Friday, July 11, 2008

Stating the Obvious[ly Wrong]

In the command known as the Great Commission, Jesus said, "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." Of course, we all know exactly what Jesus meant:

  • "Making disciples" means to seek the conversion of individuals.
  • The goal is to increase the number of Christians.
  • In order to be baptized, these individuals must repent, which means they must turn away from their sins.
  • The responsibility of the Church (and individual believers) is to bring unbelievers to a point of decision after presenting them with basic information about the content of the gospel.
  • After an individual is converted, then he or she learns the commands of Jesus and is encouraged to model his morality.
  • While both of these steps are important, the most important is conversion because it allows people to get into heaven.
  • A significant part of this Commission requires us to go (or send others) to other countries.
  • "All nations" refers to the countries of the world.

The problem is that each of these "obvious" facts is wrong.

But our understanding of this Commission has become ingrained in our church culture, and no one asks anymore what it means. Furthermore, many of these assumptions actually get in the way of the Church fulfilling its true mission.

If one regards it as the primary purpose of mission to increase the number of Christians and treats such increase as the criterion of success, without posing all the time the more radical questions which the gospel puts to the common assumptions of our culture, if the dominical call to "repent" is translated as "turn away from your sins" and there is no understanding of that radical overturning of the world's ideas of sin and righteousness and judgment, then there can be rapid church growth; but the very success of the burgeoning congregations may actually incapacitate them for a radical encounter with the culture into which they fit so comfortably. If religion is an affair for the private life, it can flourish in a society governed by other assumptions, taking the characteristic form which we know so well—a series of voluntary societies made up of people who share the same religious tastes. In that form Christianity can flourish, but it cannot challenge the beliefs that control public life. It has been co-opted into the culture.

Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, p. 91.

Besides, the advancement of the kingdom is not the Church's mission. It is God's mission:

Mission, then, is not essentially a human activity undertaken by the church and its leaders out of obligation to the Great Commission, gratitude for what God has done for us, and the desperate plight of the world. It is God's own mission in which we are invited to participate.

Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God, p. 161

So what is the mission of the Church?

The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, p. 17

This requires deep knowledge of God and more than a passing familiarity with the culture in which a particular congregation finds itself. It is God's embassy in a particular community.

The business of the church is to tell and to embody a story, the story of God's mighty acts in creation and redemption and of God's promises concerning what will be in the end. The church affirms the truth of this story by celebrating it, interpreting it, and enacting it in the life of the contemporary world. It has no other way of affirming its truth. If it supposes that its truth can be authenticated by reference to some allegedly more reliable truth claim, such as those offered by the philosophy of religion, then it has implicitly denied the truth by which it lives.

Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence, p. 76

So what do you think? Do you still agree with some of the "obvious facts"? Are there other "obvious facts" that you'd like to debunk?

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

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