Britain wrote in his book A History of Christian Missions:  “The age of missions ended.  The age of mission began.”5

At the same time, Missio Dei causes the church to understand its very purpose as missionary.  The church is both an object and the subject of mission.  Unity is an embodiment of the mission of God that creates the church and works in the world.  At the same time, the practice of mission is integral to a church that receives its purpose from this missionary God.

“Missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that in essence describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of the gospel. The term “missional” gained its popularity towards the end of the 20th century with the influence of Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, and others, as well as the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Their basic premise is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Essentially, the idea of being missional teaches that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. There is one mission which says that the “missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.” Yet there has been some confusion regarding the term “missional.”

Alan Hirsch, one its proponents, says that “missional” is not synonymous with “emerging.” The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. “Missional” is also not the same as “evangelistic” or “seeker-sensitive.” These terms generally apply to what he calls the “attractional” model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but should not be confused with the whole.

Hirsch also says that a proper understanding of missional living begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because the church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that missions is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

Though many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of having a mission, where missional churches differ is in their attitude toward the world. A missional church sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. It is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ, that is, to be missional means to be sent into the world; not to expect people to come to us. This idea differentiates a missional church from an “attractional” church.

The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. But this practice only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional church has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional churches are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. As a result, people cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.

Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. Being missional means we should engage the world the same way Jesus did—by going out rather than just reaching out. Missional means that when a church is in mission, it is then the true church.

According to Dave DeVries, author of “Missional Transformation: Fueling Missionary Movements that Transform America,” there are five biblical distinctives that form the foundation of a missional perspective:

   • The Church is sent by Jesus Christ (John 17:18; 20:21, Luke 9:2; Matthew 28: 19–20; Acts 1:8)

   • The Church is sent with the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:17–24)

   • The Church is sent in Community (Acts 2:42–47; 5:42; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–17)

   • The Church is sent to every Culture (John 1:14; Matthew 20:28; Acts 17:22–34; Luke 5:29)

   • The Church is sent for the King and His Kingdom (Matthew 10:7; 25:34; Luke 4:43; Revelation 11:15–17; Jeremiah 10:7; John 18:36)

So, the question is asked, “Should Christians be missional?” Fundamentally, missional theology is not content with missions being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. In truth, every disciple of Christ should strive to be an agent, a representative of the kingdom of God; and every follower should try to carry the mission of God into every sphere of his life. We are all missionaries sent into the world.

There are many ways we can do this as we’re each individually blessed with certain talents and skills to utilize to the glory of God. Jesus has told us in Matthew 5:13-16 that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world . . . to let our light shine before men.

And, finally, in light of this idea of being “missional,” we can best sum it up with the words of the apostle Paul: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God . . . and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).

Lecture 2

Lecture Outcomes:

  • The Bible as the product of God’s Mission
  • Biblical Authority and Mission
  • Biblical Indicatives and imperatives in Mission

Key Verse:

19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matt 28:19-20

Visuals:

Intro to Missional Hermeneutics Part one

15min

Missional Hermeneutic Psalm 1

7min

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/

“What is missiology?”

Answer:
Missiology can be defined as “the science of the cross-cultural communication of the Christian faith.” In the Great Commission, the Lord Jesus told us to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That command forms the crux of missiology, as it seeks to understand and explain biblical values for evangelism, such as the role of culture in giving the message, both declaring and demonstrating the message of the gospel as it goes “into all the world.”

Three disciplines direct and enable the study of missiology: theology (mainly biblical), anthropology (including primitive religion, linguistics, cultural dynamics, and cultural change), and history. Missiology seeks to intelligently articulate the gospel and its power to change lives in a culturally appropriate context.

Five missiology-related issues that Christians through the centuries have wrestled with in applying and adapting the command to world evangelization are as follows:

• Apostolic practice – How does the church carry on the method of sending out laborers into the harvest field?

• Church structure and mission – How does the church most effectively reproduce itself? What does local church leadership look like in a given region, whether in the United States or in the recessed corners of the world?

• The gospel and other religions – What is the relationship between the good news about Jesus Christ and other religious systems which do not acknowledge His lordship? Is there validity to the religious experience of their devotees, or do they have to give up their religious practices?

• Salvation and non-Christians – Are the heathen really lost? What is their destiny if they have never heard the gospel and die without ever hearing it?

• Christianity and Culture – The same God who provided the gospel for all peoples has also prepared all peoples for the gospel. How does the church present the gospel to those who have never heard it, in such a way that it makes sense, culturally speaking, and answers their primary spiritually related questions?

Missiology seeks to “further the understanding and performance of the Christian mission in our day.” To summarize, missiology is the study of how to best do missions.

Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

 (https://www.gotquestions.org/missiology.html)

“What is biblical hermeneutics?”

Answer:
Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible. Second Timothy 2:15 commands believers to be involved in hermeneutics: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who . . . correctly handles the word of truth.” The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible.

The most important law of biblical hermeneutics is that the Bible should be interpreted literally. We are to understand the Bible in its normal or plain meaning, unless the passage is obviously intended to be symbolic or if figures of speech are employed. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. For example, when Jesus speaks of having fed “the five thousand” in Mark 8:19, the law of hermeneutics says we should understand five thousand literally—there was a crowd of hungry people that numbered five thousand who were fed with real bread and fish by a miracle-working Savior. Any attempt to “spiritualize” the number or to deny a literal miracle is to do injustice to the text and ignore the purpose of language, which is to communicate. Some interpreters make the mistake of trying to read between the lines of Scripture to come up with esoteric meanings that are not truly in the text, as if every passage has a hidden spiritual truth that we should seek to decrypt. Biblical hermeneutics keeps us faithful to the intended meaning of Scripture and away from allegorizing Bible verses that should be understood literally.

A second crucial law of biblical hermeneutics is that passages must be interpreted historically, grammatically, and contextually. Interpreting a passage historically means we must seek to understand the culture, background, and situation that prompted the text. For example, in order to fully understand Jonah’s flight in Jonah 1:1–3, we should research the history of the Assyrians as related to Israel. Interpreting a passage grammatically requires one to follow the rules of grammar and recognize the nuances of Hebrew and Greek. For example, when Paul writes of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” in Titus 2:13, the rules of grammar state that God and Savior are parallel terms and they are both in apposition to Jesus Christ—in other words, Paul clearly calls Jesus “our great God.” Interpreting a passage contextually involves considering the context of a verse or passage when trying to determine the meaning. The context includes the verses immediately preceding and following, the chapter, the book, and, most broadly, the entire Bible. For example, many puzzling statements in Ecclesiastes become clearer when kept in context—the book of Ecclesiastes is written from the earthly perspective “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). In fact, the phrase under the sun is repeated about thirty times in the book, establishing the context for all that is “vanity” in this world.

A third law of biblical hermeneutics is that Scripture is always the best interpreter of Scripture. For this reason, we always compare Scripture with Scripture when trying to determine the meaning of a passage. For example, Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah’s desire to seek Egypt’s help and their reliance on a strong cavalry (Isaiah 31:1) was motivated, in part, by God’s explicit command that His people not go to Egypt to seek horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).

Some people avoid studying biblical hermeneutics because they mistakenly believe it will limit their ability to learn new truths from God’s Word or stifle the Holy Spirit’s illumination of Scripture. But their fears are unfounded. Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from misapplying Scripture or allowing bias to color our understanding of truth. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). We want to see the truth, know the truth, and live the truth as best we can, and that’s why biblical hermeneutics is vital.

Recommended Resource: Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy Zuck

What Is a Missional Hermeneutic?

By Brian D. Russell

A missional hermeneutic is an interpretive approach that privileges mission as the key to reading the Scriptures. Missional hermeneutics works across the spectrum of approaches to the biblical text. It takes seriously the historical situation of the text (“behind the text”). It recognizes the influence of the reader’s social location (“in front of the text”). Yet it is fundamentally rooted in a close reading of the text (“the world of the text”). A missional hermeneutic seeks to hear the Scriptures as an authoritative guide to God’s mission in the world so that communities of faith can participate fully in God’s mission.

At the 2008 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, G.R. Hunsberger (“Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping the Conversation”) reviewed current proposals on missional hermeneutics and organized them into four categories: The Missional Direction of the Story, The Missional Locatedness of the Readers, The Missional Engagement with Cultures, and The Missional Purpose of the Writings. I have adopted Hunsberger’s categories for the purposes of this essay.

The Missional Direction of the Story

A missional hermeneutic recognizes that the biblical canon tells the story of God’s mission (i.e., missio dei) in and for creation. The story of God’s mission can be summarized as Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus the Messiah, Church, and New Creation.

The Bible opens with the creation of the heavens and earth by God. The human community is crafted in God’s image as the pinnacle of God’s handiwork. Men and women function equally as the image of God for the sake of the rest of creation. From the beginning, humanity was created for God’s missional purposes to represent God before creation by reflecting God’s character in community with God, with one another, and with the world.

Genesis 3-11 function in the story to explain the fundamental problem in the world. The “very good” creation of Genesis 1-2 is shattered by human sinfulness. Sin infests every human person and institution as well as fractures creation itself. The stories and genealogies of Gen 3-11 describe the world in which we find ourselves this side of God’s new creation. Yet in the midst of the chaos of sin and brokenness, Gen 3-11 presents a God who does more than pass the expected judgment—the God of the Scriptures begins to act to redeem a fallen world.

In Gen 12, God calls a new humanity into being with a series of promises to Abram and his descendents. This people exist to serve as the agents of God’s blessings for the nations (Gen 12:3). The narrative of God’s new humanity runs uninterrupted through the Protestant canon from Gen 12 – Esther. God’s new humanity becomes the nation of Israel. It is decisively shaped through God’s liberation of Israel from Egyptian bondage and through the forging of a covenant at Sinai. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is purposeful and is undertaken for the sake of the world. At Sinai, Israel is called to serve as God’s missional people, a holy community for the nations (Exod 19:4-6). The remaining books of the Pentateuch establish a polity for God’s people as they prepare to live faithfully in the Promised Land as a witness to the nations. Joshua to Esther narrate the potential and pitfalls of God’s people living in Canaan including the devastation of the Exile due to disobedience and the resilience of God’s faithful love shown through God’s restoration of Judah from Exile.

A large portion of the OT is not set within a narrative framework. How do the Psalms, the Wisdom Literature, and the Prophets fit in the story?

The book of Psalms serves as the prayer and worship book for God’s people. The psalms reverberate with themes of God’s reign over the nations. Through lament, thanksgiving, and praise, the psalms encourage an expansive vision of the worship of God that ultimately climaxes in the concluding exhortation: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (150:6). The psalms root God’s people in a vital worshipping relationship with the Lord, the creator of the world, and deliverer of Israel.

Israel’s Wisdom traditions serve God’s story by offering serious reflection on God’s creation and the good life. Wisdom deals with questions that engage all of humanity. Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs have much in common with the wisdom of Israel’s neighbors. Wisdom is interested in navigating successfully through life. Since God created all that is, the wise can observe life astutely and deduce principles for living in God’s world. This focus on the human side of life makes it easy to connect Israel’s wisdom to culture. Yet, Israel’s unique contribution to the lore of the ancients is profoundly missional: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7). The implication is this: careful attention to the human condition may prepare persons for the truth about God (cf. Eccl 12:12-14).

The Prophets (Isaiah—Malachi) contribute to the Israel’s story in three ways. First, Israel’s prophets continually call God’s people back to their roots as a missional community that embodies God’s holiness before the nations. The Prophets take Israel to task for failing to live as God’s people. Second, the Prophets maintain an international focus. The God of Israel is the Lord of the nations, and, as such the prophets speak words of both judgment and salvation to the nations. Provocatively, Jonah audaciously announces God’s love for even the most committed opponents of God’s people. Last, the Prophets envision a new future work of God’s salvation (e.g., Jer 31:31-34).

It is against the backdrop of Israel’s Scriptures that Jesus the Messiah enters the story. Jesus lives as the ultimate human being who fulfills in his life, death, and resurrection God’s creational intentions for humanity and everything that God had envisioned for Israel as God’s new humanity. Jesus’ death is for the totality of the Fall and his resurrection declares the ultimate victory of God. The Gospels narrate Jesus’ life and ministry to teach future generations of disciples what it means to follow Jesus. The core of Jesus’ message is the announcement of the arrival of God’s kingdom and his call to realign our lives in light of this reality (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15; cf. Luke 4:16-21).

In the aftermath of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the risen Jesus sends out the church to announce and extend God’s salvation to the nations. The church is unleashed in the power of the Holy Spirit. The NT witnesses to the spread of the gospel across the first-century Mediterranean world. The scriptural story goes forth from the land of Israel to the nations in fulfillment of the Israel’s mission. The NT epistles serve as teaching documents for fledgling missional communities around the Mediterranean world.

The scriptural story ends with Revelation’s portrait of God’s future new creation (Rev 20-21).

Learning to understand the big story of the Scriptures is more than a descriptive task. The story of the Scriptures seeks to convert its readers/hearers to its perspective. The scriptural story invites its readers to understand their lives as part of its narrative.

The Missional Locatedness of the Readers

An interpreter’s social location serves a crucial role in the reading process. It may provide a fresh perspective for reading a text or it may distort a text’s meaning. M. Barram (“The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic,” Interpretation 61 [2007] 42-58) has argued that readers must locate themselves in mission. The biblical texts were written in a missional context. Participating in God’s mission enables contemporary readers to find common ground with the ancient text’s perspective.

Moreover, engaging in missional activity in the world creates new questions with which to engage the Bible and is crucial for learning to hear the text for both church and world. A practitioner of missional hermeneutic learns to listen to a text on behalf of the people for whom she or he serves as a witness. Missional engagement unleashes the interpreter to read a text through the eyes both of Christ followers and of unreached persons. The wise interpreter learns through missional praxis the sorts of questions that an outsider to the faith may raise when hearing a biblical text. Thus, the practice of reading the Bible from a missional locatedness trains us to read and hear the Scripture from contested spheres in the marketplace and not only in the realm of the sanctuary where we “preach to the choir.”

The Missional Engagement with Cultures

A third line of inquiry in the field of missional hermeneutic is the manner in which the biblical materials themselves model engagement with culture. We gain new insights about twenty-first century incarnational ministry by studying the ways in which biblical texts communicate to their context. For example, how do the creation stories of Genesis engage and subvert the dominant worldviews of Israel’s neighbors? How do the similarities between the narrative structure of Exod 15:1b-18 and the Baal Epic serve to promote Israel’s understanding of reality to their Canaanite context? How does Paul use existing modes of communication in the Greco-Roman world to enhance the persuasiveness of his writing?

The Missional Purpose of the Writings

A missional hermeneutic recognizes that the Scriptures exist to convert and shape their hearers. Most of us have been trained to read the Bible as the basis for doctrine and individual piety. A missional hermeneutic reminds us that Scripture is concerned with shaping communities of God’s people into outposts for the advancement of the gospel. D. Guder has been on the forefront of emphasizing this aspect. He writes concerning the NT documents:

NT communities were all founded in order to continue the apostolic witness that brought them into being. Every NT congregation understood itself under the mandate of our Lord at his ascension: “You shall be my witnesses.” … To that end, the NT documents were all, in some way, written to continue the process of formation for that kind of witness. They intended the continuing conversion of these communities to their calling—and that is how the Spirit used (and still uses!) these written testimonies. (“Missional Pastors in Maintenance Churches,” Catalyst 31.3 [2005] 4)

Thus, we need to ask specifically how each text was intended to form God’s people into a missional community. Moreover, this is not merely a NT perspective. As shown above, the thread of mission runs across the biblical canon. Both OT and NT texts can be read profitably in terms of how they seek to form the people of God for the sake of God’s mission to all creation.

In his recent essay “Prophet to the Nations: Missional Reflections on the Book of Jeremiah,” C.J.H. Wright raised a related question: What does this text teach about the missional cost to the messenger? Wright expands the dimension of a biblical text’s teaching. Wright shows that the book of Jeremiah explicitly displays the personal cost to the prophet of participation in God’s mission. Raising the issue of missional cost is crucial as we seek to create a missional ethos in our congregations.

The Potential of a Missional Hermeneutic for Preachers and Teachers

  1. A missional hermeneutic provides a context and direction for preaching and teaching. Learning to read discrete texts within the grand narrative of God’s mission as described in Scripture provides a crucial angle for communicating the gospel. The interpreter recognizes that every text in the Bible helps to shape the people of God to serve as a missional community that embodies the character of God in, to, and for the world. In preparation for preaching and teaching, ask questions such as these: How does this text help us to understand God’s mission in the world? How do we need to change in order to live out this text corporately and individually? How does this passage serve as an invitation to the world to join God’s mission? What kind of persons does this text call us to become?
  2. A missional hermeneutic connects worship explicitly with life in the world by establishing a missional ethos for the community of faith. Learning to read the Scriptures through a missional hermeneutic keeps God’s mission on the front burner for all aspects of the community. Most profoundly it keeps the worship of the Triune God grounded in God’s missional intentions for humanity and all creation. Biblical worship at its core is profoundly missional. The aim of God’s mission is worship. Humanity was created to serve as God’s missional community before creation. As God’s new humanity, the church worships as a bold and daring testimony to the world of the greatness of God and as an invitation to unreached persons to become part of God’s new humanity for the sake of the world.
  3. A missional hermeneutic establishes a new framework for learning. As communities of faith struggle to break the grips of the paradigm of serving as inward-focused dispensers of religious goods and services to serving as outposts for the sake of God’s kingdom, a missional hermeneutic provides a different outcome for learning. “Christian education” is no longer merely learning facts about the stories of the Scriptures or grasping the basics of the historical creeds of the church. The goal of learning in the church now becomes a constant conversion to the message of Scripture so that each disciple can be shaped into the sort of person that she or he needs to become in order to participate fully in God’s mission in the world. All learning can now be set in the context of the missional reality of the twenty-first century church.

Suggested Reading

Barram, M. “The Bible, Mission, and Social Location: Toward a Missional Hermeneutic,” Interpretation 61 (2007): 42-58; Bauckham, R. The Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Baker Academic, 2004); Beeby, H.D. Canon and Mission (Trinity, 1999); Bosch, D.J. “Towards a Hermeneutic for ‘Biblical Studies and Mission’,” Mission Studies 3.2 (1986): 65-79; Brownson, J. Speaking the Truth in Love: New Testament Resources for a Missional Hermeneutic (Continuum, 1998); Guder, D.C., ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Eerdmans, 1998); Idem. “Missional Pastors in Maintenance Churches” Catalyst 31.3 (2005): 4; Hunsberger, G.R. “Proposals for a Missional Hermeneutic: Mapping the Conversation,” Gospel and Our Culture Network Newsletter eseries 2 (2009): cn.org/resources/newsletters/2009/01/gospel-and-our-culture; Russell, B.D. “Missional Hermeneutics” http://realmealministries.org/WordPress/?page_id=753; Wright, C.J.H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (InterVarsity, 2006).

https://www.catalystresources.org/what-is-a-missional-hermeneutic/ accessed 25/01/2020 17h00

Lecture 3

Lecture Outcomes:

After reading this lecture, one should understand:

  • “The bloodline of Jesus Christ is deeper than the bloodlines of race. The death and resurrection of the Son of God for sinners is the only sufficient power to bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross.”
  • The sin of racism.
  • Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away our sin and make our diverse society whole again
  • Jesus brought an end to ethnocentrism. That Ephesians, Galatians, Romans, and other Pauline epistles uncover how reconciliation with God leads to reconciliation with one another, including other ethnicities.
  • The achievement of the cross is reconciling all ethnic groups through faith in Christ is part of how the work of Christ on the cross magnifies the greatness of God’s grace.
  • What is at stake in our pursuit of racial and ethnic diversity and harmony (both locally and globally) is both our reverence for the cross and our love for the glory of God.
  • The practical implications for a ministry in a multi-ethnic society and the implications for a missional church within such a society.

Key Verse:

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev.5:9

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.”

Acts 17:26

Visuals:

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian – Book by John Piper
3mins

John Piper
20mins

Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/racial-harmony-and-interracial-marriage
43min

Information:

Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/

“What does the Bible say about ethnocentrism?”

Answer:
Ethnocentrism is the belief that a particular race or ethnic group is superior to all others and all other races and ethnic groups are to be subjectively measured in relation to that race or ethnic group. It is a system of belief that leads to extreme pride and lack of concern for others. Simply put, ethnocentrism is another name for racism, which has been a plague on humanity for centuries and the cause of the death of millions. There is no place among God’s people for the ethnocentric attitudes which lead to racism. Such attitudes are contrary to Scripture and displeasing to God.

Biblically, ethnocentrism is sin. All men and women are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:6), although that image is corrupted by sin. It is because we are created in His image that God does not show partiality or favouritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34). Jesus did not lay down His life for a particular race of people, but by His death He “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The Israelites were ethnocentric by virtue of being God’s chosen people, but His choice was not based on their merit, but on His mercy and grace. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus came to save the world, both Jews and Gentiles. Paul bears this out by saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Jesus destroyed all barriers of race and ethnicity with His death on the cross. As Paul said in Ephesians 2:14, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ethnocentrism, whether based on historical grudges or on the erroneous teachings of men, is wholly contrary to God’s Word. We are commanded to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34), and such a command precludes any discrimination based on race or culture.

Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

“What does the Bible say about racism?”

Answer:
The first thing to understand in this discussion is that there is only one race—the human race. Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Jews are not different races. Rather, they are different ethnicities of the human race. All human beings have the same physical characteristics (with minor variations, of course). More importantly, all human beings are equally created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to lay down His life for us (John 3:16). The “world” obviously includes all ethnic groups.

God does not show partiality or favoritism (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9), and neither should we. James 2:4 describes those who discriminate as “judges with evil thoughts.” Instead, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (James 2:8). In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are affronts to the work of Christ on the cross.

Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). If God is impartial and loves us with impartiality, then we need to love others with that same high standard. Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him. If we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image; we are hurting somebody whom God loves and for whom Jesus died.

Racism, in varying forms and to various degrees, has been a plague on humanity for thousands of years. Brothers and sisters of all ethnicities, this should not be. Victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Racists may not deserve your forgiveness, but we deserved God’s forgiveness far less. Those who practice racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to repent. “Present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13). May Galatians 3:28 be completely realized, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

“What does the Bible say about discrimination?”

Answer:
Discrimination is itself the neutral act of perceiving differences. A music aficionado, for example, who recognizes the influence of Chopin in the études of Debussy may be said to have a “discriminating ear”; that is, the music lover is a person of refined perception. In most contexts, however, discrimination is a negative term referring to the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people, and this is the sense we will assign the word in this article. Discrimination can be based on disabilities, race, ethnicity, intelligence, or any number of factors that make human beings different.

Discrimination is not the same as discernment. Discernment is proper discrimination based on truth and fact. For example, discernment may not choose to hire someone because he showed up fifteen minutes late for an interview reeking of alcohol. Discernment rightly assesses that person as an unsuitable candidate for a responsible job. Discrimination, on the other hand, may choose to not hire someone simply because he is of a different race or did not wear expensive clothing to the interview. Discrimination wrongly judges a person based only on external factors or personal preference.

One of the first problems that arose in the early church was due to discrimination: “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1, NLT). The Jerusalem church was multi-ethnic, and some racial prejudice crept into their practices and caused trouble. This squabble pulled the apostles away from teaching and preaching, so the church elected the first deacons to deal with the problem and make sure no one was being discriminated against (Acts 6:2–3).

Discrimination was also a problem for the first Jewish believers in Jesus. Because God’s Messiah had come through the line of David and to the Jews first (Romans 1:16), they assumed He was their Messiah only. Disagreement arose then as Gentiles were added to the church. Some Jewish leaders wanted to know how “Jewish” the Gentile believers must become (Acts 14:27; 15:5). Many Jews could not believe that mere faith in their Messiah was enough to justify Gentiles as it had them. Surely the Gentiles should have to do something “Jewish,” such as observe the Sabbath or be circumcised, to be saved (see Acts 15:1 and Galatians 5:1–12). This clash of cultures, with its theological implications, necessitated the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:2–35). The modern church often wrestles with similar problems. Christians can discriminate against certain people groups or lifestyles, unsure if the same faith that saved us is enough to save “those people,” too (Ephesians 2:8–9).

No human being is fully free of prejudice or discrimination. It’s part of our selfish nature to prefer those of our own kind, whatever that represents to us. Races tend to congregate in their own neighbourhoods and churches, preferring their way of doing things to that of other races or nationalities. Preferences are fine as long as they don’t turn into legalistic discrimination against believers who differ on non-essential aspects of faith. Without realizing it, we can all be guilty of discrimination. Legalists discriminate against those they judge as rebels, while rebels discriminate against traditionalists. The goal should be to disagree without discriminating.

We can overcome our tendency toward discrimination by modeling Jesus’ attitude of humble service (Matthew 20:28). He washed the feet of Judas, knowing that Judas was traitor (John 13:27). He ministered in Gentile regions and in Samaria (Mark 7:24, 31; John 4:4). Rather than incite discrimination between “us and them,” Jesus’ coming to earth broke down the barriers that separated people: “He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). We can practice the instruction of Philippians 2:3, which says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

God has made all who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour one. Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, every nation, and every ethnicity—Jesus has formed His church from all groups (Galatians 3:28; Revelation 5:9). There should be no discrimination within the Body of Christ because there is no discrimination with God (Acts 10:34).

Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

“What does the Bible say about prejudice?”

Answer:
Broadly speaking, prejudice is preferential bias, and it can be either favorable or unfavorable. But the term prejudice most often refers to a negative opinion, not based on fact or experience, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge. Prejudice targets groups or types of people rather than responding to people as individuals. Prejudice is usually expressed as unreasonable and hostile feelings, opinions, or attitudes toward ethnic, racial, social, or religious groups. Prejudice has been a significant part of religious history, with some even defending acts of prejudice in the name of Christianity. It’s good to look at what the Bible says about prejudice.

Humans have a natural tendency to show prejudice toward anyone who is different. Both Old and New Testaments were written during times of human history when racial, national, and sexual prejudice was expected. Women were treated as property, and the enslavement of other nationalities was common. When God gave Moses the Law for Israel, He incorporated moral and ethical standards that were unheard of in that barbaric day (Deuteronomy 4:8). God decreed that His people would be different from the violent and godless nations around them (Leviticus 20:26). Part of that difference would be in the way they were to treat others: foreigners among them were to be treated as their own brothers (Leviticus 19:34), eliminating prejudice from their ranks.

Prejudice among Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans was rampant in Jesus’ day. Jews hated Samaritans and considered Gentiles unclean. Jesus transcended the prejudice by placing particular emphasis on a Gentile man’s faith (Matthew 8:10–11) and the kindness of a Samaritan (Luke 10:30–36). God had chosen the nation of Israel through whom He would send His Messiah (Romans 1:16), and the Jews were proud of their heritage (see John 8:33). When the church began, the first Jewish converts to Christianity believed God’s salvation belonged solely to them. But as non-Jews began to respond in faith to the gospel, the ingrained Jewish prejudice led quickly to discord and controversy within the church (Acts 11:1; 15:5).

God gave the apostle Peter a vision to teach him that God is not prejudiced and will not tolerate prejudice in His people. Because of what God revealed to him, Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34–35). Paul, chosen specifically by God as the apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8), explained that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, offers salvation to everyone who trusts in Him. That faith grafts every believer into God’s family. Paul wrote, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26–29). There are no second-class Christians. Faith in Christ is the great equalizer, eradicating any foundation for prejudice.

The historical accounts of fighting and bloodshed in the name of Christ—Protestants killing Catholics and Catholics killing Protestants—look nothing like the Christianity of the New Testament. Religious prejudice is just as evil as any other kind and is nowhere validated by Jesus or the apostles. Religious prejudice is still rampant in many parts of the world and is directly opposed to everything Jesus taught. While we can strongly disagree with other Christians in doctrine and lovingly oppose false teaching of every kind, we are never to force our views through hatred, coercion, or violence (see John 18:36).

Jesus’ teaching combats prejudice. God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,” Jesus said, “and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). “Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27–31). Such commands steer us away from prejudice of any kind.

The Bible states that love must govern every action we take (1 Corinthians 16:14), and prejudice is opposed to love. Love sees the image of God in every individual; prejudice pre-assigns judgment without just cause. First Corinthians 13:4–8 defines what love looks like. We are not the judges of a person’s worthiness. First Corinthians 4:5 says that we should not “pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

Prejudice has no place in the heart of a believer in Christ. Our lives are to be ruled by humility, obedience, and love for God and others (Romans 13:7–9). Prejudice violates all three. To be prejudiced means we consider ourselves better than someone else, which is pride (Philippians 2:3). It means we are directly disobeying Jesus’ command to treat others as we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). And it means that we are not fully loving God, since we are unwilling to love people created in His image (1 John 4:20–21). Due to our fallen human natures, we all struggle with some form of prejudice; we should be quick to recognize it as sin and ask the Lord to rid us of it. When we are willing to see our prejudice as God sees it, we can repent of it and seek His help in changing it (1 John 1:9).

Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

“What does the Bible say about interracial marriage?”

Answer:
The Old Testament Law commanded the Israelites not to engage in interracial marriage (Deuteronomy 7:3–4). However, the reason for this command was not skin color or ethnicity. Rather, it was religious. The reason God commanded against interracial marriage for the Jews was that people of other races were worshippers of false gods. The Israelites would be led astray from God if they intermarried with idol worshippers, pagans, or heathens. This is exactly what happened in Israel, according to Malachi 2:11.

A similar principle of spiritual purity is laid out in the New Testament, but it has nothing to do with race: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Just as the Israelites (believers in the one true God) were commanded not to marry idolaters, so Christians (believers in the one true God) are commanded not to marry unbelievers. The Bible never says that interracial marriage is wrong. Anyone who forbids interracial marriage is doing so without biblical authority.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., noted, a person should be judged by his or her character, not by skin colour. There is no place in the life of the Christian for favouritism based on race (James 2:1–10). In fact, the biblical perspective is that there is only one “race”—the human race, with everyone having descended from Adam and Eve. When selecting a mate, a Christian should first find out if the potential spouse is born again by faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:3–5). Faith in Christ, not skin colour, is the biblical standard for choosing a spouse. Interracial marriage is not a matter of right or wrong but of wisdom, discernment, and prayer.

A couple considering marriage needs to weigh many factors. While a difference in skin colour should not be ignored, it absolutely should not be the determining factor in whether a couple should marry. An interracial couple may face discrimination and ridicule, and they should be prepared to respond to such prejudice in a biblical manner. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:12). A colour-blind church and/or a Christian interracial marriage can be a powerful illustration of our equality in Christ.

Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

The Bible and Interracial Marriage

Interracial marriage is really a misnomer. There is only one race — the human race. But, since inter-ethnic marriage and inter-skin-color marriage haven’t caught on as alternate terms, I’ll go with interracial marriage. Like most of the articles in the GotQuestions.org Top 20, this one can stir up some pretty heated arguments and strong emotions.

In Deuteronomy 7:3, speaking of the Israelites’ relationship with the inhabitants of the promised land, God commands, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.” There are many other Old Testament scriptures that warned the Israelites against intermarriage with the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. Some look at those scriptures and come to the conclusion that it was a racial issue. I disagree. It was a religious issue. God did not want interracial marriage between the Israelites and Canaanites because, “for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:4). It had nothing to do with skin color. It was entirely a matter of the Canaanites worshipping false gods and having evil and immoral religious practices.

The New Testament nowhere speaks about interracial marriage. It does, however, clarify the Old Testament commands. Second Corinthians 6:14 states, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.” There is no more intimate “company” than your spouse. There is no stronger yoke than marriage. Just as the Israelites were not to intermarry with those who did not believe in the one true God, so are Christians not to intermarry with those who do not believe in the one true God. Believers are not to marry unbelievers because it hinders our faith and disrupts our relationship with God.

There are some who argue that since God separated the races at the Tower of Babel, the races should remain separate. Problem — the Tower of Babel speaks of God separating people by language, not race. There are some who argue that interracial marriage should be avoided due to the prejudice the couple will receive, whether from their families or from the surrounding culture. Problem — since when do we allow the unbiblical beliefs of others to be the determining factor in our decisions?

So, if the Bible does not speak against interracial marriage, does that mean interracial marriage is always a good thing? Not necessarily. In regards to interracial marriage, I am an advocate of the “eyes wide open” approach. An interracial couple should fully understand the risks of interracial marriage. Whether it is racism, prejudice, discrimination, or simply the disapproving glances, an interracial couple needs to consider these issues and decide accordingly. It is sad that these issues exist, but they have to be taken into account. In some, maybe even most, parts of the world, interracial marriage is strongly discouraged.

Ultimately, interracial marriage is a decision that should be made between the couple and God. Of course the couple should take the feelings of their family into account, but since there is no biblical command against interracial marriage, it is a matter of Christian freedom.

S. Michael Houdmann

Race, Cross, and the Christian (Crossway 2011, 295 pp.)

There are fewer things more distressing than racial division within the Christian church.  Yet racial division has plagued the church from the beginning.  Whether one considers the apparent antagonism between Greek and Hebrew speaking Jewish Christians which evidences itself in Acts 6, or Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians that Christ has torn down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11-22, it is evident that this sin is one that reappears from time to time. It is equally evident from the whole sweep of Scripture that racial animosity is a sin and has no place whatsoever in the church of Jesus Christ.  While there is one faith, one Lord, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), the church is to be made up of people from every tribe, and tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:4; 13:7).

Into this context speaks prolific author and pastor John Piper. Writing not as an expert in the field but as one whose heart is burdened over this issue, Piper offers us Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian as an attempt to address the problem of racial division and animosity. More specifically Piper seeks to address the race question from the perspective of Reformed Christianity. Even more specifically, Piper addresses the relation of blacks and whites in the church in America in light of our history with slavery, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. While acknowledging that the Reformed faith has a checkered history relating to slavery in America, Piper argues that the Reformed faith (shorthand for biblical Christianity) has the internal resources for self-criticism and correction  and offers hope to those trapped in the wretched vice-grip of the sin of racism.  

John Piper begins his study with a note to his readers on his use of the terms “race” and “racism” (17-19). The author is concerned with clarity in communication and so offers a definition of these two words.  For Piper, “race” and “ethnicity” are closely related terms, if not exactly synonymous.  “Unless I explicitly differentiate race and racism from ethnicity and ethnic; I would like you, the reader, to think of both when I mention either – that is, ethnicity with a physical component and race with a cultural component.  Very often I use the terms together to draw out this combination of ideas” (18).  Piper offers further thought regarding the difference between race and ethnicity, “…since ethnicity includes beliefs and attitudes and behaviors, we are biblically and morally bound to value some aspects of some ethnicities over others. Where such valuing is truly rooted in biblical teaching about good and evil, this should not be called racism. There are aspects of every culture including our own (whoever “our” is), which are sinful and in need of transformation.  So the definition of racism leaves room for assessing cultures on the basis of a biblical standard” (18).  At the end of the day, racism involves both heart attitudes and actions.  “The heart that believes one race is more valuable than another is a sinful heart.  And that sin is called racism.  The behavior that distinguishes one race as more valuable than another is a sinful behavior.  And that sin is called racism.  This personal focus on the term racism does not exclude expression of this sin in structural ways-for example, laws and policies that demean and exclude on the basis of race…” (18-19).

Piper organizes his book into two major parts:  part one deals the world’s need for the gospel (31-106) and part two deals with God’s word as the power of the gospel (109-233).  The book also includes four appendices dealing with (1) the terminology of race, (2) God-centered theology and the black experience in America, (3) how Piper’s church (Bethlehem Baptist Church) pursues ethnic diversity, and (4)  the implications of Noah’s curse.  Part one of the book begins with the author’s own story of growing up in the segregated south and involves his pilgrimage on the way to becoming pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.  Piper moves on to stress the importance of the gospel and his life transformation.  The third chapter notes the changing face of the church from a predominantly European and North American phenomenon to a predominantly Two-Thirds world movement.  Piper then addresses the exemplary nature of the black-white relationship, the need to consider both personal and systemic matters, and the power of the gospel and the roots of racial strife.

Piper begins the second part of the book, which focuses on the power of the gospel for salvation, with the story of William Wilberforce and his concern with doctrine and slavery.  Wilberforce believed that the moral problem of slavery (and other social issues) was connected to a failure to understand and embrace the doctrine of justification by faith alone (109-112).  Doctrine has practical consequences.  Piper then deals with the accomplishment of the gospel, considers the mission of Jesus and the end of ethnocentrism, the creation of one new humanity, the ransoming for God from every tribe, and the fact that all people are justified in the same way.  Yes, true doctrine has practical consequences indeed! Piper meditates on dying with Christ for the sake of Christ-exalting diversity, living in sync with gospel freedom, and the law of liberty and the peril of partiality. Piper asks why diversity within unity was worth the death of the Son.  Finally, in the fourth section of part two of the book, the author speaks to interracial marriage and prejudice.

Having considered the details of Piper’s Bloodlines, I would like to offer three observations.  My first thought is that the relation between blacks and whites is the most obvious one in the American context but it is by no means the only racial divide either in this land or in other lands.  In this book it serves as the paradigm case and offers us insight into the dynamics of race and ethnicity involving other groups.  Whites and blacks have no corner on this market.  

Secondly, Reformed Christianity is not alone in its having to wrestle with the problem of racism.  Most, if not all, of the major branches of the Christian faith in America split over the slavery issue in the years leading up to and into the Civil War and it is myopic to act as if only the Reformed faith has a checkered past on this score.  This is not to let us off the hook, but I mention it to remind us that the problem is broader than the Reformed community.  

Thirdly, the issue of racism manifests the utter devious sinfulness of sin.  The problem is not difficult to understand; this sin is simply that – sin.  But what is complex is how this sin insinuates itself into other matters.  The sin of racism is intertwined with cultural and theological issues not directly related to racism per se.  Sometimes what is understood to be a racial divide is more a theological or cultural divide.  More often than not, racism gets entangled with theological and cultural matters. It is only the grace of Christ that can free us from the miasma of this specific sin.

This is a wide-ranging and searching volume that addresses a perennial problem.  At the end of the day, the only satisfactory answer to racism is the reconciling blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and the integrating ministry of the Holy Spirit that glorifies God the Father.  When we are reconciled to the Father by the Son through the Spirit, this spills over into reconciliation with our fellow human beings.  Piper does not pretend to have offered the last word on this subject.  But it is a powerful word. If we believe that the Reformed faith is the most biblical expression of the Christian faith, then we should long to see it spread to every land, tribe, and tongue.  

Rev. Jeffrey Waddington (PhD. Candidate, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the teacher of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ringoes, NJ. He is the co-editor, with Dr. Lane Tiption, of Resurrection and Eschatology.

Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/

Lecture 4

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated,


The Bible and Evangelism
After reading through this lecture you should :

1 – know and present the core of the gospel to unbelievers with reference to ways of evangelism in the New Testament evaluate his personal involvement and commitment to evangelism.

2 – create a plan to equip church members to know and present the core of the gospel to unbelievers.

Key Verses:

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Mark 16:15

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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ESV Matt 28: 19-20

John Piper

Why is differentiating between evangelism and missions important?

Girl is shocked by street preacher Ray Comfort

6mins

John MacArthur

Five Essentials of Evangelism, Part 1

Five Essentials of Evangelism, Part 2 (Acts 5:11–42)

“What is the gospel?”

Answer:
The word gospel literally means “good news” and occurs 93 times in the Bible, exclusively in the New Testament. In Greek, it is the word euaggelion, from which we get our English words evangelist, evangel, and evangelical. The gospel is, broadly speaking, the whole of Scripture; more narrowly, the gospel is the good news concerning Christ and the way of salvation.

The key to understanding the gospel is to know why it’s good news. To do that, we must start with the bad news. The Old Testament Law was given to Israel during the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 5:1). The Law can be thought of as a measuring stick, and sin is anything that falls short of “perfect” according to that standard. The righteous requirement of the Law is so stringent that no human being could possibly follow it perfectly, in letter or in spirit. Despite our “goodness” or “badness” relative to each other, we are all in the same spiritual boat—we have sinned, and the punishment for sin is death, i.e. separation from God, the source of life (Romans 3:23). In order for us to go to heaven, God’s dwelling place and the realm of life and light, sin must be somehow removed or paid for. The Law established the fact that cleansing from sin can only happen through the bloody sacrifice of an innocent life (Hebrews 9:22).

The gospel involves Jesus’ death on the cross as the sin offering to fulfill the Law’s righteous requirement (Romans 8:3–4; Hebrews 10:5–10). Under the Law, animal sacrifices were offered year after year as a reminder of sin and a symbol of the coming sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:3–4). When Christ offered Himself at Calvary, that symbol became a reality for all who would believe (Hebrews 10:11–18). The work of atonement is finished now, and that’s good news.

The gospel also involves Jesus’ resurrection on the third day. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The fact that Jesus conquered sin and death (sin’s penalty) is good news, indeed. The fact that He offers to share that victory with us is the greatest news of all (John 14:19).

The elements of the gospel are clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3–6, a key passage concerning the good news of God: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.” Notice, first, that Paul “received” the gospel and then “passed it on”; this is a divine message, not a man-made invention. Second, the gospel is “of first importance.” Everywhere the apostles went, they preached the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Third, the message of the gospel is accompanied by proofs: Christ died for our sins (proved by His burial), and He rose again the third day (proved by the eyewitnesses). Fourth, all this was done “according to the Scriptures”; the theme of the whole Bible is the salvation of mankind through Christ. The Bible is the gospel.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is a bold message, and we are not ashamed of proclaiming it. It is a powerful message, because it is God’s good news. It is a saving message, the only thing that can truly reform the human heart. It is a universal message, for Jews and Gentiles both. And the gospel is received by faith; salvation is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8–9).

The gospel is the good news that God loves the world enough to give His only Son to die for our sin (John 3:16). The gospel is good news because our salvation and eternal life and home in heaven are guaranteed through Christ (John 14:1–4). “He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3–4).

The gospel is good news when we understand that we do not (and cannot) earn our salvation; the work of redemption and justification is complete, having been finished on the cross (John 19:30). Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). The gospel is the good news that we, who were once enemies of God, have been reconciled by the blood of Christ and adopted into the family of God (Romans 5:10; John 1:12). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). The gospel is the good news that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

To reject the gospel is to embrace the bad news. Condemnation before God is the result of a lack of faith in the Son of God, God’s only provision for salvation. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:17–18). God has given a doomed world good news: the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Recommended Resource: What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

“What is the biblical method of evangelism?”

Answer:
When trying to decide how to share Christ with someone, the starting point should be the same as that of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself. Matthew 3:2 tells us that John began his ministry with the words “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Repentance refers to a “change of mind,” which implies sorrow for past offences (2 Corinthians 7:10), a deep sense of the evil of sin as committed against God (Psalm 51:4), and a conscious decision to turn from sin to God. The first words Jesus spoke when He began His public ministry were identical to John’s (Matthew 4:17).

Biblical evangelism – The good news and the bad news
The word “gospel” means “good news.” While many well-meaning Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with the good news of God’s love for mankind, that message is lost on unbelievers who must first come to grips with the extent of the bad news. First, man is separated from a holy, righteous God by sin. Second, God hates sin and is “angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). Third, death and judgment are inevitable (Hebrews 9:27). Fourth, man is wholly incapable of doing anything about the situation. Until the full extent of this bad news is presented, the good news cannot be effectively communicated.

Biblical evangelism – The holiness of God
What is missing from much modern evangelism is the holiness of God. In Isaiah’s vision of heaven, God’s holiness is being extolled by the seraphim around the throne. Of all the attributes of God they could have praised, it was His holiness—not His love—of which they sang. “And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Isaiah 6:3). When we understand just how holy God is, we can begin to understand His hatred of sin and His righteous wrath against sinners. Zechariah 8:16-17 and Proverbs 6:16-19 outline the sins God hates—pride, lying, murder, false witness, those who stir up trouble, and those with evil in their hearts. We cringe at the idea of God actually hating, because we are more comfortable with Him as a God of love, which He certainly is. But His hatred is real and it burns against evil (Isaiah 5:25; Hosea 8:5; Zechariah 10:3).

The unsaved person stands in mortal peril of the wrath of holy God, as Hebrews 10:31 reminds us: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” An unbeliever is separated from God by his sin, which God hates, and there is nothing he can do about it. His nature is corrupt and fallen and he is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) with no hope of redeeming himself. He cannot save himself, in spite of good intentions or good works (Romans 3:20). Every good work that man thinks he can do is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). No amount of good living will make us acceptable in God’s eyes because the standard is holiness, without which no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).

Biblical evangelism – Salvation through Jesus Christ
But now comes the good news. What man could not do to save himself, God accomplished on the cross. Jesus exchanged His righteous, holy nature for our sinful nature so that we can stand before God completely clean and pure, new creations with the old sin nature gone forever (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). God provided the perfect sacrifice for our sin, not because we deserved it or earned it, but because of His love and grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9). Only those whose natures have been changed can escape the wrath of God and live in the light of His love and mercy. If we believe these things and commit our lives to following Christ by faith, we will live eternally with Him in the bliss and glory of heaven. This is good news indeed.

Biblical evangelism begins with prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in witnessing, open doors of opportunity, and a clear understanding of the bad news of sin and wrath and the good news of love, grace, mercy, and faith.

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

“What is the Great Commission?”

Answer:
Matthew 28:19–20 contains what has come to be called the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus gave this command to the apostles shortly before He ascended into heaven, and it essentially outlines what Jesus expected the apostles and those who followed them to do in His absence.

It is interesting that, in the original Greek, the only direct command in Matthew 28:19–20 is “make disciples.” The Great Commission instructs us to make disciples while we are going throughout the world. The instructions to “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” are indirect commands—participles in the original. How are we to make disciples? By baptizing them and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. “Make disciples” is the primary command of the Great Commission. “Going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” are the means by which we fulfill the command to “make disciples.”

A disciple is someone who receives instruction from another person; a Christian disciple is a baptized follower of Christ, one who believes the teaching of Christ. A disciple of Christ imitates Jesus’ example, clings to His sacrifice, believes in His resurrection, possesses the Holy Spirit, and lives to do His work. The command in the Great Commission to “make disciples” means to teach or train people to follow and obey Christ.

Many understand Acts 1:8 as part of the Great Commission as well: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Great Commission is enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to be Christ’s witnesses, fulfilling the Great Commission in our cities (Jerusalem), in our states and countries (Judea and Samaria), and anywhere else God sends us (to the ends of the earth).

Throughout the book of Acts, we see how the apostles began to fulfill the Great Commission, as outlined in Acts 1:8. First, Jerusalem is evangelized (Acts 1 — 7); then the Spirit expands the church through Judea and Samaria (Acts 8 — 12); finally, the gospel reaches into “the ends of the earth” (Acts 13 — 28). Today, we continue to act as ambassadors for Christ, and “we plead on Christ’s behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God’” (2 Corinthians 5:20, CSB).

We have received a precious gift: “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3). Jesus’ words in the Great Commission reveal the heart of God, who desires “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Great Commission compels us to share the good news until everyone has heard. Like the servants in Jesus’ parable, we are to be about the business of the kingdom, making disciples of all nations: “He called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13, KJV).

Recommended Resource: How You Can Help Fulfill the Great Commission by Bill Bright

“What does it mean to be ‘fishers of men’?”

Answer:
The phrase “fishers of men” was spoken by Jesus when He was calling two of His disciples, Simon Peter and Andrew, to follow Him. “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:16–18; see also Matthew 4:19).

The idea behind fishing is to know the fish you are looking for and attract it so you can make the catch. To catch a fish we must know what equipment to use, the habitat and depth of the water we are fishing in, as well as the kind of bait the fish will go after. After we understand everything we need for real fishing, then how do we relate that to being fishers of men?

God asks us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20). Just as we need equipment to be fishermen, we need equipment to be fishers of men. Putting on the armor of God is one way to be ready at all times with everything we need (Ephesians 6:10–18). Especially important are the shield of faith with which we ward off the opposition from demonic forces who don’t want to see men saved by the gospel of Christ (v. 16) and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (v. 17). Without these two pieces of spiritual equipment, we will find fishing for men’s souls impossible.

Not only must we have the armor of God as our equipment, but we must also know the fish we are trying to catch. Knowing the lost condition of the people around us will help us to understand that, no matter how good we are at fishing, we will never “catch” the fish on our own. No reasoned argument will convert the soul of a darkened mind, because “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But God can and frequently does penetrate the darkness with the glorious gospel, and He uses us to do it. He knows which “fish” are His; therefore, we are to seek His wisdom and His guidance on all our fishing expeditions. Prayer is essential.

Lastly we must offer the only effective net—the gospel of Jesus Christ. To those who are perishing, the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). The gospel message has the power to change lives, shine light into darkness, and deliver evil men from hell. There is power in no other message and no other “net” can catch the fish of God. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). This was Jesus’ message to Peter and Andrew—follow Me, learn of Me, know and understand My mission and My message. Only then will you be able to be fishers of men.

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

“What is a Christian Testimony?”

Answer:
The word “testimony” is used in few different ways. One common usage is when a person is brought into a courtroom and placed under oath to tell, attest to, or give witness to his or her personal knowledge or experience with reference to the case that is being heard. To link the word “Christian” to the word “testimony” is to narrow the focus of the testimony and who can give it. Only a Christian can give a Christian testimony, and a Christian is one who has received forgiveness for sin by trusting alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ for that forgiveness.

A Christian testimony is given when Christians relate how we came to know the God of the Bible through the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Most commonly, we are sharing how we became Christians by God’s miraculous intervention and work in our lives through specific events. Often we can only see that in hindsight, but sharing that experience is vital. Also, when giving this testimony, a sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always a necessity. Though we can include specific information about how we came to accept Christ as Savior, those details should not be the focus of the testimony. The focus should be about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

A Christian testimony should not end with the conversion experience, but should also include the ways in which the Lord has worked in our lives to sanctify us for His service. As an example, a testimony could include how He brought us through a difficult time in our life (such as a loss or some sort or a severe illness) and built our faith in Him through that experience. We should also be able to describe the continual process by which the Spirit who now indwells us leads, guides, molds and shapes us into mature Christians. Again, the focus should be on the Lord and His faithfulness, and should include at least one verse that speaks of that faithfulness (Psalm 18:2, 6).

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

“Is handing out gospel tracts a good evangelism method?”

Answer:
Any method that results in people hearing/reading and understanding the biblical gospel is a good evangelism method. Gospel tracts are small booklets that present the gospel, usually based on a specific theme. The theme may be a holiday, a timely issue, a movie or TV show, a book series, a musician, etc. – there are gospel tracts on virtually every topic imaginable. The goal of a gospel tract is to get the gospel of salvation of Jesus Christ into peoples’ hands in an interesting and easy-to-read format. While the precise origin of gospel tracts is uncertain, there are records of them as early as the 13th century A.D. Gospel tracts were popularized during the Protestant Reformation, and the invention of the printing press made mass-production of tracts much easier and faster. The most well-known gospel tract is likely “The Four Spiritual Laws” written by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Gospel tracts can be a very effective method of evangelism. Again, if the biblical gospel is presented in a clear and understandable manner, God will use it (Isaiah 55:11). Any time God’s Word goes forth, it is powerful and effective (Hebrews 4:12). People who are not otherwise effective communicators can overcome such a weakness by use of a gospel tract. Gospel tracts are an excellent choice when you simply do not have time to stop and witness to someone. Gospel tracts can be left in strategic locations for people to pick up later and read.

There are perhaps two primary weaknesses/issues with gospel tracts. First, there are several prominent gospel tract publishers who produce tracts in which the gospel is not as clear as it should be. Some of the pseudo-Christian cults are well known for having tract ministries. Before you consider handing out a gospel tract, read it closely and do some research on its publisher. Make sure that the gospel is clearly presented. If the tract endorses a website or other source of information, ensure that the message presented there is biblical.

Second, some people rely entirely on gospel tracts and purposefully avoid directly sharing the gospel with others. Giving someone a gospel tract is easier than personally sharing the gospel. While there are definitely many situations where giving a gospel tract is entirely appropriate, there are other situations where only a personal gospel presentation will suffice. We are all to be ready, willing, and able to share the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). Gospel tracts can be an important and valuable aspect of sharing the gospel, but it should not be the sole means of our outreach.

Recommended Resource: Gospel Tracts available at Christianbook.com

“Is door-to-door evangelism an effective method?”

Answer:
Whenever door-to-door evangelism is mentioned, people invariably think of Jehovah’s Witness and, to a lesser extent, Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Whereas only a tiny proportion of Mormons undertake two years’ missionary work, all Jehovah’s Witnesses (whether baptized or not) are expected to take part in the door-to-door work. They are referred to as “publishers.” They have to report their activity, which includes the number of hours spent each month going from house to house and in conducting Bible studies with interested people.

In 2012, with 7.5 million publishers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses saw over 260,000 people baptized into their organization. On average, it takes 6,500 hours’ activity to generate one new baptism. On that basis, door-to-door evangelism is a hugely time-consuming activity.

Jesus commissioned His followers to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything He had commanded (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). The Great Commission is not an option – it’s a mandate. If only more Christians were as prepared to share the gospel as the Jehovah’s Witnesses are to promote their teachings! But is door-to-door evangelism the way?

How did Jesus and His disciples go about their work? It does not seem they went from door to door, uninvited. Yes, Jesus sent out His followers in pairs to prepare the way for Him to preach in outlying towns and villages, but He did not instruct them to go door-knocking. In Luke 10:5-7 Jesus issues these instructions: “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” Jesus’ disciples did not go from house to house, uninvited, but they could enter a house where they were welcomed and stay with that family, telling them about Christ.

After Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, she was so impressed by what Jesus told her that she went back to her town and persuaded many to come back with her to meet this Jesus of Nazareth. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” They persuaded Jesus to stay with them for two days, and many more became believers (John 4:1-31, 39-42). Jesus and His disciples did not canvass the Samaritan village first.

The first Christians did not go from door to door, either, as far as we know. The early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem spoke in the temple every day (Acts 2:46) and taught in each other’s houses as often as possible (Acts 5:42). The apostle Paul certainly spoke to strangers in the marketplace about Christ (Acts 17:17), but that’s about as close to door-knocking as we see in Scripture.

There is nothing wrong with going from door to door. It might produce results, and we are grateful for any soul who comes to Christ. But there is no explicit biblical precedent for that particular method.

Probably the most effective method of evangelism is to speak personally to friends, neighbors and co-workers. This is the type of evangelism Philip models in John 1:45-46. When Christians befriend others and develop a trusting relationship with them, they earn the right to be listened to. Inviting others to come to church or attend weekly Bible studies in the homes of other Christians is another good way to share the gospel. The way we live is important, too. A life of godliness speaks volumes to non-believers about the transforming power of the love of God.

A good biblical example of evangelism is the young Jewish girl captured and taken to Syria as a servant for Naaman’s wife. The little girl’s faith in the God of Elisha prompted her to spontaneously speak of his miracles. Her faith and her concern for Naaman’s health resulted not only in Naaman being healed, but also coming to faith in Yahweh (2 Kings 5:1-19).

All Christians need to be equipped to share the good news with others (1 Peter 3:15). We might not all be teachers and preachers, but we should all be so grateful that we have been saved that we want to tell others and explain what God has done for sinners such as us. Whether we’re going door to door, leaving tracts at a restaurant, or engaging in friendship evangelism, we should be sharing the gospel. Jesus commands it, duty demands it and gratitude prompts it.

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

“Is street preaching an effective evangelism method?”

Answer:
Street preaching, or preaching openly in a public area, has been a method used throughout the history of Christianity for the purpose of evangelizing people who would not typically enter a church. Ever since the apostle Peter preached in the streets of Jerusalem in Acts 2, Christians have used this method to lead many to faith in Christ.

Despite the long-standing tradition of street preaching throughout church history, some believe that the practice should no longer be used. They have a variety of reasons for their opinion. First, critics believe street preaching has lost effectiveness as compared to its results in past decades. Second, some believe that street preaching is too overt or offensive, that people are turned away rather than drawn to Christ. Third, some critics note that certain people have used the “soapbox” to spread extremism, political wrangling or bad theology, giving street preaching a negative association. As a result, they argue, Christians should use other forms of outreach.

A practical and biblical look at these concerns reveals many weaknesses in these criticisms. First, even if street preaching is less effective than at other times in history, this does not mean it should no longer be utilized. What if a street preacher sees only one person come to faith as a result of his sermon—does this mean he should not have preached? It still changes eternity for that one person. Other methods of outreach may be more effective, but this does not mean street preaching is ineffective.

Of special concern is the second criticism, that street preaching is too offensive. Since when are Christians to reach the lost only in “inoffensive” ways? Paul wrote that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Unless a Christian never shares his or her faith, opposition is inevitable. The goal is not to avoid offense at all costs; the goal is to avoid unnecessary offense. The cross of Christ will always be an affront to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 1:23). The way we communicate can be adapted to the audience, but our message must remain the same. Street preaching is simply one method to communicate Christ to those who may otherwise not hear the gospel.

Third, should Christians continue to use street preaching even though some have misused this method? Rather than abandon the practice, perhaps Spirit-filled individuals should reclaim the proper use of street preaching. Christian writers don’t give up their craft simply because some authors write bad books. The Bible teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

In summary, street preaching is a historic method of evangelism that can be quite effective in reaching those who might never enter a church. It may appear less effective than in the past, it may indeed offend those who resist the truth, and it may have to overcome some negative associations, but street preaching continues to be used by God around the world to lead people to faith in Christ. We need not condemn its practice but encourage those who boldly communicate the faith in the public square. Rather than wait for the lost to come to us, we should go to them.

Recommended Resource: Gospel Tracts available at Christianbook.com

“Is a gospel crusade a biblical method of evangelism?”

Answer:
A gospel crusade is a concentrated effort to evangelize a city or region. Prior to the preaching the groundwork is laid: a large venue is rented, whole communities are invited, musicians and counsellors are lined up, and churches are asked to pray. When the big day arrives, a high-profile evangelist preaches a public message or a series of messages on salvation and gives an invitation to respond. Evangelists who have used the gospel crusade method of evangelism to speak to millions include George Whitefield, Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.

Gospel crusades have been in existence since the second chapter of Acts and since then have exploded in number and popularity. Some crusades claim to present the gospel; some of them don’t. Some crusades may be labeled “gospel,” but are in fact focused on physical healing, inspirational messages, or prosperity. For the purposes of this article, we will define a gospel crusade as a scheduled event designed to attract a large number of people for the purposes of presenting God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. We will also assume for the purposes of this article that the true biblical gospel is indeed preached at the crusades we will consider.

The first “crusade” of sorts is found in Acts 2:14–41, after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples. Peter immediately began speaking to the thousands gathered at Pentecost, explaining the phenomenon they were seeing and hearing. These formerly terrified followers of Jesus were suddenly speaking boldly in other languages so that travelers from many nations could hear the gospel in their own tongues. Three thousand new converts were added to the kingdom that day. Clearly, this gospel crusade was a biblical method of evangelism.

The next verse (Acts 2:42) shows us why this gospel crusade was so effective. There was follow-up, and the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, and to prayer.” Those new converts were immediately welcomed into the church at Jerusalem where they were instructed about how to be disciples of Christ (see Matthew 28:19–20). One weakness of the crusade method of evangelism is the lack of follow-up. Of the thousands who flock to the front to “give their lives to Jesus,” how many continue in the faith? Although many reputable evangelists such as Billy and Franklin Graham strive to connect new believers with local churches, the numbers don’t support the claim that most of those responding to an altar call were truly born again. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). The implication is that those who do not continue in His word never were His disciples to begin with.

There are many acceptable methods of presenting the gospel, and none should be discounted if the truth is proclaimed. A gospel crusade is only one way, but often we think of it as the best way. We may subconsciously excuse our lack of personal evangelism by assuming that unbelievers will be exposed to a gospel crusade through TV or in person and hear the truth that way. There may be instances when an unbeliever is so hardened against the gospel that he or she has been resistant to personal evangelism but is drawn to a gospel crusade through the celebrity status of the speaker or musicians. However, as followers of Christ carrying His mandate of winning the lost, we should never assume that the message is somehow reaching those who need it without our participation.

God uses many avenues to reach those He came to save, including gospel crusades. As His followers, we should be actively involved in helping Him through every means possible. When we support gospel crusades through our time, finances, and participation and, at the same time, seek to draw people to Jesus through our personal witness, we can be confident that we are obeying Jesus’ last words to us and helping Him make disciples of all nations.

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

“What is personal evangelism?”

Answer:
Personal evangelism is the act of a person sharing the gospel with another. There are many different methods of personal evangelism, and it is a hot topic within Christianity. Books, classes, and seminars are dedicated to the subject of witnessing, soul-winning, and helping others find salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Not every method is effective or biblically supportable; according to Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur, “Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college and seminary I know.”

According to a 2016 Barna survey, 73 percent of Americans claim to be Christians. However, after applying scriptural tests to those claims, only around 31 percent actually qualify as practicing Christians. The Bible knows no other kind (Matthew 7:19–21; 1 John 3:7–10). Clearly, what has passed for personal evangelism for the last several generations has not been effective.

When Jesus practiced “personal evangelism,” He often seemed to make it more difficult for those who showed interest (Luke 9:57–62). His encounter with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16–24 is a good example of showing an unbeliever what true discipleship costs, but this type of personal evangelism is rare today. Jesus was not interested in what has come to be known as “easy believism.” Some modern methods of personal evangelism are so mechanical that salvation is presented almost as a business arrangement: “Plug in this sinner’s prayer and voilà! Eternal life!” This presentation may result in many responses, but is that real salvation? The Barna statistics indicate otherwise.

Paul exemplified effective personal evangelism. After his radical conversion to Christ (Acts 9), Paul’s entire life changed. His new life motto was encapsulated in these words from Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul lived evangelism. Everything he did was for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). He sought ways to impart truth everywhere he went, in every cultural context (1 Corinthians 9:20–22). The other apostles practiced personal evangelism in the same way. At times, they gained massive responses, and churches were started on the spot (Acts 9:35, 42; 11:24). Other times, the first Christians were mocked, beaten, jailed, or run out of town (2 Corinthians 11:34–35; Acts 16:22–23). So even the best methods of personal evangelism won’t always produce converts.

We can learn a lot about personal evangelism from those first Christians. The following are some factors that contribute to effective personal evangelism:

Prayer. Beautiful words and impassioned speeches may move a soul, but they cannot transform a hard heart. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring conviction and repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). The first Christians relied on massive amounts of prayer before they attempted to do anything for the Lord, and God blessed their efforts (Acts 1:14; 4:31; 6:6; 13:3; Colossians 4:4). When our prayer lives are consistent and meaningful, we are ready to engage in personal evangelism.

Biblical knowledge. We don’t have to possess a seminary degree or the ability to read ancient Greek, but we do need an overall understanding of what the Bible says. Many people allow this factor to silence them, citing their lack of biblical knowledge as a reason they don’t witness for Christ. But there is no reason that we cannot study and learn for ourselves what God says about His plan of salvation. Christians should be experts on the gospel. Second Timothy 2:15 commands us to study as unto God so that we will become “as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” We need to know the basic truths of Scripture in order to have effective personal evangelism.

A story. We all have a story. If we’ve come to know Christ and have experienced forgiveness of sin and His transforming power in our lives, then we have a story to tell. Effective personal evangelism often incorporates a personal testimony. Paul often recounted his own conversion story in his evangelism, reminding his audience of how wicked he had been and how far God’s grace had brought him (Philippians 3:4–6; Acts 26:9–23; 1 Corinthians 15:9). An example of how a story affects personal evangelism is found in John 9. Jesus healed a man born blind. The Pharisees plied the healed man with questions about Jesus that he could not answer. Finally, in frustration, the man cried out, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (verse 25). We may not know the answers to every question we are asked, but we do know what Jesus has done for us. We know that once we were blind to spiritual truths, and now we see.

The right attitude. Much damage has been done in the name of Christ by people trying to conduct personal evangelism without love and without humility. First Corinthians 13:1–3 reminds us that we may do any number of noble-looking deeds, but if we don’t do them in love, we have accomplished nothing. Love for Christ must be first (Mark 12:30), followed closely by a love for people. Our motivation in personal evangelism must never be anger, a desire to condemn someone, or a need to win an argument. We should check our own hearts before embarking on a quest to evangelize others (Matthew 7:3–5). We don’t have to be perfect, but we need to be certain that our desire is the salvation of the lost, not the motivation to look spiritual or to be right. Galatians 5:22–23 is a list of character qualities that will be a part of effective personal evangelism.

Obedience, not results. It is often tempting to scale down biblical truth in personal evangelism in order to elicit the response we desire. But to do so only undermines the work God wants to do in that person’s life. Scripture is replete with examples of people obeying God’s commands, even though the results were nothing like they assumed: Abraham followed God to Canaan—and a famine hit right away (Genesis 12:10). Mary accepted the role of mother to the promised Messiah—then watched Him be mocked and crucified (Luke 1:38; John 19:25). Paul followed the Holy Spirit’s leading to Philippi—and was arrested and imprisoned (Acts 16:6–24).

In our personal evangelism, it is good remember that we are only responsible to God for our obedience, not the results of that obedience. We may present the gospel thoroughly and lovingly, and the person to whom we witness may hear and understand but choose to walk away. We are not responsible for that reaction, only the level of obedience involved in our presentation. Jesus explained in Luke 8:5–15 that human hearts are like types of soil. The seed sown is the same in each case, but people receive the Word of God differently and respond differently. Our job, as the sowers of seeds, is to present truth as effectively as we know how and entrust the results to God.

Personal evangelism is the responsibility of every believer. God calls each of us to different tasks and endows us with different gifts, but the goal is the same—the salvation of the lost (1 Corinthians 12:6–7; Luke 19:10). He places us in strategic positions for influence, not privilege. We have neighbors, coworkers, friends, and relatives who need to hear the good news about Jesus. Whether we’re called to lead evangelistic crusades or simply cultivate a relationship with an unsaved neighbor, personal evangelism should be the driving force in our lives. Jesus’ words spoken to His disciples more than two thousand years ago still apply to His followers today: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). As long as we have breath, we can do personal evangelism. As long as we stay surrendered to the Holy Spirit, He will do it through us (Luke 12:12).

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

What is servant evangelism?”

Answer:
Often the word evangelism brings to mind a dynamic person speaking to large crowds about Jesus and giving an invitation for salvation. Some evangelists do speak to large, public crowds, but the truth is there are many approaches to evangelism and many different strategies. Servant evangelism is sharing God’s love by simply serving others in practical ways without asking for or expecting anything in return.

The focus of servant evangelism is doing acts of kindness for anyone and everyone. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:10). An example of servant evangelism could be something as simple as handing out free water bottles on a hot day or taking bags of food to needy families at Christmastime. The possibilities are endless, but the common denominator is that nothing is asked for in return. One of the motivations behind this type evangelism is that the Bible tells us that God’s kindness leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4).

There are many benefits of servant evangelism, both for those being served and for those serving. Servant evangelism reaches people where they are and exposes non-Christians to Christians showing God’s love in unmistakable and non-threatening ways. Not everyone is comfortable walking into a church building, but receiving a free service with no strings attached is harder to resist. In fact, it usually piques curiosity as to why someone would go out of his or her way to perform this act of kindness. Servant evangelism has the potential to soften people’s hearts, enabling them to hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a good way to “water” seed previously sown (see 1 Corinthians 3:6).

Servant evangelism benefits those serving, as well. As Christians, we are called to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Serving others gives Christians the opportunity to tell about God’s love. When someone asks why they’re doing what they’re doing, those who are serving can point to Christ—it’s great training ground for other types of evangelism! Also, as Christians, we are to be full of the Holy Spirit in such a way that the Spirit flows out to others (see John 7:38–39). Engaging in servant evangelism puts Christians in situations where the Holy Spirit can minister through them. Jesus commanded His disciples and, consequently, Christians today to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19–20). Jesus didn’t say, “Wait inside your church buildings for the lost to come to you”; He said to “go.” Through servant evangelism the church can show people outside the church that God cares and give them a reason to want to come inside.

While servant evangelism is certainly a biblical practice, it is incomplete as a form of evangelism until the message of Jesus is spoken. Romans 10:17 tells us, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” To complete the process of evangelism—to bring someone to accepting Christ as Savior—we need to speak “the word about Christ.” Servant evangelism can be effective in opening that person’s heart to receive the message once he or she hears it.

Recommended Resource: Lifestyle Evangelism: Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World by Joe Aldrich

“What is lifestyle evangelism?”

Answer:
“Lifestyle evangelism” is an evangelism strategy that focuses on living a holy, winsome life among unbelievers with the goal of attracting people to the message of Jesus Christ. Many variations of lifestyle evangelism exist, but the definitive resource is the book Lifestyle Evangelism by Joe Aldrich.

Lifestyle evangelism has been popular since the 1990s, and many Western Christians have sought to share their faith through their lifestyle in addition to their verbal testimony. In contrast with other methods such as tracts, crusades, and media-based outreach, popular in the mid-twentieth century, lifestyle evangelism focuses on building relationships with one person at a time. Through friendship, opportunities arise to share the gospel.

Critics claim that lifestyle evangelism is insufficient or that it ignores the Bible’s command to share the gospel verbally. Doing good works is not enough; we must speak the truth. However, lifestyle evangelism can and should do both. There are many examples in Scripture of those who both lived out their faith and verbally shared their faith.

For example, the apostle Peter boldly shared his faith in Christ on the Day of Pentecost in the streets of Jerusalem, and 3,000 people were converted to Christ and baptized as a result (Acts 2:41). Shortly afterwards, he and the other apostles were taking action to meet the needs of widows (Acts 6:1-7).

In addition, members of the early church were known for their good works, being “highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13). At the same time, they were obeying God’s command to “tell the people the full message of this new life” (verse 20). A combination of vibrant faith and a vibrant sharing of faith is the proper balance.

Paul exhorted Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). Paul emphasized that Timothy’s lifestyle and preaching were both important in the effort to evangelize others.

Paul affirmed the same principle in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Though called to boldly proclaim Jesus (Romans 1:16), we also have a clear call to live a life reflective of the message of Christ.

So long as lifestyle evangelism does not replace the verbal sharing of the gospel, it is a legitimate ministry tool. Lifestyle evangelism can be a wonderful way to show faith in action in a world that needs to see what true Christianity looks like.

Recommended Resource: Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You by Joe Aldrich

“What is friendship evangelism?”

Answer:
Friendship evangelism as a method of bringing people to Christ or sharing the gospel of Christ has several meanings and connotations. Some people believe that friendship evangelism requires Christians to become friends with unbelievers, establishing a relationship before attempting to address their need for a Savior. Some see friendship evangelism as living a solid, righteous life—a living testimony—before others so that they desire that kind of life and ask how to achieve it. At that point, the gospel is shared. Still others believe that living a righteous life in the world is evangelism enough and that no further efforts are necessary. The theory is that unbelievers will be so convicted of their need for that kind of life that they will seek God on their own. What does the Bible say about friendship evangelism?

Each of the three above-named methods of friendship evangelism falls short of the biblical method of evangelism. The first method, becoming friends with unbelievers in order to gain enough credibility so they will listen to the gospel, fails to recognize several important biblical truths. For one thing, believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14–17). The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles. But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever? In light of James 4:4 and Ephesians 5:11, such a relationship is not biblical. The unsaved person is part of the world, which hates God and the people of God. How can such a person have affection and respect for believers, who are part of the kingdom of God? Are we to be friendly towards unbelievers? Absolutely! Are we to have intimate relationships with unbelievers? Biblically speaking, no.

Furthermore, neither Jesus nor the disciples practiced this type of friendship evangelism. Jesus didn’t limit His gospel presentations to His friends and relations. He preached to complete strangers the message of repentance from sin and salvation through Him. He sent His disciples out two by two, and they “preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). If people refused to listen to them, Jesus instructed them to “shake the dust” off their feet and move on to the next town. He never encouraged them to settle down for a few months and develop friendships with those who rejected His message. Nor did He tell them to avoid quoting Scriptures so that their hearers wouldn’t be offended or turned off to the gospel. He knew that the “message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and that most people will reject that message, no matter how friendly the manner in which it is presented. Christ was rejected by the world, and He told us to expect the same reaction (John 15:18–20).

What about the method of “evangelizing” through our living testimony? There is no doubt that we are to live righteous lives before the watching world, and there certainly is power in the testimony of a life transformed by Christ. A classic example of this is Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–42). Jesus was able to tell her everything about her life, including the sin she was living in now. Jesus, in His infallible way, gave her the gospel, and, of course, she believed. John 4:39 picks up the story: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers” (John 4:39–41).

Everyone in that town knew this woman and the sordid life she lived. What caused them to believe in Christ was not only her words about Jesus, but her transformed life. She was a living testimony to the power of the gospel of Christ. So impactful was the change in her life that they knew something miraculous had happened, and they asked Jesus to remain with them, which He did for two days, preaching the same gospel of repentance and the offer of the living water of eternal life through Him. “And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41). In this instance, both the preaching of the Word of God and the testimony of a life changed by that Word bore the fruit of repentance.

But was the woman’s changed life sufficient to bring others to the Savior? No, but it was the impetus for them to seek more information. Can we today expect that our lives will be sufficient testimony to convince unbelievers of their need for Christ? The problem that arises in this third type of friendship evangelism is that too often the lives of Christians are not a good witness of the Lord and Savior we profess to know and serve. Too often the world sees in us more of a reflection of them than a reflection of Christ. To rely exclusively on the “living testimony” of redeemed sinners who, while saved by grace, still battle the flesh on a daily basis—without the testimony of the truth of Scripture—is to handcuff ourselves in a way the Bible never bids us to do. Not even the most well-lived life can compare with the power of the Word of God. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

Clearly, the biblical method of evangelism is the faithful proclamation of the truth of Scripture in conjunction with the living testimony of those who have been changed by that truth. When Jesus went about teaching the gospel message of salvation, He taught love and forgiveness, being kind and compassionate. But He went to sinners in order to convict them of their sins. A case in point is the very Samaritan woman we’ve been talking about here. Remember . . . the very first word Jesus said when He began His ministry was “Repent!” “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17). We are commissioned to bring that same message to the world, speaking the truth in love from a heart changed by the Savior.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism Explosion, Fourth Edition by D. James Kennedy

Lecture 5

Evangelism in the New Testament

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated,

At the end of this unit you should :

1 – know and present the core of the gospel to unbelievers with reference to ways of evangelism in the New Testament evaluate his personal involvement and commitment to evangelism.

2 – create a plan to equip church members to know and present the core of the gospel to unbelievers.

Key Verse:

27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27–28.9The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and strive,b because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1Tim. 4:10

I AM A MISSIONARY

4min

“I AM A MISSIONARY” was directed and produced by the Fire and Fragrance Media Team. http://www.fireandfragrance.com

What’s The Model For Evangelism In The New Testament?

Apologist Simon Brace explains a method of evangelism from the New Testament that Christians should implement.

3mins

Eight Principles of New Testament Evangelism

J. D. Payne Category: Themed Articles Issue: 05-2007

Although there are many evangelism tools and resources available today to assist us in our ministries, there is no better resource than scripture. An examination of the approaches of Jesus and the Apostolic Church to evangelizing their world included at least eight principles.

1. They proclaimed an exclusive gospel. The message of Jesus and the Apostolic Church was not just another message (1 Corinthians 1:23). Although it was good news, it was an exclusive type of good news. Salvation was found in no one other than Christ, and people had to place explicit faith in him (Acts 4:12). Jesus was seen as the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus was proclaimed to Jew and Gentile (Acts 20:21). This gospel was proclaimed to those following the Jewish religious ways (John 3) and Samaritan faith traditions (John 4, Acts 8). It was also proclaimed to the extremely religious (Acts 17) and to the God-fearers (Acts 10). It was news of love, hope, freedom, healing, deliverance, reconciliation and forgiveness. It was a message of God incarnating himself among people, dying as atonement for the sins of the world and resurrecting from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

2. They were intentional in sharing the gospel. Evangelism did not just happen by coincidence. They were intentional in their efforts. Evangelism was not a backup plan in case the other good deeds of the Church did not work. John records, “And he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). Although it is easy to miss the gravity of these simple seven English words, it should be remembered that no decent, right-minded Jew would ever travel through Samaria when traveling from Judea to Galilee. Rather than journey through their region, Jewish people would circumvent the entire area. Jesus, however, intentionally entered into this area and encountered the Samaritan woman, who, along with her village, became a believer (John 4:39-42). Following this account, Jesus leaves the area. Apparently the primary reason Jesus traveled through Samaria was to reach these people with the gospel.

3. They were Spirit-led. It has been said that the Book of Acts should actually be titled, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.” From the very beginning (Acts 1:8), the Holy Spirit was the one who enabled the Church to be effective witnesses throughout the world. He was the one who provides boldness to share the gospel (Acts 4:31). He worked through the apostles to perform signs and wonders (Acts 2:43). He called out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).

Following a great awaking in a Samaritan city (Acts 8:4-8), Philip received word from an “angel of the Lord” (Acts 8:26) to take a southbound road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza and await further instructions. Upon his arrival, the Spirit told him to go up to the chariot of the Ethiopian who was ready to come to faith (Acts 8:29). Also, the Spirit led Peter to evangelize the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:19-20).

4. They understood the importance of culture. Jesus and the Apostolic Church knew about the value of culture in the communication of the gospel. For example, in Paul’s Mars’ Hill address, he began his message by stating what would have been a compliment to the Athenians, namely, that they were very religious people (Acts 17:22). He then decided to connect with his Athenian hearers not with a passage from the Old Testament, but by quoting from their own poets (Acts 17:28-29). In his defense before Agrippa, Paul made certain to conduct himself appropriately as any proper orator would have before such a statesman by stretching out his hand before proceeding to speak (Acts 26:1). Being aware of the various cultures of the people to whom they were speaking allowed the early evangelists to connect with their audiences and gain a hearing.

5. They were flexible to the context. Closely related to their understanding of the value of culture was the fact that the methods and gospel presentations of Jesus and the Apostolic Church varied from situation to situation. Jesus did not speak to Zacchaeus as he did to Nicodemus. Paul did not present himself in the same manner to Agrippa as he did to Lydia (Acts 16). Jesus’ encounter with the Gerasene demoniac required a different approach than how he engaged the Samaritan woman. Although the gospel message did not change (Acts 20:21), the contexts required different methods of engagement and communication.

6. They began where people were in their spiritual journeys. In many evangelistic encounters, Jesus and the Apostolic Church began with the people’s felt needs. Since Nicodemus believed that his genealogical account was sufficient to earn God’s favor, Jesus spoke of being “born again” (John 3:3). The Samaritan woman was not concerned with her heritage; rather, she was concerned with getting water from a well. Jesus used the felt need as an opportunity to speak of “living water” (John 4:10). Philip did not begin sharing with the Ethiopian a discourse about Adam and Eve; rather, he started preaching from the passage about which the man had questions (Acts 8:35).

7. They were sensitive to the fears, hurts and concerns of others while speaking the truth in love. Although Jesus could have spent much time speaking about the evils of adultery and fornication to the Samaritan woman, he acknowledged her wickedness and continued on in the conversation (John 4:17-18). Jesus could have scolded and severely rebuked Zacchaeus for having wicked business practices (Luke 19:7). He decided, however, to stay at his house, bring salvation (Luke 19:9) and gain the reputation as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Luke 7:34). Jesus and the Apostolic Church never denied wickedness; instead, they always called people to repentance out of love (Mark 10:21), even when they spoke to the self-righteous.

8. They were post-conversion-oriented. Although evangelism is the first step of the Great Commission, the mandate to the Church includes making disciples (Matthew 28:19). The New Testament was not written to provide its readers with every detail of the historic events. Sometimes, it is easy to wonder what happened to those first century people who were evangelized but are not mentioned again in scripture. Despite this silence, Jesus and the Apostolic Church were concerned with what occurred in the lives of people after they came to faith. A simple reading of the Book of Acts and the Epistles reveals that the new believers were gathered together in new churches. Paul followed up with the new believers through visits, letters and messengers.

Church planting was (and still is) a major part of fulfilling the Great Commission. Following the conversion of the Gerasene demoniac, the man begged Jesus to allow him to get into the boat and accompany him. Rather than agreeing to the man’s plea, Jesus immediately calls the man to obedience and to bear fruit for the kingdom by sending him back to his region to proclaim the works of God (Mark 5:19). The man obeyed and “everyone marveled” (Mark 5:20). Also, Philip made certain that the Ethiopian was baptized (Acts 8:36-39).

Principles are timeless and translatable from culture to culture. As individuals concerned with global evangelization, may we consider how to apply these New Testament principles to our ministries for his glory.


A person smiling for the camera

Description automatically generated

Dr. J. D. Payne serves with both the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members.

Article:

1Lausanne World Pulse, P.O. Box 794, Wheaton, Illinois, USA, 60187Email: info@lausanneworldpulse.comA free, monthly, online publication that provides you with evangelism and mission news and information.

 RTM. (TWR) THEMED ARTICLES: Early Church Models of Evangelism and Missions Evangelism and the Early Church

By Jerry Root

There has been no perfect period in church history. The first-century Church must not be over-idealized. According to theologian Walter Elwell, in the New Testament epistles alone, the Church had to be corrected some 150 times.1 We must always be careful to avoid projections and over-idealizations of any time or place.

Nevertheless, the early Church still has much to say to us today, and it is wise to be attentive to its lessons. There are two mistakes that can be made about traditions of the past: (1) to reject the past altogether as archaic and irrelevant and move on to questions of the present and (2) to be dominated by the past, letting the calcifying conventions of days gone by tyrannize healthy communal development.

 G. K. Chesterton says a proper understanding of the past is to make some accommodation so its voice might still be heard. Every time a given age sits at the table to consider an event or challenge, it should always give a seat to the voice of the past. It is, according to Chesterton, democracy extended through time.2

A true grasp of tradition gives a vote to the dead. This way, the wisdom of the past is not neglected and the challenges of the day benefit by such wisdom while also being infused with fresh ideas. Bringing this kind of balance into the discussion, we must consider:

  • Does the early Church contribute anything to today’s Church relative to its mission in the world?
  • •What are the ways Christians in the past shared their faith in Christ, and can that positively affect the ways Christians share Christ with others today

When Jesus gathered his disciples to himself, he used one of two methods.

1.Contact evangelism. Jesus simply came to some and called them to follow. One example of this is Matthew. There may have been an earlier relationship that existed between Matthew and Jesus, but there is no textual reference to it. Therefore, it can be imagined that Jesus simply encountered some people and called them into relationship. Similarly, some people can be led to Christ after an initial contact. It is wise to be sensitive to how the Spirit of God may be moving in any given conversation as he woos others to himself through us.

2.Relational evangelism (i.e., “webs of relationship”). In John 1, Andrew went and brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Likewise, Phillip found his friend, Nathaniel. So too, God may have us share Christ through friendships we already have. We must not neglect the fact that God often reaches out through established relationships in order to make Christ known in the world.

Both contact evangelism and relational evangelism have their risks. In contact evangelism, the difficulty is in trying to find natural segues for the gospel with a person we have only just met. It is also difficult to establish creditability. On the other hand, an old friend or family member who knows our history also knows our shortcomings. This can harm our message. We must confess personal failures and testify to the love and forgiveness of God and its ongoing power to forgive and transform. When this occurs, even our failures can be an asset when sharing Christ.

Learning from the Early Disciples The disciples engaged in both kinds of evangelism. There is much we can learn from those who first took the gospel to others. The Book of Acts certainly makes a case for contact evangelism:

•Paul talks one-on-one with others in the marketplace.

•Philip speaks with the Ethiopian eunuch whom he just met on the Gaza road.

•Cornelius reaches out to Peter so that Peter might share the gospel to the entire web of family relations in Cornelius’ household.

But the Gospels and the Book of Acts speak of other kinds of evangelism as well:

•Jesus addresses and shares the gospel with large crowds of people.

•At the Feast of Pentecost, Peter preaches openly about Jesus in the public square.

•Paul goes to the partially-informed people gathered at the synagogue; that is, he reaches out to those with an affinity for religion but who have not yet encountered a relationship with the living Christ.

•Paul uses letters to present the gospel to others. (Today’s equivalent of email and social networking provides ample opportunity to do something like this.)

What can we learn from the approaches employed by the early Church to reach others for Christ?

1.They were men and women whose lives were transformed demonstrably by the love and forgiveness of Christ, and it was out of a full heart they shared the gospel with others. When we neglect to share Jesus with others, we might ask if a fresh rekindling of God’s love needs to be generated so that his grace may again flow freely.

2.Early Christians, whose love burned hot for Christ, found obedience to the Great Commission. Their great desire was to tell the world about Jesus death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. They proved themselves faithful to the call of God in their lives.

3.Whether it was to the one unknown person in a public place, to the gathering of a small group of friends and acquaintances invited to hear about Christ, or to an assembled crowd, early church members made the most of the opportunities before them.

4.Early Christians appeared to demonstrate great creativity manifest in the ways they continually sought to share the gospel. This should inspire all who read the New Testament to look for fun and creative ways to make Christ known to others.

5.Early Christians were not willing to let fear keep them from the joy of telling others about Jesus.

While no period in church history has ever had it all together, one thing can be said about the early Church: they were bold about fulfilling their calling to make Christ known to others. In this regard, they have much to tell the Church in every age. The hope for the Church in all times, whatever mistakes may be made in any period of history, is that the Body of Christ not neglect the high call of making Christ known to the world

Endnotes

1. Comments made to me in conversation in the late 1980s.

2. Chesterton, G. K. 1986. Orthodoxy. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Vol. I. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 251

Dr. Jerry Root is associate director of the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He has taught in the evangelism masters program for the past eleven years. Root has invested nineteen years in student ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.

Evangelism from the Book of Acts

Posted on April 1, 2000

by Mans Ramstad

Christians have often assumed that evangelism means verbally sharing the entire saving gospel message with a person. But reading the Book of Acts, one finds that Paul used many methods to share the gospel with people.

Christians have often assumed that evangelism means verbally sharing the entire saving gospel message with a person. But reading the Book of Acts, one finds that Paul used many methods to share the gospel with people. In this article I have organized every evangelistic teaching or encounter in Acts into the following types of evangelism. May it be an inspiration for those of us working in China and elsewhere who often bemoan the fact that we can’t engage in aggressive, public evangelism.

1. Explain how to be saved and persuade the person to be saved. This is what we often assume evangelism means. A good example of this is Peter’s preaching after Pentecost (2:37-40). Peter said, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” And with many other words he solemnly told them, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” And 3,000 people were saved that day.

Another example is found in Acts 17:14, where Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with the people of Thessalonica. Some were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, founding the church of Thessalonica.

While studying Chinese in the early 1990s, I studied the Bible with a friend named Shao. One day we read Mark 7: 18-23, which says man’s behavior is an outflow of his heart: “It is not what is outside a man which makes him unclean, but what comes out from within his heart which makes him unclean.” Seeing his own experience confirmed, immediately Shao heard the Holy Spirit speak to him. I explained how to be saved and persuaded him to be saved, and the next day he was saved. Soon he was baptized. This is not the norm in my ministry, but it is often seen as the norm for evangelism.

Hearts need to be prepared before they can accept the gospel. For example, in Acts 17:1-4 several days of preaching occurred before the Thessalonian Jews believed, and they were faithful Jews with a strong foundation of Bible knowledge.

Other texts: 8:4-13; 8:18-25 (Simon); 9:22 (Saul);14:14-18; 18:4; 19:26; 28:17-31 (Saul).

2. Merely explain how to be saved. In Acts 16 we see two examples. First, in verses 13-15 we learn that Paul and Luke met some women at the river, among whom was Lydia, a fabric seller. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond. There was no need to persuade. Explaining the gospel was enough for her. Second, in verses 29-33, Paul and Silas were in jail. An earthquake shook the jail apart, and the jailer, fearing the prisoners had escaped, prepared to take his own life. Upon learning that Paul and Silas were still there, he fell down before them and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” With that he was saved.

Shaw Pun was our first friend in the city we moved to in 1991. We became fast friends, traveling together, each of us helping the other through the death of a family member, and sharing our lives together. I told her how to be saved many times, but out of respect for her age and situation, I never pressed it upon her. Other Christian friends also shared their testimonies and the gospel with her. Only six years later did she make a decision for Christ, and this was after moving to a far away city.

People need to be told how to be saved, and if the Holy Spirit is working (even if it takes six years), they will respond without heavy pressure.

Other texts: 5:42; 13:1-42 (synagogue); 17:16-34 (Athens)

3. Explain the basics of the Christian faith. In Acts 24 we learn of an encounter between Paul and Felix, governor of Judea, who was trying Paul’s case. In verse 24 we learn that Felix and his wife Drusilla sent for Paul and invited him to speak of the Christian faith. Paul discussed with them righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, and then Felix terminated the conversation. For two years these discussions continued. During that time Paul remained in prison, and to our knowledge, Felix never became a Christian.

Likewise, in Acts 10, Peter respectfully explained the gospel to Cornelius, a curious Gentile. Cornelius had invited Peter to come and speak to him, so he told him what he knew.

This is probably the most common form of evangelism I do. Recently we hiked up a mountain to a famous Catholic temple with a Chinese friend and her son. They were not Catholic and not even religious, but hiking along with thousands of religious devotees allowed us to discuss spiritual things naturally. All the way up the mountain I explained the basics of the Christian faith to them, in particular pointing out the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Nine months later, the son informed me that he had decided to become a Christian. Whether he understands yet what he has said, I don’t know, so I am still following up. Regardless, a spiritual process has begun in his life.

Other texts: 2:143-6 (explain Pentecost); 5:27-33; 7 (Stephen); 8:28-40 (Philip and the eunuch), 13:1-42; 17:16-34 (Athens);28:17-31.

4. Speak to their specific Issues to show how Jesus meets their needs. In Acts 3:1-7 we read about Peter and John going up to the temple to pray. On the way a lame man began begging for alms. Peter replied, “I do not have silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth-walk!” With that the man was healed.

Too often we rely on our own wisdom or resources to help people, when they really need Jesus to meet their deepest needs. He is able to best meet these needs through the mercy of human vessels like us. We must be available to people. Peter did not ignore this irritating beggar. We also need to be in step with the Spirit so that we can discern how Jesus intends to meet the person’s needs.

Several years ago our best friends were discussing getting a divorce. Lin’s husband had had an affair, and she was inconsolable. We spent many hours trying to help her understand forgiveness, and assuring her that she would only further hurt herself if she left him. We shared many Bible passages with her, which gave her much comfort. By God’s mercy, they stayed together, and today are happy again. One weekend Lin was here with another friend (neither of them are Christians), and as we were sharing our testimonies with this friend, Lin commented, “I prefer Christians. I like these kind of people.” She hasn’t been saved yet, but the Holy Spirit is working on her. I believe the Holy Spirit continues to use God’s word to draw her to its truths and ultimately to God himself.

I remember another friend, Ren, coming over one evening to talk. She was distraught. She had been serving for a short time as department head in her hospital. Other department heads were embezzling money, abusing their expense accounts, and fabricating medical records; and yet they were praised and rewarded by the hospital director. Ren wept as I read Psalm 73, about how the unjust always seem to prosper. I believe Jesus wants to meet the needs even of pagans and will use this general mercy to ultimately win some of them to himself.

Other texts: 7 (Stephen); 8:4-13 (Philip healing); 8:28-40 (Philip and the eunuch).

5. Correct any misunderstanding. In Acts 3:12-26, Peter corrects a misunderstanding about how a crippled beggar had been healed. He let the onlookers know that Jesus had worked through him and John. In 14:11-18, Paul healed a lame man. The multitudes saw it and said, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, and attempted to offer sacrifices to them. After restraining the crowds, Paul preached the gospel. But Jews present won them over, and together they stoned Paul and left him for dead.

Probably the strongest example of this type of evangelism is found in Acts 18:24 28, where we learn about Apollos, the devout Jew. He was sincere in what he said, but he was wrong. So one day when he was speaking out in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila clarified his understanding. He accepted their correction and went on to be a powerful witness for Christ (27-28).

In our medical work in China, people see our good deeds and assume we’re communists or humanists, or that all foreigners behave this way. I am constantly called the “modern Dr. Norman Bethune,” a Canadian communist who gave his life for the communist revolution in China. This gives us an opportunity to explain the Christian impetus for our work.

I consistently find Chinese authorities entirely ignorant about the gospel and the church. In fact, I believe that they oppress and intimidate Christians in part because they don’t understand what the gospel is and feel threatened by it. For example, when I first moved to my current home, the local police pulled me aside and warned me that I was not allowed to evangelize Chinese people or take on Chinese Christians as my disciples. In fact, they said, “There have never been any Christians here, never have been, and never will be.” Immediately I explained to them that I would still need the freedom to live a “normal Christian life,” or I could not live here. Curious, the man asked, “And what is the normal Christian life?” So I explained daily Bible reading and prayer, fellowship, Sunday morning worship, and prayer for those in need. To my amazement, the police officer replied, “That sounds reasonable.”

For several years I have been building on that understanding, expanding the parameters within which they will allow us to enjoy a normal Christian life and minister to others, and allaying their fears about Christianity. And I have seen 31 people come to know Christ and be baptized.

Other texts: 8:18-25 (Simon); 10 (Cornelius).

6. Explain the basics of the Christian faith to defend one’s behavior or to prepare for future plans. In Acts 4:7-16 Peter and John are on the hot seat for healing a sick man. Demanding to know by what power they had done it, the leaders threaten them. Peter boldly explains that they healed in the name of Jesus, adding, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Peter evangelizes these officials by simply telling the truth. Eventually the leaders warn them not to preach any more, but in verses 7-21 we read of Peter and John, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”

I try to be clear and honest with local police, not only to correct misunderstandings, but to illustrate my convictions. If I run into problems because of my Christian life in the future, I have prepared a context, or a frame of understanding, within which the local officials can interpret my behavior. They will not be threatened when they learn, for example, that you have given Bibles away, because you have already told them that your work is based on the Bible. For example, we have a fund to provide financial assistance to poor patients. When these patients receive a Bible along with financial help, the local people do not see it as subversive, for they know that both acts are from the same Christian conviction and done respectfully and appropriately.

In Acts, of course, the evangelists were citizens of the country in which they were evangelizing. It was impossible for them to be “kicked out.” For tentmakers, however, certain types of behavior may lead to our expulsion. We need to think and pray about what this means for our ministry today.

Psalm 119:46 says, “I will also speak of Thy testimonies before kings, and shall not be ashamed.” And verse 161 reads, “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of Thy words.” There seems to be no precedent in Acts for being a clandestine Christian, and nothing in the current climate in China calls for it, either. By being clear and bold, we defend our behavior, help local officials better understand the truth about the Christian church, and perhaps win an audience for the gospel.

Other texts: 5:27-33; 22; 24 (Felix); 26 (Agrippa).

We must be careful not to compromise our effectiveness by bemoaning that we cannot engage in large-scale public evangelism. All the while, we could be missing out on untold, very effective opportunities for ministry. May the six types of evangelism I have described from Acts help unleash more people for positive and effective witness.

———-

Mans Ramstad (pseudonym) is a veteran tentmaker in China. He works with an organization providing professional services to various agencies in China.

EMQ, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 200-204. Copyright © 2000 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

Evangelistic Methods in Acts

Arthur B. Rutledge  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 17 – Fall 1974

Acts is only a few sentences long when we encounter the final earthly words of the risen Lord. He reinforced what he had already said to his disciples in Jerusalem and in Galilee, and articulated their commission still more clearly. He commanded: “You shall be My witnesses, both in Jerusalem; in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (1:8).[1]

That little band must have wondered how they, with all of their limitations, could fill an order like that. Along with the commission, and preceding it, was the promise of power from on high. They must delay their witnessing activities until they had received this power. As they waited they prayed. The answer was not long in coming. After ten days, on one unforgettable day, three thousand persons committed themselves to Christ. This was the start, and the rest of the book of Acts tells the story of an exciting, expanding fellowship of men and women who witnessed to Jesus Christ with power and abandon.

Acts refers to the numerical growth of the young movement in the face of external and internal problems. Soon the followers of Christ reached five thousand (4:4). Other reports relate continuing growth: “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (5:14); “the disciples were increasing in number” (6:1) ; “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7); “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (9:31); “the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied” (12:24); and “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (19:20).

There was remarkable geographical expansion also. For a time the gospel was limited to tiny Palestine, particularly to Jerusalem with its overload of provincialism and prejudice. The vitality of the movement soon aroused severe opposition, exploding into persecution. The stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, triggered further persecution and the Chris­ tian flock in Jerusalem fled for safety. As they dispersed they did not forsake their faith. Instead “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (8:4). Persecution thus provided the impulse for the extension of the gospel through­ out the province of Judea and into Samaria and Galilee. Further persecuting efforts sent a vigorous young Pharisee named Saul to Damascus to suppress any believers who might be found there. His conversion en route added to the consternation of Jewish opponents and provided the Christian fellowship with its most dynamic leader. Under the aggressive direction of Paul the apostle the gospel advanced to fresh successes in Asia Minor, then Europe, and finally imperial Rome itself.

Christianity so moved the Mediterranean world of that day that in Thessalonica it was reported that these people “that have turned the world upside down” (17:6, KJV) had reached their city. The gospel even infiltrated “Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22). The names of Peter and John, and of Paul and Barnabas and Silas are prominent in this saga, but the witness was shared by thousands of others whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” and nowhere else.

An Evangelistic Lifestyle

The sharing of their faith became a way of life to these early believers. They witnessed by what they were, what they did, and what they said.

The church in Jerusalem is a shining example of a witness by quality of life. Members sold their property and shared with one another as any had need, “and day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people” (2:44-47; cf. 4:34-37). Their devotion to Christ and their love for one another made an impression upon non-believers: they earned “favor with all the people.” Against the background of the deception and deaths of Ananias and Sapphira onlookers must have been impressed with both the generosity and the ethical standards of this body of believers. There was such awe and fear at one point that unbelievers dared not associate with them, but the record adds: “however, the people held them in high esteem” (5:13).

Prayer occupied a dominant place in the life of the believers. The dynamic prelude to Pentecost was to be found in a little group of praying Christians (1:14). When Peter and John were released from prison, with further threats still ringing in their ears, the church prayed. They asked God to “grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence (or boldness) . . . . And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:2, 31). The courage and boldness of these believers was a testimony to their faith. When Peter was in prison again because of his continued preaching of the gospel, the church prayed fervently for him and were amazed when God miraculously answered their prayers (12:5, 16). The conduct and spirit of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail must have impressed the jailer and helped bring him to the question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30).

Compassion for the needy was a hallmark of these early believers and was a testimony to the love of God at work in them. Not only did they take care of their needy (4:34); they reached out in love to cripples, to ill persons, and even to the bereaved. In many cases God provided miraculous power for the healing of the suffering. The lame beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem (3:2-8), many paralyzed and lame people in Samaria (8:7), paralyzed Aeneas of Lydda (9:33, 34), and a cripple in Lystra ( 14:8-10) were enabled to walk. Christian compassion and divine power reached out even in the face of death. Dorcas of Joppa, a disciple renowned for her “deeds of kindness and charity,” became ill and died, and God restored her through Peter (9:36-41). Eutychus of Troas fell to his death from the third story while Paul preached until midnight, and God used Paul to bring the young man back to life ( 20:7-10) .

Though first-century believers were deeply dedicated to spiritual values through Jesus Christ, they were not unmindful of daily human needs. “Pie in the sky when you die” did not describe their understanding of the Christian way. As they reached out to people in need and honestly cared for them in their human situation as well as for their immortal souls, they bore witness to Jesus Christ.

Within the past decade many Southern Baptist churches, and others as well, have become aware of the place of social ministries in the name of Christ. As they have reached out in genuine compassion to the disadvantaged they have discovered new opportunities for Christian witnessing. The fact that churches care for the poor, the handicapped, the aged, the ill, and the institutionalized is itself a witness to the Lord who loves every person.

But deeds alone are not enough. Our witness must be verbalized as opportunity can be found. Acts is replete with accounts of persons who know Christ telling others about him. The inspired writer employs a wide variety of words to describe the many-sided witnessing activities of these first generation Christians. They refer to preaching (kerusso) and teaching (didasko), to speaking (laleo) and saying (lego). There are unusual words which occur but a few times: emphasizing the qualities of speaking boldly (parresiazomai); refuting completely, “to argue down to a finish” (diakateleg­ chomai); and expounding and propounding the scriptures (paratithemi).

The favorite word is euaggelizo, to bring or announce glad tidings.[2] It is the proclaiming of good news—the wonderful news of God’s redeeming love in Christ Jesus. It is this word which has given to the English language the word evangelism and related words. It is joined by another word built on the verb stem, aggello, to announce, to report. This is kataggello, to declare, with added emphasis on firmness and conviction.[3] These two words occur more than twenty times in Acts with reference to the proclamation of the gospel.

Words related to martus, witness, occur almost as many times. Both the noun martus,[4] from which our English word martyr comes; and the verb diamarturomai,[5] to make solemn attestation or witness, are used frequently throughout Acts.

One of the most interesting words in this witnessing vocabulary is dialegomai,[6] from which we have derived the word dialogue. A. T. Robertson defined it as “to converse ( interchange of ideas), then to teach in the Soratic (‘dialectic’) method of questions and answers . . . the simple, to discourse, but always with the idea of intellectual stimulus.[7]

These prominent words magnify the fact that the disciples knew they had a message for the world—good news-and they shared it with conviction. They were more than heralds: they were witnesses to what God had done and what he wanted to do for the blessing of every person in the world. And they were willing to bear their witness even at the cost. of life if necessary. The word dialegomai is used only to describe activities of the apostle Paul, and those only in Europe. It speaks of his style of witness in many settings: he reasoned with Jews and Gentiles, and even with governor Felix, as he sought to persuade them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and the world’s Lord and Savior.

The great need in contemporary Christianity is for those who wear the name of Christ to adopt a lifestyle which likewise bears witness to our Lord at every opportunity. Today, as in the first century, churches which are thoroughly committed to Christ and individuals marked by integrity and compassion bear witness to their Lord and make possible the effective verbalizing of their faith. Deeds alone are not enough. Our Lord uses godly lives and loving words to draw people to himself. These are marks of an evangelistic lifestyle.

Mass Evangelism and Personal Witnessing

Those New Testament Christians viewed witnessing as the responsibility of every Christian—not the apostles only but lay persons as well. They proclaimed the word to crowds and to individuals. They preached Christ to those who would listen and they reasoned with doubters. They related “salvation history” and they shared their personal experience with Christ. They responded to eager questioners and they offered the good news to reluctant hearers.

They practiced both mass evangelism and personal witnessing. On that great day of Pentecost God blessed the preaching of Peter and the apostles with three thousand converts and gave Christianity a mighty thrust forward (2:41) Paul began his ministry in Pisidian Antioch by preaching to the worshippers gathered on a Sabbath. Some followers were gained that day, and great interest was aroused. On “the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God,” and it could be written that “the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region” (13:14-49).

The deacon-evangelist Philip went to the city of Samaria, crossing the Jewish barriers of racial and religious exclusivism and proclaimed Christ with great effectiveness. Luke recorded that “they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ, (and) they were baptized, men and women alike (8:5-12). As Philip headed back to Jerusalem God directed him to the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. There God led him to join the man in an approaching chariot. He was a devout Ethiopian on his way home, reading from the prophet Isaiah, ready to accept the gospel. As Philip shared with him the truth that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah the man eagerly responded, was baptized, and went on his way rejoicing” (8:25-39). Here is “lay witnessing” at its best!

The book of Acts is full of accounts of Peter and John, Stephen and Philip, Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Apollos, and a host of unidentified disciples who preached Christ to crowds and to individuals. The Jerusalem church in the face of mounting persecution, “kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the…Christ” . . .”every day, in the temple and from house to house (5:42). The apostle Paul described his ministry in Ephesus as marked by teaching “publicly and from house to house,” calling both Jews and Greeks to “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:20, 21). They practiced both mass evangelism and personal witnessing.

These zealous Christians used every platform available to them’. They spoke in synagogues and market places, in courtrooms and council chambers, in homes and prisons, at a riverside and on a dusty highway.

As the gospel spread beyond Palestine the synagogue became the favorite starting place. It provided an audience of reverent people, worshippers of Jehovah. Jewish custom would provide an opportunity to speak. The worshippers might have been expected to respond readily to the affirmation of Christ as the long-awaited Messiah. These were the advantages, but a fam1har negative pattern prevailed: they preached the gospel, some people believed, many resisted, the disciples were expelled from the synagogue, and then they carried the gospel to the Gentiles. But this predictable process made the populace aware of the gospel and opened new doors for witnessing. Ephesus furnishes a dramatic example. There Paul taught in the synagogue for three months. Opposition mounted and the apostle gathered together the group of disciples, withdrew to the lecture hall of Tyrannus, and continued his teaching. His ministry in that city lasted two years, “so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:8-10).

Though they liked to begin in a synagogue, most of the apostolic witnessing was done away from church buildings and stated services. We read of gospel preaching in the homes of the Roman centurion in Caesarea (10:28-48), the jailer in Philippi (16:32, 33), and Titus Justus, located next to the synagogue in Corinth (18:7). Paul spoke at the Areopagus in Athens, a public place where Athenians gathered to examine new philosophies (17:22-31).

These early gospel heralds encountered Judaism almost everywhere they went. They encountered strongly entrenched pagan religions in Lystra where a temple of Zeus (Latin, Jupiter) was located (14: 12, 13), in Athens where idols filled the city (17:16), and Ephesus where the goddess Artemis (Latin, Diana) was worshipped (19:24-34). They were well acquainted with Judaism, and Paul, in particular, was well versed also in pagan religion and philosophy. Instead of fighting Judaism they exalted Jesus Christ, and called people to repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Before predominantly Jewish hearers these early preachers recited “the mighty deeds of God” (2:11) and the glorious climax in the coming of Christ for mankind’s redemption.[8] Nowhere did Paul exhibit his skill in dealing with pagan worshippers as at Athens. Without attacking their idolatry he referred to the idol inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,” declaring that the One whom they recognized by that idol was the Living God. Starting there he moved on to affirm the resurrection of Christ (17:22-31). Many scoffed at the thought of resurrection, but some believed and joined him.

Today as in New Testament days we must use every avenue open to us for witnessing to Jesus Christ. There is urgent need for an evangelistic pulpit today. There is a fresh resurgence of lay involvement in personal witnessing. Contemporary secular lifestyles, plus the many demands upon people’s time, make revival meetings more difficult in many places than a generation ago. Nevertheless this writer is convinced that thee continues to be a place for mass evangelism, while giving major attention to the equipping of lay persons for day-by-day witness.

But if today’s churches are to be effective in carrying the gospel across barriers of culture we must go beyond the church buildings with our witness. We must follow the example of the first Christians. We can rejoice in the large numbers of people who attend church services, but in practically any community on any Sunday there are more persons in no church service than the total church attendance in all the churches of the community. The evangelistic field indeed is outside the church doors. Television and radio help, and home visitation is important. But hundreds of churches have discovered that through innovative activities they can reach people who cannot be interested by traditional approaches. Home Bible study fellowships for adults, backyard Bible schools for children, varied weekday activities designed to reach specific target groups, and musical and worship services held outdoors or in a public hall are methods some churches are using effectively. Ministries such as these provide opportunities for personal witness which might not be found in any other way.

When we get beyond the church buildings we become more aware of the religious pluralism of this nation and of the need to share the gospel with followers of other faiths. An effective witness to members of non-Christian or quasi-Christian groups requires knowledge of those religions and wisdom in bearing witness to Christ.

Whether they proclaimed the gospel to a crowd or to an individual, these early Christians witnessed primarily to adults. There are accounts of families turning to Christ, but even in these cases the primary focus was upon adults (10:24; 16:13-15, 32-34).

Mass evangelism and personal witness describe the broad areas of witnessing which we find in Acts. Both areas are valid today.

Organizing Witnessing Churches

The church occupies a prominent place in Acts. We are familiar with the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch of Syria, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Rome, but these are only a few of the churches formed during the exciting third of a century touched by Acts.

One important dimension of the evangelism of that era was the formation of believers into churches. It was not enough to win converts and baptize them. New believers needed the encouragement of other believers. New believers must become a part of a constant Christian witness to their communities. This is the way it was as the gospel vaulted out of Jerusalem into all of Judea and into Samaria and Galilee. As members of the Jerusalem church scattered in the wake of Stephen’s martyrdom they preached Christ wherever they wen. Converts were won and Christian congregations were established. On a missionary tour through Asia Minor Paul and Barnabas formed churches of new disciples, revisited the churches on their return trip and appointed elders in every church, praying with them and commending them to the Lord (14:21-23). On his second missionary tour, with Silas as his co-worker, Paul traveled through Syria and Cilicia, “strengthening the churches” (15:41). From there they moved northward, visiting the churches of Asia Minor again. Luke reported succinctly that “so the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily” (16:5). His third missionary tour gave Paul an opportunity to meet with the elders of the Ephesian church at the coastal town of Miletus. There, in a moving conference, Paul charged them to “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (20:28). Paul’s encouraging of these church leaders points up his unusual effectiveness in involving others in the care of the churches and the furtherance of the gospel. Besides these unnamed elders of the Ephesian church we read of the young men Mark (15:39), Silas (15:40; cf. 15:32), and Timothy (16:1-3). We learn of Caius and Aristarchus of Macedonia (19:29; Sopater of Berea, Secundus of Thessalonica, Caius of Derbe, Tychicus of the province of Asia (20:4; 27:2), and Trophimus from Ephesus (21:29). And Luke the physician was with him constantly from Troas onward, as reflected by the “we” passages. Paul was a tireless worker, and in his zeal to bring people to Jesus Christ he multiplied his capabilities by enlisting and training others to join him in the work.

It is obvious that Paul’s view of evangelism would not let him rest when a conversion was registered or a church was formed. He saw churches as nurturing fellowships for individual Christians, and as evangelizing agents for the spread of the gospel. It was the gathering of believers into continuing fellowships of worshipping, witnessing Christians that gave the Christian movement continuity.

In preaching the gospel and establishing churches the early Christian leaders gave attention to the influential population centers. Peter gave most of his ministry to building up the work in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas spent a full year with the missionary-minded church in Syrian Antioch. Paul and his co-workers labored a year and a half in Corinth and two years in Ephesus. And Paul preached two years in Rome while in the custody of the law. Churches were established in these key cities, and in tens of others. Acts refers to believers, and usually churches, in such cities and towns as Damascus, Lydda, Sharon, Joppa, Caesarea, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Tyre, and Ptolemais. Every one of these churches added strength to the Christian cause and helped extend the gospel to still other people.

It is true today as it was in New Testament days that it is a personal commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior, not church membership, which makes one a Christian. But for the sake of Christian growth and Christian expansion the church occupies a pivotal role. It is important that Christians of today recognize the need of additional churches in various fast-growing population areas and in presently unchurched or under-churched localities. Such congregations, properly begun, well located, and effectively led, are potential instruments of the Holy Spirit in bringing still other persons to the abundant and eternal life which comes through Christ our Lord.

To All Kinds of People

Regardless of the evangelistic methods or techniques they employed, the early Christians were trying to persuade all kinds of people to become followers of their Lord. On his first visit to Philippi the apostle Paul shared the love of Christ with such varied persons as a prosperous businesswoman, a slave girl, and a jailer (16:13-34). When the Jews of Corinth opposed him he took the gospel to Gentiles (18:6). Near the end of his pilgrimage he could testify before king Agrippa that he had spent his years as a Christian “witnessing both to small and great” (26:22).

The early church, particularly the Jerusalem church, had difficulty understanding that the gospel was for all people. Even the apostle Peter needed a supernatural vision and direct orders from God before he would take the gospel to Gentile Cornelius and his family (10:9-20). Upon his return to Jerusalem Peter then had to face Christian brothers who were disturbed by his crossing of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (11:1-3). When the word circulated that Gentiles in Syrian Antioch had received Christ some members of the Jerusalem church took it upon themselves to travel to Antioch to insist that these Gentiles could not reach Christ except through Moses—they must be circumcised! (15:1). The “selective evangelism” which is common among us today—an evangelism which reaches out primarily to “our kind” of people—indicates that this lesson has not yet been fully learned.

In addition to the barrier of racism, those early Christians crossed also the barrier of religious error. Closed-minded Judaism and zealous paganism threw formidable roadblocks in the way of Christian advance. On the day of Pentecost the preaching in Jerusalem was addressed to Jews, though residents of many other lands, both Jews and proselytes, heard the good news (2:6-11, 14-40). Wherever Paul and his associates worked, they preached to Jews and to Gentiles, pointing them to Christ as the answer in their quest for God. These early Christians held firmly that religion is not enough, so they proclaimed without apology the message which the apostle Peter had expressed eloquently in a tense situation in Jerusalem: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (4:12).

The barriers of culture likewise did not deter the believers from propagating their faith. They went where people were, and shared their knowledge of Christ with all who would listen. They communicated the gospel with a crippled beggar (3: 1-10) and with a Roman king (26: 1-23). They led the pro­consul of the island of Cyprus to Christ (13:4-12) and shared their faith with the natives and leaders of the island of Malta (28:1-11).

The apostle Paul was uniquely equipped to lead out in carrying the gospel across such barriers as race and religion, language and culture. Growing up in a Gentile city and thoroughly trained in Judaism, he was equally at home with Gentiles and Jews. He was a cosmopolitan man. Long before Paul accepted Christ as Lord, God was preparing him as “a chosen vessel” to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.

It is the account of the great day of Pentecost that underlines with impressive eloquence the fact that the Christian mission is to all people. On that day the followers of Christ were empowered by God to proclaim the gospel in languages which they had never used before (2:6). The hearers marveled and asked: “How is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (2:8). Was it necessary for God to perform this miracle for the hearers to understand? The answer is that they did not need to be addressed in their own language, for they understood Peter when he followed with a message in the dialect of that land. They understood him well enough for three thousand to be converted to Christ. Why then the multiplicity of tongues? This writer is convinced that one reason is that God was making clear that the gospel was not alone for Jews, but for Medes and Mesopotamians, for Arabs and Romans—for every person (2:9-11). God spoke to every man as he enabled his preachers to address the people, group by group, in what has been called “the language of their hearts.”

And the disciples took their Lord seriously. They sought to win to Christ every person they could reach. Their inclusive evangelism is a challenge to us to seek to communicate the gospel to all kinds of people. The evangelism we find in the book of Acts, at its mature level, ruled no one out. It drew the circle of compassion large enough to include every person and “every kind” of person. It furnishes a challenging example for Southern Baptists and for all contemporary Christians.

The methods of the first century are basic to effective evangelism today. We must use every contemporary communications medium available to us to proclaim the glad tidings of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. We must proclaim the gospel faithfully to the masses. We must place the person-to-person sharing of that faith at the top of the list. This was effective in the first century and it is still effective nineteen centuries later.

The best thing to be said about the evangelistic methods in Acts is that methodology emerged as the people sought and followed the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The best methods apart from the power of God will be fruitless; and imperfect methods, accompanied by the power of the Spirit, will be fruitful. Lives are transformed, the church is built up, and Christ is honored when his servants use the wisest available methodology, witness boldly, and depend upon the Holy Spirit for guidance and power.

Category: Journal Article
Tags: Acts, Gospel & Acts
Southwestern Journal of Theology
To download full issues and find more information on the Southwestern Journal of Theology, go to swbts.edu/journal.

Lecture 6

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated,

Evangelism in the Book of Acts

At the end of the lesson the student should :

1 – know and present the core of the gospel to unbelievers with reference to ways of evangelism in the New Testament evaluate his personal involvement and commitment to evangelism.

2 – create a plan to equip church members to know and present the core of the gospel to unbelievers.

But 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.” Acts 1:8

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” Acts 20:7

Overview: Acts Ch. 1-12

Philip the Evangelist. 5mins

In this video demo, Dennis Pollock shares powerful lessons we can all learn from the evangelist named Philip that is written about in the book of Acts.

In-Depth Evangelism. 10mins

In developing a church-planting strategy, we should help people understand the redemptive message as it unfolds in the total biblical story. Acts 19:8-10, Acts 35

Evangelistic Methods in Acts

Arthur B. Rutledge  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 17 – Fall 1974

Acts is only a few sentences long when we encounter the final earthly words of the risen Lord. He reinforced what he had already said to his disciples in Jerusalem and in Galilee, and articulated their commission still more clearly. He commanded: “You shall be My witnesses, both in Jerusalem; in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (1:8).[1]

That little band must have wondered how they, with all of their limitations, could fill an order like that. Along with the commission, and preceding it, was the promise of power from on high. They must delay their witnessing activities until they had received this power. As they waited they prayed. The answer was not long in coming. After ten days, on one unforgettable day, three thousand persons committed themselves to Christ. This was the start, and the rest of the book of Acts tells the story of an exciting, expanding fellowship of men and women who witnessed to Jesus Christ with power and abandon.

Acts refers to the numerical growth of the young movement in the face of external and internal problems. Soon the followers of Christ reached five thousand (4:4). Other reports relate continuing growth: “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (5:14); “the disciples were increasing in number” (6:1) ; “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (6:7); “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (9:31); “the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied” (12:24); and “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (19:20).

There was remarkable geographical expansion also. For a time the gospel was limited to tiny Palestine, particularly to Jerusalem with its overload of provincialism and prejudice. The vitality of the movement soon aroused severe opposition, exploding into persecution. The stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, triggered further persecution and the Chris­ tian flock in Jerusalem fled for safety. As they dispersed they did not forsake their faith. Instead “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (8:4). Persecution thus provided the impulse for the extension of the gospel through­ out the province of Judea and into Samaria and Galilee. Further persecuting efforts sent a vigorous young Pharisee named Saul to Damascus to suppress any believers who might be found there. His conversion en route added to the consternation of Jewish opponents and provided the Christian fellowship with its most dynamic leader. Under the aggressive direction of Paul the apostle the gospel advanced to fresh successes in Asia Minor, then Europe, and finally imperial Rome itself.

Christianity so moved the Mediterranean world of that day that in Thessalonica it was reported that these people “that have turned the world upside down” (17:6, KJV) had reached their city. The gospel even infiltrated “Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22). The names of Peter and John, and of Paul and Barnabas and Silas are prominent in this saga, but the witness was shared by thousands of others whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” and nowhere else.

An Evangelistic Lifestyle

The sharing of their faith became a way of life to these early believers. They witnessed by what they were, what they did, and what they said.

The church in Jerusalem is a shining example of a witness by quality of life. Members sold their property and shared with one another as any had need, “and day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people” (2:44-47; cf. 4:34-37). Their devotion to Christ and their love for one another made an impression upon non-believers: they earned “favor with all the people.” Against the background of the deception and deaths of Ananias and Sapphira onlookers must have been impressed with both the generosity and the ethical standards of this body of believers. There was such awe and fear at one point that unbelievers dared not associate with them, but the record adds: “however, the people held them in high esteem” (5:13).

Prayer occupied a dominant place in the life of the believers. The dynamic prelude to Pentecost was to be found in a little group of praying Christians (1:14). When Peter and John were released from prison, with further threats still ringing in their ears, the church prayed. They asked God to “grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence (or boldness) . . . . And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:2, 31). The courage and boldness of these believers was a testimony to their faith. When Peter was in prison again because of his continued preaching of the gospel, the church prayed fervently for him and were amazed when God miraculously answered their prayers (12:5, 16). The conduct and spirit of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail must have impressed the jailer and helped bring him to the question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30).

Compassion for the needy was a hallmark of these early believers and was a testimony to the love of God at work in them. Not only did they take care of their needy (4:34); they reached out in love to cripples, to ill persons, and even to the bereaved. In many cases God provided miraculous power for the healing of the suffering. The lame beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem (3:2-8), many paralyzed and lame people in Samaria (8:7), paralyzed Aeneas of Lydda (9:33, 34), and a cripple in Lystra ( 14:8-10) were enabled to walk. Christian compassion and divine power reached out even in the face of death. Dorcas of Joppa, a disciple renowned for her “deeds of kindness and charity,” became ill and died, and God restored her through Peter (9:36-41). Eutychus of Troas fell to his death from the third story while Paul preached until midnight, and God used Paul to bring the young man back to life ( 20:7-10) .

Though first-century believers were deeply dedicated to spiritual values through Jesus Christ, they were not unmindful of daily human needs. “Pie in the sky when you die” did not describe their understanding of the Christian way. As they reached out to people in need and honestly cared for them in their human situation as well as for their immortal souls, they bore witness to Jesus Christ.

Within the past decade many Southern Baptist churches, and others as well, have become aware of the place of social ministries in the name of Christ. As they have reached out in genuine compassion to the disadvantaged they have discovered new opportunities for Christian witnessing. The fact that churches care for the poor, the handicapped, the aged, the ill, and the institutionalized is itself a witness to the Lord who loves every person.

But deeds alone are not enough. Our witness must be verbalized as opportunity can be found. Acts is replete with accounts of persons who know Christ telling others about him. The inspired writer employs a wide variety of words to describe the many-sided witnessing activities of these first generation Christians. They refer to preaching (kerusso) and teaching (didasko), to speaking (laleo) and saying (lego). There are unusual words which occur but a few times: emphasizing the qualities of speaking boldly (parresiazomai); refuting completely, “to argue down to a finish” (diakateleg­ chomai); and expounding and propounding the scriptures (paratithemi).

The favorite word is euaggelizo, to bring or announce glad tidings.[2] It is the proclaiming of good news—the wonderful news of God’s redeeming love in Christ Jesus. It is this word which has given to the English language the word evangelism and related words. It is joined by another word built on the verb stem, aggello, to announce, to report. This is kataggello, to declare, with added emphasis on firmness and conviction.[3] These two words occur more than twenty times in Acts with reference to the proclamation of the gospel.

Words related to martus, witness, occur almost as many times. Both the noun martus,[4] from which our English word martyr comes; and the verb diamarturomai,[5] to make solemn attestation or witness, are used frequently throughout Acts.

One of the most interesting words in this witnessing vocabulary is dialegomai,[6] from which we have derived the word dialogue. A. T. Robertson defined it as “to converse ( interchange of ideas), then to teach in the Soratic (‘dialectic’) method of questions and answers . . . the simple, to discourse, but always with the idea of intellectual stimulus.[7]

These prominent words magnify the fact that the disciples knew they had a message for the world—good news-and they shared it with conviction. They were more than heralds: they were witnesses to what God had done and what he wanted to do for the blessing of every person in the world. And they were willing to bear their witness even at the cost. of life if necessary. The word dialegomai is used only to describe activities of the apostle Paul, and those only in Europe. It speaks of his style of witness in many settings: he reasoned with Jews and Gentiles, and even with governor Felix, as he sought to persuade them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and the world’s Lord and Savior.

The great need in contemporary Christianity is for those who wear the name of Christ to adopt a lifestyle which likewise bears witness to our Lord at every opportunity. Today, as in the first century, churches which are thoroughly committed to Christ and individuals marked by integrity and compassion bear witness to their Lord and make possible the effective verbalizing of their faith. Deeds alone are not enough. Our Lord uses godly lives and loving words to draw people to himself. These are marks of an evangelistic lifestyle.

Mass Evangelism and Personal Witnessing

Those New Testament Christians viewed witnessing as the responsibility of every Christian—not the apostles only but lay persons as well. They proclaimed the word to crowds and to individuals. They preached Christ to those who would listen and they reasoned with doubters. They related “salvation history” and they shared their personal experience with Christ. They responded to eager questioners and they offered the good news to reluctant hearers.

They practiced both mass evangelism and personal witnessing. On that great day of Pentecost God blessed the preaching of Peter and the apostles with three thousand converts and gave Christianity a mighty thrust forward (2:41) Paul began his ministry in Pisidian Antioch by preaching to the worshippers gathered on a Sabbath. Some followers were gained that day, and great interest was aroused. On “the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God,” and it could be written that “the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region” (13:14-49).

The deacon-evangelist Philip went to the city of Samaria, crossing the Jewish barriers of racial and religious exclusivism and proclaimed Christ with great effectiveness. Luke recorded that “they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus Christ, (and) they were baptized, men and women alike (8:5-12). As Philip headed back to Jerusalem God directed him to the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. There God led him to join the man in an approaching chariot. He was a devout Ethiopian on his way home, reading from the prophet Isaiah, ready to accept the gospel. As Philip shared with him the truth that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah the man eagerly responded, was baptized, and went on his way rejoicing” (8:25-39). Here is “lay witnessing” at its best!

The book of Acts is full of accounts of Peter and John, Stephen and Philip, Paul and Barnabas, Silas and Apollos, and a host of unidentified disciples who preached Christ to crowds and to individuals. The Jerusalem church in the face of mounting persecution, “kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the…Christ” . . .”every day, in the temple and from house to house (5:42). The apostle Paul described his ministry in Ephesus as marked by teaching “publicly and from house to house,” calling both Jews and Greeks to “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:20, 21). They practiced both mass evangelism and personal witnessing.

These zealous Christians used every platform available to them’. They spoke in synagogues and market places, in courtrooms and council chambers, in homes and prisons, at a riverside and on a dusty highway.

As the gospel spread beyond Palestine the synagogue became the favorite starting place. It provided an audience of reverent people, worshippers of Jehovah. Jewish custom would provide an opportunity to speak. The worshippers might have been expected to respond readily to the affirmation of Christ as the long-awaited Messiah. These were the advantages, but a fam1har negative pattern prevailed: they preached the gospel, some people believed, many resisted, the disciples were expelled from the synagogue, and then they carried the gospel to the Gentiles. But this predictable process made the populace aware of the gospel and opened new doors for witnessing. Ephesus furnishes a dramatic example. There Paul taught in the synagogue for three months. Opposition mounted and the apostle gathered together the group of disciples, withdrew to the lecture hall of Tyrannus, and continued his teaching. His ministry in that city lasted two years, “so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:8-10).

Though they liked to begin in a synagogue, most of the apostolic witnessing was done away from church buildings and stated services. We read of gospel preaching in the homes of the Roman centurion in Caesarea (10:28-48), the jailer in Philippi (16:32, 33), and Titus Justus, located next to the synagogue in Corinth (18:7). Paul spoke at the Areopagus in Athens, a public place where Athenians gathered to examine new philosophies (17:22-31).

These early gospel heralds encountered Judaism almost everywhere they went. They encountered strongly entrenched pagan religions in Lystra where a temple of Zeus (Latin, Jupiter) was located (14: 12, 13), in Athens where idols filled the city (17:16), and Ephesus where the goddess Artemis (Latin, Diana) was worshipped (19:24-34). They were well acquainted with Judaism, and Paul, in particular, was well versed also in pagan religion and philosophy. Instead of fighting Judaism they exalted Jesus Christ, and called people to repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Before predominantly Jewish hearers these early preachers recited “the mighty deeds of God” (2:11) and the glorious climax in the coming of Christ for mankind’s redemption.[8] Nowhere did Paul exhibit his skill in dealing with pagan worshippers as at Athens. Without attacking their idolatry he referred to the idol inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,” declaring that the One whom they recognized by that idol was the Living God. Starting there he moved on to affirm the resurrection of Christ (17:22-31). Many scoffed at the thought of resurrection, but some believed and joined him.

Today as in New Testament days we must use every avenue open to us for witnessing to Jesus Christ. There is urgent need for an evangelistic pulpit today. There is a fresh resurgence of lay involvement in personal witnessing. Contemporary secular lifestyles, plus the many demands upon people’s time, make revival meetings more difficult in many places than a generation ago. Nevertheless this writer is convinced that thee continues to be a place for mass evangelism, while giving major attention to the equipping of lay persons for day-by-day witness.

But if today’s churches are to be effective in carrying the gospel across barriers of culture we must go beyond the church buildings with our witness. We must follow the example of the first Christians. We can rejoice in the large numbers of people who attend church services, but in practically any community on any Sunday there are more persons in no church service than the total church attendance in all the churches of the community. The evangelistic field indeed is outside the church doors. Television and radio help, and home visitation is important. But hundreds of churches have discovered that through innovative activities they can reach people who cannot be interested by traditional approaches. Home Bible study fellowships for adults, backyard Bible schools for children, varied weekday activities designed to reach specific target groups, and musical and worship services held outdoors or in a public hall are methods some churches are using effectively. Ministries such as these provide opportunities for personal witness which might not be found in any other way.

When we get beyond the church buildings we become more aware of the religious pluralism of this nation and of the need to share the gospel with followers of other faiths. An effective witness to members of non-Christian or quasi-Christian groups requires knowledge of those religions and wisdom in bearing witness to Christ.

Whether they proclaimed the gospel to a crowd or to an individual, these early Christians witnessed primarily to adults. There are accounts of families turning to Christ, but even in these cases the primary focus was upon adults (10:24; 16:13-15, 32-34).

Mass evangelism and personal witness describe the broad areas of witnessing which we find in Acts. Both areas are valid today.

Organizing Witnessing Churches

The church occupies a prominent place in Acts. We are familiar with the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch of Syria, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Rome, but these are only a few of the churches formed during the exciting third of a century touched by Acts.

One important dimension of the evangelism of that era was the formation of believers into churches. It was not enough to win converts and baptize them. New believers needed the encouragement of other believers. New believers must become a part of a constant Christian witness to their communities. This is the way it was as the gospel vaulted out of Jerusalem into all of Judea and into Samaria and Galilee. As members of the Jerusalem church scattered in the wake of Stephen’s martyrdom they preached Christ wherever they wen. Converts were won and Christian congregations were established. On a missionary tour through Asia Minor Paul and Barnabas formed churches of new disciples, revisited the churches on their return trip and appointed elders in every church, praying with them and commending them to the Lord (14:21-23). On his second missionary tour, with Silas as his co-worker, Paul traveled through Syria and Cilicia, “strengthening the churches” (15:41). From there they moved northward, visiting the churches of Asia Minor again. Luke reported succinctly that “so the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily” (16:5). His third missionary tour gave Paul an opportunity to meet with the elders of the Ephesian church at the coastal town of Miletus. There, in a moving conference, Paul charged them to “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (20:28). Paul’s encouraging of these church leaders points up his unusual effectiveness in involving others in the care of the churches and the furtherance of the gospel. Besides these unnamed elders of the Ephesian church we read of the young men Mark (15:39), Silas (15:40; cf. 15:32), and Timothy (16:1-3). We learn of Caius and Aristarchus of Macedonia (19:29; Sopater of Berea, Secundus of Thessalonica, Caius of Derbe, Tychicus of the province of Asia (20:4; 27:2), and Trophimus from Ephesus (21:29). And Luke the physician was with him constantly from Troas onward, as reflected by the “we” passages. Paul was a tireless worker, and in his zeal to bring people to Jesus Christ he multiplied his capabilities by enlisting and training others to join him in the work.

It is obvious that Paul’s view of evangelism would not let him rest when a conversion was registered or a church was formed. He saw churches as nurturing fellowships for individual Christians, and as evangelizing agents for the spread of the gospel. It was the gathering of believers into continuing fellowships of worshipping, witnessing Christians that gave the Christian movement continuity.

In preaching the gospel and establishing churches the early Christian leaders gave attention to the influential population centers. Peter gave most of his ministry to building up the work in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas spent a full year with the missionary-minded church in Syrian Antioch. Paul and his co-workers labored a year and a half in Corinth and two years in Ephesus. And Paul preached two years in Rome while in the custody of the law. Churches were established in these key cities, and in tens of others. Acts refers to believers, and usually churches, in such cities and towns as Damascus, Lydda, Sharon, Joppa, Caesarea, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Tyre, and Ptolemais. Every one of these churches added strength to the Christian cause and helped extend the gospel to still other people.

It is true today as it was in New Testament days that it is a personal commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior, not church membership, which makes one a Christian. But for the sake of Christian growth and Christian expansion the church occupies a pivotal role. It is important that Christians of today recognize the need of additional churches in various fast-growing population areas and in presently unchurched or under-churched localities. Such congregations, properly begun, well located, and effectively led, are potential instruments of the Holy Spirit in bringing still other persons to the abundant and eternal life which comes through Christ our Lord.

To All Kinds of People

Regardless of the evangelistic methods or techniques they employed, the early Christians were trying to persuade all kinds of people to become followers of their Lord. On his first visit to Philippi the apostle Paul shared the love of Christ with such varied persons as a prosperous businesswoman, a slave girl, and a jailer (16:13-34). When the Jews of Corinth opposed him he took the gospel to Gentiles (18:6). Near the end of his pilgrimage he could testify before king Agrippa that he had spent his years as a Christian “witnessing both to small and great” (26:22).

The early church, particularly the Jerusalem church, had difficulty understanding that the gospel was for all people. Even the apostle Peter needed a supernatural vision and direct orders from God before he would take the gospel to Gentile Cornelius and his family (10:9-20). Upon his return to Jerusalem Peter then had to face Christian brothers who were disturbed by his crossing of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (11:1-3). When the word circulated that Gentiles in Syrian Antioch had received Christ some members of the Jerusalem church took it upon themselves to travel to Antioch to insist that these Gentiles could not reach Christ except through Moses—they must be circumcised! (15:1). The “selective evangelism” which is common among us today—an evangelism which reaches out primarily to “our kind” of people—indicates that this lesson has not yet been fully learned.

In addition to the barrier of racism, those early Christians crossed also the barrier of religious error. Closed-minded Judaism and zealous paganism threw formidable roadblocks in the way of Christian advance. On the day of Pentecost the preaching in Jerusalem was addressed to Jews, though residents of many other lands, both Jews and proselytes, heard the good news (2:6-11, 14-40). Wherever Paul and his associates worked, they preached to Jews and to Gentiles, pointing them to Christ as the answer in their quest for God. These early Christians held firmly that religion is not enough, so they proclaimed without apology the message which the apostle Peter had expressed eloquently in a tense situation in Jerusalem: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (4:12).

The barriers of culture likewise did not deter the believers from propagating their faith. They went where people were, and shared their knowledge of Christ with all who would listen. They communicated the gospel with a crippled beggar (3: 1-10) and with a Roman king (26: 1-23). They led the pro­consul of the island of Cyprus to Christ (13:4-12) and shared their faith with the natives and leaders of the island of Malta (28:1-11).

The apostle Paul was uniquely equipped to lead out in carrying the gospel across such barriers as race and religion, language and culture. Growing up in a Gentile city and thoroughly trained in Judaism, he was equally at home with Gentiles and Jews. He was a cosmopolitan man. Long before Paul accepted Christ as Lord, God was preparing him as “a chosen vessel” to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.

It is the account of the great day of Pentecost that underlines with impressive eloquence the fact that the Christian mission is to all people. On that day the followers of Christ were empowered by God to proclaim the gospel in languages which they had never used before (2:6). The hearers marveled and asked: “How is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (2:8). Was it necessary for God to perform this miracle for the hearers to understand? The answer is that they did not need to be addressed in their own language, for they understood Peter when he followed with a message in the dialect of that land. They understood him well enough for three thousand to be converted to Christ. Why then the multiplicity of tongues? This writer is convinced that one reason is that God was making clear that the gospel was not alone for Jews, but for Medes and Mesopotamians, for Arabs and Romans—for every person (2:9-11). God spoke to every man as he enabled his preachers to address the people, group by group, in what has been called “the language of their hearts.”

And the disciples took their Lord seriously. They sought to win to Christ every person they could reach. Their inclusive evangelism is a challenge to us to seek to communicate the gospel to all kinds of people. The evangelism we find in the book of Acts, at its mature level, ruled no one out. It drew the circle of compassion large enough to include every person and “every kind” of person. It furnishes a challenging example for Southern Baptists and for all contemporary Christians.

The methods of the first century are basic to effective evangelism today. We must use every contemporary communications medium available to us to proclaim the glad tidings of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. We must proclaim the gospel faithfully to the masses. We must place the person-to-person sharing of that faith at the top of the list. This was effective in the first century and it is still effective nineteen centuries later.

The best thing to be said about the evangelistic methods in Acts is that methodology emerged as the people sought and followed the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The best methods apart from the power of God will be fruitless; and imperfect methods, accompanied by the power of the Spirit, will be fruitful. Lives are transformed, the church is built up, and Christ is honored when his servants use the wisest available methodology, witness boldly, and depend upon the Holy Spirit for guidance and power.

Category: Journal Article
Tags: Acts, Gospel & Acts
Southwestern Journal of Theology
To download full issues and find more information on the Southwestern Journal of Theology, go to swbts.edu/journal.

Lecture 7

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated.

The Integrity of Evangelism

Key verses:

18Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden. 19One of you will say to me, “Then why does God still find fault? For who can resist His will?” 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why did You make me like this?”…Rom 9:18-20

16Yet when I preach the gospel, I have no reason to boast, because I am obligated to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If my preaching is voluntary, I have a reward. But if it is not voluntary, I am still entrusted with a responsibility.…1Cor 9:16-17

John MacArthur on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility

In theological terms, this is called an “antinomy.” As opposed to a contradiction, antinomy refers to the tension between two things which seem at odds, but are yet both true at the same time.

John Piper – God’s sovereignty and our responsibility

RC Sproul – If God saves only the elect, why evangelize?

A Survey of the Old Testament Instructor’s Manual

An Antinomy, Not a Contradiction – See first video clip above

Published on September 27, 2018

In our study of Paul’s Letter to the Romans at White Fields, we have recently been looking at chapters 8, 9 and 10 which talk about divine election, predestination and how those relate to human responsibility. What these chapters teach is that God is sovereign over all things, and yet we are responsible for our actions.

In theological terms, this is called an “antinomy.” As opposed to a contradiction, antinomy refers to the tension between two things which seem at odds, but are yet both true at the same time. Antinomy is not to be confused with antinomianism (a rejection of, and even antagonism towards the moral commandments, rules and obligations which the Bible lays out. For more on antinomianism read: “Oh, How I Love Your Law” – the Role of the Law in the Life of a Believer)

John Stott writes that “few preachers have maintained this antinomy better than Charles Simeon of Cambridge, who said:

‘When I come to a text which speaks of election, I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, I give myself up to that.’ “

To illustrate this antinomy, Simeon borrowed an illustration from the Industrial Revolution:

‘As wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve a common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other, and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation.’

Here is a short video we recorded in follow-up to a sermon which touched on the topics of predestination and election:

Not to be confused with antimony or antinomianism.

Antinomy (Greek ἀντί, antí, “against, in opposition to”, and νόμος, nómos, “law”) refers to a real or apparent mutual incompatibility of two laws.[1] It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant.

There are many examples of antinomy. A self-contradictory phrase such as “There is no absolute truth” can be considered an antinomy because this statement is suggesting in itself to be an absolute truth, and therefore denies itself any truth in its statement. A paradox such as “this sentence is false” can also be considered to be an antinomy; for the sentence to be true, it must be false, and vice versa.

Antinomianism (from the Greek: ἀντί, “against” + νόμος, “law”) is any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious or social norms (Latin: mores), or is at least considered to do so.[1] The term has both religious and secular meanings.

In Christianity, an antinomian is one who takes the principle of salvation by faith and divine grace to the point of asserting that the saved are not bound to follow the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments.[2][3] The distinction between antinomian and other Christian views on moral law is that antinomians believe that obedience to the law is motivated by an internal principle flowing from belief rather than from any external compulsion.[4]

Antinomianism has been a point of doctrinal contention in the history of Christianity, especially in Protestantism, given the Protestant belief in justification through faith alone versus justification on the basis of merit or good works or works of mercy. Most Protestants consider themselves saved without having to keep the commandments of the Mosaic law as a whole; that is, their salvation does not depend upon keeping the Mosaic law. However, salvific faith is generally seen as one that produces obedience, consistent with the reformed formula, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone,” in contrast to rejecting moral constraint.[10]

The term antinomianism was coined by Martin Luther during the Reformation to criticize extreme interpretations of the new Lutheran soteriology.[11] In the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist tradition, severely attacked antinomianism.[12]

A general consensus has been historically reached as to which laws of the Old Testament Christians are still enjoined to keep. These moral laws, as opposed to civil or ceremonial laws, are derivative of what St. Paul indirectly refers to as natural law (Rom. 2.14–15). Mosaic law has authority only insofar as it reflects the commands of Christ and the natural law. Christian sects and theologians who believe that they are freed from more moral constraint than is customary are often called “antinomian” by their critics. Thus, classic Methodist commentator Adam Clarke held, “The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law, but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.”[13]

“What is antinomy?”

Answer:
Antinomy is a compound Greek word made of anti, which means “against or in opposition to,” and nomos, which means “law.” In philosophy, the word antinomy is used to designate the conflict of two laws that are mutually exclusive or that oppose one another. When two carefully drawn, logical conclusions contradict each other, the result is antinomy.

A simple example of antinomy is the statement: “This sentence is false.” The basic statement (that the sentence is false) is canceled out by the speaker’s assertion (that it is true that the sentence is false). This may seem trivial, but, when applied to other issues, antinomy takes on more meaning. For example, the statement “There is no absolute truth” contains antinomy. The statement is self-contradictory. To say that a truth can never be absolute is opposed by the fact that the speaker is claiming to speak the truth. Does the assertion that there is no absolute truth apply to the assertion itself? Thus, the antinomy.

Antinomy was used famously by philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant described the conflict between rational thought and sensory perception. He believed that empirical thought could not be used to prove rational truth. Kant established four antimonies where a thesis and an antithesis cancel each other out. In the first of his antimonies, Kant points out that time must have had a beginning. Infinity is timelessness, and timelessness cannot exist upon a timeline, and yet here we are—moving through time; therefore, infinity does not exist. But then Kant “proves” the exact opposite by pointing out that, if time had a beginning, there must have been some kind of “pretemporal void” that existed before time began. A pretemporal void would by necessity be a timeless place, a place that never changes. And how could time come to be created if nothing ever changes? This apparent paradox, along with a few others, shows that pure reason does not always lead us to truth.

The mind of man is limited; our intellect is fallible. This is not something we like to hear or accept, but it is the truth of the matter. As Kant pointed out, you can take two equally and obviously true rational statements, compare them to one another, and disprove them both. This should tell us something. The very existence of antinomy says that there are things in the universe that we do not have the equipment to fathom.

The Bible presents humility as an important virtue (see James 4:6). When God allowed Satan to attack Job, Job was confused. There was not any reason, that he could see, for God to allow this. Job did not see the big picture—that God was showing Satan that nothing could shake Job’s faith, because God had created that faith. But Job didn’t know that, and he came to some wrong conclusions trying to figure out what God was up to. His three friends were even farther off base. When God responded, not with an answer to Job’s confusion, but with a general display of His power and glory, Job said, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

The existence of antinomy reminds us that we must “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Is this command because God does not want to tell us the truth? Is He hiding something from us? No, it’s only that our understanding is limited—and affected by the fall. In fact, it’s quite possible that God is giving us all the information our fallen mortal minds can handle. As created beings, we simply do not have the capacity to grasp the inner workings of the universe and the mind of the God who created it.

Antinomy is the result of a finite being trying to grasp the infinite, and failing. Paul points out that, since the world does not know God through wisdom, it pleased God to give us a “foolish” message, the message of the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). The gospel was “folly to Greeks” who relied on the rational mind to acquire truth. The philosophers of Mars Hill scoffed at Paul when he mentioned the resurrection (Acts 17:32). Without a knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is the truth (John 14:6) and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), mankind can never truly know truth.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3–4). Children do not need to know everything their parents know to feel (and be) protected and loved. They don’t need to understand the ins and outs of tax law to know that Daddy will take care of them and put food on the table. This is the kind of humility and trust that believers have toward our Heavenly Father.

Recommended Resource: True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World by Art Lindsley

“What does it mean that God is sovereign?”

Answer:
God’s sovereignty is one of the most important principles in Christian theology, as well as one of its most hotly debated. Whether or not God is actually sovereign is usually not a topic of debate; all mainstream Christian sects agree that God is preeminent in power and authority. God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. What’s subject to disagreement is to what extent God applies His sovereignty—specifically, how much control He exerts over the wills of men. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean He rules the universe, but then the debate begins over when and where His control is direct and when it is indirect.

God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission. God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be “allowed” by God.

At the same time, the Bible describes God as offering humanity choices (Deuteronomy 30:15–19), holding them personally responsible for their sins (Exodus 20:5), and being unhappy with some of their actions (Numbers 25:3). The fact that sin exists at all proves that not all things that occur are the direct actions of God, who is holy. The reality of human volition (and human accountability) sets the maximum boundary for God’s sovereign control over the universe, which is to say there is a point at which God chooses to allow things that He does not directly cause.

The fact that God is sovereign essentially means that He has the power, wisdom, and authority to do anything He chooses within His creation. Whether or not He actually exerts that level of control in any given circumstance is actually a completely different question. Often, the concept of divine sovereignty is oversimplified. We tend to assume that, if God is not directly, overtly, purposefully driving some event, then He is somehow not sovereign. The cartoon version of sovereignty depicts a God who must do anything that He can do, or else He is not truly sovereign.

Of course, such a cartoonish view of God’s sovereignty is logically false. If a man were to put an ant in a bowl, the “sovereignty” of the man over the ant is not in doubt. The ant may try to crawl out, and the man may not want this to happen. But the man is not forced to crush the ant, drown it, or pick it up. The man, for reasons of his own, may choose to let the ant crawl away, but the man is still in control. There is a difference between allowing the ant to leave the bowl and helplessly watching as it escapes. The cartoon version of God’s sovereignty implies that, if the man is not actively holding the ant inside the bowl, then he must be unable to keep it in there at all.

The illustration of the man and the ant is at least a vague parallel to God’s sovereignty over mankind. God has the ability to do anything, to take action and intervene in any situation, but He often chooses to act indirectly or to allow certain things for reasons of His own. His will is furthered in any case. God’s “sovereignty” means that He is absolute in authority and unrestricted in His supremacy. Everything that happens is, at the very least, the result of God’s permissive will. This holds true even if certain specific things are not what He would prefer. The right of God to allow mankind’s free choices is just as necessary for true sovereignty as His ability to enact His will, wherever and however He chooses.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“How does the sovereignty of God impact my everyday life?”

Answer:
The sovereignty of God refers to the fact that God is in complete control of the universe. A belief in God’s sovereignty is distinct from fatalism, which denies human free will. Humans are able to make genuine choices that have real consequences. God does not directly cause everything to happen, yet He does allow all that happens to happen. And, ultimately, God’s will is going to be accomplished. At first blush these statements may seem unimportant to one’s daily life and better suited for an esoteric theological discussion. However, the sovereignty of God is quite practical and has a significant impact on our daily lives.

The sovereignty of God impacts everyday life in that it removes all cause for worry. We can trust that what the Bible claims about God’s character is backed up by His ability. Not only does God love us, but He has the ability to care for us. Those who are part of the family of God can claim the promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can rest in the fact that our God is actually able to work all things for our good, even when we cannot readily see how that may happen.

The sovereignty of God impacts everyday life in that we can trust God’s sanctifying work in us. Many times Christians feel that maturing in the faith is completely up to them, as if God saves us and then expects us to do the rest. Christians do play a role in their own maturity. We are certainly called to obedience, and what we do matters. However, in recognizing that God is sovereign, we also trust Him to bring us to maturity (see Galatians 3:3 and Philippians 1:6). Looking to Romans 8 again, we read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:29–34). Our salvation has been God’s sovereign plan from eternity past. Rather than focus on our own performance, we can rest in the character of God and focus instead on actually getting to know Him.

The sovereignty of God also affects how we make decisions. We recognize that God is in control, so we need not be paralyzed by decision-making. If we make the wrong decision, all is not lost. We can trust in God’s faithfulness and His ability to set us back on the right course. On a related note, we can and should make decisions. God’s sovereign control does not mean that we sit idly by and allow life to happen. It means that we can go bravely into life, trusting that our loving Father sees the larger picture and is faithfully working everything for His glory.

That God is sovereign impacts our sense of identity. When we understand how powerful God is and how much He loves us, we can know we are secure in Him. As the objects of God’s sovereign love, we allow God to define us and give us our worth rather than look to the changing ideals of the world to do so. When we understand that God is in complete control, we are freed to live our lives. We need not fear ultimate failure or final destruction (Romans 8:1). We need not fear worthlessness. We can be confident that God will have His way and that it will be good. We can trust that the One who says He loves us is fully able to act on that love in all ways. We can trust that, even when the world seems completely out of control, God is in control. We know He has the big picture covered, so we can trust Him with our daily details.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“What does the Bible say about predetermination?”

Answer:
In theology, predetermination is the act of God by which He foreordained every event throughout eternity. Everything, from the flight of a sparrow to path of a hurricane, was destined to occur by God in eternity past in the exact manner in which it occurs. As a leaf falls off a tree, it follows the exact course God planned for it to take from branch to ground when He created the universe; when a duck glides across the surface of a pond, the height and spacing of the ripples it makes were all foreordained by God. The One who holds the universe together (Colossians 1:17) has a plan, and His plan is being accomplished.

Predetermination is also called causal determination; when God is the determiner, it can also be called theological determination. Predetermination is related to predestination, although the latter term is usually specific to God’s choice of who would be saved (see Romans 8:30).

All prophecy reveals the fact of predetermination. Daniel 11, for example, contains dozens of detailed prophecies concerning future events in Persia, Greece, Egypt, and other nations. Three times, the phrase at the appointed time is used (Daniel 11:27, 29, 35). So, all these things will happen (it’s a certainty), and they will happen at the appointed time—appointed by whom? By God in His predetermination.

Also in Daniel 11 we have the “willful king” prophecy about the Antichrist: “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place” (verse 36). Note the last clause: what has been determined must take place. The events that Daniel sees must happen. Why must they happen? They have been determined (by God) to take place.

Some argue that prophecy simply reveals the foreknowledge of an omniscient God without implying His determination. In other words, God can see the future without choosing it. The counter-argument is that, if God sees a future event and states that it will happen, then that event has essentially been predetermined because, if it fails to happen or if something else happens instead, then God is either unknowlegeable or a liar. If God prophesies it, it will occur; the course is set; the destiny is sealed. Also, Daniel 11:36 clearly speaks of predetermination concerning the “time of wrath.”

An obvious problem that arises regarding predetermination is the idea of man’s free will. If God has predetermined all things, then are humans nothing but passive game pieces moved about by the Divine Hand? No, the Bible also teaches human responsibility, which implies free will. Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7). When Jesus says that sins “must come,” He speaks of predetermination. When He pronounces a woe on those through whom sins come, He speaks of personal responsibility. In some incomprehensible way, God’s predetermination does not negate our accountability in the choices we make. God is sovereign, yet our choices are real.

Acts 4:27–28 is another passage that reflects the predetermination of God. The early church in Jerusalem prays, “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” There are several remarkable statements in this prayer: God’s “power” and “will” were involved in “deciding beforehand” what would happen. That’s predetermination. Jesus is the “anointed” or “chosen” one. That’s predetermination. Even more mind-boggling is what was predetermined: the wicked conspiracy of Herod and Pilate and the mob to murder Jesus. The Son of God was crucified, yet that wicked act is covered by God’s predetermination. It’s no wonder that the prayer begins with “Sovereign Lord” (verse 24).

Joseph acknowledged the predetermination of God in Egypt when he forgave his brothers of their wickedness toward him: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Man’s intention is directly contrasted with God’s intention regarding the same event.

A belief in predetermination lets God be God:
“I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God.
Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and lay out before me
what has happened since I established my ancient people,
and what is yet to come—
yes, let them foretell what will come.
Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?”
(Isaiah 44:6–8)

Part of what identifies God as the Sovereign Ruler is the fact that He proclaimed “long ago” what will happen.

Scripture teaches that God’s predetermination results in God’s glory. God predetermined the crucifixion of Christ, with the result that salvation is possible and God is glorified. God predetermined the abuse of Joseph, with the result that many lives were saved (and God was glorified). God predetermined that Jonah preach in Nineveh, and, despite Jonah’s ideas to the contrary, he preached there, with the result that the whole city repented (and God was glorified). God has predetermined the events of your life, too, and He will be glorified in you.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“How are predestination and election connected with foreknowledge?”

Answer:
Certainly, since God knows everything, it would have been possible for God to base His predestination and election of individuals upon His foreknowledge of the future. In fact, that is the exact position that many Christians believe, as it is the Arminian view of predestination. The problem is that it really is not what the Bible teaches about predestination, election, and foreknowledge. In order to understand why the view that “God made His choice based on merely knowing the future” is not what the Bible teaches, let’s first consider a couple of verses that speak to the reason God elected or predestined people to salvation.

Ephesians 1:5 tells us that God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” According to this verse, the basis of our being predestined is not something that we do or will do, but is based solely on the will of God for His own pleasure. As Romans 9:15-16 says, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Similarly, Romans 9:11 declares regarding Jacob and Esau, “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls.” Then again in Ephesians 1:11 we see that people are “chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” From these and many other passages, we see that Scripture consistently teaches that predestination or election is not based upon something that we do or will do. God predestined people based on His own sovereign will to redeem for Himself people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. God predetermined or predestined this from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) based solely on His sovereign will and not because of anything that He knew the people would do.

But what about Romans 8:29 where it says that those “He foreknew, He also predestined”? Doesn’t that seem to say that predestination is based upon the foreknowledge of God? Of course, the answer is yes, it does teach that predestination is based on the foreknowledge of God. But what does the word foreknowledge mean? Does it mean “based upon God’s knowledge of the future,” meaning God simply looks down through the future and sees who will believe the gospel message and then predestines or elects them? If that were the case, it would contradict the verses above from Romans and Ephesians that make it very clear election is not based on anything man does or will do.

Fortunately, God does not leave us to wonder about this issue. In John 10:26, Jesus said, “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” The reason some people believe is that they belong to God. They were chosen for salvation, not based on the fact that they would one day believe, but because God chose them for “adoption as sons in Christ Jesus” before they ever existed. The reason one person believes and another person does not is that one person has been adopted by God and the other has not. The truth is that the word foreknew in Romans 8:29 is not speaking of God’s knowing the future. The word foreknowledge is never used in terms of knowing about future events, times or actions (God’s omniscience). What it does describe is a predetermined relationship in the knowledge of God whereby God brings the salvation relationship into existence by decreeing it into existence ahead of time.

The word know is sometimes used in the Bible to describe an intimate or personal relationship between a man and a woman. In a similar sense, before God ever created the heavens and earth, and a long time before we were ever born, God knew His elect in a personal way and chose them to be His sheep, not because they would someday follow Him but in order to guarantee that they would follow Him. His knowing them and choosing them is the reason they follow Him, not the other way around. The issue really is not whether or not God knows who will believe, but why some believe and others do not. The answer to that is God chooses to have mercy on some and others He leaves in their sinful rebellion.

The following quote by John Murray is excellent in dealing with this issue: “Even if it were granted that ‘foreknew’ means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. For it is certainly true that God foresees faith; He foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith, which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith He himself creates (cf. John 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:2). Hence His eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by His decree to generate this faith in those whom He foresees as believing.”

“Why should I evangelize?”

Answer:
To evangelize means to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with someone else. Personal evangelism should be the lifestyle of every true Christian. We’ve been given a great gift, and our Master left us with clear instructions: “Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). Before we can “make disciples,” we must evangelize. There are other reasons, besides Jesus’ command, that should also motivate us to share the greatest news in the world with people who haven’t heard it:

1. Evangelism is an act of love. Love must be the defining characteristic of every follower of Jesus Christ (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 13:1–7). It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so anyone who walks in the Spirit will demonstrate love in dealing with people (Galatians 5:16, 22–23). We possess the best news in the world, and love propels us to share it with those who haven’t heard. Love wants everyone to have a chance to respond to God’s offer of salvation. Withholding news that could save someone’s life is the utmost cruelty; therefore, those who truly love God will love the people whom Jesus came to save (John 3:16–18; 1 John 4:20).

2. Evangelism builds our own faith. Nothing helps us learn a subject like teaching it to someone else. When we make a practice of sharing our faith with those in our lives, we strengthen our own beliefs. Regular evangelism forces us to wrestle through the hard questions, find answers for ourselves, and prepare to respond to the questions of others. We should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We prepare by studying God’s Word for ourselves, listening to sound Bible teachers, and staying in close fellowship with Jesus. Those practices keep our own lives pure so that we are not hypocrites who preach one thing but do another (Galatians 6:1).

3. Evangelism provides eternal benefits. Jesus encouraged His followers to “store up treasure in heaven” (Matthew 6:19). That treasure consists of rewards for what we did on earth in His name and for His glory. It is not self-centered to make choices that will ensure eternal treasure for ourselves. Jesus told us to! Our service to Him can be as simple as offering a cup of cold water to one of His own (Matthew 10:42). The parable of the unjust steward underscores the importance of doing whatever we can to bring people to faith in Christ (Luke 16:1–13).

4. Evangelism is an overflow of the “hope that is within us” (Hebrews 6:19; 1 Peter 3:15). When two people fall in love, they cannot help but let everyone around them know it. Joy shows on their faces; stars glitter in their eyes. They are eager to tell anyone who will listen about the wonderful person they love. So it is when we’ve fallen in love with Jesus. We cannot help but tell people about Him every chance we get. We think about Him all the time. We’re drawn to His Word, to worship services, and to others who love Him. We look for opportunities to share His truth with someone who is far from Him. If Jesus is not at the forefront of our minds, we have a spiritual problem and need to address that first before we can share the “hope that is within us.”

5. Evangelism pleases the Lord. The Christian life must never be lived according to “shoulds.” Yet we hear that word often in relation to Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and other Christian practices. “I should do that, but . . .” The but is a bigger problem than we want to admit. God’s children will naturally want to please their Heavenly Father; it is their greatest delight. So our compass is set with God at true north. In everything we do, we feel the magnetic pull toward pleasing God. Even mundane tasks can be completed with joy because we are doing what God has given us to do (1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:9). Teaching other people how to have a relationship with Jesus is one way to please Him. And in pleasing Him we are most fulfilled (Galatians 2:20).

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated.

Lecture 8

Evangelism & Syncritism

Key Verses:

14“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15.

20So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 1 Kings 18:20-21

A Survey of the Old Testament Instructor’s Manual

What Is Syncretism? (Ancient Religion & Spirituality)

Judges 19: Religious Syncretism

Don’t Contextualize the Gospel

Syncretism is a union or attempted fusion of different religions, cultures, or philosophies — like Halloween, which has both Christian and pagan roots, or the combination of Aristotelian philosophy with the belief system of the early punk rock practitioners.
https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/syncretism.

Religious syncretism, the fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices. Instances of religious syncretism—as, for example, Gnosticism (a religious dualistic system that incorporated elements from the Oriental mystery religions), Judaism, Christianity, and Greek religious philosophical concepts—were particularly prevalent during the Hellenistic period (c. 300 bce–c. 300 ce). The fusion of cultures that was effected by the conquest of Alexander the Great (4th century bce), his successors, and the Roman Empire tended to bring together a variety of religious and philosophical views that resulted in a strong tendency toward religious syncretism. Orthodox Christianity, although influenced by other religions, generally looked negatively upon these syncretistic movements.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/religious-syncretism.

by Gailyn Van Rheenen

For many years I have contended that the largest vacuum in Missiology is the study of syncretism and the interrelated perspectives toward contextualization. It has, therefore, been my privilege to edit a book of presentations of the Evangelical Missiological Society entitled Contextualization and Syncretism:Navigating Cultural Currents, (William Carey Library, 2006; written by fifteen leading evangelical missiologists. The book asks how the gospel can be effectively contextualized within various world cultures without changing its core essence. The authors struggle with the interactive dynamic and tensions between effective contextualization and essence-changing syncretism. The issues of contextualization and syncretism are discussed within the context of real-life field experiences. The authors are concerned that the Evangelical Movement, molded by modern rationalism and the desire for relevance, frequently truncates, abuses, and loses the essence of the gospel.

In this Monthly Missiological Reflection I will give three illustrations of syncretism and then define the terms syncretism and contextualization as I do in the first chapter of the book.

Examples of Syncretism

I am continually awed by the creativity of humans to mix and match various religious beliefs and rituals to suit their changing worldview inclinations. I sat in an African house, full of people worshipping God. The mud-walled, thatched roof house measured fifteen paces from rounded wall to rounded wall. Some sat around the circumference in chairs, others on stools, many on mats on the floor. About half an hour into a time of praise, a gaunt, nervous woman named Takwanya entered the house. Spotting the empty chair beside me, she sat down and whispered in the local language, “I want to be baptized.” I nodded politely. After a stirring evening of song, praise, and preaching, those who had not yet accepted the way of Jesus Christ were invited to do so. Takwanya announced, this time publicly, “I want to be baptized!” I was surprised when the elders stated that they would pray for the sister and guide her on the way of Jesus. Later I learned from both Takwanya and the church leaders that she had been sick for many months. She was desperate. Non-Christian relatives, noticing the transformation of new Christians, had told her that if she were baptized in the church, she would be healed. Takwanya, viewing baptism as a magical rite of healing rather than a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, decided to try the “Christian way.”

Two years ago Jim planted an evangelical Bible church. The guiding question forming his strategy was “How can we meet the needs of the people of this community and make this church grow?” Jim developed a core team, launched with an attendance of 300 after six months of planning, and now has an average attendance of 900 people each Sunday. By all appearances he is very successful. However, Jim is inwardly perturbed. He acknowledges that his church attracts people because it caters to what people want. The church is more a vendor of goods and services than a community of the kingdom of God. Jim sees that those attending have mixed motives: Attending is their duty, a place to meet people of influence or where children receive moral instruction. Church attendance assuages guilt and declares to others (and to self) that “I am religious.” A spiritual responsibility has been discharged. Therefore, all is well. Observing the worldliness of members leads him to privately ask, “What have I created?”

Julie lived with tension. She was fearful about the success of her children, the faithfulness of her husband, and her own vocational ability. She also felt guilt because of her neglect of spiritual things. Julie grew up in a Christian home but grew tired of what she considered “the emptiness” of Christianity. She did believe in God and loved to hear stories about Jesus, whom she considered the greatest man who ever lived. In the midst of a busy family and work life, paradoxically, she was very lonely. Eventually she joined a yoga meditation group and found peace by relaxing and accessing the god within her while imagining the Holy Spirit drawing her to oneness with Jesus.

These stories illustrate the many ways in which Christianity is mixed with folk religion, humanistic understandings, and Eastern mysticism. I have found that in the West Christian leaders readily see the syncretism of Takwanya and perhaps Julie but permit (and perhaps appreciate) the syncretism of Jim because his church is growing. Is it possible that such syncretism is also prevalent in the Western church, but we are simply too close to perceive its pervasiveness? The Evangelical Movement, molded by modern rationalism and the desire for relevance, frequently truncates, abuses, and loses the essence of the gospel.

Syncretism is like “an odorless, tasteless gas, likened to carbon monoxide which is seeping into our atmosphere.” (John Orme, 2004, 1)

Syncretism cannot be defined without an understanding of contextualization since the two processes are interrelated. As illustrated in the book, what is considered authentic contextualization by some may be interpreted as syncretism by others.

Contextualization

Definitions of contextualization differ depending on the emphasis placed upon scripture and the cultural setting (Moreau 2005, 335). Models emphasizing scripture usually define contextualization as the translation of biblical meanings into contemporary cultural contexts. Therefore, images, metaphors, rituals, and words that are current in the culture are used to make the message both understandable and impactful. This model “assigns control to Scripture but cherishes the ‘contextualization’ rubric because it reminds us that the Bible must be thought about, translated into and preached in categories relevant to the particular cultural context” (Carson 1987, 219-20).

When the cultural setting is prioritized, however, God’s meaning is sought experientially within the culture using the Bible as a guide. This model more fully “assigns control to the context; the operative term is praxis, which serves as a controlling grid to determine the meaning of Scripture” (Carson 1987, 219-20). The goal is to find what God is already doing in the culture rather than to communicate God’s eternal message within the cultural context. For example, Vincent Donovan in Christianity Rediscovered (2003) describes anthropological inquiry as a “treasure hunt that uses Scripture as map or guide to discover the treasures to be found in the culture” (Moreau 2005, 336; cf. Bevans 1992, 49).

Evangelicals, who believe that God’s revelation in Scripture is authoritative in life and ministry, view this second option as syncretistic. Scripture is marginalized in the contextualization process. According to Hesselgrave, “acceptable Contextualization is a direct result of ascertaining the meaning of the biblical text, consciously submitting to its authority, and applying or appropriating that meaning to a given situation. The results of this process may vary in form and intensity, but they will always remain within the scope of meaning prescribed by the biblical text” (1995). Tite Tiénou describes contextualization within the process of theology. He writes, “Contextualization is the inner dynamic of the theologizing process. It is not a matter of borrowing already existing forms or an established theology in order to fit them into various contexts. Rather contextualization is capturing the meaning of the gospel in such a way that a given society communicates with God. Therein theology is born.” (1982, 51)

To Enoch Wan contextualization is derived from the dynamic relationship between gospel and culture, between “cultural relevancy” and “theological coherence.” Contextualization is “the efforts of formulating, presenting and practicing the Christian faith in such a way that it is relevant to the cultural context of the target group in terms of conceptualization, expression and application; yet maintaining theological coherence, biblical integrity and theoretical consistency” (Wan 1999, 13). Wan then describes Sinotheology (ST), or a theology for China, as one such “contextual theology” and compares it to “Traditional Western Theology” (TWT). He says that Sino-Theology:

is specifically designed for the Chinese people; not by transplanting Christianity in the “pot” of Western culture but by planting it in the Chinese cultural soil so it can take root, flourish and grow. ST should be done by using the Chinese cognitive pattern (e.g. shame culture vs. the guilt culture of TWT), Chinese cognitive process (e.g. synthetic vs. the dialectic of TWT), Chinese way of social interaction (e.g. relational /complementary vs. dichotomistic/confrontational of TWT), Chinese vocabulary, topics, etc. (Wan 1999, 13)

Christianity, according to Enoch Wan, can be dressed in the garments of a shame culture, a synthetic cognitive process, Chinese ways of social interactions, communicated through the use of Chinese grammar, and expressed in terms of Chinese topics (Wan 1999, 13-16).

David Hesselgrave and Ed Rommen define contextualization as “the attempt to communicate the message of the person, works, Word, and will of God in a way that is faithful to God’s revelation, especially as put forth in the teaching of Holy Scripture, and that is meaningful to respondents in their respective cultural and existential contexts” (1989, 200). The first part of this definition focuses on authentic understandings or faithfulness to scripture: “The adequacy of an attempted contextualization must be measured by the degree to which it faithfully reflects the meaning of the biblical text” (1989, 201). Contextualization thus involves conceptions of (1) revelation (God’s communication of eternal truth in human linguistic and cultural categories); (2) interpretation (“the reader’s or hearer’s perception of the intended meaning”); and (3) application (including how “the interpreter formulates the logical implications of his understanding of the biblical text” and how he “decides to accept the validity of the text’s implications” by totally accepting it, accepting some parts and rejecting others, or superimposing his own meanings upon the text (1989, 201-202).

The final phrase of the definition infers “effectiveness”–that communicating the gospel “grows out of an understanding of our respondents in their particular context and out of the active ministry of the Holy Spirit in us and in them” (1989, 199-200). Hesselgrave’s seven-dimension grid (Worldview–ways of viewing the World; Cognitive processes—ways of thinking; Linguistic forms–ways of expressing ideas; Behavioral patterns—ways of acting; Communication media–ways of channeling the message; Social structures–ways of interacting; Motivation sources–ways of deciding) provides tools for cultural analysis that equip the Christian missionary to effectively communicate the gospel (1989, 202-203). Hesselgrave and Rommen assert that authentic contextualization must be measured by its “faithfulness” to the meanings of the scripture and its “effectiveness” or “relevance” in communicating Christ within the recipient culture.

The New Testament has given us the pattern for cultural adaptation. The incarnation itself is a form of contextualization. The Son of God condescended to pitch his tent among us to make it possible for us to be redeemed (John 1:14). Byang Kato (1975, 1217)

These definitions establish the need for contextualization and illustrate that an overemphasis upon the cultural context can lead to syncretism.

Syncretism

Syncretism occurs when Christian leaders accommodate, either consciously or unconsciously, to the prevailing plausibility structures or worldviews of their culture. Syncretism, then, is the conscious or unconscious reshaping of Christian plausibility structures, beliefs, and practices through cultural accommodation so that they reflect those of the dominant culture. Or, stated in other terms, syncretism is the blending of Christian beliefs and practices with those of the dominant culture so that Christianity loses it distinctiveness and speaks with a voice reflective of its culture (Van Rheenen 1997, 173).

Frequently syncretism is birthed out of a desire to make the gospel relevant. The Christian community attempts to make its message and life attractive and appealing to those outside the fellowship. Over the years these accommodations become routinized, integrated into the narrative of the Christian community and inseparable from its life. When major worldview changes occur within the culture, the church struggles to separate the eternals from the temporals. The church, swept along by the ebb and flow of cultural currents over a long period of time, loses her moorings. Thus syncretism occurs when Christianity opts into the major cultural assumptions of a society (Van Rheenen 1997, 173).

For example, my religious fellowship was born and grew to maturity during Modern times and reflects Enlightenment thinking. Salvation was understood as certain steps that individuals had to do to be saved; scripture was interpreted as a blue-print or a pattern to be logically followed; and the hermeneutic of “command, example, or necessary inference” formed our interpretive grid. Generally our movement followed the rationalism of Alexander Campbell rather than the revivalism of Barton W. Stone. Our emphasis was on knowing about God and Christianity rather than relating to Him personally as Father God. I acknowledge these syncretisms for a number of reasons. Biblically-based theology must form our identities and challenge our syncretisms. We must realize that we are always, to some degree, syncretistic, and acknowledge our syncretisms before God and fellow Christians.

Missiologists’ writings tend to focus more on contextualization with only brief notations about syncretism. There are many reasons for this. Writing about contextualizing the message of the gospel in the life of the church is much more appealing than discussing excessive accommodation to the philosophies and practices of the dominant cultures. We also live in an age of tolerance. Few are willing to negatively critique the beliefs and practices of others. David Hesselgrave, however, does this frequently and with grace. For example, many of the authors of Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach encourage establishing common ground with participants of the new spiritualities. Satanists believe that people should not “follow the herd” as Christians do, but insatiably enjoy all of life. Within this context authentic Christians might be described as “Left-handed Christian philosophers,” who think for themselves despite peer pressure. The message of the taro can be an archetype for sharing the gospel. The story line of the Bible can be communicated within the framework of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year myth. A theology of anointing forms the basis of creative outreach to aromatherapists. Hesselgrave, however, raises a significant caution flag.

“Both philosophically and theologically, a communication approach that is overdependent upon the discovery and utilization of similarities is open to question. Dissimilarities between beliefs and practices may, in fact, be more important and utilitarian in the long run . . . . If one’s objective is to convert and disciple, both the number and importance of these differences will far outweigh the number and importance of supposed similarities.” (Hesselgrave 2004, 147, 149)

Incorporating oils into Christian practice, for instance, does not necessarily Christianize an aromatherapist. Christian evangelists must, therefore, consider both points of contact and points of contrast. Although the authors of Encountering New Religious Movements rightly provide an incarnational model of engagement with occult practitioners, they must also ask, “When and how do we adopt the forms of New Religious Movements to both relate to the culture and communicate a distinctively Christian message?” Can the accommodations of today become the syncretisms of tomorrow?

Sources Cited

Bevans, Stephen B. 1992. Models of Contextual Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Carson, Don A. 1987. “Church and Mission: Reflections on Contextualization and the Third Horizon.” In The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study, ed. D. A. Carson, 213-257. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Donovan, Vincent J. 2003. Christianity Rediscovered: 25th Anniversary Edition. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Hesselgrave, David J. 1995. “Contextualization That Is Authentic and Relevant.” International Journal of Frontier Missions. July, Volume 12:3, pp. 115-20. Accessed at http://strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=v&page=v&id=8530&mode=v&pagenum=1?=

_________. 2004. “Traditional Religion, New Religions, and the Communication of the Christian Faith.” In Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach, eds. Hexham, Irving, Stephen Rost, and John W. Morehead II, 137-56. Grand Rapids: Kregel.

Hesselgrave, David J. and Edward Rommen. 1989. Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Kato, Byang H. 1975. “The Gospel, Cultural Context, and Religious Syncretism.” In Let the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J.D. Douglas, 1216-28. Minneapolis: World Wide Publications.

Kraft, Charles. 1989. “Contextualizing Communication.” In The Word Among Us: Contextualizing Theology for Mission Today, ed. Dean S. Gilliland, 121-138. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Moreau, A. Scott. 2005. “Contextualization: From an Adapted Message to an Adapted Life.” In The Changing Face of World Missions, by Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell, 321-348. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Orme, John. 2004. IFMA News, Vol. 55, Summer 2004, No. 2.

Tiénou, Tite. 1982. “Contextualization of Theology for Theological Education.” Evangelical Theological Education Today: 2 Agenda for Renewal, ed. Paul Bowers, 42- 52. Nairobi, Kenya: Evangel Publishing House.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 1997. “Modern and Postmodern Syncretism in Theology and Missions.” In The Holy Spirit and Mission Dynamics, ed. C. Douglas McConnell, 164-207. Pasadena: Wm. Carey.

________. 2006. Contextualization and Syncretism: Navigating Cultural Currents. Passadena, CA: William Carey Library

Wan, Enoch. 1999. “Critiquing the Method of Traditional Western Theology and Calling for Sino-Theology.” Chinese Around the World: 13-16. Accessed on-line on September 22, 2004, at http://www.missiology.org/missionchina/wan1-1.htm.

Syncretism and the Scriptures

Posted on January 1, 2007

by Larry Owens

Promoting healthy contexualizationand avoiding syncretism involves a deep understanding of scripture, culture and one’s own attitude.

According to the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, syncretism is “the replacement or the dilution of the essential truths of the gospel through the incorporation of non-Christian elements” (Moreau 2000, 924). The word “contextualization,” on the other hand, describes the healthy restatement of genuine biblical faith that is also meaningful in fresh cultural contexts (Van Rheenen 2004, 2).

THE BIBLICAL PICTURE
There are abundant examples of both syncretism and contextualization in the Bible. For example, Simon the magician and his followers were amazed by the powerful acts of the apostles and were baptized, but Simon’s worldview never changed (Acts 8:4-25; cf. Larkin 2004, 4-6). The Israelites borrowed heavily, in practice, from the idolatry (Judg. 1:19), the shrine prostitution (1 Kings 14:24) and the child sacrifice and witchcraft (2 Kings 17:16-17) of the Canaanites

God, on the other hand, contextualizes the prophetic message in the Book of Daniel. To the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, he presents the vision of four kingdoms in the context of an idol (Dan. 2:29-36). To the Hebrew prophet, on the other hand, the same message is framed in terms of the creation story, with its winds, waves, animals and a man who receives dominion (Dan. 7:2-14; Gen. 1:2, 26-28; 2:15-18; cf. Paulien 2004, 52-53). Likewise, the message of the New Testament was given in the common everyday Greek of the first Christian century. God’s example in the Bible makes it clear that contextualization must happen if the gospel is to be rightly understood in a new situation.

Perhaps a small analogy will help. I am a lot closer in intelligence to a two-year-old than I am to God. God has a much bigger challenge getting through to me than I do when I try to talk to a 2-year-old. Can I communicate with a 2-year-old? Yes, but the communication will be limited. We cannot talk about quantum physics, the seven trumpets of Revelation or even contextualization. I must meet that child at his or her level. So too, even when God speaks to us the message must be heavily contextualized or none of us would understand it.

The seven letters of Revelation 2-3 are pertinent here. If one assumes that these letters address the local situation of the churches (Rev. 1:11, 22:16), the believers seem to have been seriously divided about how the Church should relate to the surrounding culture. Some in the churches (called Nicolaitans, Balaam and Jezebel in Rev. 2:14-15, 20) thought it was acceptable to eat food offered to idols and engage in some level of sexual immorality (Paulien 2004, 24-28). They may even have invoked the teaching of Paul (1 Cor. 8:4, 7-9) in support of these actions.

But the message of Jesus in the seven letters is uncompromising. While eating food offered to idols may have been acceptable at an earlier time and in a different place (1 Cor. 8-10), it has become syncretism in the highly-charged atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Asia Minor. This illustrates two points: (1) there is such a thing as syncretism; there are actions that may seem harmless, yet compromise the fundamental character of the faith and (2) one cannot take a rigid approach to syncretism; actions that might be syncretism in one time and place may not be in another.

I finally understood this on a visit to En Gedi at the eastern edge of the Judean desert. At the top of the mountain overlooking the Dead Sea rests the ruins of a temple with two chambers and the remains of an altar of burnt offering. I asked the conservative Christian archaeologist with me how old the temple was. He said the best dating is around three thousand BC. The implications hit me: God was not unmindful of Canaanite practice when he designed the Hebrew tabernacle for Moses to build. The Israelite sanctuary and the later temple illustrated God’s plan of salvation in categories that would have been recognizable within the local culture. The Hebrew tabernacle taught “Hebrew 2-year-olds” in language they could understand. While this observation does not allow us to ignore the dangers of syncretism, it does illustrate the weakness of simplistic and universal guidelines.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SYNCRETISM AND CONTEXTUALIZATION
Missiologists often think of the relationship between contextualization and syncretism in terms of a continuum. A simple example is the chart (below) by Phil Parshall (1998, 405). At one end of his continuum is “low contextualization,” where the culture of the Church is foreign to the surrounding community. At the other end of the continuum is “high syncretism,” where the culture has a greater impact on the believing community than the Bible does. In the middle of the continuum is “the great divide,” the line between high contextualization, where the church blends in to the local culture yet is faithful to the principles of scripture, and “low syncretism,” where the church has adopted some questionable practices.

One problem with this approach is that it views missionary effort as a stationary point. A given mission is either syncretistic or it is not. But this approach does not consider the direction in which a movement is heading (Travis 2000, 53; Hiebert 1994, 107-136). If the movement is heading in the right direction syncretism will be increasingly minimized. On the other hand, a seemingly healthy movement can be sliding into syncretism, yet still be on the “right side” of Parshall’s “great divide.”
Another problem with this approach is knowing where to draw the line. Some would put the “great divide” between C2 and C3.1 Others, such as John Travis, consider all six “C options” valid approaches to contextualization. Parshall, on the other hand, draws the line between C4 and C5. One missionary’s contextualization is another’s syncretism (Van Rheenen 2004, 6).

I would like, therefore, to suggest a modification of the contextualization/syncretism continuum. I believe the ideal level of contextualization (“high contextualization”) should be at the very center of the continuum. I would argue along with David Hesselgrave, therefore, that syncretism occurs in two equal and opposite forms: under-contextualization and over-contextualization (Hesselgrave 2004, 5-7).

By under-contextualization I mean an unhealthy reluctance to give up Western ways of expressing the gospel and its accompanying doctrines (see Hiebert 1999, 24-33). The culture receiving the gospel is forced to accept what is, practically speaking, a Western, syncretized form of Christianity. On the other hand, in over-contextualization the demands of the culture receiving the gospel are given such attention that the claims of scripture are overpowered in the face of a “lazy tolerance.” Paul Hiebert, Daniel Shaw and Tite Tiénou refer to this condition as “split-level Christianity, where old beliefs and practices continue underground long after the formal and outward adoption of Christianity” (1999, 15-16). In both cases the worldview of scripture is ignored in favor of the familiar culture. This continuum, moving from too little effort at contextualization to too much can be illustrated as seen above.

This model does not have a sharp boundary between good and bad contextualization; instead, there is an ideal center point to strive for, and the recognition that a variety of choices can still be counted within the realm of healthy contextualization. Instead of suspicion toward those who have opted for a different level of contextualization, this model encourages people at different points in the continuum to learn from each other.

The goal of this model, therefore, is not an either/or solution, but an attitude of learning what we can from the strengths and weaknesses at both ends of the continuum. High-end syncretism (over-contextualization) occurs when there is not enough inductive knowledge of the Bible. The culture overwhelms the gospel. Low-end syncretism (under-contextualization) occurs when there is not enough engagement with the recipient culture (Hiebert 1999, 111-112). Either lack will result in syncretism.

As we have seen, there are biblical examples of over-contextualization and there are biblical examples of under-contextualization. The classic case is the Pharisees of the New Testament. Many of them were so concerned about avoiding syncretism that they hedged up the faith with human-made rules that proved syncretistic in a different way. In their avoidance of Gentile culture they ended up equally far from the biblical ideal.

WESTERN-STYLE SYNCRETISM
We need to become more aware of the extent to which the Western Church has imbibed Western philosophical values (Hesselgrave 2004, 1-10; Hiebert 1999, 24-29; Hiebert, Shaw and Tiénou, 1999, 16-20; Massey 2004, 296-304). While this kind of syncretism may be self-evident to people from other backgrounds,2 it is much harder for westerners to see (Parshall 1998, 410). In many ways, Christian orthodoxy has more in common with the Greco-Roman system of thought than with the Jewish world of Jesus and his disciples (Massey 2004, 297).

For example, the Bible is not an organized system of thought, like a systematic theology. It is a collection of stories, historical incidents, lists and legal case studies that often have little obvious “theological” content. Westerners tend to read these accounts searching for isolated tidbits of devotional or theological insight, rather than for the broader impact of the “story.” What to westerners may seem the “plain meaning of the text” may not be at all obvious to a person raised in the East. So it is probably not helpful to decide matters of “syncretism” on the basis of the Greek philosophical worldview westerners have inherited from the past (Massey 2004, 297-298).

OVERCOMING SYNCRETISM
How do you promote healthy contextualization and avoid syncretism? The answer is what I call double exegesis. On the one hand, we need to be faithful in studying and understanding the word of God; on the other, we need to give careful study and attention to the culture in which the gospel is finding its roots. Syncretism occurs when either the scriptures or the local culture are ignored. Following are three practical suggestions to safeguard contextualization against the dangers of syncretism.

EXEGESIS OF SCRIPTURE
Out of a personal struggle against self-deception I have developed what I sometimes call a “life hermeneutic” to safeguard my study of scripture. This “life hermeneutic” involves five fundamental strategies:

1. Combine authentic prayer and self-distrust. If human hearts are exceedingly wicked and deceptive (Jer. 17:9), then the greatest barrier to scriptural understanding is the lack of a teachable spirit. It is only as we are willing to hear and obey (John 7:17) every bit of scriptural light that the Spirit of God will take us deeper into the truth of his word.

2. Use a variety of translations. Comparing several translations against each other, careful interpreters can sense what parts of the scripture narrative are clear for their purpose and what parts are not. In environments where only one or two translations are available, syncretism will not be avoided without guidance from at least two scholars in the original languages.

3. Favor the clear texts. It is helpful to spend the majority of one’s study time in the sections of scripture that are reasonably clear. The clear texts of scripture establish the reader in the great verities of the Bible’s message, safeguarding the interpreter against a syncretistic use of unclear texts.

4. Favor general reading. Compare the results of proof-text study with much general reading of scripture. Without the control of broad reading, it is easy for interpreters to mix and match texts to produce the conclusion they want.

5. Include group processing. The broader the variety of people involved in the exegesis, the less likely that syncretistic readings will be accepted. What will seem clear to one will not be clear to others. The challenges of others can disrupt our comfortable syncretisms.
When studied in this way, the biblical narratives gradually transform the hearer’s worldviews and belief systems (Wilson 2004, 1). New believers will recognize potential syncretisms in their culture that outsiders would not. The scriptures themselves do the cleansing work, without the introduction of Western biases and worldviews.

EXEGETING CULTURE
Popular religion and culture are also best evaluated within a group setting. The ideal group would include representatives of the people group, one or more individuals with strong exegetical skills and one or more individuals with knowledge of mission theory and practice (particularly with the process of critical contextualization). After careful examination in the light of scripture, the following three kinds of beliefs and practices of an “insider” group should be retained:

1. those that are clearly consistent with biblical principles,

2. those that contain a powerful redemptive analogy that does not contradict scripture or do any practical harm and

3. those that are not demonic and have no unbiblical or negative connotations, particularly if they are an important part of the local culture.

After cultural viewpoints have been carefully examined in the light of scripture, the following three beliefs and practices of an “insider” group should be discarded or replaced with a functional substitute based on biblical principles:

1. those that have demonic overtones or destructive consequences,

2. those that are not bad in themselves, but have negative connotations within the culture and

3. those that are good in themselves, but have become burdensome to the local people.

AN ATTITUDE OF COMPASSION
The process of contextualization is not an easy one. A greater amount of trust among those involved in critical contextualization would be helpful. However, accusations and differences of opinion will remain among the people of God. So perhaps the best thing any of us can do is adjust our own attitude in the face of criticism by agreeing with the following four statements:

1. I choose to trust my colleagues in mission, whether they prefer C1 or C5. While syncretism is a real danger, only those closest to the situation are qualified to determine where the golden mean lies.

2. I choose to exercise a learning spirit toward those who disagree with me. Those who seem resistant to change and unnecessarily conservative call my attention to scriptural passages I may have overlooked. I choose to consider those who “oppose” me as assets rather than liabilities.

3. I choose to exercise a learning spirit toward both the scriptures and the local cultures in which I hope to plant the gospel. When I am not certain whether an idea or practice is syncretism or healthy contextualization, I prefer to err on the side of mercy.

4. I invite the Holy Spirit into my life to open my eyes to scripture, to help me see others through the eyes of God’s compassion, to help me see the defects in my own character and theological ideas and to desire God’s best for everyone who is giving his or her life to the cause of reaching the lost.

Endnotes
1. The C1 to C6 spectrum compares and contrasts six types of “Christ-centered communities” in the Muslim world. These six types are differentiated by language, culture, worship forms and religious identity. A short summary of the six types is found in Travis 1998, 407-408.

2. To the Muslim, Christian syncretism includes accepting animistic practices, using “Christian” styles of architecture, adopting Christian names, legally changing one’s religion and disrespecting Mohammed and the Qur’an. None of these are necessary elements of Christian faith (see Dutch 2000, 20).

References
Bright, John. 1974. A History of Israel. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press.

Dutch, Bernard. 2000. “Should Muslims Become ‘Christians?’” In International Journal of Frontier Missions 17(1): 15.

Hesselgrave, David J. 2004. “Syncretism—Mission and Missionary Induced?” A paper presented at the IFMA/EFMA/EMS Triennial Conference. St. Louis, Missouri, September 23-25, 2004.

Hiebert, Paul. 1994. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

_____. 1999. Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts: Affirming Truth in a Modern/Postmodern World. Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International.

Hiebert, Paul, Daniel Shaw and Tite Tiénou. 1999. Understanding Folk Religions: A Christian Response to Popular Beliefs and Practices. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.

Larkin, William J. 2004. “Syncretism: An Unintended but Unavoidable Consequence of Early Christian Witness—Case Study from Acts 8:4-25.” A paper presented at the IFMA/EFMA/EMS Triennial Conference. St. Louis, Missouri, September 23-25, 2004.

Massey, Joshua. 2004. “Misunderstanding C5: His Ways Are Not Our Orthodoxy.” In Evangelical Missions Quarterly 40(3): 296-304.

Moreau, A. Scott. 2000. “Syncretism,” In Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. 924-925. ed. A. Scott Moreau. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

Parshall, Phil. 1998. “Danger! New Directions in Contextualization.” In Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34(4): 404-410.

Paulien, Jon. 2004. The Deep Things of God: An Insider’s Guide to the Book of Revelation. Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald.

Poston, Larry. 2004. “‘You Must not Worship in Their Way…’ When Contextualization Becomes Syncretism.” A paper presented at the IFMA/EFMA/EMS Triennial Conference. St. Louis, Missouri, September 23-25, 2004.

Travis, John. 1998. “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ Found in the Muslim Context.” In Evangelical Missions Quarterly 3 (4): 407-408.

_____. 2000. “Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa: A Closer Look at C5 Believers and Congregations.” In International Journal of Frontier Missions 17(1): 53-59.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 2004. “Syncretism and Contextualization: The Church on a Journey Defining Itself.” A paper presented at the IFMA/EFMA/EMS Triennial Conference. St. Louis, Missouri, September 23-25, 2004.

Wilson, Douglas K. Jr. 2004. “Laying a Firm Foundation: Using Chronological Bible Storying to Combat Syncretism.” A paper presented at the IFMA/EFMA/EMS Triennial Conference. St. Louis, Missouri, September 23-25, 2004.

Larry Owens (pseudonym) is a professor at a faith-based university in the United States. He has published widely in the fields of New Testament and Mission.

https://missionexus.org/syncretism-and-the-scriptures/

“What is religious syncretism?”

Answer:
Syncretism, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is “the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief.” This is most evident in the areas of philosophy and religion, and usually results in a new teaching or belief system. Obviously, this cannot be reconciled to biblical Christianity.

Religious syncretism often takes place when foreign beliefs are introduced to an indigenous belief system and the teachings are blended. The new, heterogeneous religion then takes a shape of its own. This has been seen most clearly in Roman Catholic missionary history. Take, for example, the Roman Catholic Church’s proselytizing of animistic South America. Threatened with the fear of death, natives were baptized into the church by the tens of thousands without any preaching of the Gospel whatsoever. Former temples were razed, with Catholic shrines and chapels built on the same spot. Natives were allowed to substitute praying to saints instead of gods of water, earth and air, and replaced their former idols with new images of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, the animistic religion the natives had formerly practiced was never fully replaced—it was adapted into Catholic teachings, and this new belief system was allowed to flourish.

More recently, religious syncretism can be seen in such religious systems as the New Age, Hinduism, Unitarianism, and Christian Science. These religions are a blending of multiple different belief systems, and are continually evolving as the philosophies of mankind rise and fall in popularity.

Therein lies the problem, for syncretism relies on the whim of man, not the standard of Scripture. The Bible makes it very clear what true religion is. Think on just a few things stated in Scripture: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37); “Jesus replied, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6); “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31); and “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Religious syncretism is simply not compatible with true Christianity. In fact, any modification to biblical law and principle for the sake of a “better” religion is heresy (Revelation 22:18-19).

Recommended Resource: Jesus Among Other gods by Ravi Zacharias

“What is folk religion?”

Answer:
Folk religion is basically made up of certain ethnic or regional religious traditions that practice under the guise of an established religion, but is outside the boundaries of official doctrine and practices. Folk religion’s indigenous or native beliefs are held all over the world, particularly in parts of South America, Africa, China, and Southeast Asia.

The largest folk religion in the world is the Chinese folk religion which has an estimated 400 million followers worldwide or about 6.6 percent of the world’s population. All folk religions combined have more followers than Buddhism or Judaism, claiming about 10 percent of the world population in total. Only Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism have more followers.

Despite being separated by many thousands of miles, several aspects of folk religion have certain features in common. Folk religion is heavily infused with magic and superstition, in particular what is called “sympathetic” magic—the belief that like forces influence like forces. This holds true even if they are not causally linked in any way directly or even obviously. An example of sympathetic magic is the idea that the movements of the stars and planets somehow influence or portend events or tendencies in the human experience. The popularity of astrology and psychics demonstrates that folk religion still exists, even in the Western world.

Interestingly, many components of folk religion have found their way into modern mega-religions including Christianity and Islam. For example, some of our Christmas traditions can be traced back to pagan origins, including a pagan feast preceding the advent of the birth of Jesus. At that time it was called the winter solstice. Further, the symbolic consumption of Jesus’ body and blood during the Catholic mass is considered by some as an example of sympathetic magic, whereby he who consumes the magical substance is imbued with some of the sanctity that comes from the divine persona.

Folk religion is employed also by combining some of its practices with those of mega religions. And in so doing, these practices are labeled as “folk Christianity” among Christian countries and “folk Islam” in those of Islamic nations. Without question, folk religion is considered a distorted, if not meaningless, practice of religion by lay people outside of the control of clergy or the supervision of theologians. As one would imagine, there is a certain amount of acrimony between the two.

Folk religion attempts in its own way to answer human needs for reassurance in times of trouble, and many of its rituals are aimed at mundane goals like seeking healing or averting misfortune. Several aspects or practices of folk religion are born from certain animistic or fetishistic rituals or ceremonies. This is inevitable simply because of folk religion’s ritualistic nature. Actually, the line is often blurry between the practice of folk religion and the practice of magic.

Remarkably, those who hold to the practices of folk religion are not even aware that their beliefs are distinctive from those of major official religions. Here are some examples that can be considered aspects of folk religion doctrine:

• belief in the Evil Eye
• rituals to ward off evil, curses, demons, witchcraft
• blessing of animals, crops, beer, wine, cheese
• fertility rites
• belief in traditional magic systems
• thanksgiving prayers, grace before meals and other domestic rituals
• veneration of ancestors and deceased family members, esp. in Christian, Jewish, or Islamic households
• some aspects of the veneration of various saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy; Marian apparitions
• hoodoo, voodoo, pow-wow and Santería
• snake handling
• hex signs
• religious jewelry
• religious art in the home
• use of Bible, crucifix, other objects as talismans
• systems of interpretation of prophecy as it relates to the end times

Some of these practices are consistent with biblical Christianity, such as prayers of thanksgiving and systematic interpretation of biblical prophecy. Where folk religion departs from the Bible as the revealed Word of God, it should be rejected, and that would seem to be the vast majority of its doctrine and practices.

Recommended Resource: Jesus Among Other gods by Ravi Zacharias

“What is true religion?”

Answer:
Religion can be defined as “belief in God or gods to be worshiped, usually expressed in conduct and ritual” or “any specific system of belief, worship, etc., often involving a code of ethics.” Well over 90% of the world’s population adheres to some form of religion. The problem is that there are so many different religions. What is the right religion? What is true religion?

The two most common ingredients in religions are rules and rituals. Some religions are essentially nothing more than a list of rules, do’s and don’t’s, that a person must observe in order to be considered a faithful adherent of that religion, and thereby, right with the God of that religion. Two examples of rules-based religions are Islam and Judaism. Islam has its five pillars that must be observed. Judaism has hundreds of commands and traditions that are to be observed. Both religions, to a certain degree, claim that by obeying the rules of the religion, a person will be considered right with God.

Other religions focus more on observing rituals instead of obeying a list of rules. By offering this sacrifice, performing this task, participating in this service, consuming this meal, etc., a person is made right with God. The most prominent example of a ritual-based religion is Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism holds that by being water baptized as an infant, by partaking in the Mass, by confessing sin to a priest, by offering prayers to saints in Heaven, by being anointed by a priest before death, etc., etc., God will accept such a person into Heaven after death. Buddhism and Hinduism are also primarily ritual-based religions, but can also to a lesser degree be considered rules-based.

True religion is neither rules-based nor ritual-based. True religion is a relationship with God. Two things that all religions hold are that humanity is somehow separated from God and needs to be reconciled to Him. False religion seeks to solve this problem by observing rules and rituals. True religion solves the problem by recognizing that only God could rectify the separation, and that He has done so. True religion recognizes the following:

1. We have all sinned and are therefore separated from God (Romans 3:23).

2. If not rectified, the just penalty for sin is death and eternal separation from God after death (Romans 6:23).

3. God came to us in the Person of Jesus Christ and died in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve, and rose from the dead to demonstrate that His death was a sufficient sacrifice (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

4. If we receive Jesus as the Savior, trusting His death as the full payment for our sins, we are forgiven, saved, redeemed, reconciled, and justified with God (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9).

True religion does have rules and rituals, but there is a crucial difference. In true religion, the rules and rituals are observed out of gratitude for the salvation God has provided – NOT in an effort to obtain that salvation. True religion, which is Biblical Christianity, has rules to obey (do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not lie, etc.) and rituals to observe (water baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper / Communion). Observance of these rules and rituals is not what makes a person right with God. Rather, these rules and rituals are the RESULT of the relationship with God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone as the Savior. False religion is doing things (rules and rituals) in order to try to earn God’s favor. True religion is receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and thereby having a right relationship with God – and then doing things (rules and rituals) out of love for God and desire to grow closer to Him.

Have you made a decision for Christ because of what you have read here? If so, please click on the “I have accepted Christ today” button below.

“Should Christians participate in religious festivals of other religions?”

Answer:
Some Christians say there is nothing wrong with having meals with Muslims during Ramadan or enjoying a sugar skull for the Day of the Dead. Other Christians claim that Christians should not participate in other religions’ holidays at all. Basic to the issue is whether or not it is possible for a Christian to participate in a non-Christian holiday or festival without endorsing the beliefs behind it.

We first need to distinguish between participating in a cultural festival and a religious festival. Some festivals are simply expressions of a particular culture and a celebration of that culture’s people, history, and contributions to society at large. There is nothing inherently wrong with attending an Irish Fest, for example. A Christian can wear green, sample some colcannon, and clap along with a reel without embracing Catholicism. Learning about and enjoying a different culture is morally neutral.

On the other hand, participating in a religious festival is fraught with spiritual danger. Honoring a false god is always a sin. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). If any part of a celebration involves actions that honor or pay tribute to a false god, then Christians should not participate. There is no room for compromise in this area. Paul asks a rhetorical question: “Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? . . . The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20). Partaking in non-Christian religious festivals cannot be justified. We “cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons” (verse 21).

The difficulty arises in the fact that religion is often an integral part of culture. In many cases it is impossible to extract the religious element from what would otherwise be a purely secular event. For example, the bonfires and colored powder of India’s Holi celebrations seem innocent enough, but they are inextricably tied to Hindu mythology: the bonfires represent the burning of the female demon Holika, and the throwing of colored powder honors the god Krishna—depicted in Hindu art as having blue skin—and his paramour Radha. Christians in India avoid participating in the Holi festival because it is acknowledged to be a pagan and idolatrous celebration.

In other cases, the religious significance of certain celebrations has diminished over the years, to the point that many participants are unaware of the spiritual history behind the occasion. We see this even in modern Christmas celebrations, as the day honoring the birth of Christ is considered more and more to be nothing but a cultural festival in Western society. China’s Lantern Festival, or Yuan Xiao Jie, is another example. The festival began long ago as a religious observance but now is often seen simply as a new year’s celebration of traditional Chinese culture. There’s also the traditional Hawaiian hula dance, which began as a form of worship to Laka, the goddess of love, forests, and plants. Sacrifices and prayers to Laka accompanied ancient performances of the sacred hula in temples. Today, most observers—perhaps even most hula dancers themselves—are unaware of the pagan origins of the dance. Can a Christian attend a Chinese Lantern Festival or a luau featuring hula dancing, given the fact that most of the religious undertones have vanished? The issue may be a matter of conscience rather than set biblical principle.

If a Christian is invited to attend a festival overtly celebrating another religion, it is his duty to respectfully decline the invitation. An explanation of why would be appropriate, and it may even open the door to sharing the gospel. It may also be fitting to suggest another time, unrelated to the religious ceremony, to meet.

We need discernment in this and many other areas. Participating in a purely cultural festival is fine, but attending a religious festival gives the impression of tacit approval. Determining one’s level of participation in a cultural festival with religious roots requires wisdom; for the sake of one’s own conscience and the integrity of one’s witness, such decisions should only be made after prayer, a study of the culture, and the solicitation of godly advice. Whatever we do, we need to do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Recommended Resource: Jesus Among Other gods by Ravi Zacharias

“Should Christians attend weddings of those in other faiths?”

Answer:
This can be a difficult issue. Believers want to show friendship, but we’re wary of seeming to condone the unbiblical aspects of a wedding ceremony in another religion.

As a starting point in any decision-making process, we should pray for wisdom (James 1:5). What does God say in regards to whether or not you should attend the ceremony?

In general, though, if a believer is invited to a marriage ceremony, he or she should feel free to attend. God instituted marriage, and, whether the couple is Hindu, Sikh, Catholic, or Buddhist, marriage is honorable in God’s eyes (Hebrews 13:4). As long as the marriage is between a man and a woman, it is as God intended. Attending the ceremony is a matter of supporting the bride and/or groom; it’s not necessarily a stamp of approval on another faith.

In some cultures, elements of paganism are part of the wedding ceremony. A traditional Bengali wedding, for example, includes prayers and offerings made to an idol. If attending a wedding requires a believer himself to perform a pagan ritual, then he should honor God rather than man (Acts 5:29). In most cases, however, a Christian can simply attend and not be involved in the sacrifices to false gods. There is also the possibility that others will interpret a Christian’s presence there as giving “approval” to what is taking place. Again, this is a situation that demands prayer and godly discernment.

Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15-18 contains a principle that may help: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Christians are in the world, sent by Jesus Himself, but we are not of the world. We are an infusion of light in a dark place (Matthew 5:16). The goal is not to separate totally from the people and events of a culture, but to be preserved from evil.

The friendships we make with those of another religion may plant seeds that someone else may water, and God may later bring the fruit (1 Corinthians 3:6). To be asked to take part in a wedding is an honor and a privilege. We should use everything that comes our way to bring glory to the Lord.

Recommended Resource: Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan

“What does the Bible say about ancestor worship?”

Answer:
Ancestor worship involves religious beliefs and practices consisting of prayers and offerings to the spirits of dead relatives. Ancestor worship is found in many cultures all across the world. Prayers and offerings are made because it’s believed the spirits of ancestors live on in the natural world and are thus able to influence the futures and fortunes of the living relatives. Ancestors’ spirits are also thought to act as mediators between the living and the Creator.

Death was not the sole criterion for being worshiped as an ancestor. The person must have lived a moral life with great social distinction in order to attain that status. Ancestors are believed to influence the lives of later generations by blessing or cursing them, in essence acting as gods. So praying to them, presenting them with gifts, and making offerings are done to appease them and gain their favor.

Evidence of ancestor worship has been found at sites in the Near East in Jericho dating to the 7th century before Christ. It existed in ancient Greek and Roman cultures as well. Ancestor worship has had its greatest influence on Chinese and African religions and is found in Japanese and Native American religions where it’s better known as ancestor reverence.

What does the Bible say about ancestor worship? First, the Bible tells us that the spirits of the dead go to either heaven or hell and do not remain in the natural world (Luke 16:20-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15). The belief that spirits continue to reside on earth after death and influence the lives of others is not scriptural.

Second, nowhere in the Bible are we told that the dead act as intermediaries between God and man. But we are told that Jesus Christ was given that role. He was born, lived a sinless life, was crucified for our sins, buried in a grave, resurrected by God, seen by a multitude of witnesses, ascended into heaven, and sits now at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes on the behalf of those who have placed their faith and trust in Him (Acts 26:23; Romans 1:2-5; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:3-4). There is only one Mediator between God and man, and that is God’s Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24). Only Christ can fill that role.

The Bible tells us in Exodus 20:3-6 that we are not to worship any god other than the Lord God. Furthermore, since diviners and sorcerers were thought to be able to contact the dead, they were also expressly forbidden by God (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:32, 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10-11; 1 Samuel 28:3; Jeremiah 27:9-10).

Satan has always sought to supplant God, and he uses lies about worshiping other gods and even ancestors to try to lead people away from the truth of God’s existence. Ancestor worship is wrong because it goes against God’s specific warnings about such worship, and it seeks to replace Jesus Christ as the Divine Mediator between God and mankind.

Recommended Resource: Neighboring Faiths by Winfried Corduan

“What is tribalism?”

Answer:
Tribalism is a strong feeling of loyalty to a group, ideology, or tribe. In its most basic forms, tribalism is the glue that holds ethnic groups together, such as Native American tribes, Jews, or African-Americans. Tribalism is also found in other groups that have lasting cohesion, such as religions, sports teams, families, or small towns. On the positive side, tribalism creates loyalty, provides security for members of the tribe, and fosters a sense of community and belonging. However, tribalism gone rogue can destroy the very institutions it ought to strengthen.

The United States is experiencing pockets of unhealthy tribalism that are tearing unity apart. American patriotism is disintegrating into many factions, each championing its own form of tribalism. This new form of American tribalism is often based on shared offenses. All those offended by the same thing rally together to shout at everyone else who is deemed “part of the problem.” The result is that the flag is disrespected, American history is reinterpreted, and national cohesion is all but lost. When every opinion demands support and gathers a tribe of its own, there can be no healthy community. Tribalism encouraged for the greater good of people is a positive force that defends the weaker members and protects the sanctity of the nation or group. But tribalism based on emotion, offense, or personal opinion can be destructive. In many cases, it is tribalism that keeps people from accepting the gospel because to do so would mean leaving their “tribe” (see John 12:43).

Tribalism could be seen as an institution of God, based on the incident at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–8). Once God had confused their languages, people gravitated toward those of their own language and formed tribes. Those tribes became nations and developed their own customs, laws, and religions. God later selected one man (Abraham) from whom He created a nation of His own choosing: Israel (Genesis 17:5; Deuteronomy 7:6–8). God called the Israelites to remain set apart from all other nations and gave them a unique set of laws that would bind them to each other and to Him (Deuteronomy 4:7–9; 2 Kings 17:13). God wanted Israel to be “tribal” in that they shared a common holiness, served the One True God, and recognized the great honor that had been entrusted to them. Through Israel would come God’s salvation for the world, His Messiah, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 11:1; 42:1; Romans 9:4–5). Anyone was welcome to join Israel as long as the newcomers assimilated themselves into Israelite culture and worshiped the Lord alone (Deuteronomy 26:11).

Tribalism goes awry when it is used as an excuse to exclude rather than include or when it feeds a sense of superiority. Churches and Christian denominations are sometimes accused of tribalism, and Christian cliques can be a problem. There is nothing wrong with being loyal to one’s group, but our higher loyalty should be to Christ and the written Word. Doctrinal and methodological differences are to be expected among various Christian groups, but none of those differences should lead to spiritual pride. All those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation are part of the body of Christ. Christ is not divided (1 Corinthians 1:13), and any tribalism in His Body must be kept in perspective and not be allowed to erode Christian unity (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12–14, 27).

First Corinthians 12:20–26 says, “As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” If we make it our goal to function as a healthy body, with all its various organs and systems, then tribalism won’t get in the way of all God wants to do in and through us.

Recommended Resource: Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

“What is contemporary theology?”

Answer:
Contemporary theology is generally defined as a study of theology and theological trends from post-World War I to the present. Roughly covering the twentieth century to today, the major categories typically addressed by contemporary theology include fundamentalism, neo-orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, neo-liberalism, Post-Vatican II Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox theology of the twentieth century, and the Charismatic Movement.

In addition to these larger categories, contemporary theology also deals with specialized areas such as liberation theology, feminist theology, and various ethnic theologies. With the wide variety of credos involved, few scholars would claim to serve as “experts” in contemporary theology. Rather, the trend is to specialize in one or more areas of contemporary theological research.

A more recent branch of contemporary theology is the study of interfaith dialogue. Historic Christian theology is compared with the worldviews of non-Christian belief systems as the basis for dialogue between different faiths. Recent pursuits have focused on the shared values between two or more faiths, such as the “Abrahamic Faiths” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) or Eastern Religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christian movements such as the underground Chinese Church).

Contemporary theology is primarily a field of academic scholarship. As such, it addresses intellectual challenges facing theology, including science, social issues, and religious practices. While many contemporary theologians share a Christian heritage, not all do. In fact, many agnostic or even atheist scholars have entered the field and are teaching their views regarding faith and belief in contemporary society.

For the Bible-believing Christian, contemporary theology is important, as it traces the development of beliefs in recent history. However, it is critical to realize that contemporary theology often departs from traditional Christian theology when it evaluates faith in the context of various social movements or in comparison with other belief systems. Adhering to a biblical worldview is not usually the goal.

Those who want to understand what God’s Word teaches on today’s important topics can find helpful information in a wide variety of contemporary theological materials. However, the Bible itself does not change. It is the standard of truth for the believer, both now and forever (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Recommended Resource: A Handbook of Contemporary Theology by David Smith

“What makes Christianity unique?”

Answer:
Is Christianity really unique, or is it just one of many roads on the path to Truth? Is Christianity truly unique among the many religions around the world? If it is, what makes it so? Unique among all religions, Christianity makes several claims that others do not. First, all other religions exhort man to reach up to God and grasp hold of Him through their own efforts. Christianity is the only religion where God reaches down to man. Second, other religions are systems of do’s and don’ts to appease God; whereas Christianity is a relationship with God. Third, Christianity looks to the Bible as the singular source of Truth. Finally, Christianity is based upon truly the most amazing event in all of human history—the resurrection.

As to the first issue, other forms of religion subscribe to a system of works—those we should do and those we should avoid—which will make us “good enough” to please God and merit His favor. Christianity, on the other hand, is based on the biblical principle that we can never be good enough to be in the presence of a perfect, holy God. The Mosaic Law was given to mankind to prove to us that we can’t keep it. Galatians 3 describes the purpose of the Law. It is a “tutor” or “schoolmaster” to lead us to Christ because “…by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The impossibility of keeping the Law is revealed in what Jesus called the “first and greatest commandment” in Matthew 22:37: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This would mean loving God with every fiber of our being 24/7, with never a thought for ourselves, an impossible task for anyone. But rather than condemning us as law-breakers and leaving it at that, God provided a substitute—Jesus Christ—who obeyed the Law perfectly for us. By faith in Him and accepting His work on our behalf, we are justified and made righteous. Here is the crucial difference between Christianity and all other religions.

As to the second point, Christianity is not a religious system, but a relationship with God, one that He initiated and maintains. Christians believe that mankind was created specifically to have a relationship with God, but sin separates all men from Him (Romans 3:23, 5:12). Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ walked this earth, fully God, and yet fully man (Philippians 2:6-11), and died on the cross to restore the relationship that was broken by sin. After His death on the cross, Christ was buried, He rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for believers forever (Hebrews 7:25). The intimacy of this relationship is revealed in two poignant pictures. Now no longer seen as law-breakers, we have been adopted into God’s own family as His children (Ephesians 1:5). Even more intimately, believers are the very “body of Christ” of which He is the head (Ephesians 1:22-23), having been purchased by His blood (Hebrews 9:12). No other religion makes assertions that even begin to approximate this incredible truth.

Another thing that makes Christianity unique is its source of information. All religions have some sort of basis of information that outlines its beliefs and practices, but none have one source of information that makes the claims Christianity does about the Bible—it is the written Word of God, and it is infallible and inerrant and all that is necessary for faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16). Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired—literally “God-breathed”—Word of God and that its teaching is the final authority (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Though there are other religions that use prophecy, none are 100% accurate, as are those in the Bible, and none of them point to someone like Jesus who made incredible claims and performed incredible deeds.

Perhaps the most defining principle of Christianity that makes it truly unique in every way and provides its fundamental basis is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Within Christianity, the resurrection is vitally important, for without it, Christianity does not exist, and our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). It was Jesus’ resurrection that changed the lives of the disciples. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples ran and hid. But when they saw the risen Lord, they knew that all Jesus had said and done proved that He was indeed God in flesh. No other religious leader has died in full view of trained executioners, had a guarded tomb, and then rose three days later to appear to many people. The resurrection is proof of who Jesus is and that He did accomplish what He set out to do: provide the only means of redemption for mankind. Buddha did not rise from the dead. Muhammad did not rise from the dead. Confucius did not rise from the dead. Krishna did not rise from the dead. Only Jesus has physically risen from the dead, walked on water, claimed to be God, and raised others from the dead. He has conquered death. Only in Christianity do we have the person of Christ who claimed to be God, performed many miracles to prove His claim of divinity, died and rose from the dead, and claimed that He alone is “the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6) and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.

Recommended Resource: Jesus Among Other gods by Ravi Zacharias

Bible verses with reference to syncretism

Exodus 20:3

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

Deuteronomy 5:7

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.

Deuteronomy 6:13-15

“You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the LORD your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.

Joshua 24:14-15

“Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

1 Kings 18:21

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.

Exodus 34:15-16

otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.

Deuteronomy 7:1-6

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.

Joshua 23:16

“When you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”

1 Samuel 7:3

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”

Jeremiah 19:4-5

“Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind;

2 Kings 17:34-41

To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the LORD, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the LORD commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel; with whom the LORD made a covenant and commanded them, saying, “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down yourselves to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them. “But the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, and to Him you shall bow yourselves down, and to Him you shall sacrifice.

2 Kings 21:1-7

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.

2 Chronicles 33:1-7

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the LORD according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.

Ezekiel 8:9-16

And He said to me, “Go in and see the wicked abominations that they are committing here.” So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. Standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them, each man with his censer in his hand and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising.

Jeremiah 2:5

Thus says the LORD, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from Me And walked after emptiness and became empty?

Deuteronomy 18:9-13

“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

2 Kings 17:15-17

They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them. They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him.

Isaiah 2:6

For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, Because they are filled with influences from the east, And they are soothsayers like the Philistines, And they strike bargains with the children of foreigners.

Zephaniah 1:4-5

“So I will stretch out My hand against Judah And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, And the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. “And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down and swear to the LORD and yet swear by Milcom,

Deuteronomy 17:2-7

“If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel,

Jeremiah 19:10-13

“Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. “This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,” declares the LORD, “so as to make this city like Topheth.

Hosea 2:2-13

“Contend with your mother, contend, For she is not my wife, and I am not her husband; And let her put away her harlotry from her face And her adultery from between her breasts, Or I will strip her naked And expose her as on the day when she was born I will also make her like a wilderness, Make her like desert land And slay her with thirst. “Also, I will have no compassion on her children, Because they are children of harlotry.

Acts 14:11-13

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.

Acts 17:16-23

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”–because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

Acts 19:13-16

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

Hebrews 13:9

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

1 Corinthians 10:21

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Galatians 4:9-10

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Colossians 2:18

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,

Isaiah 44:6

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Isaiah 43:10-12

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. “I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. “It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.

1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Syncretism

Lecture 9

Leading the Missional Church

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated.

18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”…Matthew 28:19-20

18As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:18-19

21When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14: 21-23

What does a missional leader need in order to effectively lead across cultures? Scott Moreau, Associate Dean, Wheaton College Graduate School, answers questions related to his talk “Challenges and Opportunities in Missional Leadership Building” given at the 2015 European Leadership Forum.

Missional Church Requires Missional Leadership

Characteristics of a Missional Church

Tim Keller discusses issues related to the Desiring God 2006 National Conference. Also see http://www.timkeller.info/ for all things Tim Keller.

5mins

What Is the Missional Church: Seven Minute Seminary

Dr. Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research shares with us about the missional church movement

From attractional to Missional Church

The attractional church is explained as a model of ministry that focuses inwardly rather than outwardly. In contrast to the attractional mode, the missional church takes seriously the call to “go”and make disciples, outside of the confines of the church building.

Missional Community Film: Renovation Church | FILMS

Leonce Crump and his Missional Community at Renovation Church talk about the joys and challenges of planting a missional community in a diverse neighborhood in Atlanta.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv9sMsGYgsM

“What does it mean to be missional? Should Christians be missional?”

Answer:
“Missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that in essence describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of the gospel. The term “missional” gained its popularity towards the end of the 20th century with the influence of Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, and others, as well as the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Their basic premise is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Essentially, the idea of being missional teaches that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. There is one mission which says that the “missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.” Yet there has been some confusion regarding the term “missional.”

Alan Hirsch, one its proponents, says that “missional” is not synonymous with “emerging.” The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. “Missional” is also not the same as “evangelistic” or “seeker-sensitive.” These terms generally apply to what he calls the “attractional” model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but should not be confused with the whole.

Hirsch also says that a proper understanding of missional living begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because the church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that missions is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

Though many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of having a mission, where missional churches differ is in their attitude toward the world. A missional church sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. It is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ, that is, to be missional means to be sent into the world; not to expect people to come to us. This idea differentiates a missional church from an “attractional” church.

The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. But this practice only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional church has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional churches are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. As a result, people cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.

Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. Being missional means we should engage the world the same way Jesus did—by going out rather than just reaching out. Missional means that when a church is in mission, it is then the true church.

According to Dave DeVries, author of “Missional Transformation: Fueling Missionary Movements that Transform America,” there are five biblical distinctives that form the foundation of a missional perspective:

   • The Church is sent by Jesus Christ (John 17:18; 20:21, Luke 9:2; Matthew 28: 19–20; Acts 1:8)

   • The Church is sent with the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:17–24)

   • The Church is sent in Community (Acts 2:42–47; 5:42; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–17)

   • The Church is sent to every Culture (John 1:14; Matthew 20:28; Acts 17:22–34; Luke 5:29)

   • The Church is sent for the King and His Kingdom (Matthew 10:7; 25:34; Luke 4:43; Revelation 11:15–17; Jeremiah 10:7; John 18:36)

So, the question is asked, “Should Christians be missional?” Fundamentally, missional theology is not content with missions being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. In truth, every disciple of Christ should strive to be an agent, a representative of the kingdom of God; and every follower should try to carry the mission of God into every sphere of his life. We are all missionaries sent into the world.

There are many ways we can do this as we’re each individually blessed with certain talents and skills to utilize to the glory of God. Jesus has told us in Matthew 5:13-16 that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world . . . to let our light shine before men.

And, finally, in light of this idea of being “missional,” we can best sum it up with the words of the apostle Paul: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God . . . and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).

Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

“What is church planting?”

Answer:
Church planting is the establishing of an organized body of believers in a new location. The process of church planting involves evangelism, the discipleship of new believers, the training of church leaders, and the organization of the church according to the New Testament model. Usually the process also includes writing a church charter and/or doctrinal statement and finding a place to meet or buying property and erecting a new building.

Church planting is a specific focus within the larger work of “missions.” Church planters are missionaries who concentrate their efforts on preaching and teaching the Word of God. Other missionaries who specialize in certain skills may not be considered “church planters” officially, but they provide valuable service to those who are. Such supporting missionaries include radio broadcasters, aviators, printers, Bible translators, and medical personnel.

The ultimate goal of most church planters is to glorify the Lord in a community by founding an autonomous, self-propagating body of believers. Once this goal has been reached and the church is able to stand on its own, the church planter will usually move on to a different community and begin the process again.

The church-planting focus is biblical. As the apostle Paul traveled through an area, he always tried to spend enough time in each city to establish a local body of believers and train the leadership (Acts 14:21-23). Later, he would try to revisit those churches to confirm and encourage them in the faith (Acts 15:41; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). The churches he established would then begin to send out missionaries themselves, and so the work of church planting continued (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

Recommended Resource: A Revolution in World Missions by Dr. K.P. Yohannan

“What is the church?”

Answer:
Many people today understand the church as a building. This is not a biblical understanding of the church. The word “church” is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of church is not that of a building, but of people. It is ironic that when you ask people what church they attend, they usually identify a building. Romans 16:5 says, “Greet the church that is in their house.” Paul refers to the church in their house—not a church building, but a body of believers.

The church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head. Ephesians 1:22–23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) until Christ’s return. Biblically, we may regard the church in two ways, as the universal church or as the local church.

The universal church consists of everyone, everywhere, who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This verse says that anyone who believes is part of the body of Christ and has received the Spirit of Christ as evidence. All those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ comprise the universal church.

The local church is described in Galatians 1:1–2: “Paul, an apostle . . . and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia.” Here we see that in the province of Galatia there were many churches—they had a localized ministry and were scattered throughout the province. They were local churches. A Baptist church, a Lutheran church, an E-Free church, etc., is not the church, as in the universal church; rather, it is a local church, a local body of believers. The universal church is comprised of everyone who belongs to Christ. Members of the universal church should seek fellowship and edification in a local church.

In summary, the church is not a building or a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ—all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Local churches are gatherings of people who claim the name of Christ. Members of a local church may or may not be members of the universal church, depending on the genuineness of their faith. The local church is where believers can fully apply the “body” principles of 1 Corinthians chapter 12—encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Recommended Resource: The Master’s Plan for the Church by John Macarthur

“What should be the mission of the church?”

Answer:
The church is a creation of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 3:9, 17; 15:9), founded and owned by Jesus Christ—“I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)—and directed and energized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:5–27; Romans 12:4–5). Therefore, it is the church’s joy to look to God to explain His design for the church and His mission for it. God’s mission for the church proves to have several parts.

1. The mission of the church is to make disciples. Just before Jesus returned to heaven, He commissioned His disciples this way: “Going into all the world, make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you” (literal translation of Matthew 28:19–20a). A disciple is a follower, someone who attaches himself to his leader. Therefore, we reason, Jesus sent the church on its mission to acquaint people in every place with Himself. As the church makes disciples, people can admire, worship, trust, follow, and obey Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The church’s members, having become enamored of Jesus Christ, assemble around Him as Master, Leader, Savior, and Friend. Our joyful mission is to put Him on display to every nation.

2. The mission of the church is to glorify Christ. Paul wrote, “In Christ we were also chosen … in order that we … might be for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). Part of God’s purpose for the church is to exalt Jesus Christ by the way that the church lives and by what it does. Christ designed His church to represent His supernatural, life-saving work to the world. In His church, Christ shows to the world what a freed and forgiven people can be—people who are satisfied with God as the result of Christ’s joyful, triumphant self-sacrifice. He has planned the church’s values to be His values. He expects its lifestyle to reflect His character (2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1; Ephesians 5:23–32; Colossians 1:13, 18; 1 Timothy 3:15). As the moon reflects the sun, so the church is to reflect the glory of God to a dark world.

3. The mission of the church is to build up the saints. The church is to encourage and comfort its individual members (1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 13:11). “There should be no division in the body, but . . . its parts should have equal concern for each other” (2 Corinthians 12:25). Jesus is the chief cornerstone, and the church is likened to a building “joined together and [rising] to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22; see also 4:4–25). Jesus Christ designed His Church to showcase God’s family on earth, so that the pagan world can see how God builds His family around Jesus Christ and how that family cares for one another (see Mark 3:35 and John 13:35).

The mission of the church is to know and love Christ so supremely as to represent Him and His values accurately and vividly to the world and serve people’s deepest needs in the way Christ Himself would meet them. As W. C. Robinson says in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is the sun about which the whole mission of the church revolves. Public worship is the encounter of the risen Redeemer with His people; evangelism is calling men to the Savior; publishing the law of God is proclaiming His lordship; Christian nurture is feeding His lambs and disciplining His flock; ministering to the needs of men is continuing the work of the Great Physician.” The church’s mission is to present Jesus Christ to the world, while He presents to the same world His rescuing work in and through His church.

Recommended Resource: The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MaxArthur

“What is missiology?”

Answer:
Missiology can be defined as “the science of the cross-cultural communication of the Christian faith.” In the Great Commission, the Lord Jesus told us to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That command forms the crux of missiology, as it seeks to understand and explain biblical values for evangelism, such as the role of culture in giving the message, both declaring and demonstrating the message of the gospel as it goes “into all the world.”

Three disciplines direct and enable the study of missiology: theology (mainly biblical), anthropology (including primitive religion, linguistics, cultural dynamics, and cultural change), and history. Missiology seeks to intelligently articulate the gospel and its power to change lives in a culturally appropriate context.

Five missiology-related issues that Christians through the centuries have wrestled with in applying and adapting the command to world evangelization are as follows:

• Apostolic practice – How does the church carry on the method of sending out laborers into the harvest field?

• Church structure and mission – How does the church most effectively reproduce itself? What does local church leadership look like in a given region, whether in the United States or in the recessed corners of the world?

• The gospel and other religions – What is the relationship between the good news about Jesus Christ and other religious systems which do not acknowledge His lordship? Is there validity to the religious experience of their devotees, or do they have to give up their religious practices?

• Salvation and non-Christians – Are the heathen really lost? What is their destiny if they have never heard the gospel and die without ever hearing it?

• Christianity and Culture – The same God who provided the gospel for all peoples has also prepared all peoples for the gospel. How does the church present the gospel to those who have never heard it, in such a way that it makes sense, culturally speaking, and answers their primary spiritually related questions?

Missiology seeks to “further the understanding and performance of the Christian mission in our day.” To summarize, missiology is the study of how to best do missions.

Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

“What are the pros and cons of short-term missions?”

Answer:
Although short-term missions have drawbacks, they can be overcome with godly wisdom, training, and heart.

The Pros:

1. Short-term missionaries better understand the ministry and purpose of missions.

Those who have never experienced cross-cultural missions often have wrong impressions about it. They may view missions as a glamorous ministry with thankful natives coming to Christ each day. After participating in a short-term missions trip, they better appreciate the goals and service of missions.

2. Short-term missionaries become more sacrificial supporters of long-term missionaries.

A short-term mission trip often increases a person’s interest in and support of missions. God may use a short-term mission trip to call a person to long-term missions. Besides going long-term, multiple opportunities await to support missions.

The short-term mission trip itself strengthens missionaries. The church group brings fresh hands to work, enthusiasm for the ministry, and Christian fellowship to encourage. They can help with tasks the long-term missionaries don’t have the time or numbers to do: relief projects, tract handouts, children’s clubs, etc.

Once back home, the short-term missionary doesn’t easily forget the need. They often become life-long supporters of missionaries through prayer, gifts, and letters. Their passion for missions spreads to others back home.

3. Short-term missions develop passion for knowing Christ and making Christ known.

A short-term mission trip teaches people dependence on God. They face customs to get through, an unfamiliar language to understand, and culture shock to overcome. As they turn to God for help, short-term missionaries experience the power of prayer. Seeing God move in and through lives, they develop a love for Christ and the Gospel. This passion does not end at the mission trip’s end but should continue to energize the short-term missionary back home. By God’s grace, personal evangelism increases. Prayer and Bible study become a delight, not a duty or drudgery.

The Cons:

1. Short-term missions are expensive.

If cost were the only factor, short-term missions would not be worthwhile. Some people point out that the money used to fly 30 teens to Peru could be sent to the long-term missionaries there. After all, the youth group could do missions at home: passing out tracts at a park, teaching a children’s Bible club, or helping in a soup kitchen in the inner city.

2. Short-term missions may not require “counting the cost.”

Some who go on a short-term mission trip still don’t understand the sacrifices of missions. They haven’t spent the grueling hours learning the language; they haven’t had to leave family and friends for more than a few weeks; they haven’t experienced the years of service without visible results. Besides, short-term missionaries sometimes only add to the burdens of long-term missionaries.

3. Short-term missions may not have a lasting impact.

Some short-term missionaries come with the haughty idea that they can single-handedly change the nation in the few weeks they serve. Without regard to the long-term missionaries, native church leaders, or even the Lord, they hand out a few tracts, hold a puppet show, or put a new roof on an orphanage. Their impact on the community fades as soon as they hop on the plane back home. Even with the proper heart attitude and goals, short-term missionaries have more limitations than long-term missionaries. Short-term missions may not provide the time it takes to learn the language and culture, build relationships, and make disciples.

Conclusion: Are short-term missions worthwhile?

God uses both short- and long-term missionaries to make disciples of all nations (e.g. the apostle Paul vs. Timothy). The call and heart of both types of missionary are most important. While long-term missionaries carry out the bulk of missions work, short-term missions can lighten the load. Short-term missions are usually most effective under the direction of long-term missionaries and the national church. Although short-term missions has drawbacks, they can be overcome with godly wisdom, training, and heart.

Possible Short-Term Missions Opportunities:
http://www.shorttermmissions.com/
http://www.missionfinder.org/summerbW.htm
http://www.adventures.org/
http://www.wycliffe.org/Go/ShortTerm.aspx
http://www.ntm.org/missiontrips/index.php?page=mission%20trips
Short Term Missions Trip Search
http://www.missions-trip.com
http://experiencemission.org

https://www.prayingpelicanmissions.org

Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

10 Characteristics of a Church on Mission

By Scott Thomas

September 13, 2011

The Tension to Be on Mission

The church in every generation is called to bring the good news of the kingdom into a spiritual encounter with the aspirations and challenges of that culture where it resides. Simply, believers are on a mission from God in their respective communities. To engage today’s culture with the Gospel requires the formation of a Gospel community – the church of Jesus Christ – to be a visible representation, witness, and engaging instrument of the sovereign outreaching hand of God in our culture. In many churches, this may require a new vision, new ways of thinking, and new patterns of behavior (Matt. 9:16-17). This means pre-believers are encouraged to be included in the context of all of the church functions as they make small steps toward Christ (Luke 19:10).

Since we are in Christ, we have a missionary identity. We are adopted into a missionary family. We serve a missionary God. Mission becomes part of our identity, because our Father is a missionary God and we resemble Him as a child of God. So the church is a missionary church, with missionary people, that do missionary things. It is who we are, and it is also what we do. Mission is not something we tack on to the list of options as a Christian. To be Christian is to be on mission. It’s who we are, and it is what we do.

Ten Characteristics of a Missional Church

1.  The missional church is committed to the authoritative, infallible, inerrant, inspired Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-17; Acts 2:42).

The authority of all missionary work is founded in the truth that God has a clear word to communicate to the world. The Bible’s authoritative word—not just the casual observance and even religious obeisance—guides the missional church toward understanding the person and work of Jesus throughout all of Scripture (Luke 24:44).

Although this is admittedly a unique description of missional, it cannot be an assumed reality. I think the distinguishing difference between emergent and emerging is the view of the Bible. I no longer use the words, but to clarify, a missional (emerging) church is motivated by the words of God to proclaim the timeless Gospel in a timely method. David Garrison said the one thing that keeps the reproduction of churches from fragmenting into a thousand heresies like a crack splintering across a car windshield is the authority of God’s word. Garrison believes this is one of the characteristics of every church planting movement.

2.  Understands the centrality of the Gospel expressed in all aspects of a person’s life (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2:2; Gal. 6:14)

In Galatians 2:14, Paul deals with Peter’s racial pride and cowardice by saying their “conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.” The Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life—spiritual, psychological, corporate, social—by thinking, hoping, and living out the implications of the Gospel. The Gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. The missional church is not dependant on programs or methods, but rather by the transforming power of the Gospel. GOCN began with the indicator of a missional church as one that proclaims the Gospel audibly and visibly. “Being Gospel-centered means being both word-centered and mission-centered,” says Steve Timmis, Director of Acts 29 Western Europe. The Gospel is not separated from the authority and effectiveness of the Word and is not devoid of practicing the Gospel through mission living. It was Newbigin who described the local congregation as ‘the hermeneutic of the gospel.’ Newbigin’s idea is very simple: people understand the Gospel by looking at the people of God. It is the church in time and space – the local church – that expresses the Gospel and interprets it within its own cultural setting.

Through the Gospel, He rescues us from a life of self-serving mission to participate in a life of God-serving, Christ-glorifying mission. We are remade into missional people by the redeeming work of the Spirit and the Son.

3.  Gatherings are characterized by God-centered worship, preaching of the Gospel, prayer, Lord’s Supper by penitent souls, and baptism as a response to the Gospel (John 4:23-24). 

Worship is the central act by which the community corporately celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and promised future.[5]  A missional church worships God in an authentic way, as we worship a Savior who left us here to be captured by His love and pursue His mission through His redemption. The missional church encourages what Tim Keller calls “evangelistic worship”—making worship comprehensible to unbelievers leading to commitment.

Principles for Public Missional Worship

Bob Kauflin reminds us the principles for public missional worship. “Paul challenges the Corinthians to take unbelievers into account when they gather. He insists that they keep the unbeliever in mind as they exercise spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:23-25)…Whether it’s raised hands, formal liturgies, or unspoken standards, we need to see them through the eyes of an unbeliever.” Kauflin suggests that to significantly impact the unbelievers in a worship gathering, the following should be present:

  1. Authentic passion – enthusiastic expression outwardly what is happening inwardly.
  2. Love – overwhelming unbelievers with genuine love (John 17:21).
  3. The Gospel – clearly proclaimed and faithfully applied in an understandable way.

Why Preaching is Suffering in the Church

Preaching is central to the missional church worship experience. The Reformers were convinced that the heart of true biblical worship was the preaching of the Word of God. Al Mohler said that preaching is suffering a loss in today’s church due to six factors.

  1. Lack of confidence in the power of the [spoken and written] word – failing to realize the transformative power of the word communicated orally and literarily.
  2. Infatuation with technology – over-dependence on graphics, images, film clips, and technological wizardry.
  3. Embarrassment before the biblical text – lacking confidence in the Bible’s authority.
  4. Emptying of biblical content – failing to teach the actual text of Scripture and resorting to pithy points.
  5. Focus on felt needs – anthrocentric preaching as opposed to theocentric preaching.
  6. Absence of the Gospel – turning texts into literary articles, practical steps, or morals to follow without any clear presentation of sin, redemption, and reconciliation.

Preaching of the word has life-transforming power producing repentance, restitution, confession, reconciliation, comfort, joy, encouragement, wisdom as well as indignation, anger, and offense by the stubborn hearted person. The missional church seeks to make disciples with Spirit-empowered preaching of God’s truth or as Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “Preaching is theology coming through a man that is on fire. John Piper described preaching. He said 1) the goal of preaching is the glory of God. 2) The ground of preaching is the cross of Christ, and 3) the gift of preaching is the power of the Holy Spirit.

The missional worship gathering additionally incorporates public reading of Scripture, prayer for the glory of God to be expressed through the suffering body and community, and response to the Spirit of God and the word of God expressed demonstrably with undefined regularity through baptism and communion. Although the worship gathering is not primarily for us, the body is instructed how to participate in the diverse liturgy as committed followers of Jesus.

Elements of Authentic Worship

The missional church experiences authentic worship by beginning with a true vision of the living God (Isaiah 6:1-8).

  1. We must first see God, as He is—our great King and Judge sitting upon a throne, lofty and exalted (Isaiah 6:1-4).
  2. Secondly, authentic worship leads to confession of sin both individually and corporately (Isaiah 6:5). We address our sin, admit our uncleanness, and seek His mercy and grace.
  3. The third place where authentic worship leads us is proclamation of the Gospel (Isaiah 6:6-7). As we realize our utter sinfulness, the missional church proclaims the redemption of sin through the work of Jesus on the cross—where we glory.
  4. Lastly, a missional church experiences authentic worship with a response (Isaiah 6:8). By excluding the cross, the blood atonement, the sacrifice, and the cost of sin, our worship is horribly weakened, and as a result, our missionary involvement will be stifled.

4.  A missional church understands it has been sent by God as missionaries in their own culture (Matt. 4:19; John 20:21; Acts 16:20; 17:6) to make disciples of all peoples (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). 

The missional church is more than a gathering of people with a missions program (considering itself “mission’s minded”) or that has a financial commitment to mission works or a missions committee. The missional church is vested in God’s mission to a specific place, people, and a particular time in history (Acts 17:15). Mark Driscoll said, “If the Gospel is the seed of God’s powerful work in our lives and world, then the culture is the soil into which it is planted.” He further adds, “Understanding the soil helps the missional church know which weeds of moral sin and theological error will need to be pulled up so as not to choke out the growth of the Gospel and church.”

The Challenge of Gospel Contextualization

Missionary to India Lesslie Newbigin stated that contextualization has been discussed among those involved in foreign missions for years as a necessary means to proclaiming the Gospel into the language and culture in a way to “make sense” to those whom the Gospel is being addressed. Newbigin’s point is that we now face the same challenge of contextualization in our post-Christian Western world—our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even family. The irony is that our older churches that applauded the non-compromised contextualization of the Gospel by the foreign missionaries that they sent with prayers and money are the same churches that now struggle with that missionary approach in our Western culture with peoples from diverse ethnicities, languages, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages.

We redemptively engage peoples and cultures by sharing, showing, and embodying Christ in our context. This includes evangelism, cultural engagement, counseling, empathy, and celebration. It’s bringing the renewing power of the whole Gospel into the whole city through the whole church. It is not realigning our Bible to the culture, but by God’s grace, realigning the culture to the Bible.

Mission is a characteristic of God.

Mission is a characteristic of God. He’s a sending God. He sends His Son and sends His Spirit to renew the world. The Son sends His believers by the authority of God as He was sent. So mission doesn’t start and end with us. It starts and ends with God.

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:14-19)

5.  Boldly & intentionally promotes the Gospel through making disciples and church planting globally through collaborative expressions of mercy and generosity

A missional church is not simply focused on the growth of neither the single local church nor its continued physical presence in the community. Its goal is to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). When a church focuses on its own promotion, it has a tendency to use disciples to build a church, resulting in resentment. Conversely, a church that focuses on making disciples will use the corporate church to promote the Gospel to as many people as possible—both local and global, or what Dr. Bob Roberts refers to as glocal transformation. A missional church sees church planting as the outworking of mission in a community. Its mission work is the establishing of churches glocally. When our mission mindset is to promote the building of churches in multiple contexts, we are more prone to collaborative work with other churches and with a heart of generosity for the advancement of the Gospel in all nations.

6.  A missional church is dependent upon the Holy Spirit to empower and lead believers as agents for evangelizing and making disciples (Acts 1:8; Luke 4:1, 14, 18).

The life of Jesus was empowered, led, and directed by the Holy Spirit. To be dependant upon the Holy Spirit means to live like Jesus as opposed to some strange mystical experience. Jesus gave the Great Commission, as we commonly know it, and He included the prerequisite of Spirit-empowerment to accomplish it. In Luke’s Gospel, for example, Jesus explains the Gospel to His disciples and tells them that as witnesses of His resurrection, they are to proclaim it to others. But He told them to stay in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). Jesus promised that He would empower the church through His Holy Spirit as they make disciples (cf. Acts 1:8). “The promise of God’s presence often accompanied His call to service in the Old Testament (e.g. Ex. 3:12; Josh. 1:5); it is not so much a cozy reassurance as a necessary equipment for mission.”

The Great Comforter
The Great Commission comes equipped with the Great Comforter. This promise is fulfilled by the provision of the Holy Spirit—the missionary Spirit sent to witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God (John 13-17; Acts 2:17). Lesslie Newbigin again offers some succinct instruction for us here. “Mission first of all belongs to the Spirit who is sent by Jesus and the church is taken up into that work…Mission flows in the following way: the Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Church and equips it with the Spirit to enable it to carry out its mission…God does not cease to participate in the missionary enterprise with the sending of Jesus. He does not initiate mission with the sending of Jesus and then leave the missionary work to be carried on by a human institution that followed the pattern of Christ without the help of the Spirit.” Newbigin continues, “The active agent of mission is a power that rules, guides, and goes before the church: the free, sovereign, living power of the Spirit of God. Mission is not just something that the church does; it is something that is done by the Spirit, who is Himself the witness.”

A missional church can effectively reflect the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:6) as it depends on the Spirit of God to empower the body for evangelism, discipleship, and Gospel proclamation rather than depending on big events or buildings or programs or methods utilized elsewhere to draw unbelievers to an event. The Apostle Paul explained to the church situated in the pagan, sinful city of Thessalonica that this “Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thes. 1:5; cf. 1 Peter 1:12). Paul was saying, “I did the speaking, but it was not I. I was used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work He intended.”

Some churches put their emphasis on the studying of the Word. While important that we feed our souls, these are typically the intellectual theologians that spend great hours reading and studying in often arguing the finer points of doctrine resulting in pride of knowledge but rarely conversions. Other churches put a majority of their emphasis on the Holy Spirit and are often more interested in an experience than the authoritative Word. The Holy Spirit uses the Word and the Spirit of truth for understanding. A missional church proclaims the truth with boldness through dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:29-33).

7.  Missional churches utilize relationships and sacrificial love as the expressions of love to others in their journey toward faith (Matt. 5:13-16, John 15:12-17, 1 John 4:19-21).

“Christ wants to create ‘a people,’ not merely isolated individuals who believe in Him.” A disciple is a Spirit-empowered follower of Jesus who is united with a Gospel community on mission for all peoples for the glory of God. A recent book by Dan Kimball entitled, “They Like Jesus but Not the Church” is illustrative of our culture’s skepticism with churches and Christians. The culture is not seeing Jesus in the church, and frankly, Christians are not seeing Jesus in the church and are not motivated to engage in authentic Gospel community because they have little reference for it outside of the Bible’s descriptions (Acts 2:42-45; 4:31-35).

God is a missionary God, and God’s primary missionary method is His covenant people. Mankind was made in the image of the triune God. God created us in that image as persons-in-community to be the means by which He would reveal His glory. As a result of sin, we grasp for isolation from God and His church. When the local church allows this proclivity for seclusion, these image bearers of God fall short of His glory.

The missional church moves out across the nations as a movement of people empowered and sent by Jesus while drawing people through its common life as a God-glorifying movement of believers and unbelievers alike back to Jesus. Steve Timmis writes, “Our identity as human beings is found in community. Our identity as Christians is found in Christ’s new community. And our mission takes place through communities of light.”

What community looks like is unique in every setting, just as every family is unique because there are a lot of variables and moving parts. But the family/community works out the details of their common mission because they are equally committed to each other and to their mission as Christ followers. Those in community do not act in isolation, but rather sacrifice their schedules, time, money, conveniences, and individuality to serve the need. It is foreign to us that the believers in the first church sold their possessions and with singleness of heart gave to those in need. This deep unity and collaboration among the first church ignited the Gospel proclamation that turned the world upside down.

The book of Acts describes the Christian community in multiple ways that may lead to even greater deeds than are described in this canonical record.

  1. Self-sacrifice
  2. Commitment to relationships
  3. Pursuit of unity among the community of believers
  4. Goal of a common mission
  5. Deep love

8.  The goal of a missional church is to walk in community with others as Jesus pursues them in His own way and timing (1 Cor. 9:20-23).

This Gospel community includes believers and unbelievers. Jesus was criticized for including non-believers in community.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Matt. 11:19)

Judas was a part of the disciples even as Jesus spoke about letting the tares grow up with the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30; cf. 1 Cor. 2:19). He spoke to the woman at the well when no one else would dare (John 4). Our interaction with unbelievers is not for the saving of mankind or for the building up of our church, but rather for the glory of God.

The witness of Jesus to the lost woman of Samaria can be summarized in the following way and provides for us a basis for our friendship with sinners.

  1. Intentional – He was compelled to go through Samaria when others walked miles out of the way to avoid it (John 4:4).
  2. Conversational – He addressed a common need: water (4:7).
  3. Respectful – Contrary to culture, this male Jew spoke kindly to this disgraceful woman (4:7).
  4. Directional – He directed the conversation away from her perceived issue back to the Gospel (4:10-15; 19-24).
  5. Convictional – He adequately addressed her sin without rubbing her nose in it (4:16-18).
  6. Confrontational – He confronted her with the truth of who He was (4:26).
  7. Missional – He met her on her turf and brought the Gospel to bear in her life, and she became the missional evangelist in Samaria (4:28-30).
  8. Attitudinal – To the broken people, He showed compassion. To the religious people, He demonstrated unacceptance of their self-righteousness. To those who followed Him, He expected nothing less than absolute surrender.

Look over the list of eight ways Jesus approached this woman and examine your heart to see if you interact with lost people in a similar manner.

9.  A missional church is a hands-on training ground for missionary training (Acts 4:13, 31-35).

His mission is nothing short of the redemption of peoples and cultures, the renewal of all creation for His own glory. God’s great, burdensome, and glorious mission is the renewal of all creation! God, in His mercy, has invited us to participate in His mission.

The community of believers provides opportunities, and they practice hospitality for living out the Gospel in word and deed with one another. Church leaders must set the pace for pursuing the mission of Jesus. As Jack Miller noted, churches become “religious cushions” that tranquilize the guilt-ridden person with the religious warmth of its liturgy. Jack said the contributors of these religious cushion churches are the following:

  • Quiet acceptance of churchly dullness as normative
  • Fear of extinction
  • Extreme sensitivity to the negative opinions
  • Demand for comfort – a nice church with a nice pastor preaching a nice sermon about a nice Jesus
  • Unrestrained Gossip

Members of a missional church are expected to serve on the frontlines of the mission. The missionary emphasis of the body overtakes the self-serving individual, and they either hide, escape, or they get trained in living life as a missionary across the street, across the seas, and across the socio-economic, ethnic, religious, and political boundaries.

10.  Godly, biblically qualified elders lead a missional church (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Eph. 4).

While most descriptions of a missional church do not include this characteristic, I don’t think it is possible to maintain a missional emphasis without what Jack Miller calls “pacesetting pastors” who continually remind the body of the mission for which Jesus has called us and the Holy Spirit has empowered us to pursue until the return of Jesus.

Titus was commissioned by Paul to establish the churches with qualified elders in Crete to rebuke false teachers, teach sound doctrine, establish godly homes, preach the Gospel of grace, do good works, confront rebellion, and multiply followers of Jesus. The key to straightening out the crooked churches in Crete was the establishing of qualified elders to guide the rest of the body toward the Gospel.

Elders are to be above reproach in every area of their life. The Gospel will never take root in the body until it takes root in the leaders’ lives. Spurgeon writes, “Brothers, I beseech you, keep the old Gospel, and let your souls be filled with it, and then may you be set on fire with it!” A church will never be missional until its elders live missional lives in front of their followers.

The real value of an elder in a missional church is the equipping of non-vocational leaders to lead and share responsibility for the mission and for the discipling of new believers (Eph. 4:11-12). Reproducing churches unleash the whole body to exercise their gifts (1 Cor. 12:8-10) and encourage them to lead others on mission to proclaim the Gospel in new ways and new places in the community. New believers are incorporated quickly in the mission and receive on-the-job training through an organic mentorship rather than top-down control.

Missional or Biblical?

Looking over the description of a missional church, one understands this word to be equated with the pattern set forth in the Bible. The church established by the Apostles was a church on mission. It was missional. It seems that the evangelical church just needed a new word like missional to describe the “Biblical church.”

Lecture 10

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated.

The Missional Church & Culture

Stephen J Grabill – Church and Culture

Chandler, Horton, and Keller on the Church in Culture

John MacArthur: The Gospel, the Church, and This Present Crisis

Andy Stanley | Church and Culture

Francis Schaeffer – Christian Manifesto

Missional living

In Christianity, missional living is the adoption of the posture, thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to engage others with the gospel message. The missional church movement, a church renewal movement predicated on the necessity of missional living by Christians, gained popularity at the end of the twentieth century due to advocates like Tim Keller and others in the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Advocates contrast missional living with the concept of a select group of “professional” missionaries, emphasizing that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.[1]

Contents

Understanding Missional

The missional living concept is rooted in the Missio dei (Latin, “the sending of God”). In 1934, Karl Hartenstein, a German missiologist, coined the phrase in response to Karl Barth and his emphasis on actio Dei (“the action of God”). In their view, missional activities stemming from God.[2] The Triune God is the primary acting agent in the world and within the church.

According to Lesslie Newbigin and Jesus’ statements in the Gospel according to John, every Christian has been sent by Jesus with the gospel together in community to those in the surrounding culture for the sake of the King and His kingdom: “The Church is sent into the world to continue that which he came to do, in the power of the same Spirit, reconciling people to God.”[3] Jesus said, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).

“No one can say: ‘Since I’m not called to be a missionary, I do not have to evangelize my friends and neighbors.’ There is no difference, in spiritual terms, between a missionary witnessing in his home town and a missionary witnessing in Katmandu, Nepal. We are all called to go—even if it is only to the next room, or the next block.””[4]

A missional (missionary) perspective

Missional living is the embodiment of the mission of Jesus in the world by incarnating the gospel. “It is imperative that Christians be like Jesus, by living freely within the culture as missionaries who are as faithful to the Father and his gospel as Jesus was in his own time and place.”[5] This embodiment of the gospel is often referred to as “contextualization” or “inculturation.”

“Both refer to more than a simple translation of the gospel into different languages and cultures in the way that one translates a history book or a science text. Rather, they point to the embodiment of the living Word in human culture and social settings in such a way that its divine nature and power are not lost. True contextualization is more than communication. It is God working in the hearts of people, making them new and forming them into a new community. It is his Word transforming their lives, their societies, their cultures.”[6]

These five biblical distinctives form the foundation of a missional perspective:[7]

  1. The Church is sent by Jesus Christ (John 17:18; 20:21, Luke 9:2; Matthew 28:1920; Acts 1:8)
  2. The Church is sent with the Cross (1 Cor 1:18, Eph 2:16, Col 2:14, 1 Pet 2:24, 2 Cor 5:17–24)
  3. The Church is sent in Community (Acts 2:42–47; 5:42; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–17)
  4. The Church is sent to every Culture (John 1:14; Matthew 20:28; Acts 17:22–34; Luke 5:29)
  5. The Church is sent for the King and His Kingdom (Matthew 10:7; 25:34; Luke 4:43; Rev 11:15–17; Jeremiah 10:7; John 18:36)
A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated

Sent

Jesus sent His disciples on a mission. The missional church defines itself in terms of its mission—being sent ones who take the gospel to and incarnate the gospel within a specific culture.

“Jesus was the first apostle. He was sent by his Father. He, in turn, sent the Twelve. They went to people who would then take the gospel to the rest of the world. Whoever received it would understand that they, too, had been sent. With the gospel being what it is, the church as bearer of the gospel is bound to be apostolic.”[8]

Cross

Jesus Christ said that He came to earth to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He accomplished salvation through the cross. By dying on the cross, He paid the penalty for sin and satisfied God’s wrath. According to Scripture, without the cross, there is no salvation, no forgiveness, and no hope; because of the cross, there is eternal life. The mission and message of Jesus surround the cross. “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

Community

Jesus loves the Church and He gave His life to redeem the Church. Community exists for Mission! Christians are to bring the gospel together to the culture. “The church is called to do the work of Christ, to be the means of his action in and for the world….Mission, in its widest as well as its more focused senses, is what the church is there for. God intends to put the world to rights; he has dramatically launched this project through Jesus. Those who belong to Jesus are called, here and now, in the power of the Spirit, to be agents of that putting-to-rights purpose.”[9]

Culture

George Peters notes, “If man is to be reached, he must be reached within his own culture.”[10] This principle is observed when God became a man in the form of Jesus to come to earth and incarnate the gospel. As missionaries sent by Jesus, every Christian must learn to exegete their surrounding culture, uncovering the language, values, and ideas of the culture. Using this information, they take steps to reach people with the gospel message in the context of the surrounding culture.

King and Kingdom

The kingdom was central to Jesus’ message and mission. The Book of Acts ends with Paul, under house arrest in Rome, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Christians are sent to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom so that others may enter the kingdom. George Hunsberger conveys the idea that the Church is pointing beyond itself to the kingdom of God. The Church is not an end in itself; God has a mission that goes beyond the Church which includes the kingdom. The kingdom and the Church must never be divorced, yet they also must never be equated. In a similar way, “the reign must never be separated from the One who reigns.”[11] The kingdom is always at the heart of the King.

The missional church

The missional church movement first arose during the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. The movement seeks to rethink and redefine the nature of the church and create a new paradigm in which churches are seen as missional in nature, instead of attractional in nature. Leaders in the movement argue that instead of churches attempting to attract people to churches through church programs, churches should instead take the gospel outside of the church and engage society with the gospel, often by being involved not only in missions and evangelism but also in social justice movements. The missional church defines itself in terms of its mission — being sent ones who take the gospel to and incarnate the gospel within a specific cultural context.

The church exists, in other words, for what we sometimes call “mission”: to announce to the world that Jesus is its Lord.[12]

“Mission is not just a program of the church. It defines the church as God’s sent people. Either we are defined by mission, or we reduce the scope of the gospel and the mandate of the church. Thus our challenge today is to move from church with mission to missional church.”[13]

The Church has a mission because Jesus has a mission. There is one mission.

“Missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church. The church itself is not only a product of that mission but is obligated and destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus. To obstruct this is to block God’s purposes in and through his people.”[14]

Missional living is a term that is used in contrast with historical institutional churches. Church leaders as well as Christians in general have often regarded the Church as an institution to which outsiders must come in order to receive a certain product, namely, the gospel and all its associated benefits. Institutional churches are sometimes perceived to exist for the members and depend on pastors and staff to evangelize the lost. The “missional church”, on the other hand, attempts to take Christ to “the lost” and its members are personally engaged in reaching their communities with the message of Jesus Christ.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missional_living

What in the World is the Missional Church?

Article

03.01.2010

Talk about being behind the curve.

Several months ago, I began noticing how often the words “missional church” kept showing up in evangelical books and blogs. Reading up on the topic since then has left me feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving’s colonial American character who dozed off one afternoon as a loyal subject of King George III, only to wake up twenty years later and find that he had a foot long beard and that something called the Revolutionary War had been fought.

I don’t have a beard, but I have woken up to find that planters have planted, reformers have reformed, and now the first generation has turned to training a second in a small army marching under the banner of missional.

In this issue of 9News, Eric Simmons does a great job of describing the missional life. Ryan Townsend and Andy Johnson both refer to the topic in their articles. The pastors’ and theologians’ forum on the corporate witness of the church touches on some of the underlying principles of the missional church. Yet in case you’ve been asleep like me, it’s worth poking our heads up and asking, what in the world in the missional church?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DISCUSSION

The term wasn’t coined by Darrell Guder, but this Princeton Seminary professor suggests that the book Missional Church, which he co-wrote and edited in 1998,“must be held accountable, it appears, for the rapid spread of the term missional in many circles of discussion dealing with the situation of the church in North America.” [1]

Guder and the members of his “Gospel and Our Culture” (GOC) team, however, will quickly trace the missional church story back to conversations begun in missiological and ecumenical circles in the 1950s and earlier, about the same time that Donald McGavran’s Church Growth theories were arousing interest among evangelicals in North America.

At a conference of the International Missionary Council (IMC) in 1952, Wilhelm Anderson, building on the work of Karl Barth, proposed that both church and mission should be taken up into the missio Dei—the mission of God. Missions is not just a function of the church. And the church is not just the outcome of missions. Rather, both are grounded in a Triune God on mission. The Father sent the Son; the Father and Son sent the Spirit; and now the Spirit sends the church. The church has a missionary—we now say missional—nature. Johannes Blauw captured the basic premise in the title of his 1962 book: The Missionary Nature of the Church.

Ecumenicals embraced this way of speaking more fully with the merger of the IMC and the World Council of Churches in 1961, followed by Roman Catholics and Vatican II’s pronouncement that “the Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” [2] Signaling this shift in thinking among many, the World Council of Churches in 1969 dropped the “s” from its journal International Review of Missions to become International Review of Mission. [3]

The Anglican missionary to India Lesslie Newbigin, who was also writing on the church and missio Dei in the fifties and sixties, returned from India to Britain in the seventies and found not only a post-Christian society, but a church that failed to distinguish itself from society. Moving into the eighties and nineties, Newbigin increasingly called for a critical reevaluation of the church and its relationship to Western pluralistic and postmodern culture.

Ever since this process of critical revaluation began, Newbigin and others have generally cast the history of the church and the missionary enterprise over the last several centuries as the story of the church’s capitulation to modernity. David Bosch’s fascinating and thick Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (1991) provides, as best as I can tell, the script from which ecumenicals, emergents, and traditional mainliners all read. Bosch sees liberals and fundamentalists as two sides of the Enlightenment coin. Both privatize Christianity. Both reduce the church to “a place where things happen,” like preaching, distributing the ordinances, and practicing discipline. (The church is not a place, it’s a people.) Both blur their culture with their Christianity, so that missions and “gospel” proclamation become, at best, the Western white man’s condescension to the pitiable, unenlightened native and, at worst, colonial imperialism. Both idolize reason, dichotomize facts and values, and idealize their objective version of reality. Here’s one example of many:

The subject-object dichotomy [one attribute of Enlightenment thinking] meant that, in admittedly very opposite ways, the Bible and, in fact, the Christian faith as such, became objectified. Liberals sovereignly placed themselves above the biblical text, extracting ethical codes from it, while fundamentalists tended to turn the Bible into a fetish and apply it mechanically to every context, particularly as regards the “Great Commission.” [4]

As Bosch, Guder, Newbigin, and the rest look out at the world of church and missions, they see a “crisis,” the kind that always precedes a Kuhnian paradigm shift. The symptoms of the crisis may be the stuff of polls: diminishing numbers, the loss of younger generations, biblical illiteracy, and so on. But the real crisis is spiritual and theological, stemming from the church’s failure to understand the postmodern context in which it now dwells. If the church wants to be relevant; if it wants to succeed in its mission, it must give attention to contextualization. It must learn to understand, communicate, and demonstrate the beauty of the gospel afresh. One GOC author writes,

What exactly is the gospel, then? Identifying the gospel is both simple and challenging. No culture-free expression of the gospel exists, nor could it. The church’s message, the gospel, is inevitably articulated in linguistic and cultural forms particular to its own place and time. Thus a rehearsing of the gospel can be vulnerable to the “gospels” that we may tend to read back into the New Testament renderings of it. [5]

The church, then, is tasked with sometimes affirming, sometimes critiquing the philosophies of the day. It thinks and breathes within those philosophies, but it is not of them. The church must explain and display the kingdom of heaven today, now, here. Yet it must do so as a “pilgrim people.” In other words, the church, like its Savior, must “embody,” “enflesh,” “incarnate” the good news that God’s redemptive reign of peace, justice, and healing now extends to all the world through his Spirit and his body, the church.

DEFINING THE MISSIONAL CHURCH

To repeat, the basic premise of the missional church is that “missions” is not simply one of the functions or programs of a church. It constitutes the very essence or nature of the church. Drop the “s.” God is a God on mission. And God has sent the church on mission. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

This is a larger claim than saying that every individual member of a church is a missionary, though this is what the missional church has become in some recent conservative descriptions of it. Rather, the church itself is a sign that the kingdom of God has begun on earth, and a foretaste of the consummated reign to come. It is also an agent and instrument of God’s reign, bearing the authority of the keys (Matt. 16:19) and the authority of forgiveness (John 20:19-23). [6]

It’s not the case, at least according to the writers we’ve been following, that you can have a non-missional church on one block and a missional church on the next block. Rather, the church is missional (it is what it does, says Craig Van Gelder). The Spirit creates the church as the body of Christ in the world, and the church then “incarnates” or “enfleshes” the continuing work of bringing the justice and peace of Christ into all the cultures of the world. [7]

It doesn’t exist to draw people to itself and merely perpetuate its own institutional life, as was professedly the case throughout the history of “Christendom.” Rather, the church exists to proclaim the kingdom of God among men and women. By the same token, the unbiblical and church-centered language of “expanding” or “building” the kingdom of God is dropped, and the more biblical, God-centered language of “seeking,” “receiving,” or “entering” God’s kingdom is adopted.

Conversion is not just a profession of faith in Christ. Salvation is not only the rescue of the individual’s soul from the threat of God’s retribution. The gospel is not merely the news of what God has done in Christ to pardon individual sinners. [8] Rather, the gospel, salvation, and conversion are construed much more “holistically” or “comprehensively,” with ethical implications for every dimension of life and the message of reconciliation, justice, peace, healing, liberation, and love for the entire world: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20, NRSV).

THE CONSERVATIVE TAKE-OVER

I have no idea when exactly conservative evangelicals co-opted the term “missional.” [9] My guess is that conservative writers and pastors in the emerging church movement like Mark Driscoll, after tromping through some of the same fields as their liberal counterparts, reached down, pulled up the missional plant by the roots, and then transplanted it into conservative soil.

Take an hour to troll the blogs of liberal-leaning Emergent websites, and you find the authors discussed above recommended prominently. Flip to the endnotes of books by conservative authors, and you will find the same authors quoted liberally.

Ed Stetzer, for instance, frequently cites Newbigin, Bosch, and the GOC gang in his book Planting Missional Churches. Yet where a GOC writer will say something like “missional communities are cultivated through participation in particular social or ecclesial practices,” [10] Stetzer will ask, “What does the Bible require for church?” [11] It’s probably unfair to say that conservatives like Stetzer want to build on a biblical foundation, whereas the ecumenicals don’t. It’s probably kinder to simply say that Stetzer sees the Bible as authoritative for the church’s mission, where as someone like Newbigin, drawing on the fiduciary epistemology of Michael Polanyi, will say that Jesus is the authority for its mission. What does this mean? It means that Newbigin does not want to give the Bible unqualified approval as Jesus’ inerrant word, so he pits Jesus and his word against one another.

In addition to beginning with a different doctrine of Scripture, conservative writers begin with a different understanding of the gospel than the ecumenicals. Both will explain the gospel in terms of the advancing kingdom of God as well as in terms of Christ’s work on the cross. Yet where conservatives unashamedly embrace Christ’s work of substitution as the center of the gospel, ecumenicals downplay, if not altogether jettison, the latter explanation. [12] Like I said, the soil is different.

Still, the plant is similar. Stetzer criticizes the Reformers as defining the church as a place where things happen. This degenerated during the Enlightenment, so that the church became a vendor of religious goods and services, epitomized in today’s technique-driven seeker churches. Both explanations, Stetzer says, miss what the church fundamentally is: a people sent on mission. “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).

Now that Christendom has come to an end, the church must recognize that it’s no longer chaplain to the culture. Christians are as foreign in the post-modern West as they are in unevangelized lands overseas. They must therefore exegete their Bibles and their cultures both. Here’s Stetzer approvingly quoting Van Gelder:

We need to exegete . . . culture in the same way the missionaries have been so good at doing with diverse tribal cultures of previously unreached people. We need to exegete . . . the themes of the Rolling Stones . . . Dennis Rodman, Madonna, (and) David Letterman. . . . We need to comprehend that the Spirit of the Living God is at work in these cultural expressions, preparing the hearts of men and women to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. [13]

(Keep in mind, the two authors mean something slightly different by “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” even though one is quoting the other to make his point. [14])

Stetzer rejects the “attractional” and “extractional” church, which attempts to attract non-Christians with traditions or technique and to extract them from their cultures. Churches should focus instead on being “missional” (moving outward) and “incarnational” (moving deeper into the culture). As Mark Driscoll puts it, churches should help new believers remain within “their tribes,” whether that tribe is punk rock, a ghetto block, or yuppie stock, just so long as they don’t sin.

Stetzer supports the work of church reform. As one notable example of reform, he points to the work of J. D. Greear, who helped to transform Homestead Heights Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, into a missional church called The Summit. (Click here to read Greear’s answer to our pastors’ and theologians’ forum question on the corporate witness of the church.)

Yet in general, missional church thinking tends to veer toward church planting, and it’s not difficult to see why. Picture a missionary entering a foreign land, like Adoniram Judson traveling to Burma in the nineteenth century. How does he begin a church? He moves into the culture. He learns the language. He makes friends on Burmese terms. He explains the gospel in a way they can understand. Years might pass before someone converts, but when an individual does, Judson does not pull him or her out of Burmese culture. He equips them to be fishers of men inside of Burma. And so, gradually, the church is built.

This, I take it, is the missional church-planting mission.

Now, Western Christian, apply this lesson in New York, Los Angeles, Florence, or Stockholm. Learn the languages of nihilism, cynicism, or spiritualism. Befriend the natives and equip them to reach others.

Futhermore, there’s no model or template to follow. Megachurches and house churches should both be missional. So should emerging hip and rural plain. Stetzer writes,

Indigenous churches look different from culture to culture. You expect a biblically faithful, indigenous church to look different in Senegal from an indigenous church in Singapore. You also expect an indigenous church in high-tech and blue-state Seattle to look different from one in apple-pie Sellersburg, Indiana. [15]

IRONIES, ISSUES, AND INSTRUCTIONS

At the very least, I hope I have accomplished the primary purpose of this article—describing what the so-called missional church is. Different writers have different emphases. The theologians sound a little different than the practitioners. The group I have been generically calling the ecumenicals sound a little different than the evangelicals. But common themes run throughout the discussion.

Let me conclude by observing three ironies, five issues, and four areas of good instruction.

Three Ironies

1) If I may be permitted to brush in very broad strokes, I find it ironic that, in the latter half of the twentieth century, the ecumenicals have proposed a more biblically faithful ecclesiology than all the evangelicals enamored with Church Growth. Missional church theology is not perfect, but it attempts to be biblical. The pragmatism of Church Growth, at its worst, sets the Bible aside.

2) At the same time, I find it ironic that some ecumenicals simultaneously lose missions from the mission, and the evangel from evangelism. Consider, for instance, how the GOC team characterizes “preaching” the gospel. Preaching in the New Testament, the reader is told, means “to announce” or “to proclaim publicly.” This is not so much done on Sunday morning, as it is done in the community at large—publicly. Does that mean the GOC team envisions preachers standing on park benches and bus stops proclaiming the gospel of sin and forgiveness? No, it means bringing the reign of God to bear in every aspect of public life:

For a more benevolent government, that may mean legislation that benefits the poor or the marginalized. For a bank, it might mean granting loans in formerly redlined neighborhoods. For a public school, it might mean instituting peer mediation among students. [16]

This, apparently, is “preaching” the “gospel.”

3) I find it ironic that evangelicals have co-opted the storyline of the ecumenicals—complete with plot and characters (though I don’t find it ironic that they have been putting it to better use). I do wish, however, that the evangelicals would take greater care in transplanting some of these ideas, as the failure to do so leads to the following issues.

Five Issues

1) I take issue with the historical revisionism that characterizes both ecumenicals and evangelicals. It’s striking how almost every one of these authors begins by retelling the history of modernism and postmodernism (one finds the same thing in emerging church literature. Think of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian). Why do they all do this? Because, like Bill Clinton’s political advisor James Carville demonstrated so clearly in Clinton’s 1992 campaign against George H. W. Bush, he who establishes the terms of the debate wins the debate. At Clinton campaign headquarters, Carville famously hung the sign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton convinced the country that the election was about the economy, and not about the first Iraqi War. This helped him win the election, because Americans were feeling an economic squeeze at the time.

The crisis in our churches today, each one of these authors tells us, is about the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Really? I suppose it is if you accept the terms of modernism in the first place, which Bosch explicitly does:

it is futile to attempt nostalgically to return to a pre-Enlightenment worldview. It is not possible to “unknow” what we have learned. . . . The ‘light’ in the Enlightenment was real light and should not simply be discarded. What is needed, rather, is to realize that the Enlightenment paradigm has served is purpose; we should now move beyond it. [17]

The problem, in my opinion, is that Bosch and others have capitulated more completely to the philosophies of this world than they realize, even as they accuse fundamentalists of doing the same. (It almost feels like a number of mainliners are looking for a way to explain their dying denominations, and can’t help but draw those rigid inerrantists into their malaise.) I should unpack all this much further, but I’ll leave it at that.

2) I take issue with the reductionism which results from this revisionism. Since the conservatives adopt the historically revisionistic storyline of the ecumenicals almost wholesale, they fall into some of the same reductionism. Both emphasize the fact that the church is a people, and not a place. That’s absolutely correct. But answering the question “Where on earth will we find the church?” requires us to fall back on the three marks of the Reformers—preaching, practicing the ordinances, and practicing discipline. As Mark Dever likes to say, three Christians who bump into each other at the grocery store do not comprise a local church.

Both emphasize the fact that the nature of the church is “missional,” that is, defined by the fact that the church is “sent.” True enough. But we must also define the nature of the church as the blood-bought, new covenant people of Christ. We’ve been sent because we’ve been bought. And the people of God will worship, obey, and go as they increasingly identify themselves by that amazing purchase. Don’t overlook it.

Along these same lines, the conservatives writers should take care to define “attractional” more carefully when they pit it against “missional.” The church should be attractive. In fact, this new covenant, Holy Spirit indwelled community of love, holiness, and unity should be the most attractive people of all!

I know that’s not what Stetzer is getting at when he critiques the “attractional” church. He’s talking about fancy programs, not a holy people, and he’s right on. But let me state for the record that the most attractive church—one that images its Savior through faithfulness to his word—will be the most missional church. Interestingly, the ecumenical crowd does a better job of being explicit on just this point whenever they emphasize the church as a sign and a foretaste of God’s kingdom. [18]

3) I take issue with the ambiguity of terms when moving back and forth between different authors, particularly over the all-important term, the “gospel.” When conservatives co-opt ecumenical themes, they need to take greater care, I believe, in defining exactly what they mean by such essential terms. After all, the content of the soil will inevitably affect the plant.

4) I take slight issue with the term “incarnational.” I understand and appreciate the impulse to see that our hands and feet, eyes and tongues, do and live and put on our creed. Yet it’s important for us to recognize that, historically, the term “incarnation” has referred to the unique, once-in-history event of God becoming man. No, the term is not a biblical one, but there are good reasons to preserve the uniqueness of the term in our usage. First of all, equating what the divine Son did in becoming Jesus the God-man with what I do when I imitate Jesus downplays the ineffable wonder of that one-time event. It might even be said to make the divine Son a little smaller and me a little bigger.

More significantly, the primary purpose of the incarnation, I believe, was for the Son to offer his life as the perfect sacrificial substitute in order to assuage the wrath of God against eternally damnable transgression. Yet when I make the incarnation primarily about something else, something that I can emulate in my own life, I risk shifting the focus away from Christ’s wonderous, astounding, amazing work of wrath removal.

5) I also take a little bit of issue with the equation between ethnicity and worldviews. The Mandarin and Cantonese languages are morally neutral. Nihilism and materialism are not. Bobo-ism, hip-hop, and Valley are not. It’s one thing to remain in the Cantonese tribe. It’s another to remain in the hop-hop tribe. I’m not saying one shouldn’t. I’m saying that the equation is not so clean cut. Frankly, I haven’t thought through all the implications of these differences. I’m simply suggesting that we should think them through.

Four Instructions

Those issues aside, I believe advocates of the missional church instruct us in at least four very helpful ways.

1) I am especially grateful for the emphasis the ecumenicals give to the witness of the corporate body. One author writes,

In North America, what might it mean for the church to be such a city on a hill? to be salt? to be a light to the world? It means, first of all, that the inner, communal life of the church matters for mission. [19]

Amen! This author goes onto emphasize the importance of love, holiness, and unity. The content he fills into these three words might be a little different than the content an evangelical pours in, but the trajectory is a good one. Conservative writers on the missional church tend to emphasize the mission of every individual member to share the gospel. That’s excellent. But let’s emphasize the importance of our corporate witness as well. Our churches should be attractive. They should be foretastes of Christ’s consummated kingdom.

2) I’m grateful to be instructed by Stetzer and others to adopt more of a missional posture. We too easily fall into complacency in our “resident” status, as Eric Simmons’ reminds us. We need to hear Newbigin’s reminder that we are a “pilgrim people.”

I spent a month in a former Soviet republic two years ago, living with a missionary family. The entire month I strategized to pour myself out for the kingdom. For instance, I developed a friendship with one non-Christian man who wanted to attend an American business school and then return to his country and help it economically. He had spent a year studying for the GMATs, but could not yet afford to pay the registration fee. I forget what the fee was — $200 maybe? On an American income, that’s nothing. On my friend’s income, it would have cost him three or four months of labor. So I happily paid the fee for him (and congratulated myself on doing so). Praise God, my friend is presently at business school in the United States, and has now been baptized as a believer by a local church. I was not the principal witness in his life, but I trust that God used me to play one small part.

Yet here’s the point, and the question you should ask me: Jonathan, have you ever randomly given $200 to a non-Christian friend in the United States as a display of friendship and Christ’s love? Sadly, the answer is no. Too much of the time, I’m just a resident, not a missionary, more interested in buying books, CDs (no, I don’t have an iPod), a nice dinner, and just a little bit more automobile or house. Yet imagine how the non-Christians around us would respond if we Christians became known for regular acts of generosity? We shouldn’t do it for the world’s favor; we should do it accompanied by a verbal explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Also, go read Eric Simmons’ article.

3) We do well to heed the instruction of missional church writers to exegete our culture, because studying it, ironically, helps us to distance ourselves from it. Learning about the culture should remind us that we are sojourners, and do not finally belong to any one time and place.

4) Finally, we do well to be instructed by the passion of missional writers like Ed Stetzer to be biblically faithful in planting churches and reaching the lost. I have offered the five critiques above not because I think he and others are on the wrong path, but because I think they are on the right path. They inspire me. My critiques are offered in the attempt to help the cause.

Footnotes:

1. Darrell Guder, “The Church as Missional Community,” The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, eds (IVP, 2005), 114; Darrell Gruder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Eerdmans, 1998).

2. Ad Gentes Divinitus, in Vatican Council II: vol. 1, The Conciliar & Post Conciliar Documents. rev. ed., Austin Flannery, ed. (Costello Publishing, 1987), 813 (1.2).

3. This history is recounted in Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Baker, 2000), 32-36; also, David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Orbis, 1991), 368-362.

4. Bosch, Transforming Mission, 342.

5. Guder ed, Missional Church, 87.

6. Guder ed, Missional Church, 101.

7. Van Gelder, 32.

8. Intriguingly, descriptions of the missional church in the ecumenical, mainline streams I am presently tracing almost always (I have never encountered an instance otherwise) refer to more conservative formulations of the gospel, conversion, or salvation with the langauge of “not just” or “not merely” and so on. They don’t explicitly denounce a conservative understanding of the gospel; they habitually minimize or marginalize it. Read David Bosch’s 500-plus-page Transforming Mission, for one of many examples, and be amazed by how—as if following a script—he does this in chapter after chapter, like a verbal tic. Emergent writers today often do the same.

9. Craig Van Gelder suggests evangelicals began to incorporate certain aspects of a missional view in the seventies and eighties. Yet the only concrete example he cites is a report on “Evangelism and Social Responsibility” (No. 21) from the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization, Essence of the Church, 34, 188.

10. Guder ed, Missional Church, 153.

11. Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church That’s Biblically Soudna sand Reaching People in Culture (B&H, 2006), 158.

12. D. A. Carson’s critique of N. T. Wright applies to the ecumenical, emergent, and traditional mainliners treatment of the gospel almost word for word. The following quotation is long, but it bears worth reading because the reductionism Carson observes is amazingly common today: “We have repeatedly seen how the ‘story’ of God’s advancing kingdom is cast in terms of rescuing human beings and completing creation, or perhaps in terms of defeating the powers of darkness. Not for a moment do I want to reduce or minimize those themes. Yet from what are human beings to be rescued? Their sin, yes; the powers of darkness; yes. But what is striking is the utter absence of any mention of the wrath of God. This is not a minor omission. Section after section of the Bible’s story turns on the fact that God’s image-bearers attract God’s righteous wrath. The entire created order is under God’s curse because of human sin. Sin is not first and foremost horizontal, social (though of course it is all of that): it is vertical, the defiance of Almighty God. The sin which most consistently is said to bring down God’s wrath on the heads of his people or on entire nations is idolatry—the de-godding of God. And it is the overcoming of this most fundamental sin that the cross and resurrection of Jesus achieve. The most urgent need of human beings is to be reconciled to God. That is not to deny that such reconciliation entails reconciliation with other human beings, and transformed living in God’s fallen creation, in anticipation of the final transformation at the time of the consummation of all things. But to speak constantly of the advance of the kingdom without tying kingdom themes to the passion narrative, the way the canonical Gospels do, is a terrible reductionism. To speak a couple of times of the cross in terms of the Christus Victor theme, as Wright does (though without using that expression), is unexceptional; to do so without burning with Paul’s “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), and to show how this is tied in Paul’s thought to the setting aside of God’s wrath, and to the reconciliation of alienated rebels to their Maker, is irresponsible,” found here.

13. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 34.

14. Craig Van Gelder’s understanding of the gospel can be found in Evaluating The Church Growh Movement: 5 Views (Zondervan, 2004), 97-99. It also surfaces from time to time in his ecclesiology, The Essence of the Church.

15. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 31.

16. Guder ed, Missional Church, 136.

17. Transforming Mission, 273-74.

18. For example, see Guder ed, Missional Church, 103-04, 128-29.

19. Guder ed, Missional Church, 128.

By Jonathan Leeman

Why The Mission Needs The Marks

Introduction

Doubtless the one of the most significant movements within evangelicalism at the moment is the “emergent” or “emerging churches” movement. The adjectives “emerging” and “emergent” designate different wings of the movement. Generally, the “emergent” wing is more radical and the “emerging” wing a little less radical. Just as frequently, however, in the contemporary rhetoric from both wings of the movement no distinction is made and this essay will speak of the “emerging movement” (hereafter, EM). Like their older evangelical brothers and sisters, the EM also rejects (at least elements of) fundamentalism and revivalism. In their place, they are constructing a cross-traditional, eclectic synthesis. Christianity Today writer Andy Crouch describes the approach to worship and theology of Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids) as simultaneously “echoing and subverting a fashion-driven culture of cool.”1 This hip veneer covers an intentional theological synthesis. As pastor Rob Bell puts it,

We’re re-discovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don’t deliver a way of life. We grew up in churches where people knew the nine verses why we don’t speak in tongues, but had never experienced the overwhelming presence of God.2

An eclectic approach to Christianity, with somewhat different results, also marks Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, in which he describes himself simultaneously as a “missional, evangelical, Post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”3 Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger characterize the EM thus:

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging (1) churches identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.4

Scot McKnight gives his own list of 5 characteristics. The emerging churches (which he distinguishes from “emergent” churches) are “prophetic (or at least provocative). They are “postmodern,” “praxis-oriented,” “post-evangelical,” and “political.”5

The Problem of Defining “Missional”

If the EM is hard to define, it is even more difficult to understand what they mean by the word “missional.”  Perhaps no single word in the EM is used more than the word “missional.” No single word is more central to their identity and purpose and yet it is not easy to find them defining the word “missional.”  They often use it as a crucial qualifier for their understanding of Scripture or the Christian faith. For example, on his blog, Scot McKnight has been publishing a series of studies called “Missional Jesus” wherein Jesus life and ministry are analyzed in “missional terms,” with the result that Jesus appears quite similar to the EM movement. Judging by the accounts by the EM and judging by their characterizations of the adjective “missional,” the two seem to be used as synonyms. In other words, if one will be genuinely “missional” one must agree with the EM theology. Further, if we compare the basic attributes of the EM’s self-description with the accounts given by scholars of pietism they are virtually identical.6 Thus, in other words, to be identified with the EM is to be missional and viewed historically, the EM/Missional movements, are simply contemporary ways of re-stating Pietism. For all the new rhetoric, what we have is, at bottom, an argument between those who value religious experience as the highest good and those who, while valuing religious experience—I call to the stand the Heidelberg Catechism, William Perkins, and John Owen—value an objective theology, piety, and practice above subjective religious experience.

What are confessional Reformed Christians to do with these movements and particularly with this adjective “missional”? This essay argues that we must do two things: First, if we are to apply it to ourselves, we must challenge the prevailing EM definition of “missional.” Second, we must recognize that the Reformed theology, piety, and practice presents a clear alternative to the EM definition of “missional” because, unlike the EM, Reformed theology has a doctrine of the church, which confesses that it is in and through the church that the Triune God is accomplishing his mission. For us to say “the mission needs the marks,” is to say that without the visible, institutional church, there is no mission. In order to have a proper definition of what it is to be “missional” we must have a proper definition of what the church is.

First, the definition of the adjective “missional.” There is a some controversy in the EM over whether the word “missional” is being “co-opted” by folk such as we who are not entitled to use it. Anthony Bradley asks whether the term “missional” was being “hijacked” by traditionalists of various sorts. He raises the question whether “missional” types need another adjective to describe themselves.7 He complains about the fact that “Church Growth” guys are now using the term. He cites a document by Tim Keller—who actually provides something of a definition of “Missional”8 and says the term is being co-opted by “the traditional/seeker/program oriented ‘ministries’ driven church”).9The problem, he says, is that none of these folks are genuinely “missional.”  He asks, “Can you really be missional if your personal relationships are confined to the Christian shire? If your church has no non-Christians attending? If adult baptisms of the unchurched aren’t a regular occurrence, if the church is not serving the needs of the local community, etc?”  The folks at “Reformergent” define missional as:

Social action, community involvement, and sacrificial hospitality is primary in lifestyle living. There is once again an interest in being light and salt in a broken world. This involves primarily politics and culture. Although the emerging church sometimes lacks an emphasis on evangelism as part of missional living, there is still value in their approach to how we can be ‘in this world, and not of it.’10

They give three marks of what it means to be “emergent” and “missional.” Those marks are a concern for “social justice,” “authenticity,” and an “unstructured ecclesiology.”11

It should be clear by now that the definition of “missional” raises serious questions. What is at stake here is the very nature of Christianity. This is not simply my assessment; this is the assessment of leaders of the EM. For example, in response to Driscoll’s criticisms, Doug Pagitt says, “I think that we’re basically talking about two different versions of Christianity” and Tony Jones agrees.12 Spencer Burke, says that his goal is to radically re-shape the visible, institutional church. He says,

I challenge the institutional church, where are you spending your R&D [research and development] money now? … If it’s trying to figure out the next big church, I think you should not spend your money that way. … I actually believe that you will see major organizations in the next few years investing in R&D because of the missional question … because of the things they are discovering now…13

Confessional Reformed churches should share this concern. It is a fair question whether building mega-churches is the mission of the church. As he continues, the picture becomes clearer:

I really believe the institutional church will die to itself … even though it will destroy our Sunday morning event … even though it will mean no longer investing in training biblical teachers for the one-hour event … for the greater good, the greater cause, the missional opportunity….14

Let me be clear, if Reformed folk are to apply the adjective “missional” to themselves, it must be defined clearly and that definition must be quite distinct from that used by the EM. Indeed, if we are to use it to describe ourselves we must, to use Bradley’s terms, hijack it or co-opt it.

Let’s us begin doing so. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it in this use as an adjective relating to missions or missionary work, but this is not what the EM means by it. According to the EM, Sunday mornings are no longer considered the Christian Sabbath or the Lord’s Day morning, the day of public worship, the divinely appointed time and place for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Sunday morning is just an event and not even a “missional” event at that! Tripp Fuller says,

There is much to learn and keep from the Reformation, a movement that was thoroughly modern, but there is reason to give pause to returning to it with a clenched fist. Right now I think the last thing the Church needs are white dudes with clinched fists, especially when what they are clenching is ‘God’s Truth.’ Throughout modernity white Dudes have had God’s truth in their hands too much, and behind them are ditches filled with God’s and/or their enemies. (This confusion is easy when you have truth tightly gripped in a fist.) … I am confident that, as the Church finds its bearing in a new world, we don’t need any more clinched fists, for it is God’s world and God’s truth after all.15

We see a similar anti-ecclesiastical approach to mission in The Missional Church edited by Darrell L. Guder and co-written by five different authors.16  They agree with many of the EM writers who reject the “Western mission” as a “European-church-centered enterprise.”17 In its place they seek a “theocentric reconceptualization of Christian mission.”18 In the EM/Missional movements there is a turning away from the church as organization and toward the church as organism. They regard the institutional church as a remnant of “Christendom,” the medieval church-state complex.19 Many of the EM/Missional theorists seem to accept, to greater and lesser degrees, the nineteenth-century theory that the apostolic church was purely kerygmatic and charismatic and that organization was a later, post-apostolic corruption of authentic Christianity.20 On that premise they seek to recover some version of primitive Christianity. In the chapter on the church drafted by George Hunsberger, Missional Church contrasts the a missional approach to the doctrine of the church with the “heritage of a functional Christendom and forms of church life shaped by modern notions of voluntary association and rational organization.”21 This is at least partly true and helpful, but they continue by calling into question the very notion of the “marks of the church.” They write that, though the Reformers did not intend it, the result of speaking of “the marks of the true church” has been that Protestants have come to think of church as “a place where certain things happen.”22 The argument throughout the chapter is that we must move beyond a conception of the church as a “place where things happen” to a dynamic community caught up in the mission of God in the world. They are more helpful, however, when they note that the verbs most often used by the New Testament in association with the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven” are “to receive” and “to enter.”23 That the kingdom is not something we can usher in through evangelism or cultural action is a truly important point.

Finally, in contrast to a good bit of the contemporary literature coming from the EM/missional movements, Christopher J. H. Wright provides one of the most helpful approaches to the question of a missional theology.24  He argues that we should use a “missional” hermeneutic on analogy with our Christocentric hermeneutic.25 Just as we read the Bible to see how it progressively reveals the person of God the Son in Christ through the history of redemption,26 so too we ought to recognize that the mission of God is also progressively revealed in redemptive history.27 Thus, e.g. he distinguishes between the missional character of Israel’s relation to the nations, inasmuch as they existed to fulfill the divine intention, and the Christian mission to preach the gospel to all the nations.28 In that respect, he argues that though it is true to say that the Bible teaches a mission, it is also true that the Bible itself is the product of God’s mission.29 The whole history of redemption is the history of the outworking of the divine plan moving from creation, to fall, to redemption, and finally to glory.30

What the EM/Missional Movement Gets Right

There are a number of fundamental disagreements between the EM/Missional movements and the Reformed confession. Nevertheless, there are at least five points about the EM/Missional movements that confessional Reformed churches should appreciate.

  1. Christendom was a mistake and more importantly we live after Christendom. Christians ought to engage the whole world with all of God’s revelation. The attempt to recapture or reconstitute Christendom is a great diversion from our true vocation and the mission of God at this stage in redemptive history. The gospel may not be safely identified with any particular political program (left, center, or right) and it may not be identified any particular cultural program.
  2. Christianity has always been and will always be a global phenomenon. As we think about our relations to the “mission of God” in the world, we need to reckon with the fact that we are part of a much larger enterprise. We, in North America, are not necessarily the center of world Christianity. For example, we can learn much from our one million brothers and sisters in the Church of Christ Among the Tiv (NKST) in Nigeria about what it means to be truly submissive to the mission of God as they live their faith before a largely hostile and often dangerous culture.
  3. The “mission of God” has very little to do with the contemporary evangelical obsession with programs. The “program-driven” church is probably much more about satisfying the social needs of middle class suburbanites than it is about the mission of the church.
  4. The modern church is too closely associated with particular cultural forms. We are not nearly as critical of our own debt to our own time and place as we need to be.
  5. The modern evangelical church is too easily reckoned as just another voluntary organization. This is why evangelicals shop churches. They do not think of the institutional church as a divine institution to which they have a sacred moral and spiritual obligation and connection. The local congregation has become just another service provider.

What the EM/Missional Movement Gets Wrong

As many things as there are to appreciate about the EM/Missional movements, there are at least nine points of serious disagreement between the Reformed faith and the EM/Missional movements.

  1. The EM/Missional movements are unhelpfully vague about exactly what the “mission” of God is and as a consequence they are unhelpfully vague about what the “mission” of the church is.
  2. When the EM/Missional movements do speak clearly about the mission of the church that mission has precious little to do with the mission of God and the history of redemption and revelation as Reformed churches have understood it. Almost invariably the mission is re-cast in activist, social-gospel, and even Anabaptist terms. This is not my judgment, it is the judgment of EM/Missional advocate Scot McKnight, who says of Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change: “Truth be told, Brian is an Anabaptist [sic] as I am reading him….”31
  3. The EM and Missional accounts of church history seem unaware of a century of criticism of the old and outdated “Kerygma to dogma” model of church history in which the EM and “Missional” groups attempt to re-capture or re-create the “authentic” “kerygmatic” and socially conscious apostolic communities in our time to get past the ossified “dogma” with which Christianity has been encrusted. I understand why they are attracted to it, since it is just a slightly more sophisticated version of the sort of evangelical and fundamentalist primitivism that they are offering now. The great problem with this model is that it just is not true. The whole Kerygma to dogma model assumed, a priori, that the apostolic church could have no institutions, offices, or organization. Any evidence of such organization only meant that portion of the NT could not be taken to be authentic.The repeated claim that the Reformation was a modern phenomenon has no basis in actual history. The Reformation occurred a century and a half before modernity began to dominate the West. The Reformation and post-Reformation Reformed churches were pre-modern people and they were hotly critical of modernity when it appeared. The leading critics of Rene Descartes were not Pietists, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. The leading critics of modernity, as it began to appear, were the orthodox Reformed. It was the Pietists, the forebears of the EM/Missional movements who conceded Christianity to modernity. The nineteenth-century German liberals who laid waste to the faith, who laid siege against the Scriptures were all the children and grand children of Pietists. The EM/Missional movements seem to be counseling us to drink more deeply from the very wells that brought about the destruction they lament.The great irony of the EM/Missional complaint about orthodoxy as “modernist,” is that the Modern creed had four great points, to which most segments of the EM/Missional movement give assent.
    1.  The Modernist creed confesses the universal Fatherhood of God. In the modernist religion, the utterly transcendent (or immanent) deity is everyone’s God/god in precisely the same way. It is not confessional Calvinism, but the EM/Missional movement that includes universalists in its midst.
    2. The Modernist creed confesses the universal brotherhood of humanity. In the modern religion, all human beings are all one great human family without distinction before the deity in any way. Of course, confessing as we do double predestination and limited atonement, it is unlikely that confessional Calvinism will be confused with modernity, but how distinct from the modern creed is the EM/Missional movement?
    3. The Modernist creed confesses human and social perfectibility. If you are of a certain age, you may remember the slogan, “we’re getting better every way and every day.” As dark Calvinists with our doctrine of the depravity of every human faculty we are not good candidates for alignment with the Modernist creed, but the same cannot be said for many elements of the EM/Missional movement.
    4. The most basic Modernist confession is that of human autonomy, the ability to will the contrary to all other wills, even God, is what makes one human. As confessors of human depravity and divine sovereignty, confessional Reformed theology utterly rejects this foundational Modernist doctrine, which is a significant reason we are seen as unreasonable and even anti-human by Modernists. It is far from clear that the EM/Missional movements find themselves with the same antithesis to Modernity on this basic point.
  4. The EM and “Missional” complaint about the close association of the church with cultural forms could be taken as a form of Gnosticism. Our Lord took on a true human nature. As a true man, born of a virgin, he entered human history, spoke a natural language, and was, as a man, completely embedded in a particular culture and time. He commissioned his apostles, also embedded in a particular culture and time, to preach the gospel that transcends all cultures and times, to every language, tongue, and tribe. The paradox of the mission is that the transcendent, triune God entered history to accomplish the great mission, to redeem his people in the fullness of time, and he committed the proclamation of the reality of that fulfillment to the visible church, which shall always remained embedded in time and history until there is no more time and history.Let us also remember that it was the Anabaptists, with whom the EM/Missional movements seem to be so enamored, who overtly and repeatedly denied the true humanity of Christ and who adopted the Docetic doctrine of the so-called “celestial flesh” of Christ. The Definition of Chalcedon better serves the biblical and holy catholic faith than the Christology of the Anabaptists does.
  5. Though the EM and “missional” movements often write as if they were distinctively post-modern, there is little evidence that they really are genuinely post-modern. In many ways it is not a modern movement, beginning with late modern assumptions. The first “modern” people were the Anabaptists and then the Pietists. It is they who made the faith wholly private and personal and who divorced it from history and made it chiefly about the Quest for the Illegitimate Religious Experience.By “modern” I mean they accept the premise that the subject of the verb is “I.”  This is the great difference between Christian antiquity, where the overwhelming consensus was exactly opposite that of modernity, and modernity. The pre-modern church assumed universally that God had spoken, that his revelation is objective and normative for all people, in all times and places. The great question of Christian antiquity was not whether God has spoken but what has God said.The great modern question is has God really said? Of course that question has ancient and diabolical roots, but never until the Modern period did it become the dominant question, the dominant assumption. It was in reaction to the ascendancy of the modern question and the accompanying assumption of personal autonomy that Christians began to regard the faith not about objective, verifiable historical truths such as creation, redemption, resurrection and return, but about the personal experience of the divine. Calvin and Luther are one thing, and Friedrich Schleiermacher is another. The EM and “Missional” movements have much deeper roots in the liberal Pietism of Schleiermacher than they do in the confessional, churchly Protestantism of Calvin and Luther.
  6. The EM/Missional movements are much to be faulted for their lack of clarity about what the gospel is. The Scriptures are unequivocal that the gospel is the announcement of deliverance from judgment and damnation on the basis of the righteousness of Christ and received through faith alone in Christ and his finished work. This is not the clarion call of the EM/Missional movement.
  7. The EM/Missional movements fail consistently to distinguish between the two kingdoms. According to God’s Word there are two kingdoms in this world, one from heaven and the other of this age. Christians live in both kingdoms simultaneously. The visible, institutional church, the “true church,” represents the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God as we confess in the Belgic Confession Art. 29. Here, we should credit the chapter in Missional Church that gets this aspect of the question right.32 Only the baptized live in this kingdom outwardly and only believers inhabit this kingdom spiritually. All humans, however, live in another kingdom, the civil or earthly kingdom and much of that to which the EM/Missional movements are calling the church actually belongs to the civil kingdom. Christians may and should work to alleviate suffering, but the visible, institutional church, as such, is called to only three tasks: To preach the gospel, to administer the sacraments, and to administer discipline. We confess these as the marks of the true church. We confess:

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it (Belgic Confession [1561], art. 29).

When we adopted the three marks of true church, we were in a situation very much like ours today. It was difficult for Christians to know where they should worship and to which institution they should give their allegiance. They needed clear, objective indicators of where the true church could be found. That need has never been greater than it is now. That is why we chose three objective marks that can be tested by empirical evidence. Listen to the sermons, is the gospel preached? That is not a trick question. Either the gospel justification through faith alone in Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension is present or it is not. Are the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper administered? By our lights, if as often happens in our hyper-spiritual age, they are absent or fundamentally corrupted in favor of “new measures,” then the church is also absent. Finally, it will become clear soon enough if a congregation is disciplined. If the minister is unaccountable or if there are no elders or gross sin and error are winked at, then there is no discipline.

It is often said that we should add a fourth mark, If we add to these marks then we gain nothing and risk losing them all. To be sure, there are subsidiary obligations in the church. For example, we must love one another, but there are good reasons why “love” or charity is not a mark of the true church. At first glance, the evidence for making “love” a mark of the church seems overwhelming, after all Paul is very clear in 1 Cor 13 that, whatever else is true of us, if we have not love, we are of little use to the kingdom. The chief problem with adding love or any other virtue to the list of marks is that the list becomes useless. If we make “charity” a mark of the visible church so that one can look at a congregation and determine whether it is a true church on the basis of whether it has love, then who gets to say “how much”? Who gets to define what counts as love and what does not? If we may add “love” as a mark of the church, then why should we not add holiness and if holiness then why not other virtues? On what basis do we stop adding virtues to the list of marks?  We know the answer to that question as soon as we answer another. Which congregation on the face of the earth has all the necessary virtues or even one of them in sufficient quantity to qualify as a true church?

As it happens, the Reformed churches already considered this question. We assign the virtues to the marks of the Christian. Those marks are also in Belgic Confession Art. 29. “As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.”

  1. They love the true God and their neighbors, they love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works. In our theology, piety, and practice, there is no question whether faith, hope, and love are necessary. We are not Donatists. The lack of perfection in the saints or even in the ministers does not disqualify the church. What matters most about the church—between Reformed confessionalism and evangelical pietism there is, on this question, fixed an unbridgeable gulf—is what the church confesses, what it preaches, whether and how it administers the holy sacraments, and whether it administers discipline. In our view, however, the visible church, i.e. the congregation of the saints in stated worship services where the Word is preached and the sacraments and discipline are administered are exactly “places where things happens,” and those assemblies are ordinarily the only such places where such things happen.
  2. To say that the mission needs the marks is to say that the mission needs the true church. One of the greatest faults of the EM/Missional movements is that they seem bent on destroying or circumventing the visible church. Perhaps this is because of their context? Perhaps they see the visible church as disposable or worse, as an obstacle, because they are in mainline churches where dead heterodoxy seems to flourish or they are in mega-churches where the main “mission” seems to be to fill the seats?The Reformed understanding of the Scriptures is that mission is impossible without Christ’s visible church just as the accomplishment of redemption was impossible without Christ’s human nature. In Matthew 16 our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom to his designated representatives, to the visible institutional church. He did not give the keys to any other entity. In that sense, then, the visible church is unique among all human institutions in that it alone represents the authoritative, official proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom. To the visible, institutional church alone Christ gave the power to remit and to bind. In Matthew 18 we see the same pattern. When our Lord instructed his disciples to “tell it to the church” he did not have in mind the “invisible church” of all times and places. He had in mind the visible, local, congregation with officers. Indeed, the Apostles were deeply concerned with the local church as the center of the administration of the kingdom of God on the earth. The Apostle Paul devoted about half or at least a generous portion of most of his epistles to addressing the practical administration and life of visible, true congregations churches. He spent a considerable amount of energy seeing to the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and discipline. Those who denied the humanity of Christ, in the churches of Asia Minor, “went out” from actual congregations because they were never really, spiritually “of” those congregations.
  3. As the intellectual and spiritual children of Pietists and Anabaptists the EM/Missional movements seem to lack altogether a doctrine of what our forefathers called “the means of grace.” The EM/Missional movement seems entirely taken with the modern, pietist, autonomous, and individualistic approach to spirituality and piety. The candles and labyrinths of the EM/Missional piety are just medieval trappings over pietist individualism. The piety and spirituality of the EM/Missional movement is still Bonaventure’s journey of the mind into God or the piety of the ascent of the soul to the divine.Reformed piety is covenantal. It recognizes that God the Son administers his grace through visible means, that we are baptized into a community, that we are redeemed into communities, and that we are brought to faith by the public proclamation of the gospel (Rom 10:17) and that faith is strengthened and confirmed through our baptism and the regular use of the Lord’s Supper. Confessional Protestants confess that every day we repent and die to self and live to Christ and, in that way, we daily renew our baptism. Lord permitting, each week, after we hear the gospel in our ears, we receive it again with our mouths confessing that, as certainly as I receive the elements from the hand of the minister, so surely are the promises of God true for those who believe.

Conclusion

If the mission of God in history is to announce, accomplish, and apply salvation to all of his people in all times and places, in that case the marks of the church are absolutely essential to the mission. Throughout the whole history of redemption, the divine mission was always executed through his covenant people beginning in the garden, after the fall, through Noah, Abraham, national Israel, and finally in the New Covenant church. In every epoch there was always a visible representation of the kingdom and covenant. Nothing has changed. Our Lord Jesus cut a covenant with his people in his blood and he administers his salvation, which is the essence of the mission, through that people. The marks of Christ’s church have always been evident: Gospel, sacraments, and discipline.

Therefore, so long as we continue to accept the Reformed reading of redemptive history, we cannot accept the EM/Missional movement’s definition of “missional.” By these lights, in order to be “missional” we have to reject what we understand to be the gospel and we should have to reject what we understand to be the mission and finally, to embrace the EM account of “mission,” we should have to adopt an Anabaptist doctrine of the church.

Fortunately, none of this is necessary. We should take the EM/Missional movement as a challenge to reinvigorate our vocation to take seriously our doctrine of the church as the covenant community, as the visible representation of the kingdom of God, and the external administration of the covenant of grace. Let us agree with the EM/Missional movement where they remind us that the mission of the church is grounded in the mission of God and the mission of God is expressed in the voluntary submission of God the Son to his Father, whose “food” was “to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Our work is, first of all, to “believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29) and out of those missions, the institutional church must manifest the marks and so doing to go as we have been sent (John 20:21) by the him who was sent for us.

NOTES

* This essay first appeared online in 2008.
1. Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique,” Christianity Today, November 2004, 38.
2. Ibid.
3. From the cover of Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). For a critique of McLaren’s attempted synthesis see R. Scott Clark, “Whosoever Will Be Saved: Emerging Church? Meet Christian Dogma,” in Reforming or Conforming, ed. Gary Johnson and Ronald Gleason (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).
4. This is condensed from Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating a Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 43–44.
5. Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” Christianity Today, February 2007, 36–39.
6. For a more extensive treatment of this phenomenon and a confessional invitation to the citizens of the “Emergent Village” to visit Geneva and Heidelberg see R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007).
7. http://bradley.chattablogs.com/archives/060218.html (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
8. “adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community,
and service—so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it” http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Missional_Church-Keller.pdf (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
9. http://bradley.chattablogs.com/archives/060218.html.
10. http://www.reformergent.org/?p=4 (accessed 10 October 10, 2007)
11. http://www.reformergent.org/?p=4 (accessed 10 October 2007).
12. http://theoblogy.blogspot.com/2007/10/different-versions-of-christianity.html (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
13. http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/missional-has-it-been-shrink-wrapped-too (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
14. Ibid.
15. http://pomopirate.blogspot.com/2007/09/driscoll-acts-29-and-demerging-church.html (accessed 5 October 4, 2007).
16. Darrell L. Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
17. Ibid., 4.
18. Ibid.
19. See e.g., ibid., 5–6.
20. The writers of Missional Church recognize that a missional church must be “historical” (p.11) but it is not entirely clear what this means.
21. Missional Church, 77. Remarkably, the chapter calls us to do exactly that which William Willimon has charged us not to do, i.e. to continue doing theology in “translation mode.” On this see William H.  Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 9.
22. Missional Church, 79.
23. Ibid., 93–97.
24. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2006).
25. Bearing in mind Richard Muller’s recent caveat about the difficulty of using this adjective. See Richard A. Muller, “A Note on ‘Christocentrism’ and the Imprudent Use of Such Terminology,” Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 253–60.
26. See R. Scott Clark, “What is the Bible All About,” Modern Reformation 16 (March/April, 2007): 20–24.
27. See, e.g., 26, 30–32.
28. Ibid., 24–25.
29. Ibid
30. Ibid., 62–63.
31. http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2917 (accessed 12 October, 2007).
32. Missional Church, 102–09.

Contemplating Cool

Article

02.26.2010

Show me a grown man with a goatee and I’ll show you a major league baseball player. Show me a grown man with a goatee wearing sandals and I’ll show you a youth pastor.

When I was a kid, I remember that the youth pastor at our church was totally different than any other pastor I’d ever seen. He quoted rock bands and wore blue jeans to church. He was cool in a way that the other adults in my life were not. I was proud to invite my friends to church and see their negative stereotypes of Christians get blown up. The youth group thrived and “unchurched” kids were reached. The one thing that distinguished our group from others was that our pastor was cool.

As the youth pastors and youth of the 1990s become the head pastors and congregants of the 2000s, it seems like the phenomenon has only grown. It is now an unexamined assumption in many quarters: the best way to reach people is to be like them. In order to reach our culture, we must embody what the culture defines as acceptable and valuable. We must be as “cool” as we can possibly be while still retaining the gospel. That way, people will see us and not be turned off by us. Maybe they’ll even want to be us.

This shows up in both the private lives of pastors (you missional guys, I’m talking about you and your emo eyeglasses) and in the church’s corporate worship, where we seek to remove everything that might seem foreign to the unchurched visitor.

In some ways, I think being connected to the culture around us is helpful. But there are ways in which a commitment to being cool can ultimately conflict with the call of a pastor. As the resident cool guy on the 9Marks docket (which is roughly like being the ladies’ man at a Star Trek convention—damning with faint praise), here are a few thoughts:

1. Being connected to the culture is a double-edged sword.

In a sense, we all carry a set of unique interests, talents, characteristics, and strengths around with us. These can both serve the proclamation of the gospel and hinder it. So, for example, yesterday the copier repairman stopped by the church which I serve. He is a young guy who is into cage-fighting. We built a connection over that fact (one of the guys in our church also does MMA—mixed martial arts), and he was pleasantly surprised to find that a pastor could be heavily tattooed.* I shared Christ with him, and he asked for a Bible. Score one for enculturation.

But there are other ways that my appearance might be a hindrance to the gospel. I have been sharing Christ with a strict Muslim man that I see in the sauna at the gym once or twice a week. We have built a friendship and talked about spiritual matters quite often. I have little doubt that the fact that I have a large weasel tattooed on my bicep does not make him more attracted to the faith. Score one for not having tattoos. This is why I wear sleeves on Sunday mornings. In one situation my ink serves me well; in another it can make things more difficult.

2. We must always be on guard against pride.

How much of a pastor’s desire to be perceived as cool or connected to the culture is motivated by vanity or pride? Knowing the depth of our depravity and self-deception and pride, we must examine ourselves. Am I motivated to dress a certain way or listen to certain music for good reasons? Or does part of me at least want to avoid being the butt of Ned Flanders jokes? We must beware that our quest for cool doesn’t feed the vanity and pride which we need to be choking to death every day.

In fact, I fear (and here I am speaking from what I see in my own heart) that oftentimes we are at least partially motivated to reach people by pride. How much of our desire to be cool is a desire to reach people, not only for the gospel, but also for our own glory? Here’s a diagnostic question for everyone who is a pastor: if the Lord called you to shepherd sixty uncool saints until they were safely home, with no spectacular revival or ministry explosion, would you consider that beneath you? Would it seem unworthy of your gifts and a waste of your life? If so, you are being motivated by pride.

3. Much pastoral ministry is profoundly uncool.

Don’t sign up to be a pastor if you want to sound reasonable to most people or if you want to affect a cool detachment from people and ideas. The preaching of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to your average art community hipster. We must love the Savior more than we love the respect of others.

Also, the ironic detachment that cool requires finds little place in the work of a pastor. At times, you must be embarrassingly earnest and enthusiastic. You must love difficult and extremely mockable people with a real and true love that never seeks a laugh at their expense. You need to cry with people when they suffer unspeakable tragedy. Much of being a pastor is profoundly uncool.

4. We must never despise our brothers and sisters.

There is a real danger in becoming so puffed-up over our freedom in Christ to wear black t-shirts that we begin to look down on the Ned Flanders-style Christians who love the Lord and have served him faithfully for years. In fact, it may be that the Lord is more pleased with their humble walk (though not as sophisticated) than he is with yours. The fact is, love for other Christians is a hallmark of a true believer (1 John 2:10). Even more it must be the mark of a pastor. We have more in common with a believer in Myanmar and a believer in Duluth (even if they don’t know a pilsner from a stout or Operation Ivy from Crimpshine) than we do with the people we’re trying to reach for Christ.

The fact is, we can’t choose who will be in our flock, nor should we try. Should churches go after the “manly man” with gimmicks and mocking disdain for the average wussy church going guy? If I read Ephesians properly, the church should consist of all kinds of people: cool and square, macho and sensitive, punk rock and emo. Frankly, in my experience a sensitive guy who is not trying to be cool is about ten times more likely to fit the biblical profile of a man, even if he doesn’t ride a Harley and watch contact sports on television. Pastor your people, thank God for the diversity in the body, and love people who aren’t like you.

5. With a few exceptions, Christians who try to be cool are terrible at it.

When I was in middle school, a well meaning youth worker attempted to perform what came to be known infamously in Radnor Junior High School lore as “the Jesus rap.” These were the earlier days of hip-hop, and the genre was still trying to find its sound. Well, this youth worker, a slightly pudgy white guy of about 28 years, put the effort back ten years in five excruciating minutes. I later came to find that this well-meaning man hadn’t written this material himself (thank heavens!) but that it was later recorded as part of a song called “Addicted to Love” by a man named Carman.

The point is this: not many Christians can pull it off. A few can, but you probably can’t. Seriously, ask your wife. She’ll tell you the truth. Don’t try to be something that you’re not for the sake of impressing unbelievers. It’s bad theology and it will fool no one. It’s this kind of thinking that has gotten us Christian rock music. Please, stop it. No, really. Now. I insist.

6. Being like the culture can make it hard to see the gospel.

The more we understand the world (and its definition of what is compelling and cool), the less attractive we should find it. In fact, in a society that is increasingly morally and spiritually bankrupt, it may be our incongruity with the culture that serves to highlight the gospel. David Wells says this much better than I could in his book God in the Wasteland:

By this late date, evangelicals should be hungering for a genuine revival of the church, aching to see it once again become a place of seriousness where a vivid otherworldliness is cultivated because the world is understood in deeper and truer ways, where worship is stripped of everything extraneous, where God’s Word is heard afresh, where the desolate and broken can find sanctuary [emphasis mine].

Let’s pray that our churches recover that quality of vivid otherworldliness, even if it is not cool.

The conclusion of the matter is this: be who God made you to be. If you lean hipster, run with it. Be a hipster to the glory of God. If you lean in another direction, that’s great too. But Christ must be central to all who will pursue the calling of a pastor. That means putting to death our pride and scorn for others who are not like us. That means evangelizing across the boundaries of taste and preference. In the long run, it might even mean that we’re not cool.

* If a member of my church is reading this and just got a shock, sorry about that. But take comfort, the fact that I have tattoos is nowhere near the worst thing about me!

By Mike McKinley

Pastors’ and Theologians’ Forum on Church and Culture

Article

03.01.2010

We asked a roundtable of pastors and theologians the followingquestions:

Does Scripture call the local church (by which we mean the local church as the local church, not as individual Christians) to the work of cultural transformation? For example, is a failing school system the responsibility of the local church?

Answers from

Thabiti Anyabwile

Okay, first the easy response. What is primary in the church is preaching, applying, and living the gospel. The church is to make disciples and teach those disciples to observe all the Lord commands. The gospel is central and without the gospel a “church” ceases to be a church. So nothing that comes under the banner of “cultural transformation” is to displace that most central of concerns.  

Having said that, does not Christ command his people to do some things that touch upon cultural transformation or social issues? And insofar as the church is to teach disciples to obey all those commands, then I think on some level we’re in the business of “cultural transformation” (though that’s a hideous and misleading label).

I really dislike this question. It’s problematic in two ways. First, the question forces us to make a decision that’s too blunt or sweeping. It’s “all or nothing.” And, I think it may suggest that there is a “letter” to be obeyed without necessarily attending to a corresponding “spirit.” For example, I can’t think of chapter and verse (which the question seems to call for) that assigns the role of “cultural transformation” to the church qua church. And yet, I can’t reason that there is no role for the church when there are plenty of places where Christians universally are called to do justice in their cultural setting. What does it mean for there to be such a universal call to Christians and there to be no role for the church qua church (a gathering of said Christians in a particular locale preaching, administering the ordinances, and living out the faith)? The distinction the question imposes between the church and individual Christians breaks down, I think, when you’re talking about obligations Christians are universally to observe.

A second way in which the question is problematic: it seems to (a) assume a political and social context where government and perhaps a non-profit sector are intact and responsible for such things as education, and (b) overlook extraordinary social problems. So what is the church’s responsibility regarding cultural transformation in a developing nation (which is most of the world) where there are no basic governmental structures and no non-profit sector as in the United States? And can we comfortably conclude the church has no role to oppose things like the slave trade, sex trafficking, abortion, or provide disaster relief in famine or hurricanes?

We could rule some of these things in by exception. That is, we could say, “of course the church has a role in those limited extraordinary cases.” But if it has a role in such cases, why does it not have a role in the more mundane, ordinary, or chronic situations? Are we to organize mercy when the problem is glaring, but remain disorganized and disinterested when they are “every day”? I can’t see that.

So, right now, I’m left to conclude that there is Christian liberty in deciding whether a local church will involve itself in this or that social issue. A great deal of discernment is required, for obviously not every social issue is “close” to the church’s core mission, and there is a long history of social causes displacing gospel order. In my experience, Christians are generally nervous about exercising the liberties that Christ provides. Perhaps this is a corporate exercise in that nervousness.

Thabiti Anyabwile is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman and the author, most recently, of The Decline of African American Theology (IVP, 2007).

John M. Frame

The task of the church is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)—to make disciples, teaching them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” By God’s grace, we train believers in obedience. That obedience inevitably transforms culture, as it has done now for nearly 2000 years. Christians have made huge contributions to learning, the arts and literature, the treatment of women, the abolition of anti-biblical slavery, the care of the poor, the sick, the widows, and orphans. Sin, of course, has impeded our mission; but the grace of God working through his people has accomplished amazing things.

Now some have argued that cultural transformation is the work of Christian individuals, but not of the local church. They argue that the latter should be limited to the area of the “spiritual,” the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. But the spiritual/secular distinction is not biblical. The gospel as proclaimed by John (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Matt. 4:17), Philip (Acts 8:12), and Paul (Acts 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 28:31) announces the coming of the kingdom of God, a new order of righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17). In the kingdom, we do all things (not just “spiritual”) to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col. 3:17). It is plain that care for the poor, orphans, and widows is part of that.

Is a failing school system, then, for example, the responsibility of the local church? Education is part of our kingdom responsibility (Deut. 6:6-9, Tit. 2:12), part of the gospel of the kingdom. This may mean encouraging believers to educate their children at home, or in Christian schools. It may mean advocating a new commitment to excellence in the public schools. It is better that schools not be administered directly by the church: that is not necessary and it can be a distraction. But where there is no alternative, yes, the church may start a school, bringing to its children (and even to children of non-Christian parents) the riches of human knowledge within a kingdom-centered worldview. There are legitimate questions as to how best to handle such matters in different localities. But the question is not, whether the church has a responsibility, but how should it undertake that responsibility. The gospel of the kingdom is comprehensive—good news for every aspect of human life.

John Frame is a professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and is the author, most recently, of Salvation Belongs to the Lord (P&R, 2006).

Michael Horton

This question is carefully framed. It may be assumed that to say “no, the church isn’t called to cultural transformation” means that one doesn’t think that Christians should try to improve their surroundings during the time that God has given them. Yet the reality is more complicated than that.

In my understanding, the local church is not free to do anything in Christ’s name that Christ himself—the King of the church—has not commissioned it to do. Preaching the Word, administering baptism and the Supper, teaching, and providing spiritual fellowship and discipline receive clear mandates in Scripture, with instructions for offices and procedures for carrying out this sacred embassy.

Now, as citizens of temporal kingdoms as well as the kingdom of Christ, believers are called to be husbands, wives, children, parents, employers, employees, voters, and neighbors in a variety of daily callings. In these vocations, they love and serve their neighbor. With no expectation that they are transforming the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of Christ, they nevertheless “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] own business, and to work with [their] hands, so that [they] may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thes 4:11-12). Besides the imperatives given for proper conduct in the household of faith, there are commands to live with integrity in the world, to submit to those in authority, to pray for rulers, and so forth. So there is indeed much for us to do in this matter of fulfilling our vocations, loving, and serving our neighbors.

There is no call to cultural transformation in the New Testament. Yet if Christian churches are fulfilling their specific mandate and believers are being built up in the faith and practice through the Word, we can expect to see distinctive effects in the culture.

The kingdom of Christ itself is something that we are receiving (Heb 12:28), not something that we are building. In this present age, Christ is reigning in his church, as his unique and exclusive office of Prophet, Priest, and King is realized through the ministry of pastors, deacons, and elders. It is this ministry that creates a “new society” within the structures of this fading evil age.

Michael Horton is a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and the author, most recently of Covenant and Salvation: Union With Christ (WJK, 2007).

David Jackman

The corporate social role of believers, expressed at its most basic level in the local congregation, is to act as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13-14). Jesus tells us that our light shines before men in our ‘good deeds’ (v. 16). Similarly, Peter exhorts the scattered house churches to which his first letter is addressed to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).

This will happen in the lives of individual Christians, of course, but the original setting seems to be corporate and congregational, which means that the local church is being encouraged to be involved and play a strong role for good in the culture. The implication is that this will open the door for the gospel to be listened to, in that this quality of selfless Christian living will be a stimulus for enquiry to the unbelievers (1 Pet 3:15-16). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:10). The church fellowship is a model.

All this is part of our corporate expression of loving our neighbour as ourselves. We do this firstly by holding out the gospel and seeking to bring its good news to as many as possible in our community and we must never dilute this priority perspective, because it is eternal. But if we have no interest in the everyday needs of our community, where for many people their greatest needs and struggles are experienced, our expression of gospel love can sound pretty hollow. Only the gospel can transform human lives and culture, but compassionate Christian service, in love for our neighbour, will always be a powerful validation of its truth.

David Jackman is the president of the Proclamation Trust, a ministry dedicated to equipping preachers and teachers with a commitment to proclaiming God’s Word.

Jonathan Leeman

How do you “transform” something that’s dead? If you happen to be supernatural, you can make it alive (John 1:13). But you cannot transform it.

Are churches called to love, to serve, to care, to bring justice and mercy? In some capacities, yes; in other capacities, no. That’s a more complicated discussion, and I refer the reader to Steve Boyer and the Capitol Hill Baptist Church elder’s discussion on caring for the poor. Here, I simply want to state for the record that the entire discussion about “transforming culture” is only possible when Christian have begun to blur the line between church and world, between the city of God and the city of man, between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, between children of the Father and children of the devil, between those who are God’s people and those who are not God’s people.

This exclusivistic line is offensive to our cultural sensibilities, so we talk about everyone being on a journey. We euphemize about the “unchurched” or “pre-Christian”; the label “non-Christians” sounds stark, absolutist, and intolerant. Am I claiming that any church knows precisely who the wheat are and who the tares are? No, but that’s not the point. The point is simply that wheat cannot “transform” tares other than by asking God to convert them into wheat. A tare is a tare is a tare.

Now, is a failing school the responsibility of the local church? No, of course not. Where does the Bible say churches are responsible for schools? Are the people who comprise a church responsible to love and serve their neighbors in myriad ways, including the education of the neighborhood’s children? Potentially, yes! In the same way that Christians are called to live and love like Good Samaritans, we should always be looking for ways to serve our non-Christian neighbors—that they might be given sight, hearing, hearts of flesh, and life!

Jonathan Leeman is the editor of the 9Marks eJournal.

Aaron Menikoff

Let me begin with four biblically informed assumptions. First, an overarching concern of the New Testament is personal transformation (c. f. Mark 7:14-23; Rom. 3:21-27; 1 Pet. 2:24); Jesus implied as much in John 18:36 when He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Second, there is a clear emphasis in Scripture on the responsibility to care for Christians (c. f. Acts 6:1-6; Gal. 6:10; 2 Cor. 8-9). Third, the marks of the church, biblically and historically, are the right preaching of the word and the right administration of the ordinances (c. f. Eph. 2:20; Col. 1:28, 1 Cor. 11:20). Fourth, physical care for those outside the church is important (c. f. Gal. 6:10; Tit. 3:1-3; Matt. 5:13-16).

Combining these assumptions leads me to conclude that the church should focus on doing that which she is uniquely charged to do: guarding doctrine, preaching it boldly, and calling her members to live it out vigorously and practically in their communities. This excludes the church, as the church, from taking responsibility for the culture, though it does not exclude the church from changing the culture indirectly through the work of individuals. In fact, if a church is not expressing a Scriptural concern for those outside the church—leading and equipping her members to act—she is not preaching the whole counsel of God.

It is easy to set up a straw man by arguing a church that adopts this position has no corporate social conscience, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the Second Great Awakening! Evangelical Christians, who believed that faith without works is dead, fed the poor and ministered to the blind, to name just a couple issues they targeted. Some of them even did so “as the local church,” but most did so as Christians who, transformed by the gospel, married physical and spiritual ministry—all with a heart to bring sinners to repentance.

Cultural transformation undertaken by individuals need not be thought of as the ugly-step sister of ministry sponsored by the church, especially when it is fired by the prophetic preaching and encouraged by the tender love of a local congregation.

Aaron Menikoff, a Ph.D. student in church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and a writer for Kairos Journal for pastors.

Philip G. Ryken

Does Scripture call the local church (by which we mean the local church as the local church, not as individual Christians) to the work of cultural transformation? For example, is a failing school system the responsibility of the local church?

There is a sense in which the answer to this question must be “no.” The church’s primary calling is to preach the gospel and to worship God in the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. While the worship of God and the proclamation of the gospel have a transforming influence on the surrounding culture, this does not happen directly, but indirectly, as the people of God live out the implications of their faith in every aspect of life.

Yet there are also ways in which the answer to this question must be “yes.” In its priestly ministry of intercession, the local church prays for the needs of its community—all of the areas where the surrounding culture needs to experience the transforming influence of the gospel. In its prophetic ministry of preaching and teaching God’s Word, the local church disciples its members to fulfill their various callings as parents, teachers, artists, students, politicians, business people—callings that have culture-transforming power. In its diaconal ministry of mercy, the local church offers practical service in the name of Christ—service that transforms the lives of the poor, the homeless, and the elderly, as well as children, prisoners, and internationals. In these ways, at least, the local church is called to the gospel work of cultural transformation. 

A church that regards such transformation as its primary goal may well miss its more fundamental calling to glorify God in preaching the gospel. Yet a church that minimizes the importance of its legitimate calling to cultural transformation may fail to do the full work of discipleship or of bearing full witness to the kingdom of God.

To take education as an example, a failing school system ought to be a matter of deep concern to Christian people. In appropriate ways, it can also be a legitimate area for local church involvement. Local churches can and should pray for the education of local children. They can and should support local Christian schools through their benevolences. Where permitted, they can and should lead Bible studies, provide Christ-centered religious education, or do other evangelistic work in local schools. Where invited (as is the case in Philadelphia), they can and should respond to the request of the civil government to offer spiritual and educational mentoring to local students.

Philip G. Ryken is the senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is the author, most recently, of What Is the Christian Worldview (P&R, 2006).

Tony Payne

One is hard pressed to think of a word from Scripture that calls local Christian congregations to see cultural transformation (of the kind envisaged in your question) as part of their God-given work and mandate. Then again, one is hard pressed to think of many things at all in the New Testament that are given to local gatherings (considered as such) to be their work or mandate. D. B. Knox was fond of pointing out that, in the New Testament, the activities of the local congregation (as a congregation) do not go beyond loving, Spirit-filled fellowship with one another around Christ based on the heavenly gathering of which we are all members, and mutual edification as we look forward to the Day of his coming (see e.g. Heb 10:24-25; 12:18-24; Col 3:1-4f.).

Of course, because of our heavenly fellowship in and with Christ, and because of our desire to love and do good to all people (especially the household of faith), we will band together for all manner of purposes, in all manner of associations, both short- and long-term, depending on our opportunities and circumstances. 

Prayerfully proclaiming the gospel will remain the chief of these purposes—not least because Christ has commissioned his people specifically to do so—but it will not be the only one. Tackling besetting social and cultural problems (such as a failing education system) may well be a good purpose that Christians work together on, and Christians have famously done so throughout history. But, as far as I can see in Scripture, it is not the particular responsibility of the local congregation, viewed as such. 

Tony Payne is publishing director at Matthias Media and the author of multiple books.

Stephen Um

All peoples, institutions, and groups are interested in changing, renewing, or transforming society by impressing their core values on the culture. For that matter, we cannot help but make an impact on our culture. The minute anyone opens his mouth, he is speaking in a particular language, from a particular cultural context, with a particular worldview vision of morality and various definitions of what he believes to be the “true”, the “good”, and the “beautiful.” As such, no one should be led to think that he is not “getting into the public square.”

In addressing the question, “Is it the church’s responsibility to embrace or assume the civic responsibility of the state (e.g. education, the poor, social injustice, the arts, etc.)?”, we need to consider the following. The church does not have any juridical authority in the city/state public square, but that does not mean that the Church ought to stay out in the periphery. The church does have the responsibility for acts of mercy and for engaging our community with acts of social justice (cf. Jas. 1.27). Paul states that “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). He is clearly referring to a deed ministry that should be shared with all people as they have need. James says that true religion is this: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (Jas. 1.27). In other words, it is the church’s responsibility to pursue both public compassion and personal piety. For example, although a failing school system is not the civic responsibility of the church, the church could get involved in “doing good” by perhaps coming along side of the local school in providing after-school tutoring.

Unfortunately, some activist or fundamentalist groups have thought that they should either assume the responsibility of the state (whether conservative or liberal) or impede the government’s involvement in the lives of individuals. However, the gospel calls individuals in the church to pursue the common good in our culture and to enter into the public square by encouraging and promoting gospel values and by engaging in an incarnational/grassroots strategy for cultural renewal and community development. This is not to suggest that social action, political involvement, or pursuing the common good is a replacement for evangelism.

What does this gospel response look like? There is to be an integration of faith and vocational calling in bringing cultural renewal. Thus, the church and its members should cultivate friendships with people in their neighborhoods, join clubs and associations, and partner with organizations that are also involved in acts of mercy and social justice. In other words, because the ministry of the gospel is both a ministry of word and deed, we can actually promote the public witness of the gospel by pursuing the common good and engaging in acts of social justice.

Stephen Um is the senior minister of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, Massachusetts.

By Forum

What’s the big deal about Sound Doctrine?

As part of our Reading Plan for 2020, we’re going to highlight resources around the monthly theme. We’re unpacking Sound Doctrine. Dive in:

ARTICLES

QUICK ANSWERS

WATCH

LISTEN

BOOKS


Sound Doctrine (Bobby Jamieson) — How do you feel about doctrine? Whatever answer comes to mind, this book will not only convince you that sound doctrine is vital for living a godly life, it will also explain the essential role of theology in the life of a healthy church. Translations available: Chinese | German | Korean | Polish | Portuguese | Romanian | Russian | Spanish

Why is sound doctrine essential for the health of the church?

Answer

Sound doctrine is essential for the health of the church because the church will always listen to someone, and it will always follow whoever it listens to. The only question is, will a church follow God or Satan? Will it confess the truth or lies? Will it uphold sound doctrine or false teaching?

To be specific, sound doctrine is essential for:

  1. The existence of the church. The church is the gathering of Christians, the gathering of people reconciled to God through the gospel. If there’s no sound doctrine, there’s no gospel. If there’s no gospel, there’s no church.
  2. Evangelism. If a church doesn’t have sound doctrine it cannot preach the gospel. If it doesn’t preach the gospel, no non-Christians will turn from their sin and trust in Christ.
  3. Discipleship. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17, NIV). Christians grow by learning and living in light of the truth about God—in other words, by sound doctrine.
  4. Unity. According to the New Testament, the only true unity is unity in the truth (1 Jn. 1:1-4; 2 Jn. 10-11).
  5. Worship. Jesus says that true worship is worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). If a church doesn’t proclaim the truth about God then it can’t worship God “in truth.” Only by believing and teaching and proclaiming sound doctrine will the church glorify God by declaring his excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9-10) and worship him because of who he is (Ps. 29:2).

Lecture 11

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated.

The Missional Community

On Mission Together Jeff Vanderstelt

Re-Imagining Church – A Simple Model to Restore a Broken Church | Patrick Darnell | TEDxAugusta

Whiteboard Whole Church Whole Gospel Whole World

What Does Missional Community Life Look Like?

Missional Community Church Realities Sample | Soma Structure: Gather, Go, Grow | Soma

Missional community

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missional_community

A Missional community is a group of people, about the size of an extended family, who are united through Christian community around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. The Missional Community doesn’t exist for anything less than making disciples of Jesus among these networks or neighborhoods. The participants of missional communities find their primary identity of “church” within the missional community, rather than a larger worship service or small group. In essence, this group of people becomes a close-knit spiritual family on mission together.[1]

Contents

General characteristics

Missional Communities (MCs) are designed to be a flexible, local expression of church, not dependent on typical church buildings or church services. MCs have been described as “small enough to care but large enough to dare.”[2] Missional Communities may be called by other names, such as Clusters, Go Communities, Incarnational Communities, or Mission Shaped Communities. MCs are primarily led by laity and are “lightweight and low maintenance”[3] and most often meet 3–4 times a month in their missional context. Missional Communities place a strong value on life together, with the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus. With this focus, a Missional Community will often grow and multiply into other MCs. Missional Communities are most often networked within a larger church community, often with many other Missional Communities.

An MC has leaders who, through a process of discernment, decide their mission vision and then invite people to join them in reaching that particular context. The leaders of the MC are held accountable by the leadership of the greater church community, both for what they do and for the way in which they do it (i.e., character as well as task). “Low control, high accountability” is one way to describe relationships between the Missional Community and the church body and leadership. Alex Absalom describes the focus of a missional community in this way:

The group balances its energies between an upward movement towards God, an inward movement toward the MC as a place of identity, and an outward movement to represent Christ to their mission context. When they gather, they express this in creative ways that are appropriate to their context. In fact, there will be great diversity between groups in how this looks, with a variety of faces and voices being given room to step forward and contribute what they can. The only ‘rule’ is that they do not try to do a miniature version of a Sunday church service.[4]

Since Missional Communities are meant to be led by laity, running the community can be spread throughout the group so that it doesn’t make a few leaders do all of the work. This sharing of the work is a key ingredient and one of the main benefits of these mid-sized groups. People don’t approach it as consumers but as participants. While some MCs meet in homes, it is not uncommon for many of them to meet in the particular mission context they are reaching into. (For instance, a MC reaching out to the homeless would meet on the streets with the homeless rather than trying to bus them to another location.)

Missional Communities often have small groups within the larger body, with small-group leaders being held accountable by the Missional Community Leaders. The small groups work as places of support, challenge and closeness, as the wider MC gathering is too large for general sharing of prayer requests and the like. MCs will also gather periodically with the larger church body for what is referred to as a Celebration Service. This usually involves a time for corporate worship, teaching, stories and re-envisioning the wider community. The larger church body determines the frequency of these Celebration Services, ranging from every week to once a month. In an existing church, as opposed to a new church plant, regular Sunday services often perform this function, showcasing and celebrating what is going on across that particular church in their Missional Communities.

More often than not, when Missional Communities reach the size of 30–40 people they begin to intentionally work on starting a new MC. As before, any new MC is driven by the presence of accountable leaders who have sought God for a clear and specific mission vision. This could mean sending out two leaders to start a new community, maybe a Small Group is sent out en masse, or even half the group stays with the current MC while the other half begins a new community. However the group is multiplied, the essential element is expanding the reach of the church into a new context.

History

Missional Communities emerged in England in the mid 1990s, primarily through the experimenting of the church St. Thomas’, Crookes in Sheffield. Although they were first experimented with in inner city London in the late 1980s, they became more fully formed when Mike Breen became the senior pastor of St Thomas’ Sheffield in 1994. They were described as being multiplying missionary congregations and called ‘Clusters’. The focus of the Clusters was on a group of Christians operating as a community together in mission. Leaders were encouraged to seek God for a vision for a new expression of church and, with training and support, they could be released to gather a team and pursue that dream.

As St Thomas’ grew, many MCs were planted into the urban center of the city. The church met for Sunday celebrations in a variety of large rented facilities, ending up in a huge disused nightclub, the Roxy, where the Rolling Stones had once played. In 1998, however, with only a couple of weeks notice, the building was closed down for breaking fire code, and the church was forced to scatter into their various MC gatherings for Sunday worship. It took almost a year for a new permanent home to be found – during which time the original MCs that had been sent out had doubled in number, with many people coming to know Jesus during that year when the church had been forced to go into all the city.

Gradually the stories about MCs started spreading, both across the UK and Northern Europe and more and more churches began using this church structure. In 2004 the Anglican church released a report, “Mission-Shaped Church,” examining the viability and success of this movement within the Anglican church, including a foreword by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.[5] Also, the European Church Planting Network picked up on this approach and hundreds upon hundreds of churches were planted as a result. Between 2006 and 2009, over 720 churches were planted across Europe.[6] This was the first time this had been done in European church history.

In the mid 2000s this model of church began to spread to the United States. Early pioneers in this movement, such as Community of Joy in Phoenix, Arizona, Norman Community Church in Norman, Oklahoma and Trinity Grace in New York City were some of the first American churches to embrace this structure. Missiologists such as Eddie Gibbs at Fuller Seminary and Kent Hunter of Church Doctor Ministries began to direct both established churches and church planters to the UK to see these decentralized and reproducible Missional Communities.

Mike Breen, the former senior pastor of St. Thomas’ Sheffield who originated Missional Communities, moved to Pawleys Island, South Carolina and in 2008 began 3DM, a coaching entity that comes alongside churches of varying sizes to help them transition to this missional/discipleship model. With the emergence of 3DM within the United States, there was increased interest in these mid-sized communities. In November 2010, Mike Breen and Alex Absalom published a book entitled Launching Missional Communities – A Field Guide,[7] where they related their experience with and approach to Missional Communities. In 2011, Reggie McNeal, a best selling Christian author, released a book detailing the world-wide rise of Missional Communities entitled, “Missional Communities: The rise of the Post-Congregational Church.” [8]

The local churches choosing to make this transition vary largely in church denomination, but the largest percentage currently involved with this movement in the United States are Baptists, Lutherans, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and non-denominational churches.[9]

More broadly speaking, even the term Missional Community is seeping into the consciousness of the evangelical world of the United States as the first large-scale conference was held about MCs. Verge: Missional Community Conference happened in Austin, Texas on February 4–6, 2010 and sold out weeks before the conference.[10] In 2011, Verge united with Exponential, the largest conference for church planters, where the theme was, “Missional Communities: Discovering Old Truths in New Paradigms.”.[11] In 2012, the emergence of Missional Communities continued its prominent place at the Verge Conference, as well as seeing an expanded Missional track at the Exponential Conference and the Sync Conference at Charleston Southern University.[12]

Network and accountability

If MCs are “low control/high accountability,” having a church structure that invests in lay leaders and empowers them while holding them accountable is of paramount importance. Perhaps the most widely used vehicle for this are called Discipleship Huddles, which is a group of 4–10 leaders. The frequency of these groups differs based on each individual church, but generally speaking they meet at least once a month and as often as once a week. Huddles are a place where leaders are actively being discipled in a community of peers, where they are held accountable for the leadership of their groups by their Huddle leader. The two central questions of a Huddle are: 1) What is God saying to you? 2) What are you going to do about it?[4] By seeing that leaders follow through on the plans they form from answering both of these questions, a culture is developed of both high support and high challenge. Over a period of time, this allows leaders to cultivate and sustain the character, skills and spiritual depth needed to lead.

As churches with Missional Communities tend to be far more decentralized than most Western churches, the network of these Huddles are essential to the unity and direction of the wider church. Usually the Senior Pastor will Huddle 4–10 leaders, these leaders will in turn Huddle 4–10 leaders, who in turn Huddle the leaders they are responsible for. As the church grows, multiplying Missional Communities and Small Groups, more Huddles are added as necessary. What most churches have found helpful is an agreed upon DNA in the language that all leaders use that filter down to their various groups. Most often this is the language of LifeShapes, a set of 8 Shapes that distill the teachings and principles of the Bible and Jesus, that were fashioned by Mike Breen as Missional Communities first developed and captured in his book “Building a Discipling Culture.”[13]

A typical gathering

There is tremendous flexibility in the forms of Missional Communities, since the intention is that they are highly accessible to the culture into which they are planted. They are anchored around the three core relationships of life – UP to God, IN to family and friends, and OUT to the wider society which they seek to be a blessing to. In practice MCs do tend to certain things pretty regularly, albeit in slightly different ways according to their context, including:

  • Food – ideally sharing a meal together
  • Socializing/ laughing/ having fun
  • Breaking Bread/ sharing Communion
  • Story-telling (i.e. testimony), especially of things people are grateful to God for
  • Bringing praise and worship to God
  • Offering prayer for healing and prophetic encouragement to anyone who has particular need
  • Studying the Scriptures together, especially from what God has been speaking to the leader (or whoever is leading that portion) about during the past week.
  • Praying for the wider community that you are seeking to reach, as well as for the MCs witness there
  • Planning practicalities for mission activities

In addition to providing this list, Alex Absalom comments, “We would summarize this as a 1 Corinthians 11-14 model, which seems the fullest unpacking of how a church oikos [extended household] would meet and express its life together. From what Paul writes, it is also clear that those gatherings were led in such a way that people who weren’t yet Christians could come in and be welcomed, without it throwing all the plans into confusion.”[4]

As well, a Missional Community will go OUT together in specific missional activities, to serve and witness to their place of calling. Such events need to be regular and rhythmic, so that the group sees this as an integral part of their life together. It should be no more a ‘special’ than meeting to eat together or pray together is.

Article by

Jeff Vanderstelt

Guest Contributor

A missional community is a family of missionary servants who make disciples who make disciples.

Family

First of all, a missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family. They see God as their Father because of their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit. This means they have and know of a divine love that leads them to love one another as brothers and sisters. They treat one another as children of God deeply loved by the Father in everything — sharing their money, time, resources, needs, hurts, successes, etc. They know each other well. This knowledge includes knowing each other’s stories and having familiarity with one another’s strengths and struggles in regards to belief in the gospel and it’s application to all of life (John 1:11-13; Romans 12:10-16; Ephesians 5:1-2).

Missionaries

God’s family is also sent like the Son by the Spirit to proclaim the good news of the kingdom — the gospel — and fulfill the commission of Jesus. A missional community is more than a bible study or a small group that cares for other believers. A missional community is made up of Spirit-led and Spirit-filled people who radically reorient their lives together for the mission of making disciples of a particular people and place where there is a gospel gap (no consistent gospel witness). This means people’s schedule, resources and decisions are now collectively built around reaching people together (Matthew 3:16-4:1; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 13:2).

Servants

Jesus is Lord and we are his Servants. A missional community serves those around them as though they are serving Jesus. In doing so, they give a foretaste of what life will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. Living as servants to the King who serve others as he served presents a tangible witness to Jesus’ kingdom and the power of the gospel to change lives. A missional community serves in such a way that it demands a Gospel explanation — lives that cannot be explained in any other way than by the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus (Matthew 20:25-28; John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16).

Disciples

We are all learners of Jesus our rabbi who has given us his Spirit to teach us all that is true about Jesus and enable us to live out his commands. Jesus commanded us to make disciples who believe the gospel, are established in a new identity and are able to obey all of his commands (Matthew 28:19-20).

The missional community is the best context in which this can happen. Disciples are made and developed:

  1. through life on life, where there is visibility and accessibility
  2. in community, where they can practice the one anothers, and
  3. on mission where they learn how to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.

Jeff Vanderstelt is a pastor at Soma Communities, an Acts 29 church in Tacoma, WA. He coaches and trains church planters, serves on the Board of Acts 29, and leads the Soma movement in vision and teaching.

Jeff Vanderstelt (@JeffVanderstelt) is lead teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington, and visionary leader of the Soma Family of Churches and Saturate resource ministry. He is author, most recently, of the book Gospel Fluency. He and his wife have three children.

What in the World is the Missional Church?

Article

03.01.2010

Talk about being behind the curve.

Several months ago, I began noticing how often the words “missional church” kept showing up in evangelical books and blogs. Reading up on the topic since then has left me feeling a bit like Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving’s colonial American character who dozed off one afternoon as a loyal subject of King George III, only to wake up twenty years later and find that he had a foot long beard and that something called the Revolutionary War had been fought.

I don’t have a beard, but I have woken up to find that planters have planted, reformers have reformed, and now the first generation has turned to training a second in a small army marching under the banner of missional.

In this issue of 9News, Eric Simmons does a great job of describing the missional life. Ryan Townsend and Andy Johnson both refer to the topic in their articles. The pastors’ and theologians’ forum on the corporate witness of the church touches on some of the underlying principles of the missional church. Yet in case you’ve been asleep like me, it’s worth poking our heads up and asking, what in the world in the missional church?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DISCUSSION

The term wasn’t coined by Darrell Guder, but this Princeton Seminary professor suggests that the book Missional Church, which he co-wrote and edited in 1998,“must be held accountable, it appears, for the rapid spread of the term missional in many circles of discussion dealing with the situation of the church in North America.” [1]

Guder and the members of his “Gospel and Our Culture” (GOC) team, however, will quickly trace the missional church story back to conversations begun in missiological and ecumenical circles in the 1950s and earlier, about the same time that Donald McGavran’s Church Growth theories were arousing interest among evangelicals in North America.

At a conference of the International Missionary Council (IMC) in 1952, Wilhelm Anderson, building on the work of Karl Barth, proposed that both church and mission should be taken up into the missio Dei—the mission of God. Missions is not just a function of the church. And the church is not just the outcome of missions. Rather, both are grounded in a Triune God on mission. The Father sent the Son; the Father and Son sent the Spirit; and now the Spirit sends the church. The church has a missionary—we now say missional—nature. Johannes Blauw captured the basic premise in the title of his 1962 book: The Missionary Nature of the Church.

Ecumenicals embraced this way of speaking more fully with the merger of the IMC and the World Council of Churches in 1961, followed by Roman Catholics and Vatican II’s pronouncement that “the Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” [2] Signaling this shift in thinking among many, the World Council of Churches in 1969 dropped the “s” from its journal International Review of Missions to become International Review of Mission. [3]

The Anglican missionary to India Lesslie Newbigin, who was also writing on the church and missio Dei in the fifties and sixties, returned from India to Britain in the seventies and found not only a post-Christian society, but a church that failed to distinguish itself from society. Moving into the eighties and nineties, Newbigin increasingly called for a critical reevaluation of the church and its relationship to Western pluralistic and postmodern culture.

Ever since this process of critical revaluation began, Newbigin and others have generally cast the history of the church and the missionary enterprise over the last several centuries as the story of the church’s capitulation to modernity. David Bosch’s fascinating and thick Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (1991) provides, as best as I can tell, the script from which ecumenicals, emergents, and traditional mainliners all read. Bosch sees liberals and fundamentalists as two sides of the Enlightenment coin. Both privatize Christianity. Both reduce the church to “a place where things happen,” like preaching, distributing the ordinances, and practicing discipline. (The church is not a place, it’s a people.) Both blur their culture with their Christianity, so that missions and “gospel” proclamation become, at best, the Western white man’s condescension to the pitiable, unenlightened native and, at worst, colonial imperialism. Both idolize reason, dichotomize facts and values, and idealize their objective version of reality. Here’s one example of many:

The subject-object dichotomy [one attribute of Enlightenment thinking] meant that, in admittedly very opposite ways, the Bible and, in fact, the Christian faith as such, became objectified. Liberals sovereignly placed themselves above the biblical text, extracting ethical codes from it, while fundamentalists tended to turn the Bible into a fetish and apply it mechanically to every context, particularly as regards the “Great Commission.” [4]

As Bosch, Guder, Newbigin, and the rest look out at the world of church and missions, they see a “crisis,” the kind that always precedes a Kuhnian paradigm shift. The symptoms of the crisis may be the stuff of polls: diminishing numbers, the loss of younger generations, biblical illiteracy, and so on. But the real crisis is spiritual and theological, stemming from the church’s failure to understand the postmodern context in which it now dwells. If the church wants to be relevant; if it wants to succeed in its mission, it must give attention to contextualization. It must learn to understand, communicate, and demonstrate the beauty of the gospel afresh. One GOC author writes,

What exactly is the gospel, then? Identifying the gospel is both simple and challenging. No culture-free expression of the gospel exists, nor could it. The church’s message, the gospel, is inevitably articulated in linguistic and cultural forms particular to its own place and time. Thus a rehearsing of the gospel can be vulnerable to the “gospels” that we may tend to read back into the New Testament renderings of it. [5]

The church, then, is tasked with sometimes affirming, sometimes critiquing the philosophies of the day. It thinks and breathes within those philosophies, but it is not of them. The church must explain and display the kingdom of heaven today, now, here. Yet it must do so as a “pilgrim people.” In other words, the church, like its Savior, must “embody,” “enflesh,” “incarnate” the good news that God’s redemptive reign of peace, justice, and healing now extends to all the world through his Spirit and his body, the church.

DEFINING THE MISSIONAL CHURCH

To repeat, the basic premise of the missional church is that “missions” is not simply one of the functions or programs of a church. It constitutes the very essence or nature of the church. Drop the “s.” God is a God on mission. And God has sent the church on mission. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

This is a larger claim than saying that every individual member of a church is a missionary, though this is what the missional church has become in some recent conservative descriptions of it. Rather, the church itself is a sign that the kingdom of God has begun on earth, and a foretaste of the consummated reign to come. It is also an agent and instrument of God’s reign, bearing the authority of the keys (Matt. 16:19) and the authority of forgiveness (John 20:19-23). [6]

It’s not the case, at least according to the writers we’ve been following, that you can have a non-missional church on one block and a missional church on the next block. Rather, the church is missional (it is what it does, says Craig Van Gelder). The Spirit creates the church as the body of Christ in the world, and the church then “incarnates” or “enfleshes” the continuing work of bringing the justice and peace of Christ into all the cultures of the world. [7]

It doesn’t exist to draw people to itself and merely perpetuate its own institutional life, as was professedly the case throughout the history of “Christendom.” Rather, the church exists to proclaim the kingdom of God among men and women. By the same token, the unbiblical and church-centered language of “expanding” or “building” the kingdom of God is dropped, and the more biblical, God-centered language of “seeking,” “receiving,” or “entering” God’s kingdom is adopted.

Conversion is not just a profession of faith in Christ. Salvation is not only the rescue of the individual’s soul from the threat of God’s retribution. The gospel is not merely the news of what God has done in Christ to pardon individual sinners. [8] Rather, the gospel, salvation, and conversion are construed much more “holistically” or “comprehensively,” with ethical implications for every dimension of life and the message of reconciliation, justice, peace, healing, liberation, and love for the entire world: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20, NRSV).

THE CONSERVATIVE TAKE-OVER

I have no idea when exactly conservative evangelicals co-opted the term “missional.” [9] My guess is that conservative writers and pastors in the emerging church movement like Mark Driscoll, after tromping through some of the same fields as their liberal counterparts, reached down, pulled up the missional plant by the roots, and then transplanted it into conservative soil.

Take an hour to troll the blogs of liberal-leaning Emergent websites, and you find the authors discussed above recommended prominently. Flip to the endnotes of books by conservative authors, and you will find the same authors quoted liberally.

Ed Stetzer, for instance, frequently cites Newbigin, Bosch, and the GOC gang in his book Planting Missional Churches. Yet where a GOC writer will say something like “missional communities are cultivated through participation in particular social or ecclesial practices,” [10] Stetzer will ask, “What does the Bible require for church?” [11] It’s probably unfair to say that conservatives like Stetzer want to build on a biblical foundation, whereas the ecumenicals don’t. It’s probably kinder to simply say that Stetzer sees the Bible as authoritative for the church’s mission, where as someone like Newbigin, drawing on the fiduciary epistemology of Michael Polanyi, will say that Jesus is the authority for its mission. What does this mean? It means that Newbigin does not want to give the Bible unqualified approval as Jesus’ inerrant word, so he pits Jesus and his word against one another.

In addition to beginning with a different doctrine of Scripture, conservative writers begin with a different understanding of the gospel than the ecumenicals. Both will explain the gospel in terms of the advancing kingdom of God as well as in terms of Christ’s work on the cross. Yet where conservatives unashamedly embrace Christ’s work of substitution as the center of the gospel, ecumenicals downplay, if not altogether jettison, the latter explanation. [12] Like I said, the soil is different.

Still, the plant is similar. Stetzer criticizes the Reformers as defining the church as a place where things happen. This degenerated during the Enlightenment, so that the church became a vendor of religious goods and services, epitomized in today’s technique-driven seeker churches. Both explanations, Stetzer says, miss what the church fundamentally is: a people sent on mission. “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).

Now that Christendom has come to an end, the church must recognize that it’s no longer chaplain to the culture. Christians are as foreign in the post-modern West as they are in unevangelized lands overseas. They must therefore exegete their Bibles and their cultures both. Here’s Stetzer approvingly quoting Van Gelder:

We need to exegete . . . culture in the same way the missionaries have been so good at doing with diverse tribal cultures of previously unreached people. We need to exegete . . . the themes of the Rolling Stones . . . Dennis Rodman, Madonna, (and) David Letterman. . . . We need to comprehend that the Spirit of the Living God is at work in these cultural expressions, preparing the hearts of men and women to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. [13]

(Keep in mind, the two authors mean something slightly different by “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” even though one is quoting the other to make his point. [14])

Stetzer rejects the “attractional” and “extractional” church, which attempts to attract non-Christians with traditions or technique and to extract them from their cultures. Churches should focus instead on being “missional” (moving outward) and “incarnational” (moving deeper into the culture). As Mark Driscoll puts it, churches should help new believers remain within “their tribes,” whether that tribe is punk rock, a ghetto block, or yuppie stock, just so long as they don’t sin.

Stetzer supports the work of church reform. As one notable example of reform, he points to the work of J. D. Greear, who helped to transform Homestead Heights Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, into a missional church called The Summit. (Click here to read Greear’s answer to our pastors’ and theologians’ forum question on the corporate witness of the church.)

Yet in general, missional church thinking tends to veer toward church planting, and it’s not difficult to see why. Picture a missionary entering a foreign land, like Adoniram Judson traveling to Burma in the nineteenth century. How does he begin a church? He moves into the culture. He learns the language. He makes friends on Burmese terms. He explains the gospel in a way they can understand. Years might pass before someone converts, but when an individual does, Judson does not pull him or her out of Burmese culture. He equips them to be fishers of men inside of Burma. And so, gradually, the church is built.

This, I take it, is the missional church-planting mission.

Now, Western Christian, apply this lesson in New York, Los Angeles, Florence, or Stockholm. Learn the languages of nihilism, cynicism, or spiritualism. Befriend the natives and equip them to reach others.

Futhermore, there’s no model or template to follow. Megachurches and house churches should both be missional. So should emerging hip and rural plain. Stetzer writes,

Indigenous churches look different from culture to culture. You expect a biblically faithful, indigenous church to look different in Senegal from an indigenous church in Singapore. You also expect an indigenous church in high-tech and blue-state Seattle to look different from one in apple-pie Sellersburg, Indiana. [15]

IRONIES, ISSUES, AND INSTRUCTIONS

At the very least, I hope I have accomplished the primary purpose of this article—describing what the so-called missional church is. Different writers have different emphases. The theologians sound a little different than the practitioners. The group I have been generically calling the ecumenicals sound a little different than the evangelicals. But common themes run throughout the discussion.

Let me conclude by observing three ironies, five issues, and four areas of good instruction.

Three Ironies

1) If I may be permitted to brush in very broad strokes, I find it ironic that, in the latter half of the twentieth century, the ecumenicals have proposed a more biblically faithful ecclesiology than all the evangelicals enamored with Church Growth. Missional church theology is not perfect, but it attempts to be biblical. The pragmatism of Church Growth, at its worst, sets the Bible aside.

2) At the same time, I find it ironic that some ecumenicals simultaneously lose missions from the mission, and the evangel from evangelism. Consider, for instance, how the GOC team characterizes “preaching” the gospel. Preaching in the New Testament, the reader is told, means “to announce” or “to proclaim publicly.” This is not so much done on Sunday morning, as it is done in the community at large—publicly. Does that mean the GOC team envisions preachers standing on park benches and bus stops proclaiming the gospel of sin and forgiveness? No, it means bringing the reign of God to bear in every aspect of public life:

For a more benevolent government, that may mean legislation that benefits the poor or the marginalized. For a bank, it might mean granting loans in formerly redlined neighborhoods. For a public school, it might mean instituting peer mediation among students. [16]

This, apparently, is “preaching” the “gospel.”

3) I find it ironic that evangelicals have co-opted the storyline of the ecumenicals—complete with plot and characters (though I don’t find it ironic that they have been putting it to better use). I do wish, however, that the evangelicals would take greater care in transplanting some of these ideas, as the failure to do so leads to the following issues.

Five Issues

1) I take issue with the historical revisionism that characterizes both ecumenicals and evangelicals. It’s striking how almost every one of these authors begins by retelling the history of modernism and postmodernism (one finds the same thing in emerging church literature. Think of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian). Why do they all do this? Because, like Bill Clinton’s political advisor James Carville demonstrated so clearly in Clinton’s 1992 campaign against George H. W. Bush, he who establishes the terms of the debate wins the debate. At Clinton campaign headquarters, Carville famously hung the sign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton convinced the country that the election was about the economy, and not about the first Iraqi War. This helped him win the election, because Americans were feeling an economic squeeze at the time.

The crisis in our churches today, each one of these authors tells us, is about the transition from modernism to postmodernism. Really? I suppose it is if you accept the terms of modernism in the first place, which Bosch explicitly does:

it is futile to attempt nostalgically to return to a pre-Enlightenment worldview. It is not possible to “unknow” what we have learned. . . . The ‘light’ in the Enlightenment was real light and should not simply be discarded. What is needed, rather, is to realize that the Enlightenment paradigm has served is purpose; we should now move beyond it. [17]

The problem, in my opinion, is that Bosch and others have capitulated more completely to the philosophies of this world than they realize, even as they accuse fundamentalists of doing the same. (It almost feels like a number of mainliners are looking for a way to explain their dying denominations, and can’t help but draw those rigid inerrantists into their malaise.) I should unpack all this much further, but I’ll leave it at that.

2) I take issue with the reductionism which results from this revisionism. Since the conservatives adopt the historically revisionistic storyline of the ecumenicals almost wholesale, they fall into some of the same reductionism. Both emphasize the fact that the church is a people, and not a place. That’s absolutely correct. But answering the question “Where on earth will we find the church?” requires us to fall back on the three marks of the Reformers—preaching, practicing the ordinances, and practicing discipline. As Mark Dever likes to say, three Christians who bump into each other at the grocery store do not comprise a local church.

Both emphasize the fact that the nature of the church is “missional,” that is, defined by the fact that the church is “sent.” True enough. But we must also define the nature of the church as the blood-bought, new covenant people of Christ. We’ve been sent because we’ve been bought. And the people of God will worship, obey, and go as they increasingly identify themselves by that amazing purchase. Don’t overlook it.

Along these same lines, the conservatives writers should take care to define “attractional” more carefully when they pit it against “missional.” The church should be attractive. In fact, this new covenant, Holy Spirit indwelled community of love, holiness, and unity should be the most attractive people of all!

I know that’s not what Stetzer is getting at when he critiques the “attractional” church. He’s talking about fancy programs, not a holy people, and he’s right on. But let me state for the record that the most attractive church—one that images its Savior through faithfulness to his word—will be the most missional church. Interestingly, the ecumenical crowd does a better job of being explicit on just this point whenever they emphasize the church as a sign and a foretaste of God’s kingdom. [18]

3) I take issue with the ambiguity of terms when moving back and forth between different authors, particularly over the all-important term, the “gospel.” When conservatives co-opt ecumenical themes, they need to take greater care, I believe, in defining exactly what they mean by such essential terms. After all, the content of the soil will inevitably affect the plant.

4) I take slight issue with the term “incarnational.” I understand and appreciate the impulse to see that our hands and feet, eyes and tongues, do and live and put on our creed. Yet it’s important for us to recognize that, historically, the term “incarnation” has referred to the unique, once-in-history event of God becoming man. No, the term is not a biblical one, but there are good reasons to preserve the uniqueness of the term in our usage. First of all, equating what the divine Son did in becoming Jesus the God-man with what I do when I imitate Jesus downplays the ineffable wonder of that one-time event. It might even be said to make the divine Son a little smaller and me a little bigger.

More significantly, the primary purpose of the incarnation, I believe, was for the Son to offer his life as the perfect sacrificial substitute in order to assuage the wrath of God against eternally damnable transgression. Yet when I make the incarnation primarily about something else, something that I can emulate in my own life, I risk shifting the focus away from Christ’s wonderous, astounding, amazing work of wrath removal.

5) I also take a little bit of issue with the equation between ethnicity and worldviews. The Mandarin and Cantonese languages are morally neutral. Nihilism and materialism are not. Bobo-ism, hip-hop, and Valley are not. It’s one thing to remain in the Cantonese tribe. It’s another to remain in the hop-hop tribe. I’m not saying one shouldn’t. I’m saying that the equation is not so clean cut. Frankly, I haven’t thought through all the implications of these differences. I’m simply suggesting that we should think them through.

Four Instructions

Those issues aside, I believe advocates of the missional church instruct us in at least four very helpful ways.

1) I am especially grateful for the emphasis the ecumenicals give to the witness of the corporate body. One author writes,

In North America, what might it mean for the church to be such a city on a hill? to be salt? to be a light to the world? It means, first of all, that the inner, communal life of the church matters for mission. [19]

Amen! This author goes onto emphasize the importance of love, holiness, and unity. The content he fills into these three words might be a little different than the content an evangelical pours in, but the trajectory is a good one. Conservative writers on the missional church tend to emphasize the mission of every individual member to share the gospel. That’s excellent. But let’s emphasize the importance of our corporate witness as well. Our churches should be attractive. They should be foretastes of Christ’s consummated kingdom.

2) I’m grateful to be instructed by Stetzer and others to adopt more of a missional posture. We too easily fall into complacency in our “resident” status, as Eric Simmons’ reminds us. We need to hear Newbigin’s reminder that we are a “pilgrim people.”

I spent a month in a former Soviet republic two years ago, living with a missionary family. The entire month I strategized to pour myself out for the kingdom. For instance, I developed a friendship with one non-Christian man who wanted to attend an American business school and then return to his country and help it economically. He had spent a year studying for the GMATs, but could not yet afford to pay the registration fee. I forget what the fee was — $200 maybe? On an American income, that’s nothing. On my friend’s income, it would have cost him three or four months of labor. So I happily paid the fee for him (and congratulated myself on doing so). Praise God, my friend is presently at business school in the United States, and has now been baptized as a believer by a local church. I was not the principal witness in his life, but I trust that God used me to play one small part.

Yet here’s the point, and the question you should ask me: Jonathan, have you ever randomly given $200 to a non-Christian friend in the United States as a display of friendship and Christ’s love? Sadly, the answer is no. Too much of the time, I’m just a resident, not a missionary, more interested in buying books, CDs (no, I don’t have an iPod), a nice dinner, and just a little bit more automobile or house. Yet imagine how the non-Christians around us would respond if we Christians became known for regular acts of generosity? We shouldn’t do it for the world’s favor; we should do it accompanied by a verbal explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Also, go read Eric Simmons’ article.

3) We do well to heed the instruction of missional church writers to exegete our culture, because studying it, ironically, helps us to distance ourselves from it. Learning about the culture should remind us that we are sojourners, and do not finally belong to any one time and place.

4) Finally, we do well to be instructed by the passion of missional writers like Ed Stetzer to be biblically faithful in planting churches and reaching the lost. I have offered the five critiques above not because I think he and others are on the wrong path, but because I think they are on the right path. They inspire me. My critiques are offered in the attempt to help the cause.

Footnotes:

1. Darrell Guder, “The Church as Missional Community,” The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, eds (IVP, 2005), 114; Darrell Gruder, ed. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Eerdmans, 1998).

2. Ad Gentes Divinitus, in Vatican Council II: vol. 1, The Conciliar & Post Conciliar Documents. rev. ed., Austin Flannery, ed. (Costello Publishing, 1987), 813 (1.2).

3. This history is recounted in Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Baker, 2000), 32-36; also, David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Orbis, 1991), 368-362.

4. Bosch, Transforming Mission, 342.

5. Guder ed, Missional Church, 87.

6. Guder ed, Missional Church, 101.

7. Van Gelder, 32.

8. Intriguingly, descriptions of the missional church in the ecumenical, mainline streams I am presently tracing almost always (I have never encountered an instance otherwise) refer to more conservative formulations of the gospel, conversion, or salvation with the langauge of “not just” or “not merely” and so on. They don’t explicitly denounce a conservative understanding of the gospel; they habitually minimize or marginalize it. Read David Bosch’s 500-plus-page Transforming Mission, for one of many examples, and be amazed by how—as if following a script—he does this in chapter after chapter, like a verbal tic. Emergent writers today often do the same.

9. Craig Van Gelder suggests evangelicals began to incorporate certain aspects of a missional view in the seventies and eighties. Yet the only concrete example he cites is a report on “Evangelism and Social Responsibility” (No. 21) from the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization, Essence of the Church, 34, 188.

10. Guder ed, Missional Church, 153.

11. Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church That’s Biblically Soudna sand Reaching People in Culture (B&H, 2006), 158.

12. D. A. Carson’s critique of N. T. Wright applies to the ecumenical, emergent, and traditional mainliners treatment of the gospel almost word for word. The following quotation is long, but it bears worth reading because the reductionism Carson observes is amazingly common today: “We have repeatedly seen how the ‘story’ of God’s advancing kingdom is cast in terms of rescuing human beings and completing creation, or perhaps in terms of defeating the powers of darkness. Not for a moment do I want to reduce or minimize those themes. Yet from what are human beings to be rescued? Their sin, yes; the powers of darkness; yes. But what is striking is the utter absence of any mention of the wrath of God. This is not a minor omission. Section after section of the Bible’s story turns on the fact that God’s image-bearers attract God’s righteous wrath. The entire created order is under God’s curse because of human sin. Sin is not first and foremost horizontal, social (though of course it is all of that): it is vertical, the defiance of Almighty God. The sin which most consistently is said to bring down God’s wrath on the heads of his people or on entire nations is idolatry—the de-godding of God. And it is the overcoming of this most fundamental sin that the cross and resurrection of Jesus achieve. The most urgent need of human beings is to be reconciled to God. That is not to deny that such reconciliation entails reconciliation with other human beings, and transformed living in God’s fallen creation, in anticipation of the final transformation at the time of the consummation of all things. But to speak constantly of the advance of the kingdom without tying kingdom themes to the passion narrative, the way the canonical Gospels do, is a terrible reductionism. To speak a couple of times of the cross in terms of the Christus Victor theme, as Wright does (though without using that expression), is unexceptional; to do so without burning with Paul’s “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), and to show how this is tied in Paul’s thought to the setting aside of God’s wrath, and to the reconciliation of alienated rebels to their Maker, is irresponsible,” found here.

13. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 34.

14. Craig Van Gelder’s understanding of the gospel can be found in Evaluating The Church Growh Movement: 5 Views (Zondervan, 2004), 97-99. It also surfaces from time to time in his ecclesiology, The Essence of the Church.

15. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 31.

16. Guder ed, Missional Church, 136.

17. Transforming Mission, 273-74.

18. For example, see Guder ed, Missional Church, 103-04, 128-29.

19. Guder ed, Missional Church, 128.

By Jonathan Leeman

Müller, BA
Universiteit van Stellenbosch

A missional understanding of the church, its ministry, especially with regards to its Christ centric liturgical reorientation

ABSTRACT

This article shows the necessary shift in missional thinking from the functional approach in most congregational studies to create purpose and consumer driven congregations to a foundational approach based on the church being an agent of the missio dei. This switch in rethinking the essential, basic missional identity of the church necessitates a rethinking of

• the Trinitarian scope of all theology , whereby it is essentially based in the gospel of the salvific revelation of the triune God, what He has done and is doing in history;

• the fact that a missional ecclesiology should assist the move from an ecclesio centric view to a theo-centric and theo-dynamic view of the church , based on the missio dei as the foundational source of its identity;

• the total ministry of the church being rooted in its proclamation of the Word of God with the gospel of Jesus Christ as its hermeneutic focus; and

• a missional liturgy which provides the energy and spaces where the change to a missional practice can be experienced and celebrated.

1. THE SWITCH FROM AN ECCLESIOCENTRIC UNDERSTANDING OF MISSION TO A PROFOUNDLY THEOCENTRIC RECONCEPTUALIZATION OF MISSION – OR FROM FUNCTIONALISM AND MISSIONALISM TO A FUNDAMENTAL MISSIONAL ENTERPRISE

A study and research project, inaugurated by the Gospel and Our Culture Network in North America in the late 1980s sought fresh answers to the problems regarding the missional challenge of the churches in North America in the midst of crises confronted in the so-called post-modern 21st century ( for a description of this programme, see van Gelder 1999: xivf; Guder 1998 and Nieder-Heitmann 2001: 11f ). It asked the basic, the foundational and radical (referring to its roots) question: how a missional ecclesiology and ministry are shaped by the ongoing missional action of God as recorded in Scripture and witnessed to in Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit and in the worldwide witness of the churches in every culture and every time, moving toward the promised consummation of God’s salvation in the eschaton. It stressed a foundational point of entry into the theology of the church and its ministry, thereby developing an ecclesiology based on the missio dei. As Guder states: “We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation” (1998:4). Bosch understands the classical doctrine of the missio dei to mean that mission must be “derived from the very nature of God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world” (1991:390). This foundational point of entry represents deliberate shifts in all aspects of our understanding of the church and its ministry, a shift from an ecclesio centric to a theo centric theology. This article will try to demonstrate the full implications of this shift.

In the ecclesio centric approach mission is regarded as an important, but only one of the many programmes of the church. The missionary task and missionary enterprises is then regarded to be one of the many mandates of the church. In a broader sense, many forms of congregational studies on church growth and management are based upon a functional or organisational description of the church, i.e. defining the church in terms of its accomplishments, its structures, its decision-making processes, its organisational dynamics and management skills in order to be effective and relevant ( Nieder-Heitmann 2001: 28f calls this an example of “doing” theology and ecclesiology. In general see Carrol, Dudley & McKinney 1986; Hybels & Hybels 1995; Warren,1993. For a critique of this approach, see Guder1998: 145f ) It is strongly motivated by the goal of growth in membership and of developing attractional services. Mission is considered as a function of the church with an aim to extend the church or plant it in new places – and this became the determining and the guiding goal of all missionary enterprise. In short, it is a purpose driven church, reducing the church to a set of effective ministries – amongst others, mission becomes a function of the purpose driven church (van Gelder 2000:30; see 23f on the focus on organisational approach; on the “sickness’ of purpose drivenness see Hall 2007:35 and MacDonald 2007:39f, calling it “the dangers of missionalism”). In all this, the church is defined in terms what the church has to do, how it must function and be organised in order to be effective.

In the more theo centric approach the church is defined in terms of its biblical nature, its identity, its essence. In short, in a more foundational way, the missional church is described as a people of God, created by the Spirit to live as a unique, distinct missional community, serving as an agent of and rooted in the missio dei in every time and place. Mission is not an important function of the church: mission is inherent in the very nature of the church. A missional church is not opposed to functional effectiveness, but gives priority to the fundamental theo centric approach: the church must do what it is basically in essence; and only then the church should organise what it does – and organise it well.

Nieder-Heitmann seeks a middle position: a critical dialogue between the two approaches should develop into “an ecclesiological congruence” between the two, between an ecclesiological emphasis on method and task (the functional) and the basic foundational emphasis on missional identity (his 2001: 1,10, 95, 110. For a critical discussion of the two approaches , see Guder 1994; 145f ). But as stated above, the critical dialogue can only take place when the priority of the foundational is honoured.

The rethinking of the missional identity of the church which Arbuckle (1993) calls the “refounding of the Church” will require also a rethinking and reshaping of the theological, ecclesiological, ministerial and liturgical shifts required to transform a consumption driven church into a missional church. We will try to do this in the rest of the article.

2. THE REQUIRED THEOLOGICAL SHIFT

2.1. Basically a missional theology is a Trinitarian, theo-logical, theo-practical and theo-dynamic view of God’s missio dei.In the heart of a missional theology is the gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ, of the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit in realizing the inbreaking Kingdom of God (John 3: 1 – 16; actually the whole Gospel of John expresses this inherent relationship between the kingdom of God and the mission of the apostolate; see in general Ridderbos

1962). Missional theology is essentially based in the gospel of the salvific revelation of the triune God, of what he has done and is doing in history. “ A missional church is a church that is shaped by participating in God’s mission, which is to set things right in a broken, sinful world, to redeem it, to restore it to what God has always intended for the world. Missional churches see themselves not so much sending, as being sent. A missional congregation let God’s mission permeate everything that the congregation does – from worship to witness” (Barret 2004: x). A missional theology therefore uses symbols and language as thick descriptions to fit these salvific actions and continuing presence of God (see Geertz1973: 6 and Walzer 1994:xi on such “thick descriptions” of the sacred in history). This theological shift will be demonstrated in expressions how and where the real presence of this God is experienced, telling where and how He acts in the church and in the world; in which practices of the church and society this presence is realised, manifested – or disregarded, neglected, abused….

2.2. Missional theology manifests this distinct missional identity and vocation of the church through whom God wants to show his salvific presence in the world. “Being a missional church is all about a sense of identity, shared pervasively in a congregation that knows it is caught up into God’s intent for the world”(Barret 2004: 36). It issues in a missional call to humble service to God and his missio dei.Thereby it redefines success, vitality, relevance, etc in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and his Trinitarian sending. No grand program and ambitious activism or a vision of the church to change the world or evangelise it lie at the heart of “doing” missional theology. Mission is not recruitment. No! – it is a call to service, to discipleship. Over against the stress the usual theology of missions placed on human initiatives, strategies, efforts, organisations in missionary work, missional theology underlines the missio deias the source and dynamic of all missionary enterprise. Quite rightly Barth moved the theological basis of Christian mission away from the doctrine of the church or the doctrine of salvation to the doctrine of Trinity. Mission is therefore primarilynot an activity of the church, but an attribute of God (see his 1958:125and especially par 69, 72). Guder (1998: 81) showed clearly that since the 1950s there was a clear “shift from an ecclesio centricview of mission to a theo centricone…[stressing] the missio Deias the foundation for the mission of the church” ( see also Hunsberger & van Gelder 1996, and Newbigin 1964.). Bosch was a clear avant-garde exponent of this switch: “God is a missionary God… Mission is a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission…To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love towards people” (Bosch 1991:390; see 494 on the missio dei).

2.3. Nussbaum ( 2005: 96 ) says that when mission is thus recognised as God’s mission, with the triune God both as its source and owner, it has three implications: mission is larger than the church, God may work outside the established church; the church is derived from mission, therefore mission cannot be incidental to the life of the church; and, mission cannot be reduced to conversion aimed at enlarging church membership. God has larger and wider things in mind! This “doing” theology is a radical shift from what the church has to do to what God does and wants to do in the world, in and through his church. In this theological shift there is a direct relationship between the view of God, the view of the church and the view of the world and its culture, as will be argued later.

3.THE IMPLICATIONS OF A MISSIONAL THEOLOGY FOR ECCLESIOLOGY

The switch to a missional theology must of necessity give rise to a missional ecclesiology, dealing with the missio dei as the foundational source of the identity of the church as missional church.It is radically important for a missional theology to assist the move from an ecclesio centric view to a theo centric view of the church. There is an inherent tension between an ecclesio centric view of the church concentrating on being “our” church, a club governed by “our” rules of success – and a church governed by God and our obedience to the movement of His Spirit, “wherever it pleases” Him to go (see John 3: 8). “Nicht das Handeln von Menschen, sondern das Handeln Christi schafft die Kirche; nicht die Präsenz von Menschen, sondern die Gegenwart Christi macht die jeweilige Zusammenkunft zur Kirche” (Huber 1979:6 1). This ecclesiology deals with the church as agent of the all-inclusive missio dei,it deals with the location and shape of the church, of its witness, vision and its practices and finally it deals with the type of community it nourishes ( see also Guder 1998 :11f describing a missional ecclesiology as biblical, historical, eschatological and translatable in practice).

3.1 If the identity of the church is described by and located in the missio dei,then all ecclesiology is basically missional ecclesiology, referring to the church as the missio deiin practice. The missional church represents as an agent for this mission of God’s encounter with human history and culture. This encounter is manifested in the all encompassing history of salvation as witnessed to in Holy Scriptures and in the tradition of God’s people through all ages. This history of salvation became visible in the incarnated life and ministry of Christ, described as eu- angelion, the good news attested to by the Holy Spirit in the church .Therefore: mission cannot be only a (probably important!) compartment of the church. Church and mission are not two separable concepts (as expressed by the possibility of a missionless church and/or of a churchless mission): they are inseparableparts of the one gospel of the triune God calling the church to the “one hope, the one faith in obedience to the one Lord” (Ephesians 4:4,5). Any ecclesiological effort to label some churches as sending missionaries and other as receiving the missionaries as so-called “daughter churches” (so well-known in the South African church history!) is an ecclesiological heresy!.

3.2 The missional church is therefore an instrument, agent and sign of the in-breaking reign of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, a reign that lies at the heart of the gospel. The missional church centres on the proclamation and manifestation of this in-breaking reign: it proclaims the whole gospel to the whole world. The Kingdom as God’s “ redemptive reign has profound implications for our understanding of the nature of the church… is also central to a proper understanding of a missiological ecclesiology” (van Gelder 2000: 75; see his whole chapter 4 on the church and the redemptive reign of God; and Ridderbos 1962:334 -396; Kung 1967: 41 – 104). The reign of God initiates the church as its representative, as its servant- community, as its messenger. Although the church can never be separatefrom this reign of God, it is not identicalwith it. It is only a sign, a pointer, a foretaste, a glimpse of the new creation in the midst of the old and of evil powers as will be argued in 3.3 (see on this: Guder, 1998: 97f; Ridderbos 1962: 354 and Hoekendijk 1966: 43). The being, doing and speaking of the missional church must always be signs of the coming reign, as being “already” present and “not yet”. The church is therefore still an incomplete expression of the Kingdom, still a flawed witness to it – and if the church wants to remain faithful to its missional calling, it has to look critically at its shortcomings and flaws in proclaiming and presenting this reign of God.

3.3 Being an agent of the reign of God, implies that the church is enveloped in a power struggle with the powers and principalities of the surrounding contexts (see Ephesians 6:12). The children of the Kingdom has to participate in this redemptive drama, has to form and constitute in this world a new redemptive community that lives by God’s power in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The kingdom of God is not just about ideas or words; it is also about power and confrontation”(van Gelder 2000:83). The church is called to be this community, not controlled by idolatrous powers, not conformed to the common sense of the surrounding culture, but shaping its life and ministry around the life and message of Jesus Christ. The reality of the kingdom implies a nonconforming engagement with the world, which in turn determines the nature of its total ministry (see Romans 12:2; Mark 8:34; on the paroikiaof the Church, see Theron 1997: 256f; Placher 1994:161f; and in general Elliot 1982 and Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture,1951). The redemptivereign of God over all creation(Colossians 1:15) must be implemented by the church as the first fruits of God’s eschatological harvest (the meaning of Pentecost, see Acts 2) In this respect, however, we must stress that it is not the task of the church so much to build, extend, promote or establish the kingdom – but in the first place to receive it, enter into it. In the process of seeking the Kingdom, it must then actively work to inherit it(Matthew 6: 33, 25: 34; Luke 18: 17 – 30).

3.4 Being the sign of the universal and eschatological reign of God, the church is described in the New Testament as the body of Christ, the local embodimentof the eschatological household of God. The church in Ephesus is described as the body of Christ over which He reigns as head (1:22f ); as “members of God’s household…. built up as a holy temple in the Lord” (2:19f ) – “ built up as body of Christ … reaching up to the unity of faith” (4:12f ). This means that the church is God’s property, in which Christ is the head: therefore all authority in the church comes from Christ (see Matthew 10:1 and 28:18). Thereby He forms and authorises the church as a missional community with a missional vocation. This missional assignment to his body is local, specific and geographic (see Acts 1.8f ). “Its meeting place (‘the House of the Lord’) and its residency, family by family, lie within a specific, poor, and socially rugged neighbourhood, marked by boundaries of roads, ravines and political units. The move to that place …was a conscious one” (Barret 2004: 39; see in general Schreiter 1985). The metaphor of the church as body of Christ stresses this concrete, tangible, visible presence of the church in the world as evidence of the gospel of Christ – at the same time remembering “that the process of missional organisation is always to be carried out in realistic interaction with the distinctive cultural context within which the people of God respond to God’s sending” (Guder 1998 :222). As body of Christ, its witness has always the form of a translated and contextual witness. The translation of the gospel into particular cultural contexts is required in order that the witness to Jesus Christ becomes culturally multilingual. A missional church has continually to learn how to translate the language of faith into the language of its particular context (on this see Newbigin1989: 97 – 102, 141 – 154; Sanneh1989: 1 – 8; and Walls 1996: 26f ). This is what Barret calls the “catalytic moment” in ecclesiological discernment, stating that churches “are what they are today, and that is different from what they were yesterday or what they will be tomorrow”(2004:42). At the same time, we have to remember that missional discernment has to remain in continuous dialogue with the tradition of the church. This is of extreme importance for the missional identity of the congregation : in this dialogue, the church has to realise that missional engagement of its tradition with new contexts has to test, refine and redefine, in the end and where necessary, to reform that tradition as new missional potential is discovered in every time and place. Close-reading of the tradition, history and culture will therefore be of extreme importance in developing new missional and liturgical practices.

3.5 The integral relationship between missional theology, ecclesiology and missional practice determines the shape and image of the church as missional churchin every generation, context and culture (on the missional modelsof the church see van Gelder 1999: 148f and also 2000: 168f; Bosch1991: 369f; Nussbaum 2005:115f and Brueggemann 1997: 99f ). A missional congregation does not only discern the vocation of the whole church, but also its vocation in its own place and time – and this has deep-rooted implications for its specific shape and witness in every place and time. To be missional determines the character and direction of the church, what the church is and where it is going.

3.6 All these factors determining the basic missional ecclesiology, mentioned so far, again determines its witness, the ethos, the practices and disciplines it nourishes.The missional congregation is the overall setting in which the gospel proclamation materialises, that is where it can be heard, but also seen and felt, especially in the way Christians behave toward one another. It will be often a case of “crossing boundaries” in the existing patterns (see Barret 2004:86 and van Gelder1999; xvi on seeing the new location of the church on the margins as its missional opportunity). When existing boundaries are crossed and new frontiers are seen as opportunities, calling for creative innovation, it assist the church to embody new practices of mutual care, reconciliation, lovingly listening to one another and becoming accountable and hospitable to the so many strangers in our modern social, economic and political marketplaces (see Keifert 1992). In its witness, its critique of existing attitudes in church and society, expressing the hopes of the gospel and creating islands of hope, the missional church models and proclaims a different way of life, modelled on the way of Christ ( on the church in the power of the Holy Spirit, see Moltmann1977 as well as Coenie Burger 1999 and Nieder- Heitmann’s comments on Burger in his 2001: 99f ).

3.7 This missional ecclesiology also determines the type of communityit establishes and maintains: as the setting in which the gospel proclamation, the total missio dei materialises.“In, with, and through this community, by its intricate web of relationships and patterns of social behaviour, the gospel of the reign of God is declared”(Barret, 2004: 85). The public proclamation (Paul refers in 2 Corinthians 4:2 to it as the “open statement of the truth”) is heard believably “only where there is a gospel-formed community to manifest it visibly” (Barret: 85). As the household of God the community of faith does not exist for itself but for God’s mission, the setting in which He makes his presence felt and known. The church is indeed a very distinct social community, reconciled to God and to one another: a people of God, a body of Christ, a communion of saints (Romans 9: 25,26; 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 1:9). As God’s ecclesia, as his elect (1 Peter 1:2) the missional church grapples with the congregational, cultural, ethical and structural implications of this divine calling and setting: as God’s elect they are a distinct, unique community, aliens in the surrounding world, a contrast community, a holy nation (1 Peter 1:1f, see in detail Hauerwas & Willimon 1989 and Elliot 1981). The missional church is indeed ecclesia cruciswhere a theology of “Christian awkwardness…and disengagement from dominant cultures” are practised, without abandoning society, as such ( see Hall 1996: 198f and Dietterich 1996: 347f on a faithful and effective ecclesiology). Modelling themselves on Christ’s disciple-community, they seek primarily the coming of the Kingdom and establishment of signs of it and thereby becoming willing to be transformed and renewed into agents of this Kingdom (Matthew 6;33 and Romans 12:2). This places the community at riskbecause the dominant cultures often resist the manifestations of the contrast community – it can even be dangerous, like in the early centuries (see 1 Corinthians 4:8,9). But called to proclaim the praises of God and his missio dei(1Peter 2:9), they do not do this by living in “splendid isolation”. Living as aliens is not living in a fatal exclusiveness but living as church for others, indeed as a church ofothers, withothers! It is indeed a company ofstrangers (Palmer1991), a community of the poor (see fully Bosch1991:434f: it is a community “ hearing the cry of the hungry and exploited who demand bread and justice…” ). It is a community of presence with the poor and the weak, creating generosity to those on the edges of society.

3.8 There is a linkage between missional identity and proclaiming God’s reign in an ecumenical sense all over the world, that is proclaiming God’s mysterious rule at work around the world and through history.Missional renewal leads to more than mere institutional ecumenism; it leads to seeking new ways of connecting and interacting beyond existing patterns. This basic ecumenical identity of the church, expressed by the unity of the church is demonstrated in the missional outreaches in New Testament times (see especially Acts, Galatians and Ephesians). This was repeated in the creeds of the church as van Gelder quite rightly states that the Nicene creed is clearly “both catholic and local, universal and contextual…foundational and missionary, authoritative and sent” (2000: 118f ).

3.9 This finally leads to the relation of the Christian church to other faith communities.Bosch (1991:483f ) underlined the following rules in connection with the relation to other faiths: accepting the co-existence of different faiths willingly; in dialogue with them expecting to meet the God who has also been working in them; and, admit that Christianity does not have all the answers. This missiological directive of an honest discourse with other faith communities needs to be worked out in the 21st century.

4. THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF THE MISSIONAL CHURCH

4.1 The ministry of the missional church is firmly rooted in its Christological foundation.“The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord” has been confessed and sung by the church through its history, in good and especially in bad times. This has to be expressed in every branch of its public ministry.

4.2 Especially in the Calvinistic tradition the Christian church is seen as a creatio verbi:and then in terms of the unity of the verbum audible and verbum visible, as proclaimed and as obeyed in the church.“Dass die Kirche durch das Wort Gottes begründet und gebaut wird, wo und wann das auch immer sei, ist deshalb das entscheidende, unaufgebbare Charakteristikum eines evangelischen, ja man muss auch sagen: eines christlichen Kirchenverständnisses” (Huber1979:61). The Holy Spirit who inspired the Word is also the guarantee of the efficax verbi.This centrality of the Bible as containing the good news of the gospel (Jonker1976: 58f on the sermon as preaching of the gospel of the text) has in the ministry of the church a continuing, energising, formative, and where necessary, a converting role in the church as missional church. This proclamation as a rehearing of the Word and of the gospel must lead the ministry of the church in every age to retrace its ministryback to its roots, experiencing what initiated, made and still makes the church and drives it forward to the end of times. “Becoming a missional congregation can be described as a process of biblical formation and discipling. The missional transformation of a congregation is directly related to the priority assigned to the Bible and the way in which the Bible shapes that community” (Barret 2004:59,61). There is, however, a realproblem: a congregation can have a Bible-centred ministry, can experience so-called biblical preaching but not be a congregation that practices its overarching missional calling. The ministry can easily be regarded as truly biblical and mobilising outreaches and resources to support it – but in practice lacking the formative and dynamic exposition of the text nourishing a biblical faithful and missional discipleship. Mission mindednesss, even proclaimed in terms of “for the Bible tells us so” can so easily remain (even an important) theme in the ministry, but not the central focusof the whole ministry! It is then a ministry that produces converts, but not disciples. And let us be honest: there is often a great resistance to this radical, foundational and formational missional transformation of the church, a resistance often experienced particularly among the self-confident heirs of many mainline traditions, even very satisfied with their mission outreaches – but not faithful to their missional calling!

4.3 It is therefore possible to preach the text “correctly” and apply a “narrow” gospel intent, in order to show what it means to be saved by the grace of God in a very personal and individualistic and subjective way, but still missing the central focus on being converted to discipleship!Therefore there is a need for a missional hermeneutic:how we read, interpret and understand the text and the gospel is determined by the type of questions we bring to it. A missional hermeneutic does not so much ask the question: what do I get out of the text personally? The missional hermeneutic rather asks: how does this specific Word of God, as heard in this text, call, shape, transform and send us, often against our will, to be faithful to our missional calling? What are the challenges against ingrained attitudes in the church; what are the calls issued in the text to repentance and conversion…? What is called for is indeed a missional hermeneutic of suspicion (Bosch 1991:430; see also Brownson 1996:228f on a hermeneutic of diversity and at the same time faithful to the gospel and Wyatt 1999:157f on the way postmodernism and changing cultures influence the process of “from text to sermon”). It is a hermeneutic that explicates the whole missional gospel of the text as it involves both word and deed and thereby describing the character of the Church, as being governed by Christ and his mission, as expressed in the biblical text. Christ is not only the content of the mission mindedness of the text – He is the abiding and driving force of the missional challenge of the text.

5. THE DEVELOPMENT AND FORMATION OF A MISSIONAL LITURGICAL REORIENTATION

The power of liturgical celebration in theological, ecclesiological and ethical formation has been argued very well in various theological publications ( see Müller 2002a:197f, 2002b:29f; Smit 1997:259f; Hauerwas 1981; Senn, especially 1993, also in general 1997; Wainwright 1980; Warren 1993 and many others). Our missional theology in all its components needs to be liturgically shaped and practised – then we can hope that the above mentioned changes and shifts will materialise in the life and witness of the church. The liturgy and the worship of the congregation provide the energy and spaces where transformative and creative changes can be most clearly experienced and celebrated. Indeed our understanding of the work of the triune God and of our Christian faith is nearly always revealed in our liturgy. Magesa (2004: 202) quite rightly states that “ the power of Christian liturgy rests in the fact that it makes present and effective, under the veil of sacred times, places, and sacred signs and symbols, the mysteries of human salvation, brought about by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, says Westerhoff: “every reform movement in the history of the church has involved liturgical reform” (1976:57). In the same vein, because a missional theology and ecclesiology has to address the centrality of corporate worship and on account of the inherent relationship between the miss ional task and worship, the missional character must come to a clear focus in every aspect of the liturgy.The central missional intention and direction of the congregation have therefore to determinethe missional what and the how of the liturgical celebration in all its elements, in the practices and disciplines it cultivates, in the way it equips the congregation for its mission (Ephesians 4:12f ), and in the type of community it nourishes. The use of rituals, for example baptism and Eucharist, must be placed in a missional context, as signs and bearers of its missional character .

5.1 Worship being the centre of any missional communities’ organised life, “serves as a centring function in the life of the church” (van Gelder 2000: 151). As the celebration of God’s creative purpose, of his redemptive activity and his transformative presence, liturgy is a basic form of spiritual empowerment, nourishing to all dimensions of the ministry. It shapes the celebrating community into a distinct and particular people of the Kingdom, discovering its missional vocation, to be actualised in discipline, fellowship, service and witness. Thereby, through the work of the Holy Spirit it cultivates a missional vision of a community of God’s new age. Revisioning the church and its liturgy can be nothing else than recapturing its fundamental missional calling in every new context!

5.2 Worship celebrates the gracious presence of God in the midst of the gathered community of faith. It does it on special occasions, in specific locations and on specific times; but take note: the Greek word leitourgiaalso points to celebrating the liturgy of daily living in the presence of God. Worship therefore has a public character.In this sense it is also the central act which celebrates with joy and thanksgiving God’s presence and promises for the world in the public realm. It celebrates the coming of God’s reign in its public proclamation in words and deeds, in its liturgical practices and disciplines inspired by the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament as well as in the New the worship is the glue that holds God’s people together as well as energising them towards God’s high calling in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

5.3 All missional liturgies, also the public liturgy, must remain God-directed(see Hauerwas 1995: 156). Liturgy is re-membering this God who acts: in all its forms and expressions it must signify and enact this central focus on God. This focus can easily be lost when different forms of worship are devised only to attract people, satisfying their tastes and preferences. These services may attract large numbers, but they do not necessarily produce missional congregations ( on “the difference between worship and evangelism”, see Dawn 1999: 271f ). Schattauer quite rightly criticised this instrumental and functional view of liturgy. Then he commends a missional liturgical approach which “locates worship within the larger scope of God’s reconciling mission toward the whole world…the visible act of assembly ( in Christ by the power of the Spirit) and the forms of this assembly – what we call liturgy – enact and signify this mission. From this perspective, there is no separation between liturgy and mission…the assembly for worship ismission” (1999:5). The impetus of all the different worship styles must be evaluated in the light of whether they express and celebrate the presence of God and hismissional activity. In the end the quality of worship is not determined by what people get out of it, but what they put into it, what they give to God in it: adoration, praise, confession, faith, love, loyalty – and thereby being formed by it as a missional community.

5.4 A missional liturgy draws upon the rich resources of Holy Scripture, the Christian tradition and its different expressions in a variety of ever-changing cultural and historical contexts. In all these, there is a great consensus that worship should be regarded as celebration of the presence of the triune God as its Subject and Object; the gathering and formation of believers in the communio sanctorum;as the proclamation of Word and sacrament and finally as the sending forth of the congregation into the world: praising and praying to God for his blessing (see Huber 1979:98f). In the movements of the worship service from one element to the following, it should mirror the typical movements of a missional congregation. Being gathered as a missional community of praise, it characterises all life as praise of God; confessing its missional vocation, the congregation does so in accordance with the historical creeds of the church; confessing the sins of disobedience and asking forgiveness, it does so by being continually trained in confession through worship; in the reading of Scripture and through preaching the congregation is reminded of the biblical foundation of its total missional identity; through baptism it enters into the community of God’s new age and in the Eucharist it celebrates its missional life in this new community, generated by the grace of God and living henceforth in gratitude and generosity, as eschatological acts. All of these are glorious foretastes of the missional unity in the communion of saints, in the presence of the living God – praesentia dei realis!

5.5 Missional liturgy celebrates God’s reign: it is therefore a declaration of allegiance to God and his mission – over against all other allegiances of the present order, culture and power . Missional liturgy is contest liturgy, born in the struggle against all forms of satanic temptations.It is interesting to note that all three of Christ’s temptations by the devil are temptations to succumb to the present order of things. Missional liturgy celebrates, in an eschatological but real sense, the reality of an alternative order, of a new regimeand thereby it resists all temptations to become subservient to the “old” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As contrast liturgy,it interprets the world it lives in a new way: missional liturgy is indeed world making (on this aspect of contrast liturgy, see Müller 2006b:600f ).

5.6 Missional liturgy is expressed in the“mother tongue and home language”of the worshipping community. The missional liturgical language, expressions and actions are theo-logical: the prayers, the hymns, the confession of sins, the celebration of baptism and the Eucharist are primarily directed towards God. All these are forms of mother tongue expressions – but they must be translated continually into the language of the piazza and its culture.Not adapted, but literally trans-lated:it is taken over from the “motherland” of the missio deito the new localities and the new mother tongues of the marketplace (see Barrett 2004: 112f on the role of inculturation in the liturgy). This trans-lation must follow the model of the incarnation:it must be en-fleshed and em-bodied in the culture of the surrounding contexts and cultures. Liturgical renewal is not fresh developments of new rituals, but the process of re-generating the liturgy in the presence of God and by his Holy Spirit (see Schreiter 1985: 18f on the two agents in this regeneration: the Holy Spirit and the local missional community; in general see Bosch, 1991: 454f on the role of culture, especially 455 on the limits and critical dimensions to be honoured in the dialogue with culture and context – the latter discussed on 426f). Liturgical renewal is in the first place not developing new attractive and inviting new practices but rediscovering afresh its Theo centric basis in the presence of God and his missio dei in the liturgy.

6. THE MISSIONAL CHURCH IN THE MODERN MARKETPLACE.

Because missional theology and a missional church have to demonstrate what God intends for the whole world, missional theology views the world in a very specific way – and this determines the theology, the ministry and practices of the missional church in its totality.The missional church lives in a completely new context, always on the frontiers of the old and the new. But it sees its so-called loss of securities (a la Berger’s plausibility structures) not as a loss of influence, but sees it as the crisis of a challenge.It regards the marketplace as a very specific frontier where the varied cultures can be met with the Gospel and the practices flowing out of it (see Nussbaum 2005:122f on the relationship of missional church to the world; also Huber 1979:80f on “Kirche in der Welt”). This implies

6.1 The missional church as public church has to play a role also in matters of politics and society: dealing with poverty, injustice, health, ecology (see Bosch 1991: 434f on the relationship of mission to social justice; also Nussbaum 2005:97f ) – not forgetting that as God’s elect it has not so much to be a magisterium but a ministerium (Huber 1979: 94f ).

6.2 It has to demonstrate God’s missional intent and relationship to the world in visible practices such as mutual care, reconciliation, living accountably and with loving hospitality to every stranger in the market square ( see the well written book by Keifert, 1992).

6.3 Living on the frontiers in dialogue with the surrounding cultures there is a real danger of succumbing in the marketplace to the market driven strategies of these cultures – also in the liturgy. In a way it then becomes a practice of legitimising the ideological presuppositions embedded in every culture, instead of transforming it in the sense of Romans 12:2f. In its missional ministry it must remain a redemptive contrast community busy with its ministry on the frontiers, especially in the marketplace.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arbuckle, GA 1990. Earthing the Gospel; An Inculturation Handbook for Pastoral Workers. Maryknoll: Orbis. 

Barret, LY 2004. Treasure in Clay Jars. Patterns in Missional Faithfulness. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Barth, K 1958. Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/3/1&2. Evangelische Verlag: Zollikon.

Bosch, DJ 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Brownson, JV 1996. “Speaking the Truth in Love: Elements of a Missional Hermeneutic” in: Hunsberger & van Gelder (eds), Church between Gospel and Culture, 228 – 259.

Brueggemann, W 1997. Cadences of Home. Preaching among Exiles. Louisvale: Westminster John Knox. 

Burger, CW 1999. Gemeentes in die Kragveld van die Gees: oor die unieke Identiteit, Taak en Bediening van die Kerk. BUVTON: Stellenbosch.

Carroll, JW, Dudley, CS, McKinney,W 1986. Handbook for Congregational Studies. Nashville: Abingdon.

Dawn, MJ 1999. “Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theologyof Worship for the Church in Postmodern Times” in: van Gelder (ed): Confident Witness – Changing World, 270 – 282

Dietterich, IT 1996. “A Particular People: Toward a Faithful and Effective Ecclesiology” in: Hunsberger & van Gelder (eds), Church between Gospel and Culture, 347 -369.

Elliot, JH 1981. A Home for the Homeless. A Sociological Exegesis of 1 Peter, its Situation and Strategy. Fortress: Philadelphia.

Geertz, C 1973. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Cultures” in: The Interpretation of Cultures. Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.

Guder, DL 1994. “Evangelism and the Debate over Church Growth”, in: Interpretation 48,no 2, 145 – 155. 

Guder, DL 1998. Missional Church. A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Hall, C 2007. “Missional Possible: Steps to Transform a Consumer Church into a Missional Church” in: Leadership, Winter 2007, 34 – 37.

Hall, DJ 1996. “Ecclesia Crucis: the Theologic of Christian Awkwardness” in: Hunsberger & van Gelder(eds), Church between Gospel and Culture, 198 – 213.

Hauerwas, S 1981. A Community of Character. Towards a Constructive Social Ethics. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Univ Press.

Hauerwas, S 1985. In Good Company. The Church as Polis. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Univ Press. 

Hauerwas, S & Willimon,WH 1989. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Nashville: Abingdon. 

Hoekendijk, JC 1966. The Church Inside Out. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Huber, W 1979. Die Kirche. Stuttgart & Berlin: Kreuz.

Hunsberger, GR & van Gelder, C (eds) 1996. Church between Gospel and Culture. The Emerging Mission in North America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Hybels, L & Hybels,Bill 1995. Rediscovering the Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Keifert, PR 1992. Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Küng, H 1967. The Church. Garden City NY:Image.

MacDonald, G 2007. “Dangers of Missionalism. Even the best causes can become cold, prideful, and all- consuming” in: Leadership Winter 2007. 38 – 42.

Magesa,L 2004. Anatomy of Inculturation: Transforming the Church in Africa. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Moltmann, J 1977. The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Eschatology. New York: Harper and Rowe.

Müller, BA 2002a. “Liturgical and homiletucal revisioning to generate hope for a just society” in: Dreyer TF & van der Ven JA (eds) Divine justice – human justice. Pretoria: HSRC, 197 – 214.

Müller, BA 2002b. “The role of worship and ethics on the road towards reconciliation” in: Jaarboek voor Liturgie-onderzoek, 27 – 44.

Newbigin, L 1964. Trinitarian Faith and Today’s Mission. Richmond: John Knox. 

Newbigin, L 1989. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 

Niebuhr, HR 1951. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper & Rowe.

Nieder-Heitmann, JH 2001. Two Contemporary Approaches in the Church in North America. A Comparison between the Ecclesiologies of the Project Tream for Congregational Studies and the Gospel and our Culture Network. Submitted for the MTh degree, Western Theological Seminary.

Nussbaum, S 2005. A Reader’s Guide to Transforming Mission. Orbis: Maryknoll.

Parker, P 1986. The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America’s Public Life. New York: Crossroad.

Ridderbos, H 1962. The Coming of the Kingdom. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed. 

Sanneh, L 1989. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. Maryknoll: Orbis. 

Schreiter, RJ 1985. Constructing Local Theologies. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Senn, FC 1993. The Witness of the Worshipping Community: Liturgy and the Practice of Evangelism. New York: Paulist.

Senn, FC 1997. Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Smit, DJ 1997. “Liturgy and Life. On the Importance of Worship for Christian Ethics” in: Scriptura 62, 259 – 280.

Theron, PF 1997. “The Church as a Paroikia and ‘Higher Critical’Theological Training” In: Ned Geref Teologiese Tydskrif 38, 2007,256 – 267.

Van Gelder, C (ed) 1999. Confident Witness – Changing World. Rediscovering the Gospel in North America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Van Gelder, C 2000. The Essence of the Church. A Community created by the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Wainwright, G 1980. Doxology. The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life. London: Epworth.

Walls, AF 1996. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Walzer, M 1994. Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Warren, M 1993. Faith, Culture and the Worshipping Community: Shaping the Practice of the Local Church. Washington: Pastoral Press.

Westerhoff, JH 1976. Shall our Children have Faith? New York: Seabury.

Wyatt LA 1999. “Preaching to Postmodern People” in: van Gelder (ed) Confident Witness – Changing World, 155 – 170

KEY WORDS

Missional Congregations, Missional Ecclesiology, Missional Theology, Missional Ministry, Liturgical reorientation

TREFWOORDE 

Missionale gemeentes, Missionale ekklesiologie, Missionale teologie, Missionale bediening, Liturgiese heroriëntasie

KONTAKBESONDERHEDE: 

Prof BA Müller Fakulteit Teologie

Universiteit van Stellenbosch

Privaatsak X1

MATIELAND 7602

E-posadres: bamuller@sun.ac.za

Missional Communities After a Year

by Nate ViskerOne year ago, Ferrysburg Community Church in Spring Lake, Michigan launched a missional community in a neighboring apartment complex. Pastor Nate Visker shares some reflections on what they expected, current reality and what they have learned..

Just over a year ago our congregation launched its first missional community.  We’ve defined a missional community (MC) as a Christ-centered community of 15-50 people sent to announce and demonstrate the kingdom of God in and to a local neighborhood or people group.  We think of them as missionaries sent to a local mission field rather than an overseas mission field.  Our first MC is a group of people from our congregation who felt called by God to announce his kingdom in a nearby apartment community.  They hold a Sunday gathering in the community center and offer a simple meal.  At this gathering they spend some time discussing how they experienced God that week.  Over the last year relationships with people in the apartment community have deepened considerably.  Transportation is a major issue for many people in the neighborhood.  This MC has put a lot of miles on their vehicles giving people rides. 

We had a number of expectations when we started this journey.  Some of them have held up.  Others have been blown away.  Still others were way off base.  Here’s a random list of things I’ve learned about starting missional communities and their impact on our church.

  • Never a dull moment.  Mission is exciting.  It’s hard, but rarely boring.  What a wonderful way to breathe life into a church experience that can sometimes be a bit, um… boring.  MCs aren’t for the faint of heart.  Peoples’ lives are messy.  But you could write a book.
     
  • We didn’t lose them.  One of our fears is that members who joined a MC would lose their connection to the congregation.  It’s actually been the opposite.  We have seen an increased commitment to and longing for our church family.
     
  • Spiritual growth happens on mission.  People involved in an MC have seen dramatic growth in their faith.  This may sound simplistic, but if someone came to me feeling stagnant in their walk with God, I would consider the problem solved the moment they got involved with an MC.
     
  • We’ve set records for church growth.  The numbers we send in to the denomination don’t reflect it.  Our attendance doesn’t always reflect it either.  But through one MC, our church is connected to about 25 people in the last year who consider it their spiritual family.
     
  • You can do “both/and.”  There was some concern that our worship services and education ministries would suffer as we focused time and energy in MCs.  From this view, our worship has only grown in impact.  Our educational ministries have deepened as well.  MCs have been a source of energy and vitality that have spread to other ministries.
     
  • A deliberate process was key.  Our congregation is proud and supportive of our MCs.  We took our time as we moved toward our first MC.  We spent six months discussing it as a Council and a few more months educating our congregation.  It was time well spent.

https://network.crcna.org/small-groups/missional-communities-after-year

“What is an attractional church?”

Answer:
The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. Attractional churches design their services and programs in such a way as to “attract” attendees. A primary focus of an attractional church is to attract congregants to worship services. The attractional church model, using the seeker-friendly approach, is often contrasted with the missional church model.

Most modern megachurches grew to their current size by being attractional. The leaders in attractional churches are driven by the desire to fill the building with the lost, unchurched, and de-churched. They have a passion to reach people no one else is reaching and utilize programs and events to draw the crowds. A key phrase in an attractional church is cultural relevance, and they go to great lengths to make visitors feel comfortable. Rather than design worship services for believers who gather to worship God, most attractional churches focus on making unbelievers feel welcome and comfortable, claiming that this helps more people meet Jesus.

Most Bible-believing church leaders would agree that the primary purpose for a local church is to glorify God. And the means by which we do this is threefold: worshiping Him, edifying His people, and evangelizing the world. Jesus issued a mandate to His followers: “Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). This “going” of believers is the heartbeat of the missional church. The attractional church, on the other hand, focuses on the “coming” of unbelievers, as it sets up a “seeker-friendly” atmosphere.

Utilizing all means possible to evangelize the lost is an admirable goal (1 Corinthians 9:22), and there is nothing wrong with making church an inviting, welcoming place. Some of the strengths of the attractional church model are as follows:

1. The attractional church has a definite strategy to reach people.

2. The attractional church spends time considering what is important to the unsaved community, where they are coming from, and what they are seeking.

3. The attractional church usually maintains a high level of professionalism in its worship service. It is dedicated to excellence in presentation.

4. The attractional church is adept at providing practical advice for living in today’s world. It is committed to applying the gospel message in real life.

Still, we must look carefully at any church, whether fundamentalist, denominational, missional, or attractional, and ask whether or not it is making true disciples. We can tell whether a church’s model is working by considering the membership: are they walking in holiness, concerned about the lost, and growing in “grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18)?

The first “megachurch” began in Acts 2, the result of the bold, uncompromising proclamation of the gospel and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. The “attractional” nature of the early church was due to the power of God to change lives. The late author and theologian James Montgomery Boice once warned that “what you win them with is what you win them to.” We must be winning people with (and to) the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). If people are only attending church to hear a celebrity, win a car, or ride a pony, are they being attracted to the right things?

The attractional church can also have some weaknesses, and the following are some questions to ask:

1. Are the sermons designed to make people feel better about themselves rather than illustrate the need for repentance and restoration to God?

2. Are outreach decisions based on what is popular rather than what is biblical? Is the world redefining what the church should be?

3. Is the church consumer-driven as though attendees are the reason for its existence rather than the worship of God?

4. Are salvation, the cross, and repentance given priority, or are they afterthoughts?

5. Do the leaders measure success by the spiritual maturity in the membership or by the growing attendance?

6. Are social issues and controversial subjects addressed biblically from the pulpit?

7. Is there an emphasis on discipleship and obedience to the Lord? Is church discipline ever practiced?

8. How much attention is given to the scriptural qualifications for elders and leaders, as delineated in 1 Timothy 3:1–7?

9. Is the message of the cross alone enough of an attraction, or is there an implied need to supplement the truth with consumer-pleasing incentives?

Many attractional churches may discover to their dismay that, instead of creating disciples, they have filled their sanctuaries with cultural Christians. In a consumeristic society where Jesus is presented as another way to better one’s life, thousands assume they are saved because they like their church. They love the programs, the nice people, the community projects, and the social justice campaigns. Volunteering and taking leadership roles may make them feel like good people, and they assume that because the church is pleased with them that God is pleased as well.

When the gospel is compromised, as it is in some attractional churches, the result is a lack of any real preaching on sin and the attendance of many who have never experienced true repentance (Acts 3:19, 28). In a compromised church, there is no sorrow over sin (Psalm 51:3–4), no pursuit of holiness (Hebrews 12:14), no denial of self or taking up a cross (Luke 9:23), and no church discipline. Replacing true spirituality are the dynamic personalities of the leaders and the magnetic appeal of the church’s reputation. If the “attraction” should leave, so will the people.

We see no New Testament precedent for trying to attract unbelievers to a local church. The New Testament epistles were written to believers, teaching them how to endure persecution (2 Timothy 2:3), pursue godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and live as salt and light in a pagan culture. Speaking long before the dawn of the attractional church movement, Charles Spurgeon saw the dangers inherent in doing things the world’s way: “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”

Recommended Resource: The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christians with the Gospel by Dean Inserra

“What is the purpose of the church?”

Answer: Acts 2:42 could be considered a purpose statement for the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” According to this verse, the purposes/activities of the church should be 1) teaching biblical doctrine, 2) providing a place of fellowship for believers, 3) observing the Lord’s supper, and 4) praying.

The church is to teach biblical doctrine so we can be grounded in our faith. Ephesians 4:14 tells us, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” The church is to be a place of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honor one another (Romans 12:10), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and most importantly, love one another (1 John 3:11).

The church is to be a place where believers can observe the Lord’s Supper, remembering Christ’s death and shed blood on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The concept of “breaking bread” (Acts 2:42) also carries the idea of having meals together. This is another example of the church promoting fellowship. The final purpose of the church according to Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church is to be a place that promotes prayer, teaches prayer, and practices prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Another commission given to the church is proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The church is called to be faithful in sharing the gospel through word and deed. The church is to be a “lighthouse” in the community, pointing people toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The church is to both promote the gospel and prepare its members to proclaim the gospel (1 Peter 3:15).

Some final purposes of the church are given in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The church is to be about the business of ministering to those in need. This includes not only sharing the gospel, but also providing for physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) as necessary and appropriate. The church is also to equip believers in Christ with the tools they need to overcome sin and remain free from the pollution of the world. This is done by biblical teaching and Christian fellowship.

So, what is the purpose of the church? Paul gave an excellent illustration to the believers in Corinth. The church is God’s hands, mouth, and feet in this world—the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if He were here physically on the earth. The church is to be “Christian,” “Christ-like,” and Christ-following.

“What should be the mission of the church?”

Answer:
The church is a creation of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 3:9, 17; 15:9), founded and owned by Jesus Christ—“I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)—and directed and energized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:5–27; Romans 12:4–5). Therefore, it is the church’s joy to look to God to explain His design for the church and His mission for it. God’s mission for the church proves to have several parts.

1. The mission of the church is to make disciples. Just before Jesus returned to heaven, He commissioned His disciples this way: “Going into all the world, make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you” (literal translation of Matthew 28:19–20a). A disciple is a follower, someone who attaches himself to his leader. Therefore, we reason, Jesus sent the church on its mission to acquaint people in every place with Himself. As the church makes disciples, people can admire, worship, trust, follow, and obey Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The church’s members, having become enamored of Jesus Christ, assemble around Him as Master, Leader, Savior, and Friend. Our joyful mission is to put Him on display to every nation.

2. The mission of the church is to glorify Christ. Paul wrote, “In Christ we were also chosen … in order that we … might be for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). Part of God’s purpose for the church is to exalt Jesus Christ by the way that the church lives and by what it does. Christ designed His church to represent His supernatural, life-saving work to the world. In His church, Christ shows to the world what a freed and forgiven people can be—people who are satisfied with God as the result of Christ’s joyful, triumphant self-sacrifice. He has planned the church’s values to be His values. He expects its lifestyle to reflect His character (2 Corinthians 6:14—7:1; Ephesians 5:23–32; Colossians 1:13, 18; 1 Timothy 3:15). As the moon reflects the sun, so the church is to reflect the glory of God to a dark world.

3. The mission of the church is to build up the saints. The church is to encourage and comfort its individual members (1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 13:11). “There should be no division in the body, but . . . its parts should have equal concern for each other” (2 Corinthians 12:25). Jesus is the chief cornerstone, and the church is likened to a building “joined together and [rising] to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22; see also 4:4–25). Jesus Christ designed His Church to showcase God’s family on earth, so that the pagan world can see how God builds His family around Jesus Christ and how that family cares for one another (see Mark 3:35 and John 13:35).

The mission of the church is to know and love Christ so supremely as to represent Him and His values accurately and vividly to the world and serve people’s deepest needs in the way Christ Himself would meet them. As W. C. Robinson says in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, “Our Lord Jesus Christ is the sun about which the whole mission of the church revolves. Public worship is the encounter of the risen Redeemer with His people; evangelism is calling men to the Savior; publishing the law of God is proclaiming His lordship; Christian nurture is feeding His lambs and disciplining His flock; ministering to the needs of men is continuing the work of the Great Physician.” The church’s mission is to present Jesus Christ to the world, while He presents to the same world His rescuing work in and through His church.

Recommended Resource: The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MaxArthur

“What does it mean to be missional? Should Christians be missional?”

Answer:
“Missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that in essence describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of the gospel. The term “missional” gained its popularity towards the end of the 20th century with the influence of Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, and others, as well as the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Their basic premise is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Essentially, the idea of being missional teaches that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. There is one mission which says that the “missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.” Yet there has been some confusion regarding the term “missional.”

Alan Hirsch, one its proponents, says that “missional” is not synonymous with “emerging.” The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. “Missional” is also not the same as “evangelistic” or “seeker-sensitive.” These terms generally apply to what he calls the “attractional” model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but should not be confused with the whole.

Hirsch also says that a proper understanding of missional living begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because the church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that missions is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

Though many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of having a mission, where missional churches differ is in their attitude toward the world. A missional church sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. It is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ, that is, to be missional means to be sent into the world; not to expect people to come to us. This idea differentiates a missional church from an “attractional” church.

The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. But this practice only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional church has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional churches are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. As a result, people cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.

Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. Being missional means we should engage the world the same way Jesus did—by going out rather than just reaching out. Missional means that when a church is in mission, it is then the true church.

According to Dave DeVries, author of “Missional Transformation: Fueling Missionary Movements that Transform America,” there are five biblical distinctives that form the foundation of a missional perspective:

   • The Church is sent by Jesus Christ (John 17:18; 20:21, Luke 9:2; Matthew 28: 19–20; Acts 1:8)

   • The Church is sent with the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:17–24)

   • The Church is sent in Community (Acts 2:42–47; 5:42; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–17)

   • The Church is sent to every Culture (John 1:14; Matthew 20:28; Acts 17:22–34; Luke 5:29)

   • The Church is sent for the King and His Kingdom (Matthew 10:7; 25:34; Luke 4:43; Revelation 11:15–17; Jeremiah 10:7; John 18:36)

So, the question is asked, “Should Christians be missional?” Fundamentally, missional theology is not content with missions being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. In truth, every disciple of Christ should strive to be an agent, a representative of the kingdom of God; and every follower should try to carry the mission of God into every sphere of his life. We are all missionaries sent into the world.

There are many ways we can do this as we’re each individually blessed with certain talents and skills to utilize to the glory of God. Jesus has told us in Matthew 5:13-16 that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world . . . to let our light shine before men.

And, finally, in light of this idea of being “missional,” we can best sum it up with the words of the apostle Paul: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God . . . and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).

Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

Lecture 12

Information:
Quotations mainly and extensively from https://www.gotquestions.org/ unless otherwise indicated.

Devine Sovereignty and Evangelism

If God is Sovereign, why should we evangelize?

RC Sproul 14 If God saves only the elect, why evangelize?

If God is Sovereign How are People Responsible?

Is Calvinism anti-mission? (Q&A with John Piper)

Paul Washer On Evangelism

“What does it mean that God is sovereign?”

Answer:
God’s sovereignty is one of the most important principles in Christian theology, as well as one of its most hotly debated. Whether or not God is actually sovereign is usually not a topic of debate; all mainstream Christian sects agree that God is preeminent in power and authority. God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. What’s subject to disagreement is to what extent God applies His sovereignty—specifically, how much control He exerts over the wills of men. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean He rules the universe, but then the debate begins over when and where His control is direct and when it is indirect.

God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission. God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be “allowed” by God.

At the same time, the Bible describes God as offering humanity choices (Deuteronomy 30:15–19), holding them personally responsible for their sins (Exodus 20:5), and being unhappy with some of their actions (Numbers 25:3). The fact that sin exists at all proves that not all things that occur are the direct actions of God, who is holy. The reality of human volition (and human accountability) sets the maximum boundary for God’s sovereign control over the universe, which is to say there is a point at which God chooses to allow things that He does not directly cause.

The fact that God is sovereign essentially means that He has the power, wisdom, and authority to do anything He chooses within His creation. Whether or not He actually exerts that level of control in any given circumstance is actually a completely different question. Often, the concept of divine sovereignty is oversimplified. We tend to assume that, if God is not directly, overtly, purposefully driving some event, then He is somehow not sovereign. The cartoon version of sovereignty depicts a God who must do anything that He can do, or else He is not truly sovereign.

Of course, such a cartoonish view of God’s sovereignty is logically false. If a man were to put an ant in a bowl, the “sovereignty” of the man over the ant is not in doubt. The ant may try to crawl out, and the man may not want this to happen. But the man is not forced to crush the ant, drown it, or pick it up. The man, for reasons of his own, may choose to let the ant crawl away, but the man is still in control. There is a difference between allowing the ant to leave the bowl and helplessly watching as it escapes. The cartoon version of God’s sovereignty implies that, if the man is not actively holding the ant inside the bowl, then he must be unable to keep it in there at all.

The illustration of the man and the ant is at least a vague parallel to God’s sovereignty over mankind. God has the ability to do anything, to take action and intervene in any situation, but He often chooses to act indirectly or to allow certain things for reasons of His own. His will is furthered in any case. God’s “sovereignty” means that He is absolute in authority and unrestricted in His supremacy. Everything that happens is, at the very least, the result of God’s permissive will. This holds true even if certain specific things are not what He would prefer. The right of God to allow mankind’s free choices is just as necessary for true sovereignty as His ability to enact His will, wherever and however He chooses.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“Is God sovereign or do we have a free will?”

Answer:
When we talk about free will, we are usually concerned with the matter of salvation. Few are interested in whether we have the free will to choose salad or steak for our dinner tonight. Rather, we are troubled over who exactly is in control of our eternal destiny.

Any discussion of man’s free will must begin with an understanding of his nature because man’s will is bound by that nature. A prisoner has the freedom to pace up and down in his cell, but he is constrained by the walls of that cell and can go no farther, no matter how much his will might desire it. So it is with man. Because of sin, man is imprisoned within a cell of corruption and wickedness which permeates to the very core of our being. Every part of man is in bondage to sin – our bodies, our minds, and our wills. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the state of man’s heart: it is “deceitful and desperately wicked.” In our natural, unregenerate state, we are carnally minded, not spiritually minded. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be” (Romans 8:6-7). These verses tell us that before we are saved, we are at enmity (war) with God, we do not submit to God and His law, neither can we. The Bible is clear that, in his natural state, man is incapable of choosing that which is good and holy. In other words, he does not have the “free will” to choose God because his will is not free. It is constrained by his nature, just as the prisoner is constrained by his cell.

How then can anyone be saved? Ephesians 2:1 describes the process. We who are “dead in our trespasses and sins” have been “made alive” through Christ. A dead man cannot make himself alive because he lacks the necessary power to do so. Lazarus lay in his tomb four days unable to do a thing to resurrect himself. Christ came along and commanded him to come to life (John 11). So it is with us. We are spiritually dead, unable to rise. But “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He calls us out of our spiritual graves and gives us a completely new nature, one undefiled by sin as the old nature was (2 Corinthians 5:17). God saw the desperate and helpless state of our souls, and in His great love and mercy, He sovereignly chose to send His Son to the cross to redeem us. By His grace we are saved through the gift of faith which He gives us so that we can believe in Jesus. His grace is a free gift, our faith is a free gift, and our salvation is a free gift given to those whom God has chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Why did He choose to do it this way? Because it was “according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6). It’s important to understand that the plan of salvation is designed to glorify God, not man. Our response is to praise Him for the “glory of His grace.” If we chose our own salvation, who would get the glory? We would, and God has made it clear that He will not give the glory due to Him to anyone else (Isaiah 48:11).

The question naturally arises, how do we know who has been saved “from the foundation of the world”? We don’t. That is why we take the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, telling all to repent and receive God’s gift of grace. Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us we are to be pleading with others to be reconciled to God before it is too late. We cannot know whom God will choose to release from their prison cells of sin. We leave that choice to Him and present the gospel to all. The ones who come to Jesus He “will in no way cast out” (John 6:37).

Recommended Resource: Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“What is the difference between God’s sovereign will and God’s revealed will?”

Answer:
Human will is fairly straightforward: when we want something to happen, we “will” for it to take place; when we do something, we have shown our “will” in the matter. God’s will is a little more complex. In fact, theologians see three different aspects of God’s will in the Bible: His sovereign (decretive) will, His revealed (preceptive) will, and His dispositional will.

God’s sovereign or decretive will is also called His “hidden” will. It is “sovereign” in that it shows God to be the Sovereign ruler of the universe who ordains all that happens. It is “decretive” because it involves God’s decrees. It is “hidden” because we are usually unaware of this aspect of God’s will until what He has decreed takes place. There is nothing that happens that is outside of God’s sovereign will. For example, it was God’s sovereign will that Joseph be taken to Egypt, languish in Pharaoh’s prison, interpret the king’s dreams, and eventually save his people from famine and be honored by all (Genesis 37–50). At first, Joseph and his brothers were completely ignorant of God’s will in these matters, but, every step along the way, God’s plan was made plainer. When Ephesians 1:11 describes God as the one “who works all things according to the counsel of His will,” it speaks of God’s sovereign or decretive will. God Himself expresses the fact of His sovereign will in Isaiah 46:10: “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Because God is sovereign, His will can never be frustrated.

The sovereign or decretive will of God can be divided into His efficacious will and His permissive will. We must do this because God does not directly “cause” everything to happen. Some of His decrees are efficacious (that is, they directly contribute to the fulfillment of God’s desire); others of His decrees are permissive (that is, they allow for an indirect fulfillment of God’s desire). Because God is sovereign, He must at least “permit” all events and happenings. Within God’s sovereign will, He chooses to permit many things to happen that He takes no pleasure in. Again citing the example of Joseph and his brothers, God chose, by an act of decretive will, to allow the kidnapping and enslavement of Joseph. God’s permissive will allowed the sins of Joseph’s brothers in order to bring about a greater good (see Genesis 50:20). At every mistreatment of Joseph, God had the power to intervene, but He “permitted” the evil and, in that limited sense, He sovereignly “willed” it to happen.

God’s revealed or preceptive will is not hidden from us. This facet of God’s will includes that which God has chosen to reveal to us in the Bible—His precepts are plainly stated. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). The preceptive will of God is what God wants us to do (or not do). For example, we know that it is God’s will that we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), repent, and turn to God (Acts 3:19). It is God’s revealed will that we not commit adultery (1 Corinthians 6:18) or get drunk (Ephesians 5:18). God’s revealed will is constantly “making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

We are obligated to obey God’s revealed or preceptive will; however, we have the ability to disobey. God’s revealed will for Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply, tend the garden, subdue the earth, and not eat of a certain tree (Genesis 1–2). Unfortunately, they rebelled against God’s revealed will (Genesis 3). The consequences they suffered show that they could not excuse their sin. Neither can we claim that our sin simply fulfills God’s sovereign will, as if that absolves us from guilt. It was God’s will that Jesus suffer and die, but those responsible for His death were still held accountable (Mark 14:21).

God’s dispositional will deals with His “attitude”; His will of disposition is what pleases or displeases Him. For example, God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). This is an expression of God’s disposition toward the lost—He wants them to be saved (if He did not, then He would not have sent the Savior). Although God’s heart desires all to be saved, not all are saved. So, there is a difference between God’s dispositional will and His sovereign will.

In summary, the will of God involves three aspects: 1) God’s sovereign will is revealed in His unchangeable decrees. He decreed that there be light, and there was light (Genesis 1:3)—an example of His efficacious decree. He allowed Satan to torment Job (Job 1:12)—an example of His permissive decree. 2) God’s revealed will is contained in His precepts, given to us in order that we may walk in holiness. We have the ability (but not the right) to break these commands. 3) God’s dispositional will is His attitude. At times, God decrees something that gives Him no pleasure, such as the death of the wicked (see Ezekiel 33:11).

Recommended Resource: Knowing God by J.I. Packer

“How does the sovereignty of God impact my everyday life?”

Answer:
The sovereignty of God refers to the fact that God is in complete control of the universe. A belief in God’s sovereignty is distinct from fatalism, which denies human free will. Humans are able to make genuine choices that have real consequences. God does not directly cause everything to happen, yet He does allow all that happens to happen. And, ultimately, God’s will is going to be accomplished. At first blush these statements may seem unimportant to one’s daily life and better suited for an esoteric theological discussion. However, the sovereignty of God is quite practical and has a significant impact on our daily lives.

The sovereignty of God impacts everyday life in that it removes all cause for worry. We can trust that what the Bible claims about God’s character is backed up by His ability. Not only does God love us, but He has the ability to care for us. Those who are part of the family of God can claim the promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can rest in the fact that our God is actually able to work all things for our good, even when we cannot readily see how that may happen.

The sovereignty of God impacts everyday life in that we can trust God’s sanctifying work in us. Many times Christians feel that maturing in the faith is completely up to them, as if God saves us and then expects us to do the rest. Christians do play a role in their own maturity. We are certainly called to obedience, and what we do matters. However, in recognizing that God is sovereign, we also trust Him to bring us to maturity (see Galatians 3:3 and Philippians 1:6). Looking to Romans 8 again, we read, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:29–34). Our salvation has been God’s sovereign plan from eternity past. Rather than focus on our own performance, we can rest in the character of God and focus instead on actually getting to know Him.

The sovereignty of God also affects how we make decisions. We recognize that God is in control, so we need not be paralyzed by decision-making. If we make the wrong decision, all is not lost. We can trust in God’s faithfulness and His ability to set us back on the right course. On a related note, we can and should make decisions. God’s sovereign control does not mean that we sit idly by and allow life to happen. It means that we can go bravely into life, trusting that our loving Father sees the larger picture and is faithfully working everything for His glory.

That God is sovereign impacts our sense of identity. When we understand how powerful God is and how much He loves us, we can know we are secure in Him. As the objects of God’s sovereign love, we allow God to define us and give us our worth rather than look to the changing ideals of the world to do so. When we understand that God is in complete control, we are freed to live our lives. We need not fear ultimate failure or final destruction (Romans 8:1). We need not fear worthlessness. We can be confident that God will have His way and that it will be good. We can trust that the One who says He loves us is fully able to act on that love in all ways. We can trust that, even when the world seems completely out of control, God is in control. We know He has the big picture covered, so we can trust Him with our daily details.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“Who are the elect of God?”

Answer:
Simply put, the “elect of God” are those whom God has predestined to salvation. They are called the “elect” because that word denotes the concept of choosing. Every four years in the U.S., we “elect” a President—i.e., we choose who will serve in that office. The same goes for God and those who will be saved; God chooses those who will be saved. These are the elect of God.

As it stands, the concept of God electing those who will be saved isn’t controversial. What is controversial is how and in what manner God chooses those who will be saved. Throughout church history, there have been two main views on the doctrine of election (or predestination). One view, which we will call the prescient or foreknowledge view, teaches that God, through His omniscience, knows those who will in the course of time choose of their own free will to place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation. On the basis of this divine foreknowledge, God elects these individuals “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This view is held by the majority of American evangelicals.

The second main view is the Augustinian view, which essentially teaches that God not only divinely elects those who will have faith in Jesus Christ, but also divinely elects to grant to these individuals the faith to believe in Christ. In other words, God’s election unto salvation is not based on a foreknowledge of an individual’s faith, but is based on the free, sovereign grace of Almighty God. God elects people to salvation, and in time these people will come to faith in Christ because God has elected them.

The difference boils down to this: who has the ultimate choice in salvation—God or man? In the first view (the prescient view), man has control; his free will is sovereign and becomes the determining factor in God’s election. God can provide the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, but man must choose Christ for himself in order to make salvation real. Ultimately, this view diminishes the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty. This view puts the Creator’s provision of salvation at the mercy of the creature; if God wants people in heaven, He has to hope that man will freely choose His way of salvation. In reality, the prescient view of election is no view of election at all, because God is not really choosing—He is only confirming. It is man who is the ultimate chooser.

In the Augustinian view, God has control; He is the one who, of His own sovereign will, freely chooses those whom He will save. He not only elects those whom He will save, but He actually accomplishes their salvation. Rather than simply make salvation possible, God chooses those whom He will save and then saves them. This view puts God in His proper place as Creator and Sovereign.

The Augustinian view is not without problems of its own. Critics have claimed that this view robs man of his free will. If God chooses those who will be saved, then what difference does it make for man to believe? Why preach the gospel? Furthermore, if God elects according to His sovereign will, then how can we be responsible for our actions? These are all good and fair questions that need to be answered. A good passage to answer these questions is Romans 9, the most in-depth passage dealing with God’s sovereignty in election.

The context of the passage flows from Romans 8, which ends with a great climax of praise: “For I am convinced that… [nothing] in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This leads Paul to consider how a Jew might respond to that statement. While Jesus came to the lost children of Israel and while the early church was largely Jewish in makeup, the gospel was spreading among the Gentiles much faster than among the Jews. In fact, most Jews saw the gospel as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23) and rejected Jesus. This would lead the average Jew to wonder if God’s plan of election has failed, since most Jews reject the message of the gospel.

Throughout Romans 9, Paul systematically shows that God’s sovereign election has been in force from the very beginning. He begins with a crucial statement: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6). This means that not all people of ethnic Israel (that is, those descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) belong to true Israel (the elect of God). Reviewing the history of Israel, Paul shows that God chose Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. Just in case anyone thinks that God was choosing these individuals based on the faith or good works they would do in the future, he adds, “Though they [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls” (Romans 9:11).

At this point, one might be tempted to accuse God of acting unjustly. Paul anticipates this accusation in v. 14, stating plainly that God is not unjust in any way. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15). God is sovereign over His creation. He is free to choose those whom He will choose, and He is free to pass by those whom He will pass by. The creature has no right to accuse the Creator of being unjust. The very thought that the creature can stand in judgment of the Creator is absurd to Paul, and it should be so to every Christian, as well. The balance of Romans 9 substantiates this point.

As already mentioned, there are other passages that talk to a lesser extent on the topic of God’s elect (John 6:37-45 and Ephesians 1:3-14, to name a couple). The point is that God has ordained to redeem a remnant of humanity to salvation. These elect individuals were chosen before the creation of the world, and their salvation is complete in Christ. As Paul says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White

What is predestination? Is predestination biblical?”

Answer:
Romans 8:29-30 tells us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Ephesians 1:5 and 11 declare, “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Many people have a strong hostility to the doctrine of predestination. However, predestination is a biblical doctrine. The key is understanding what predestination means, biblically. The words translated “predestined” in the Scriptures referenced above are from the Greek word proorizo, which carries the meaning of “determining beforehand,” “ordaining,” “deciding ahead of time.” So, predestination is God determining certain things to occur ahead of time. What did God determine ahead of time? According to Romans 8:29-30, God predetermined that certain individuals would be conformed to the likeness of His Son, be called, justified, and glorified. Essentially, God predetermines that certain individuals will be saved. Numerous scriptures refer to believers in Christ being chosen (Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 8:33, 9:11, 11:5-7, 28; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10). Predestination is the biblical doctrine that God in His sovereignty chooses certain individuals to be saved.

The most common objection to the doctrine of predestination is that it is unfair. Why would God choose certain individuals and not others? The important thing to remember is that no one deserves to be saved. We have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and are all worthy of eternal punishment (Romans 6:23). As a result, God would be perfectly just in allowing all of us to spend eternity in hell. However, God chooses to save some of us. He is not being unfair to those who are not chosen, because they are receiving what they deserve. God’s choosing to be gracious to some is not unfair to the others. No one deserves anything from God; therefore, no one can object if he does not receive anything from God. An illustration would be a man randomly handing out money to five people in a crowd of twenty. Would the fifteen people who did not receive money be upset? Probably so. Do they have a right to be upset? No, they do not. Why? Because the man did not owe anyone money. He simply decided to be gracious to some.

If God is choosing who is saved, doesn’t that undermine our free will to choose and believe in Christ? The Bible says that we have the choice—all who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10). The Bible never describes God rejecting anyone who believes in Him or turning away anyone who is seeking Him (Deuteronomy 4:29). Somehow, in the mystery of God, predestination works hand-in-hand with a person being drawn by God (John 6:44) and believing unto salvation (Romans 1:16). God predestines who will be saved, and we must choose Christ in order to be saved. Both facts are equally true. Romans 11:33 proclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“Is God’s love conditional or unconditional?”

Answer:
God’s love for mankind, as described in the Bible, is clearly unconditional in that His love is expressed toward the objects of His love despite their disposition toward Him. In other words, God loves without placing any conditions on the loved ones; He loves because it is His nature to love (1 John 4:8). That love moves Him toward benevolent action: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

The unconditional nature of God’s love is most clearly seen in the gospel. The gospel message is basically a story of divine rescue. As God considered the plight of His rebellious people, He determined to save them from their sin, and this determination was based on His love (Ephesians 1:4–5). Listen to the apostle Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8).

Reading through the book of Romans, we learn that we are alienated from God due to our sin. We are at enmity with God, and His wrath is being revealed against the ungodly for their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18–20). We reject God, and God gives us over to our sin. We also learn that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that none of us seek God; none of us do what is right before His eyes (Romans 3:10–18).

Despite the hostility and enmity we have toward God (for which God would be perfectly just to utterly destroy us), God revealed His love toward us in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the propitiation (the appeasement of God’s righteous wrath) for our sins. God did not wait for us to better ourselves as a condition of atoning for our sin. Rather, God condescended to become a man and live among His people (John 1:14). God experienced our humanity—everything it means to be a human being—and then offered Himself willingly as a substitutionary atonement for our sin.

This divine rescue, based on unconditional love, resulted in a gracious act of self-sacrifice. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is precisely what God, in Christ, has done. The unconditional nature of God’s love is made clear in other passages of Scripture:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5).

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10).

It is important to note that God’s love is a love that initiates; it is never a response. That is precisely what makes it unconditional. If God’s love were conditional, then we would have to do something to earn or merit it. We would have to somehow appease His wrath or cleanse ourselves of sin before God would be able to love us. But that is not the biblical message. The biblical message—the gospel—is that God, motivated by love, moved unconditionally to save His people from their sin.

Also important is the fact that God’s unconditional love does not mean that everyone will be saved (see Matthew 25:46). Nor does it mean that God will never discipline His children. To ignore God’s merciful love, to reject the Savior who bought us (2 Peter 2:1), is to subject ourselves to God’s wrath for eternity (Romans 1:18), not His love. For a child of God to willfully disobey God is to invite the Father’s correction (Hebrews 12:5–11).

Does God love everyone? Yes, He shows mercy and kindness to all. In that sense His love is unconditional. Does God love Christians in a different way than He loves non-Christians? Yes. Because believers have exercised faith in God’s Son, they are saved. The unconditional, merciful love God has for everyone should bring us to faith, receiving with gratefulness the conditional, covenant love He grants those who receive Jesus as their Savior.

Recommended Resource: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson

“Does God love everyone or just Christians?”

Answer:
There is a sense in which God loves everyone in the whole world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; Romans 5:8). This love is not conditional—it is rooted in God’s character and based on the fact that He is a God of love (1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love for everyone could be thought of as His “merciful love,” since it results in the fact that God does not immediately punish people for their sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23). “Your Father in heaven . . . causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). This is another example of God’s love for everyone—His merciful love, His benevolence extended to everyone, not just to Christians.

God’s merciful love for the world is also manifested in that God gives people the opportunity to repent: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise. . . . Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s unconditional love is related to His general call to salvation and what is often called His permissive or perfect will—that aspect of God’s will that reveals His attitude and defines what is pleasing to Him.

However, God’s love for everyone does not mean that everyone will be saved (see Matthew 25:46). God will not ignore sin, for He is a God of justice (2 Thessalonians 1:6). Sin cannot go unpunished forever (Romans 3:25–26). If God simply disregarded sin and allowed it to continue to wreak havoc in creation forever, then He would not be love. To ignore God’s merciful love, to reject Christ, or to deny the Savior who bought us (2 Peter 2:1) is to subject ourselves to God’s wrath for eternity (Romans 1:18), not His love.

The love of God that justifies sinners is not extended to everyone, only to those who have faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). The love of God that brings people into intimacy with Himself is not extended to everyone, only to those who love the Son of God (John 14:21). This love could be thought of as God’s “covenant love,” and it is conditional, given only to those who place their faith in Jesus for salvation (John 3:36). Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are loved unconditionally, securely, forever.

Does God love everyone? Yes, He shows mercy and kindness to all. Does God love Christians more than He loves non-Christians? No, not in regards to His merciful love. Does God love Christians in a different way than He loves non-Christians? Yes; because believers have exercised faith in God’s Son, they are saved. God has a unique relationship with Christians in that only Christians have forgiveness based on God’s eternal grace. The unconditional, merciful love God has for everyone should bring us to faith, receiving with gratefulness the conditional, covenant love He grants those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior.

Recommended Resource: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson

“Why did Paul say the gospel brings salvation to the Jew first and then the Gentile?”

Answer:
In Romans 1:16 Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The gospel is intended for all people. But, chronologically, the gospel message was first revealed to the Jewish people before it was revealed to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people).

The Jews are God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:6–7). Through the Jews, God demonstrated His love and holiness to the world: “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah” (Romans 9:4–5). It was through the seed of Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Acts 3:25; cf. Genesis 22:18; 26:4). That promised blessing came through Jesus Christ, as explained in Galatians 3:16. Jesus was born as a Jew under the Law, fulfilled the Jewish Law perfectly, and died as a once-for-all sacrifice on behalf of all who would put their faith in Him (Galatians 4:4–5; Hebrews 9:14–15, 23–28).

In His public ministry, Jesus spoke of being sent to the Jews, and He focused His efforts on them. He was the Jewish Messiah, and He had come, in part, to “strengthen Judah and save the tribes of Joseph” (Zechariah 10:6). On one occasion, Jesus seemed to rebuff the pleas of a Gentile woman (though He later helped her) in Matthew 15:21–28 (also see Matthew 10:5). Jesus predicted that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47, emphasis added). The gospel of the kingdom was to be a blessing to the whole world, but it was natural that it be first proclaimed to Israel.

When Paul speaks of the gospel bringing salvation “first to the Jew” in Romans 1:16, he alludes to the special relationship the Jews had to the Messiah. The Christ was the Son of David, and the hope of the Messiah had long been held by the Jews (see Luke 2:38). So, when the gospel of Christ was first proclaimed, the Jews had priority. We see this prioritization in Paul’s first missionary journey. Every time they would come to a new city, Paul and Barnabas would preach in the synagogue to the Jews in that city. In Pisidian Antioch, they were so opposed by the unbelieving Jews that the missionaries said, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). The persecution in Antioch continued, and Paul and Barnabas were eventually expelled, so they went to the next town (verse 51).

There are several important things to note about Paul’s statement that the power of God in the gospel “brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” First, God did not cease saving Jews in order to save Gentiles. In all of his missionary journeys, Paul continued to preach first in the synagogues. God continues to desire the salvation of all the world (John 3:16–18; 1 Timothy 2:4).

Second, Jews are neither better nor worse than Gentiles. All need the Savior, and, in Christ, all are on equal spiritual footing. Colossians 3:10–11 reminds us we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” The believing Gentile is just as welcome in the family of God as the believing Jew. The Jew who has faith in Christ Jesus is just as secure in his salvation as the born-again Gentile.

Finally, salvation comes the same way to both Jews and Gentiles. It is for “everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Jesus is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12; John 14:6) regardless of one’s heritage. Paul said, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). Galatians 3:26–28 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All must come to Jesus in faith for salvation, and all are equally accepted by Him when they do.

Recommended Resource: Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World by John MacArthur

“Why is so much of the world still unevangelized?”

Answer:
Jesus’ final instruction to His followers was to “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). We know from reading the book of Acts that the disciples did just that. After the Holy Spirit descended upon them, they began to proclaim God’s message boldly (Acts 2:4). God gave them supernatural ability to speak in other languages so that people from many foreign lands heard the good news (Acts 2:6). Those people believed and then took God’s message of salvation back to their homelands, and the gospel spread.

Despite attacks throughout history to obliterate Christianity, the message of the gospel continues to spread as lives are transformed by the love of Jesus. Missionaries have left everything to travel into difficult regions to bring the good news to the natives there. Through personal evangelism, radio, television, the internet, literature, and many other means, people around the world are hearing of Jesus’ salvation and responding. We hear of Muslims in closed countries receiving visions and dreams wherein Jesus appears to them and they are convinced of His identity as the Son of God. Yet, as the world’s population expands, so does the number of unreached people. Despite the efforts of the church, millions of people have still never heard about Jesus. In fact, some areas of the world that used to have a strong Christian presence, such as Turkey and North Africa, are now strongholds of false religion.

One reason that much of the world remains unevangelized is due to the remoteness of some people groups. Explorers are still discovering tribal peoples and villages so far off the map that no one knew of their existence. Relative to that, some people groups speak languages that missionaries have not yet deciphered, so communication with them is nearly impossible. Still other tribes and nations are so hostile to outsiders or Christians that reaching them is dangerous. Many have tried to evangelize such groups and lost their lives in the process, and the country’s borders have only grown tighter.

Yet another reason much of the world remains unevangelized is the apathy among many Christians in Western cultures. The words of James may apply to those of us who are wealthy compared to the rest of the world: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. . . . You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence …” (James 5:1–5).

Those are harsh words to our ears, but we should examine ourselves to see if they apply to our attitudes about our own resources. Jesus taught that we must “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). In other words, we must use our resources in this world to advance God’s work; the result will be more people in heaven.

Do we see our money as our own to spend on our pleasures? Or as provision from God to be used under His guidance? Do we consider our time ours to do with as we please? Or as a gift from God to spend in pursuit of His will? Do we think of our talents as things to be leveraged solely for personal gain? Or do we view them as gifts from God to be used as He wills? Do we consider the poor and those of impoverished nations when deciding how to spend our resources? Has God called us to foreign missions but we’re resisting? Has He called us to support a specific missionary or ministry in prayer, yet we often forget them? Are we good stewards of the provisions God has given us, and are we careful to use them as He intends? Are we seeking His kingdom first and participating in the spread of the gospel in the way He has called us to in our life situation? One reason so many people have not heard the gospel is that God’s people refuse to take the gospel to them. Let us not become so accustomed to the gospel that we fail to desire to see it spread and do what we can to work toward that end.

In Matthew 11:21–24 Jesus addresses cities where He had just preached and performed miracles, yet they had refused to believe in Him: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” This seems to say that God will hold us responsible for the opportunities we’ve been given (Matthew 10:14–15). Since God is a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11), we can trust that He will do what is right when the unreached people stand before Him on judgment day. However, we will also give an account of whether or not we were obedient to His command to tell them about Him (Matthew 12:36; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Every Christian has many opportunities to help solve the problem of unevangelized people. As your situation allows, you can do one or more of the following:

• Give to mission organizations.
• Support impoverished children through any number of charitable organizations that meet the physical and spiritual needs of children around the world.
• Ask the Lord if He would have you become a full-time missionary.
• Take a short-term mission trip to an unreached area. By assessing people’s needs firsthand, we are often fueled with passion to reach them. Many thriving organizations began when one person saw a need.
• If you have language skills, become a Bible translator.
• Stop making excuses because of fear or laziness. If God is calling you, He will sustain you.
• Assess your own talents, gifts, and resources to see what might be useful in spreading the gospel to unreached people. (Examples: pilot’s license, organizational skills, monetary wealth, mechanical expertise, medical knowledge, etc.)

When He ascended to heaven, Jesus entrusted His message to a handful of people. He could have traveled farther than He did during His earthly ministry. He could have made the missionary journeys that Paul made. He could have sent angels to preach the gospel everywhere. But He did none of those things. Instead, He entrusted the most important message in the world to a few fallible people. Yet that message has changed the world because those Spirit-filled people were willing to give their all. When every person who claims to follow Christ is also willing to give all, we can lessen the problem of unevangelized people to the glory of God.

Recommended Resource: Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

“Why should I evangelize?”

Answer:
To evangelize means to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with someone else. Personal evangelism should be the lifestyle of every true Christian. We’ve been given a great gift, and our Master left us with clear instructions: “Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). Before we can “make disciples,” we must evangelize. There are other reasons, besides Jesus’ command, that should also motivate us to share the greatest news in the world with people who haven’t heard it:

1. Evangelism is an act of love. Love must be the defining characteristic of every follower of Jesus Christ (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 13:1–7). It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, so anyone who walks in the Spirit will demonstrate love in dealing with people (Galatians 5:16, 22–23). We possess the best news in the world, and love propels us to share it with those who haven’t heard. Love wants everyone to have a chance to respond to God’s offer of salvation. Withholding news that could save someone’s life is the utmost cruelty; therefore, those who truly love God will love the people whom Jesus came to save (John 3:16–18; 1 John 4:20).

2. Evangelism builds our own faith. Nothing helps us learn a subject like teaching it to someone else. When we make a practice of sharing our faith with those in our lives, we strengthen our own beliefs. Regular evangelism forces us to wrestle through the hard questions, find answers for ourselves, and prepare to respond to the questions of others. We should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We prepare by studying God’s Word for ourselves, listening to sound Bible teachers, and staying in close fellowship with Jesus. Those practices keep our own lives pure so that we are not hypocrites who preach one thing but do another (Galatians 6:1).

3. Evangelism provides eternal benefits. Jesus encouraged His followers to “store up treasure in heaven” (Matthew 6:19). That treasure consists of rewards for what we did on earth in His name and for His glory. It is not self-centered to make choices that will ensure eternal treasure for ourselves. Jesus told us to! Our service to Him can be as simple as offering a cup of cold water to one of His own (Matthew 10:42). The parable of the unjust steward underscores the importance of doing whatever we can to bring people to faith in Christ (Luke 16:1–13).

4. Evangelism is an overflow of the “hope that is within us” (Hebrews 6:19; 1 Peter 3:15). When two people fall in love, they cannot help but let everyone around them know it. Joy shows on their faces; stars glitter in their eyes. They are eager to tell anyone who will listen about the wonderful person they love. So it is when we’ve fallen in love with Jesus. We cannot help but tell people about Him every chance we get. We think about Him all the time. We’re drawn to His Word, to worship services, and to others who love Him. We look for opportunities to share His truth with someone who is far from Him. If Jesus is not at the forefront of our minds, we have a spiritual problem and need to address that first before we can share the “hope that is within us.”

5. Evangelism pleases the Lord. The Christian life must never be lived according to “shoulds.” Yet we hear that word often in relation to Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and other Christian practices. “I should do that, but . . .” The but is a bigger problem than we want to admit. God’s children will naturally want to please their Heavenly Father; it is their greatest delight. So our compass is set with God at true north. In everything we do, we feel the magnetic pull toward pleasing God. Even mundane tasks can be completed with joy because we are doing what God has given us to do (1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 5:9). Teaching other people how to have a relationship with Jesus is one way to please Him. And in pleasing Him we are most fulfilled (Galatians 2:20).

Recommended Resource: Reaching the Lost: Evangelism by Bobby Jamieson

“Could Calvinism be a stumbling block to the spread of the gospel of Christ?”

Answer:
Calvinism is the term applied to a belief in a high view of the sovereignty of God, especially as it relates to salvation. Calvinists are convinced the Bible teaches that man is sinfully corrupt throughout his entire being and cannot make himself acceptable to God through any amount of effort of his own. Calvinists hold that in eternity past God chose out some among mankind for His own. In the course of time, God grants repentance and faith to His elect so that they might be awakened to their sinful state and need for grace. Those He saves will be preserved for eternity by the Lord and will persevere in following Him; i.e., if they truly belong to Him, they cannot and will not ever fall away because He keeps them secure.

The point which causes some to believe that evangelism isn’t important is that of “limited atonement.” This point of Calvinism teaches that Christ died only for the elect. The theological argument offered is, if Christ in fact died for every single human in world history, then no one would go to hell since their sins are already paid for. Since we know Scripture teaches many spend an eternity separated from God, it must be that their sins were not covered in the atonement. Either that or there are people in hell for whom Christ died, a scripturally insupportable conclusion.

Some may say, “Christ paid for the sins of everyone, but it’s up to each person to decide for and accept Him.” That’s the whole issue between Calvinism (God-centered salvation) and Arminianism (man-centered salvation). For if man casts the deciding vote, then how is God sovereign? Furthermore, if Christ’s sacrifice needs man’s acceptance of it to validate it, then it can’t be the all-sufficient sacrifice the Bible says it is. (See Romans 5, Ephesians 1:3-14). The Bible tells us that we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), not the other way around.

But Calvinism, and most anything else if out of balance, could hinder evangelism. The hypothetical argument raised against Calvinism is this: “Since God chose His own in eternity past; and, since He grants repentance and faith needed in order to come to Him; and, since all He has chosen will, in fact, come to Him (John 6:37); and all who come to Him are eternally secure; then, it follows that man isn’t involved in salvation.” But this is a wrong conclusion. Man is very much involved. God ordains the end—the salvation of lost man. But God also ordains the MEANS to the end— evangelism. God could have ordained any number of ways to communicate salvation. He has given a revelation of Himself in creation and conscience (Romans 1 – 2). But He has specifically chosen to communicate the Gospel message through believers sharing the message of salvation (Romans 10:9-17). So, whether one is a Calvinist or not, evangelism is the responsibility of all believers. Historically, Calvinism not only didn’t diminish the Calvinists’ burden for souls, it purified it! The Calvinists were among the greatest evangelists in the history of the church, motivated by love for their Lord and Savior who chose them and saved them “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

Before we truly understand the sovereignty of God in salvation, we often think the burden is on us to “produce” decisions for Christ. We act as if a person’s salvation is dependent on us. So when we share the Gospel and it is rejected, we somehow think we failed to talk that person into believing and that we need a more clever or polished presentation of the plan of salvation. We may be tempted to water down the Gospel next time in order to get the desired response. But once we understand the Doctrines of Grace, the pressure to force a “decision” is removed. Now, we witness because we want to be faithful to our dear Lord. Evangelism among Calvinists is driven by the familiar phrase “By His grace, and for His glory!” No, Calvinism shouldn’t hinder evangelism. If anything, it should give our witnessing great boldness with pure motives.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White

“How do God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will work together in salvation?”

Answer:
It is impossible for us to fully understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will and responsibility. Only God truly knows how they work together in His plan of salvation. With this doctrine, probably more so than with any other, it is crucially important to admit our inability to fully grasp the nature of God and our relationship with Him. Going too far to either side results in a distorted understanding of salvation.

Scripture is clear that God determines who will be saved (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2). Ephesians 1:4 tells us that God chose us “before the creation of the world.” The Bible repeatedly describes believers as the “chosen” (Romans 8:33, 11:5; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2, 2:9) and the “elect” (Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 11:7; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1). The fact that believers are predestined (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5, 11) and elected for salvation (Romans 9:11, 11:28; 2 Peter 1:10) is clear.

The Bible also says that we are responsible for receiving Christ as Savior. If we believe in Jesus Christ we will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10). God knows who will be saved and God chooses who will be saved, and we must choose Christ in order to be saved. How these facts work together is impossible for a finite mind to comprehend (Romans 11:33-36). Our responsibility is to take the gospel to the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). We should leave foreknowledge, election, and predestination up to God and simply be obedient in sharing the gospel.

Recommended Resource: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

“What does ‘Many are called but few are chosen’ in Matthew 22:14 mean?”

Answer:
This statement is the conclusion to the Parable of the Wedding Feast. Jesus spoke this parable to show what the kingdom of heaven will be like when the end of the age comes. In the parable, the king sends his servants out to gather the wedding guests to the wedding feast. But those invited refused to come, some because they were too busy with their own worldly pursuits and some because they were positively hostile toward the king. So the king commands his servants to go out and invite anyone they find, and many come and fill the wedding hall. But the king sees one man without wedding clothes, and he sends him away. Jesus concludes by saying that many are called/invited to the kingdom, but only those who have been “chosen” and have received Christ will come. Those who try to come without the covering of the blood of Christ for their sins are inadequately clothed and will be sent into “outer darkness,” (v. 13) i.e., hell.

Many people hear the call of God which comes through His revelation of Himself through two things—the creation and the conscience within us. But only the “few” will respond because they are the ones who are truly hearing. Jesus said many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35). The point is that everyone has ears, but only a few are listening and responding. Not everyone who hears the gospel receives it but only the “few” who have ears to hear. The “many” hear, but there is no interest or there is outright antagonism toward God. Many are called or invited into the kingdom, but none are able to come on their own. God must draw the hearts of those who come; otherwise they will not (John 6:44).

Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” God creates life, grants repentance and gives faith. Man is totally unable by himself to do these things which are necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven. Ephesians 1:4-6: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Salvation is by God’s will and pleasure for His glory. John 6:37-39, 44-45: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”

So, all of God’s “chosen” will be saved without exception; they will hear and respond because they have spiritual ears to hear the truth. God’s power makes this certain. Romans 8:28-30: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew (loved) he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

How do we know if we are among the few that have ears to hear? By responding to the call. Assurance of this certain call, this chosen call, is from the Holy Spirit. Consider Philippians 1:6, which says, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13.) If we listen with our spiritual ears and respond to the invitation, there will be fear and trembling in our souls as we recognize that it was God’s work in us that caused our salvation.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White

“What does it mean that God draws us to salvation?”

Answer:
The clearest verse on God’s drawing to salvation is John 6:44 where Jesus declares that “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Greek word translated “draw” is helkuo, which means “to drag” (literally or figuratively). Clearly, this drawing is a one-sided affair. God does the drawing to salvation; we who are drawn have a passive role in the process. There is no doubt that we respond to His drawing us, but the drawing itself is all on His part.

Helkuo is used in John 21:6 to refer to a heavy net full of fish being dragged to the shore. In John 18:10 we see Peter drawing his sword, and in Acts 16:19 helkuo is used to describe Paul and Silas being dragged into the marketplace before the rulers. Clearly, the net had no part in its being drawn to the shore, Peter’s sword had no part in being drawn, and Paul and Silas did not drag themselves to the marketplace. The same can be said of God’s drawing of some to salvation. Some come willingly, and some are dragged unwillingly, but all eventually come, although we have no part in the drawing.

Why does God need to draw us to salvation? Simply put, if He didn’t, we would never come. Jesus explains that no man can come unless the Father draws him (John 6:65). The natural man has no ability to come to God, nor does he even have the desire to come. Because his heart is hard and his mind is darkened, the unregenerate person doesn’t desire God and is actually an enemy of God (Romans 5:10). When Jesus says that no man can come without God’s drawing him, He is making a statement about the total depravity of the sinner and the universality of that condition. So darkened is the unsaved person’s heart that he doesn’t even realize it: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, it is only by the merciful and gracious drawing of God that we are saved. In the conversion of the sinner, God enlightens the mind (Ephesians 1:18), inclines the will toward Himself, and influences the soul, without which influence the soul remains darkened and rebellious against God. All of this is involved in the drawing process.

There is a sense in which God draws all men. This is known as the “general call” and is distinguished from the “effectual call” of God’s elect. Passages such as Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:20 attest to the fact that God’s eternal power and divine nature are “clearly seen” and “understood” from what has been made, “so that people are without excuse.” But men still do deny God, and those who acknowledge His existence still do not come to a saving knowledge of Him outside of His drawing them. Only those who have been drawn through special revelation—by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God—will come to Christ.

There are tangible ways in which those who are being drawn to salvation experience that drawing. First, the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sinful state and our need for a Savior (John 16:8). Second, He awakens in us a previously unknown interest in spiritual things and creates a desire for them that was never there before. Suddenly our ears are open, our hearts are inclined toward Him, and His Word begins to hold a new and exciting fascination for us. Our spirits begin to discern spiritual truth that never made sense to us before: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Finally, we begin to have new desires. He places within us a new heart that inclines toward Him, a heart that desires to know Him, obey Him, and walk in the “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) that He has promised.

Recommended Resource: Faith Alone, The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters by Thomas Schreiner

“What is salvation? What is the Christian doctrine of salvation?”

Answer:
Salvation is deliverance from danger or suffering. To save is to deliver or protect. The word carries the idea of victory, health, or preservation. Sometimes, the Bible uses the words saved or salvation to refer to temporal, physical deliverance, such as Paul’s deliverance from prison (Philippians 1:19).

More often, the word “salvation” concerns an eternal, spiritual deliverance. When Paul told the Philippian jailer what he must do to be saved, he was referring to the jailer’s eternal destiny (Acts 16:30-31). Jesus equated being saved with entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24-25).

What are we saved from? In the Christian doctrine of salvation, we are saved from “wrath,” that is, from God’s judgment of sin (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). Our sin has separated us from God, and the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Biblical salvation refers to our deliverance from the consequence of sin and therefore involves the removal of sin.

Who does the saving? Only God can remove sin and deliver us from sin’s penalty (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5).

How does God save? In the Christian doctrine of salvation, God has rescued us through Christ (John 3:17). Specifically, it was Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection that achieved our salvation (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 1:7). Scripture is clear that salvation is the gracious, undeserved gift of God (Ephesians 2:5, 8) and is only available through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).

How do we receive salvation? We are saved by faith. First, we must hear the gospel—the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:13). Then, we must believe—fully trust the Lord Jesus (Romans 1:16). This involves repentance, a changing of mind about sin and Christ (Acts 3:19), and calling on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

A definition of the Christian doctrine of salvation would be “The deliverance, by the grace of God, from eternal punishment for sin which is granted to those who accept by faith God’s conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.” Salvation is available in Jesus alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and is dependent on God alone for provision, assurance, and security.

Recommended Resource: Making Sense of Salvation by Wayne Grudem

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: