Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Chapter 1 Part 1.4 Yesterday, we began looking at the Lausannne Covenant  that states in part, "World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world" and we began to look at the idea of the "whole world." Today, we'll only begin to look at the "whole Church." 

We should start by stating that the "whole Church" is to participate in "world evangelization." That much is clear. But what is the Church? That seems to be a question many are asking today.  If you ask 10 people you might get 10 different answers. You will still find at least a few who says it is the "building" that they go to on Sunday morning to attend "service."  Others might say it is "the people" which is certainly truer but what people are we talking about? Is it just anyone who attends the "church" building on Sunday?

Question: How have you answered the question - what is church? 

Why are there so many different answers? Maybe because the Bible simply doesn't give one clear definition while using the word "Church" over 114 times (NIV 2011). One thing we can know for sure is that the church is not an inanimate object like a building. Another thing that becomes clear is that the church does center around meetings at part of its life (Romans 16:5, 1 Cor 16:9, Philemon 1:2). We also find the Church isn't confined to a single meeting place but is often referred to as a citywide or regional expression (See Revelation Chapter 2&3). And, we must understand that no mere human is the head of the Church but Christ himself sovereignly rules over his Church (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 1:22). That the Church is the people who meet together, geographically, the "Head" of whom is Jesus Christ, only begins to tells us something of what the Church is, or at least what's it's supposed to be. But we need to go deeper if we are going to live sent today.

The word "Church" is from Greek "ekklēsia" which is derived from two other Greek word which translated as "call out of" and is defined as "an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating." One natural questions that we might want to ask then is "what is being deliberated?" One answer should be apparent by now - the mission of God. But how do we answer this questions in light of our "sent-ness" and the expanse of what is "missions"? No easy formula will do.

Here Wright has a caution for us.
"There is a danger in that the expression "the whole Church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world" turns the church into nothing more than a delivery mechanism for the message. All that matters is "getting the job done" - preferably as soon as possible."
I have long thought that was a good thing, "finishing the task" seems to be the top priority, or is it? "Get er dun"may require some additionally thinking in light of the mission of God's people. If the Church in "finishing the task" becomes so "mechanistic" that we neglect other aspects of our "sent-ness" we may hinder the knowledge of the glory of God from filling the earth as the Lord desires. Then we might well be seen as "unChristian." Wright adds...
"...there are a range of questions we need to ask about the "whole Church" that have to do with such things like integrity, justice, unity and inclusion, and Christlikeness." 

The Church is to be more than just a "delivery mechanism" or "postal service" delivering a message. Certainly the message is key but if we are sent in the same way that Jesus was and "...our mission is to share good news" then  "we need to be good news people..." What then are we deliberating as "good news people?" Wright suggests that the answer to that question is "the embodiment of the message in life and action."Accordingly, the Apostle Paul helps us to grasp the "whole Church" when he writes about the "ekklÄ“sia" as,  "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Ephesians 1:23). As the "called out" ones, what that means I think we may discover in our pursuit of living sent today. 

Question: how would you describe the "fullness of him?"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Mission of God's People -Chapter 1 - Part 1.3 far we have begun to look at two important ideas. First the expanse of Biblical "sent-ness" in Part 1.1 and second the broadness of  Biblical "missions" in Part 1.2. What is important to keep in mind here is the single-minded purpose of God's Mission, for that is the real story. We haven't yet examined this in detail (Wright writes a several hundred tome on this in his "Mission of God") but I think we can best understand why God is doing what he is doing by grasping a paramount truth about who Jesus Christ is for God's purpose. Paul puts it simply like this - "so that in everything (Christ) might have the supremacy." (Col 1:18b - edit mine). Unless we give first importance to the fact that Jesus is first in everything we will not, we cannot, live as we are sent. 

In Part 1.2 we saw that "missions is everything." What profoundly makes this true is that "Christ is all, and is in all" (Colossians 3:11). Jesus Christ has the supremacy in everything - the First, the Last, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of everything (Colossians 1:16-17). He invaded earth, God incarnate as a human, to make all things new again (Rev 21:5). He came to cancel the Genesis curse  (Genesis 3, Gal 3:13) and establish a New Creation (2 Cor 5:17) for his Kingdom. He told us how and when his purposes would be fulfilled when he told us his "gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14). The Good News is that Jesus is "all!" We need to understand what the Gospel is, not based on our limited ideas about it, but the "everything" of who Christ is for, so we give live sent today. 

Wright turns his attention next to unpacking the definition of "mission" as expressed in the Lausanne Covenant that says: "World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole World." Think about this. Being "sent" is all encompassing so then it should follow it should involve "whole Church." "Missions" is everything we do, for the purposes of God, which should include everything (Acts 17:28).  It follows then that  it should be everywhere we "go" and include the "whole World." And, since "Christ is all,"  the Gospel is all about all of him so we are to live on mission with the "whole Gospel." Anything less and we aren't living as sent for his fullest.

Here's the crux of the matter I think: Everything we are and everything we do  and everywhere we go must be established on the fact that "Christ is all and is in all." That we can say is the mission of God's people. Pretty simple, right? Simple but not easy, for it goes against our understanding of ourselves but it is a truth we need to understand better because it is the story we are part of.

Question: How does this idea that "Christ is all and in all" square with your theology?

Wright unpacks the Lausanne Covenant and looks at the 3 "wholes" being expressed. Today, we will only look at  the first "whole" - the "whole World" briefly. Consider some of the questions Wright is asking here in light of the fact that "Christ is all and is in all."
  " many churches that are keen on mission, or how many mission agencies that pursue their agendas with urgency and zeal pause to think about the great story - where it has come from so far, what shape is has from the whole Bible (not just missionary verses), and where is it going? And yet if our mission efforts lose touch with that story or set off on all kinds of tangents from it, we have to ask: Whose mission are we on? What agenda are we pursuing?"
"The reality is, of course, as soon as you think seriously about it, that the mission field is everywhere (the whole world), including your own street - wherever there is rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" 
"...what about the rest of life? What about the rest of the "world" - the world of work, the public arena, the world of business, education, politics, medicine, sports, and the like? In what sense is that world the arena of the mission of God's people, and what does such mission consist of? Is it only the moment of evangelistic opportunities in the world, or can our work itself participate in God's mission?" the people of God have any responsibility to the rest of human society in general beyond the imperative of evangelism?" 
Question: How does the truth that "Christ is all and in all" impact "all" of life? Should it or are there boundaries? Or, those boundaries Biblical?

John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the "whole World" that he gave his "whole" Son, not desiring to hold anything back, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have a "whole" life." That's my revision of this verse if indeed "Christ is all" and he is!  How we live out this whole truth is a journey of discovering what living sent today really means.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Chapter 1 - Part 1.2

Singular or plural? Mission or missions? Does God have one mission and many "missions? We do have a tendency to define these words according to our own traditions and our missiology, if we have even given much thought to the later. As we saw yesterday, biblically, there is a broadness to our "sent-ness." Then should it not follow that there is a broadness of "mission" and  "missions" as well? No and yes. 

As Evangelicals our focus has been, at least for the better part of the last century and a half on a narrowly defined "Word" based missions. It is important to understand that this wasn't always the case. More on that later. We need to understand the distinction between these two words if we are going to live sent today. But we can say unequivocally that God has a single mission but many missions.

The fact is "missional" thinking is shifting today and Evangelicals are accepting a broader definition of evangelism than simply "Word." The importance of "Deed" in our evangelism, our Good News,  is being motivated by a younger generations who want to be "world-changers" and are much more action oriented. What then becomes "missions"? Is it just anything or are there activities that do not fit under the category of "missions?" And who is to say what is and is not "missions?" Or, "missional?"

Wright uses a comparison of the world of  "science" to answer this "mission" sensitive question. He says we can speak about a generic, by which I think he means universal, concept of science which is simply defined as "knowing" or "the state of knowing as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding." And we can "know" about a vast variety of subjects so we speak of the "sciences" which includes many different disciplines and the pursuit of knowledge of every conceivable, measurable and observable element of the universe. A vast array of sciences fit under the heading science. The same can be said of "art" or "sport," so what about "missions?"

Question: How have you defined mission and/or missions? 

Here is Wright's take: 
 "When I speak of mission, I am thinking of all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose. Mission, like science, has a conceptual, generic breadth, and a word like missional can be as broad in significance as "scientific." And, I would suggest that the word "missionary" should have the same kind of breadth of possibility as the word "scientist."
"But when I speak of missions, I am thinking of the multitude of activities that God's people can engage in, by means `of which they participate in God's mission. And it seems to me there are as many kinds of missions as there are kinds of sciences - probably far more in fact."
Question: How does this challenge your idea of what "missions" is? 

So is everything missions then? There is a saying that "if everything is missions, then nothing is missions." But that really is not a very well reasoned argument.  As we saw in Part 1.1 God sends his people out to do all manner of activities from preaching to teaching to famine relief to administration. Consider the missions of Jesus as he states it for us in Luke 4:14-20. Certainly there we see an expanse of Jesus missions and it was said of him  "He has done everything well" (Mark 7:37). He also did everything for a single purpose (Isaiah 42:1-9, John 5:19, John 17:1-4)  And since we are sent in the same way that Jesus was ( John 20:21), should it not follow that everything we do be done well for the knowledge of the glory of God to be made known (Matthew 5:16)? On that point I don't think there is any legitimate debate. Wright concludes, "it would seem more Biblical to say, ' if everything is missions...then everything is missions."

Wright clarifies that not everything is cross-cultural evangelistic mission  but "everything a Christian and a Christian church is, says, and does should be missional in its conscious participation in the mission of God in God's world." Wouldn't it be wonderful to be liberated from the judgmentalism that is still prevalent in much of Christians missions? Understanding a broad concept of "missions," I think, will go a long way toward Living Sent Today.

Question: If "missions" is everything how does that begin to change how we think about our life?


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Chapter 1 - Part 1.1

Wright titles his opening chapter with this question - "Who are we and what are we here for?" A good starter question for developing a Biblical theology for the "The Mission of God's People." I have called this blog 'Living Sent Today' for a number of reasons but answering this question - "Who are we and what are we here for?" - is at the heart of what it means to Live Sent. We won't "live sent" if we don't understand who we are and what we are here for. Without a Biblical understanding of the answer to this vital all-important question  we will try to live life on our terms. As is so often the case we will then struggle with an answer for ourselves. I know I did for many years. Or, perhaps we won't even consider an answer thinking there isn't one or it doesn't really matter. But is that really anyway to live or just mere existence?
Question - How would you answer this question and how has that changed throughout your life?

The first chapter is filled with other thoughtful questions that will guide the rest of the book, but here Wright sets the stage for what is to come. One of the first questions asked is - "sent to do what?" That is a good starting place, because as Wright does point out answering that question is often a matter of contentious debate between Christians and has been throughout the centuries. Do we narrowly or broadly answer that question? Our answer often depends on the traditions we come from. There are probably as many answers as there are denominations.

Wright however answers the question by looking at several Biblical examples:

"...the range of things for which people were sent is staggeringly board. "Sending language is used in the following stories. Joseph was sent (unwittingly at first) to be in a position to save lives from a famine (Genesis 45:7). Moses was sent (unwillingly at first) to deliver people from oppression and exploitation (Exodus 3:10 ). Elijah was sent to influence the course of  international politics (1 Kings 19:15-18). Jeremiah was sent to proclaim God's Word (e.g. Jer. 1:7). Jesus claimed the words of Isaiah that we was sent to proclaim good news, to proclaim freedom, to give sight for the blind and to offer release from oppression (Lk 4:6-19, cf Isa. 61:1)."
"The disciples were sent to were sent to preach and demonstrate the delivering and healing power of the reign of God (Matt. 10:5-8). As apostles they were sent to make disciples, baptize and teach (Matt 28:18-20). Jesus sent them into the world in the same way the Father had sent him, which raises lots of interesting questions and challenges (John 17:18; 20:21). Paul and Barnabas were sent with famine relief (Acts 11:27-30). Later they were sent for evangelism and church planting (Acts 13:1-3). Titus was sent to ensure trustworthy and transparent financial administration (2 Cor. 8:16-24). Later he was sent for competent church administration (Titus 1:5). Apollos was sent as a skilled Bible teacher for church nurture (Acts 18:27-28). Many unnamed brothers and sisters were sent out as itinerant teachers for the sake of the truth of the Gospel (3 John 5-8).
 Biblically, then, there are many ways for Living Sent Today. Wright concludes on this point:

"So, even if we agree that the concept of sending and being sent lies at the heart of mission, there is a broad range of Biblically sanctioned activities that people may be sent by God to do, including famine relief, actions for justice, preaching, evangelism, teaching, healing and administration.
Question - how does this broad approach challenge your understanding? 

I think when we understand this broadness of "sentness" we are better able to live sent everywhere we go and it goes a long way in answering the question - "what are we here for?" The answer simply put becomes "we are here to do our Master's bidding." And, as we see from these examples that takes on many "missional" forms. But is everything mission then? Not necessarily. Wright points out that "mission" must flow from the "Mission of God," which flows from the Grand Narrative of Scripture. God has a purpose but Wright also points out that it is "board indeed"...

"Mission arises from the heart of God himself, and is communicated from his heart to our. Mission is the global outreach of the global people of a global God."
The answer to the first part of the question - "Who are we...? then flows out of God's mission, being defined by God, for and by his mission of for us of Living Sent Today.

Question - Who are you living for?  How do you define your life's purpose?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Mission of God's People - Introduction

I will be blogging through  Christopher J.H. Wright "The Mission of God's People - A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission."In the preface Professor Wright asks - "what is our mission?" A simple questions with a profound but not well understood answer. A simple answer might be - "to know God and make him know" - but if it was that simple why aren't more actually engaged in that mission. Wright unpacks this question and I want to understand the answer better so I have decided to blog through "The Mission of God's People." Today, I just want to set the stage for that journey which may require many weeks and I have no time table but will attempt to blog a chapter a week (there are 15 chapters). But I think it is vital we are able to answer the question well. Based on my prior reading of Wright I think he might have a good answer.

In 2008, after completing the Perspectives Study Program for the first time, I along with a few of my course mates ventured to read together Wright's earlier book "The Mission of God - Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative." It is a tome - which simply means, I my opinion, overly lengthy from a verbose though well informed writer. Wright's tome opened my eyes even further to the amazing story we are in - the story of God's glory and his mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of who he is. "The Mission of God" is a challenging but worthy read for any serious student of the Bible who wants to understand the "Grand Narrative" of scripture.

The fact is, that should be anyone who says they want to follow Christ because Jesus is the central figure of the Bible from beginning to end and he is on mission. In fact, I would say, it is inadequate to say "I am a Christ follower" without a at least a good understanding of the glorious story woven through Scripture because it is His-Story. I find it tragic that only 1 in 10 people who say that are Christians are said to have a Biblical worldview. If we don't understand what the Bible teaches us how can we live the life we're called to? But for those few who have what is considered a "Biblical worldview," however we define that, the fact is even fewer understand, in any depth, this Grand Narrative.

Why do I believe this is true? My involvement with the Perspectives Study Program tells me it is, at least anecdotally. I can't tell you the number of times Perspectives students have come to me after we complete the Biblical Perspective (the first five lessons) saying - "I have been in church my whole life, how come I have never been taught this before?" My simple response is, "because it is not taught." Perspectives, over 30 plus years, has graduated about 150,000 students, globally. There are possibly 100 million Evangelical Bible-believing Christians in the U.S. (about 30% of U.S. population). Do the math - only 1 out of 666 (0.15%) Bible believing Christians understand the story the Bible is telling us. Of course, this is a less than scientific analysis but it clearly shows we have much work to do in understanding what the Lord requires of us. Observation tells us this is true too.

Even for those who do live on mission many still do not know this Grand Narrative. This too has been my experience as many seasoned "missionaries," with years of living for God's mission, have their hearts and my minds expanded when they take Perspectives. As one of many examples, I remember one 30 year veteran of Wycliffe giving testimony that after completing the Biblical section she now saw her ministry in a whole new light because she understood the story she was in. There are many other similar stories. People become passionate about Perspectives because they become passionate about His-Story. But the Church simply has not done a good job of understanding the meta-narrative, God's cosmic tale, the story we are called to enter, live out and to go and tell. We may understand parts of the story but that is like seeing a single tree and missing the grandeur of the forest. We need a bigger vision!

The fact is very few local churches, therefore local pastors, teach the "Mission of God." They might teach elements of the Grand Narrative - favorite stories, or doctrines, principles and life applications from the Story. But if we don't teach Christ followers the "Mission of God" how can we expect them to live the "Mission of God's People"? Should it be any wonder then why so few do? Paul asks in Romans 10:5, "And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But you may protest - "I am not a preacher or a pastor or a missionary so this doesn't apply to me." Doesn't it though? I think that is what we'll discover as we better understand His-Story, the "Mission of God's People" and our role in it.

The first chapter of "The Mission of God's People" is entitled "Who are we and what are we here for?"  Answering that question will go a long way in Living Sent Today. If you want to come along on the journey you can get the book here. Shalom.