Conversion or transformation

One of the questions that mission theology and missionaries have asked more than any other question is one which you may think is daft, what is mission? Andrew Kirk even wrote a book with that title. Surely as a missionary, a missionary trainer and a missional theologian, that's a question I should have been able to answer years ago; but it keeps on coming up.

This is, perhaps a question that Evangelicals have come to later than their ecumenical or Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. We were concerned not to lose sight of the gospel, which I would suggest the ecumenical movement did in the 1960s to 1980s. The gospel transforms individual lives in the form of a conversion, a metanoia, a change of mind. The idea that the gospel transforms society, apart from sounding dangerously close to Communism, lost the individual aspect of transformation. So there we stayed for years.

The recapture of an eschatological approach to mission by Evangelical Theologians like George Eldon Ladd and C. Rene Padilla have revived the idea of Inaugurated Eschatology. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ inaugurated the kingdom of God and in his second coming he will fulfill it. In the mean time the Church, with the living presence of God in the Holy Spirit, lives out the values of the kingdom of God now.

Now those "values of the kingdom of God" were demonstrated primarily in every aspect of the birth, life and teaching of Jesus as well as the manner of His death and resurrection. Clearly the rest of the New Testament also bear witness to this as well as the Hebrew Bible.

So the answer to the question I posed in the title is, both. Individual conversion is important as well as societal transformation. The call to repentance and faith (discipleship), the planting of living communities of faith (Churches), the care of the poor, the confrontation with the powers of evil (human and demonic) and the care of creation are all parts of the values of this kingdom inaugurated by Jesus, announced, lived out and worked towards by the Church and to be fulfilled in Jesus' second coming.



Wholistic worship

What does worship look like from the perspective of a wholistic understanding of the Gospel? If mission is not only to do with the "spiritual" but also the physical, social and environmental, then what would worship look like?

At its most simple level, worship is declaring the worth of God and praising him for it. Now the God we worship and his actions in history go far beyond the salvation of individuals to the reconciliation of all creation (Eph 1:10).  Our worship should reflect that.

Psalm 67 is a good place to start. This Psalm has the double virtue of being both missionary and wholistic. It is written in a concentric form with verses 1-2 and 6-7 linking the blessing of God on Israel to the knowledge of God in rest of the earth. Verses 3 and 5 expresses the wish that all the peoples should praise the Lord. Verse 4 explains the reason that the nations should praise the Lord as Israel does; because He rules with justice and guides the nations.

The blessing of God on Israel was not ultimately for Israel's benefit it was for the benefit of knowledge of God among the nations. This leads to the glory of God and the possible salvation of the nations. Israel are not the only ones called upon to praise the Lord the nations are as well. This is declaring his deeds in history and on the earth. He is the God who does justice for the peoples and guides nations in righteousness and justice.



Evangelistic disciple-making

I am reading a very interesting book right now, recommended by a friend (Thanks Carol Kingston-Smith). Salvation means creation healed: the ecology of sin and Grace, overcoming the divorce between earth and heaven by Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett. It is a theological investigation into a wholistic understanding of salvation. Salvation is not simply "souls saved" but creation restored; salvation is understood as cosmic rather than individual.

It looks at how Evangelical Christianity divorced heaven and earth and ended with a "religious" worldview rather than a spiritual one. Then they move onto a theological basis for salvation and the gospel, followed by reflections on mission and finally the church as a healed and healing community.

The Goal of disciple making is to form a community that looks and acts like Jesus, that shows forth the character of Christ and the power of the spirit in its social context. The church does this by being a reconciled and reconciling community. It does this most effectively when it visibly embodies reconciliation between rich and poor, men and women, and the people of different racial and ethnic identities. Discipline evangelism thus includes what is sometimes called lifestyle evangelism--the persuasive influence of Christians' lives as persons and community. Jesus stressed "By this by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another (John 13:35) .

page 143.


Can't do justice to Micah 6:8

Regular readers of this blog will know I was recently at the Micah Global Conference in Lima, Peru. The theme that ran through the meetings was shalom. The word goes beyond "peace" to include salvation and well-being. One important point to make is that without justice there can be no peace.

Micah Global takes its name, of course, from Micah 6:8

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.

Acting justly or doing justice is a fundamental Christian responsibility. As a disciple of Jesus Christ we cannot avoid the idea of doing justice. Doing justice has many aspects to it such as advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:5), protesting injustice etc. I would suggest that living the Lordship of Jesus Christ sums up well what doing justice is.

The earliest Christian statement of faith was simply "Jesus is Lord" begs the question Lord of what? This put the first Christians on a collision course with the Roman Empire. Romans said that "Caesar is Lord". The Christians were saying, "No, Jesus is". This is why the Christians were persecuted.

Jesus taught us to pray "may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This very much sums up the ideas of justice. Justice is not being fair it is siding with the victims as Jesus did, ultimately upon the cross.


What do I care about?

What do I really care about? Christians are supposed to care, right? But do we? If being a disciple of Jesus Christ is only about me and my relationship with God. Loving God does not mean loving my neighbour. But if love of God and love of neighbour are intimately linked then...

Being part of a loving community, gathered around Jesus Christ is a privilege, however, that privilege can never be put above the love we should have for those outside the church and especially those who are suffering.  There is a chorus in Spanish, Somos un pequeño pueblo muy feliz. We are a happy little people. It almost seems to encapsulate much of our Evangelical Christianity today. We may love one another in Church but this is where it stays.

In that nefarious little rag, the Daily Mail yesterday ran a story telling all who wanted to hear that each refugee that the UK took was going to cost us £24,000. Images of drowned children and lost Syrian refugees sleeping rough in Calais or walking along railway lines in Slovakia do not seem to melt the hard hearts of the writers of such hatred.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means our hearts should not be melting but breaking when we see such scenes. Being an integral Christian hurts but we still should be doing something about suffering.



Community disciples do Integral Mission

Yesterday we looked at the, so-called, Great Commission and its injunction to teach other disciples to obey everything Jesus had commanded as Integral Mission. Today it will be good to return to the same passage and recognise the role of the community in Integral Mission.

Baptism is the key here. I have been members of various Baptist Churches in my life and have witnessed various baptisms. I also have witnessed Christenings in both Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. I seems to me that Baptist Churches tend to miss out on an important aspect of baptism.

Now I am not saying that we get it wrong. Witness to new faith, dying to the old life and rising to the new and of course the big splash are all great. However, for the early Christian and in the Jewish world, baptism was the sign of you associating with, and committing yourself to, a new community. John the Baptist was baptising those who wanted to associate themselves with the community preparing themselves for the coming of Messiah.

The Disciples are commissioned in Matthew 28 to baptise into the Triune name.

baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Christian baptism is associating ourselves with the divine community of love and purpose that is, what we call, the Trinity. By extension we are being baptised into the community of that divine community, the Church.

In Eastern Orthodox theology the Church is referred to as the "Icon of the Trinity". It is the image of God on earth. Or at least it should be. What we could refer to the intratrinitarian of the persons of the Trinity should be a mark of the Church. And as with the Trinity, that love overflows to the world.

This love can only be worked out in a local church which meets, care and loves one another. The commission to disciple is to form local communities that will love one another and love the world; through witness and service.


Being a disciple is doing Integral Mission

The Great Commission, every student of mission should know it by heart. There are various problems with thinking of the Great Commission. Firstly, people think that Matthew 28: 18-20 is the only commission: there are commissions in Mark, Luke, John and Acts. Secondly, and specific to the Matthew commission, they think that discipleship is a course one does at the beginning of your Christian life. Often a 10 week course teaching people the "spiritual disciplines" of Bible reading, prayer, confession, etc. Discipleship is a whole life exercise. The biggest problem--which I guess stems from the previous problem is that discipleship is a religious concept. When I "googled" an image for this blogpost, I encountered loads of pictures of Bible studies, church services, baptismal services, hands praying. This illustrates the problem. Let's quickly look at what Matthew 28:18-20 actually says.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

We are told to go and make disciples" or learners of Jesus Christ, he who gives us the authority to do this. This is the commission: make disciples. We are further told to baptise them, which is bringing them into a community and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.

When we first arrived in Argentina, I led a devotional time on this at the Kairos Centre in Buenos Aires and Cathy Padilla, Rene Padilla first wife corrected me because I had said "teach them everything I have commanded". Her point was, quite rightly, that to teach to obey presupposes the person doing the discipling is also obeying!

As a exegete (person interpreting the Bible) the first thing we should do is find out what Jesus taught the disciples to obey in the book of Matthew. And then we would broaden it out to the other Gospels, then the rest of the New Testament and eventually, if you had time and inclination to do so, to the whole Bible.

There is a lot of teaching that Jesus does in Matthew. It is generally accepted that there are 5 blocks of teaching in Matthew.

My father came up with an interesting outline of Jesus' teaching in Matthew

  1. The kingdom in the present (Matthew 5-7: Sermon on the Mount). It belongs to the poor in spirit and those persecuted for the cause of justice (5.3 and 10)
  2. The mission of the disciples (10). To preach the nearness of the kingdom (10:7)
  3. The nature of the kingdom (13:1-52) and the rejection of the prophet of the kingdom (13.53-58)
  4. The life of the community of the kingdom (18.1-21)
  5. The kingdom in the future (24-25). The sign of the preaching of the kingdom to the nations (24.14).

Even if we simply take the first block of teaching we can see how Integral the life of the kingdom of God is. Discipleship is not only teaching people to pray and fast (Matthew 6:1-18) but about the life of sacrifice, forgiveness and love; being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and doing justice which better than religion (Matthew 12:28-34). Being a disciple is doing Integral mission.


Evangelism and Integral Mission

I remember when I was about 13 I decided to take my parents faith seriously and get baptised. This was now my faith and I wanted to live it out. Part of that living out of my faith I wanted to witness to my school mates. So I started to talk about the Gospel. I had mentioned this term "Good News" various times in conversation when I was asked a serious question. I remember it clearly. We were in the metalwork department at John Warner School in Hoddesdon. "What is this 'Good News' you keep talking about?" I really should have been prepared but really I wasn't. "Er," I said. "If you believe in Jesus, you'll go to heaven when you die." My friend was not impressed. Now most 13 year old boys believe that they are immortal anyway and he would have a long time to decide whether my message was good news or not. I was probably not on very biblically safe ground with my explanation and now have a rather wider understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

That story serves to illustrate that a great deal of our theology of mission is based upon what we understand to be the Good News or, in short, the Gospel.

The first words of the Micah Declaration on Integral Mission say

Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.

This declaration is suggesting that the Gospel is transformative in every aspect of human life. Evangelism is not simply the invitation to enjoy the benefits of Christ's work but to take on the responsibility of the transformation of the social reality in which we live.

The proclamation we take part in is not the sales department of heaven but the proclamation of the establishment of the kingdom of God on this earth. It is a proclamation of the whole council of God not the individualistic ticket to heaven that much of evangelical evangelism has been about.

As Christians our salvation is not simply from the consequences of sin but the power of sin as well. We are released from the slavery of sin to become slave of Christ. That is to live as he wants us to. True freedom is not freedom to myself but freedom to be Christ's servant.


God's mission and ours

Mission theologians generally are in agreement that mission is not simply a task of the church but THE task of the church. This is not because we have been commanded or commissioned to do this task--although, of course, we have--but because God is a missionary God. God is the one who carries out the divine mandate. This is because God's very character is also missionary. God reaches out to his creation constantly.

The missionary task of the church finds its meaning in the missionary nature of God. The God we encounter in the Bible is not on some sort of divine ego trip, demanding loyalty from a recalcitrant creation but one who draws humanity back to himself for humanity's own good. This is the God we see in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ demonstrates the nature of true divinity (Philippians 2:5-8) and by extension true humanity (Genesis 1:26-28). The task of the Church is to reflect that missionary character of God. God, in community reaching out to the world. The divine love overflowing the intratrinitarian nature to the world, as if the love the Trinity has for each other is too great to be contained within the Trinitarian life! That is a crazy statement to make--but true.

The missionary task of the church is to reflect that divine life, in fact that truly human life--that is made in that divine image. The love of the church for each other overflowing to the world in witness and service. This make integral mission not some much a task the church must do but a task that the church cannot not do.

So God's mission is to be God. The church's mission is to be the church.


Do we really know God?

We often use the phrase for people becoming Christians as "coming to know the Lord". I am not entirely convinced that as Christians we know the Lord at all. We speak of God as if the divine nature begins and ends with Jesus. I use his human name advisedly. He is not even Jesus Christ--Jesus the Messiah--he is just Jesus. This leads to our faith becoming an issue of me and Jesus. Not even as it should be Jesus and me. Our faith is in God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In short our faith, is in the triune God or as the Church has understood it, God in Trinity.

An individualistic understanding of our God has led to an individualistic understanding of the mission of the Church. The God we know from the New Testament is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The so-called Great Commission commands that disciples are baptised into the Truine name. God is, therefore, a community.

This is the massive insight of, what became know as, the Cappadocian Fathers and later in the 8th Century John of Damascus referred to the interpenetration of the persons of the Trinity, recognizing that not only in being, but also in purpose and love, the Trinity is a community. It is in this image that human beings were created given the task of increasing, multiplying and filling the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). The very being of God makes sense of the being and task of humanity.

So what does this mean for mission, and especially that that mission should be integral? Well, simply that mission is the task of a community to form community and to be a community. Given that we live in a fractured and lonely world, mission cannot be simply saving individual souls from the raging sea of history to populate Jesus' own personal Olympus, neither can it be relieving poverty, opposing injustice or preserving creation. I am not saying that evangelism, service to the poor, advocacy for people and the earth are not part of mission or are not valid expressions of God's love but I am saying that the formation of community is the point from which all these take off.

We call the community have described...the church.