Today’s realities demand a new look at the biblical basis of missions. Modern missions is the fad of the few. Not since the first century has missions been given its rightful place in the ministry of the church. Of course, efforts have been made to take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth by churches, missions boards, societies, and individuals; but if we were to count all those involved in any phase of missions, the percentage would be dismally small.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MISSIONS
The results of the fad-of-the-few-mentality have been disastrous. Two misconceptions have been most damaging. First, missions is perceived as a super special assignment for extraordinary people. Nothing could be farther from God’s purpose. The Bible teaches that God’s method is to use the foolish, the weak, and the despised persons of the world to bring glory to him (1 Cor. 1:26-31). God’s purpose is to be accomplished by ordinary people who believe in and serve an extraordinary God.
Paul has been upheld as the ideal missionary for so long that many fail to realize that the spread of the gospel in the first century was accomplished primarily by people named Barnabas, Silas, Mark, Aquila, Epaphroditus, and a host of other Christians. God intends to use everyone--the Marks and the Epaphrodituses, as well as the Pauls--to accomplish his mission.
If we are to carry out God’s mission during our lifetime, we must erase from our minds the idea that only unusually gifted persons are missionaries. Such thinking discourages one from identifying himself with missions unless he thinks he has an extraordinary gift and calling. This kind of thinking places a halo over the missionary’s head, making it impossible for him to measure up to the ideal.
A second misconception fostered by the fad-of-the-few mentality is that world missions can be done by proxy. Some think missionaries are their substitutes in world evangelization. They feel satisfied to pray for missionaries, to support them, and to encourage them. All these things should be done, but doing them does not relieve each Christian of his responsibility to be involved directly in God’s mission.
Missions by proxy is the standard operating procedure In many churches. Some leave missions to the Woman’s Missionary Union and expect the women to be responsible for the church’s involvement in missions. At other times the Home Mission Board and the Foreign Mission Board are expected to take full responsibility for fulfilling the mandate that God gave to all his people. Some Christians interpret their giving as paying their part of missions gifts and thereby discharging their obligations to evangelize the world.
Missionaries, mission agencies, and mission boards are practical expressions of concern by Christians and local churches, but these alone cannot fulfill the obligation God has given to every Christian and to every church. Not everyone can be a missionary, but everyone can be on mission for God.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Let me define some terms that will be used throughout the book. By mission, I mean the total redemptive purpose of God to establish his kingdom. Missions, on the other hand, is the activity of God’s people, the church, to proclaim and to demonstrate the kingdom of God to the world. The word mission comes from the Latin word mittere meaning to send. God is both the sender end the sent (in Christ). The church is sent by God on mission and cooperates with God to send missionaries. Missionaries are set apart by God and the church to cross natural or cultural barriers with the gospel.
I make this distinction because missions always is in danger of becoming the expression of man. Missions places the church at the center of the world’s conflicts. Without a biblical base, the church will fail to be true to God’s mission. Missions can become identified easily with the culture of the sender or be seduced by elements of the culture in which it is being expressed. For example, the East India Company was charged with the task of missions to Indonesia, but it subordinated missions for the benefit of its financial empire. Resurgent nationalism around the world reacts to any attempt by outsiders to reform national cultures. People of other cultures quickly point out the inconsistent failures of Western civilization. They react to a perceived superiority complex by shouting, "Yankee, go home!" In spite of that reaction, many naive Westerners believe that if modern business techniques and advertising methods were practiced, other nations would flock to Christ. It is possible to franchise hamburgers, but a Westernized packaging of the gospel is often unpalatable to people of other nations.
God’s mission is the prime factor in missions. Just as the fruit is the product of the vine, so missions is the product--or result--of God’s mission. The way to understand missions is to begin with the vine-the mission of God. Move from the vine to the branch-the mission of the church. Then consider the fruit-missions. All three must be based on the Bible, or missions can degenerate to shallow methodology, man-made solutions, and gains that are short-lived at best.
In the first half of this book (chaps. 1-5), you will study the mission of God and the co-mission of the church. In the second half (chaps. 6-10), you will move from that theological basis to the practical expression of the mission. The biblical basis of missions encompasses both the theological and the practical aspects. However, it is not within the compass of this book to spell out all the concrete expressions of missions.
Let me alert you to three emphases in the book that could be misunderstood if not taken in the context of the whole. First, the mission of God is viewed in the order of progressive revelation--the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The three persons of the Godhead should not be seen as so distinct that the oneness of God is violated. The Son and the Spirit were active in creation and the Old Testament period. But they are more predominant in the New Testament. Second, the motif of conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil runs throughout the book, but it should not be seen as dualism. God is always Lord of all. But God has limited himself in this present time to save man and to involve him in the mission of God. Third, an eschatalogical tone surfaces occasionally. My intent is not to set a timetable or to endorse a particular interpretation. However, the Bible reflects a sense of biblical urgency for those of us living in the last days which were ushered in at Pentecost and will end at Christ’s return.
SYNOPSIS OF THE BOOK
The thesis of this book is that missions originates and culminates with God. Chapter 1 shows that God’s mission is to restore fellowship with man and make him a partner in world redemption. Man refused to be God’s partner, taking sides in the conflict between God and Satan on earth. Man cooperated with Satan and delayed God’s plan to have his will done on earth as it is in heaven. The remainder of the book traces the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan.
Chapter 2 details the mission of God’s people. God refused to be thwarted by man’s sin. He raised up a people to do his will and be obedient, servant-priests to all the nations of the world. He elected Israel, made a covenant with her, and disciplined her. But again and again Israel selfishly refused to fulfill her purpose. By the close of the Old Testament man had completely failed, and it appeared that God’s will would never be done on earth.
Chapter 3 describes how once again the mission became God’s alone. God sent Jesus as his obedient Servant-Priest to redeem man and to form a holy kingdom of priests who would demonstrate and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. Jesus fulfilled all the intent of God for Israel by becoming the disciplined Son in the incarnation, the Suffering Servant and Priest to the nations in the crucifixion, and the King of heaven and earth in the resurrection. He chose twelve disciples to be the nucleus of his new covenant people.
Chapter 4 documents how the Father and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to take Christ’s place, and to empower, inspire, and guide his chosen people in the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom to every person on earth.
Chapter 5 portrays how the church received a co-mission role with God. Christ indwells the church so it will live by the Calvary principle of priesthood, the incarnational principle of servanthood, and the resurrection principle of sonship.
Chapter 6 explores how God accomplishes his mission by multiplying disciples in all nations.
Chapter 7 discusses how God provides equippers to prepare the people of God for the work of ministry.
Chapter 8 relates how God calls all his disciples to ministry and gives them spiritual gifts to enable them to serve in the world and extend the kingdom of God.
Chapter 9 sets forth the thesis that God intercedes in the affairs of men and nations to establish his kingdom in proportion to the intercessory prayer of his people for them.
The book culminates with the mission accomplished in Chapter 10. God’s mission will be accomplished when Christ delivers the kingdom up to the Father. Meanwhile, he is giving his people every chance to be partners with him in establishing the kingdom and in preparing to reign with him.