Spirit-ectomy

One of things I struggle with is our tenancy to separate the spiritual from the social. You know, the idea that we shouldn’t get caught up in social issues because we’re working to see people’s soul’s saved. I’ve heard this type of thing a lot. The other day I read a blog post that said:

“To feed the poor without telling them of Christ is wrong…now all you’re doing is sending them to hell with a full belly.”

This blogger was saying that it is a distraction from the “main thing” (evangelism?) for us to concern ourselves with feeding the hungry, or advocating the oppressed. I’ve also heard people say, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to share the gospel.” (I’ve written about that in previous posts.) To a certain extent, the current strategy of the IMB reflects this “one or the other” mentality. “New Directions” was all about a shift in focus to church planting, but in many places we pulled out of social ministries such as schools, medical clinics, refugee services, and orphanages. My concern is that by separating the spiritual from the social, we are changing the gospel. We say we are concerned about people, but practically, we’re only concerned about, well, part of people.

The good news is not only spiritual in nature; it is social. New life in Christ is about community. Before Christ, we are out of fellowship with the Most High God. Jesus is the way to community with God. But this isn’t all there is to it. The gospel is also about community with others. In Christ we are brought into fellowship with other believers. Also, life in Him provides us with Christ’s perspective, through which we can begin to have a right relationship with the world around us.

Our focus on the “spiritual” might be why Christians struggle socially. We have a hard time relating to lost people. We are pretty ignorant about other cultures, and anything that doesn’t directly affect us. Our divorce rate is high. Lots of us fear the world and hide from it inside the walls of the “safe” “Christian” subculture. We treat people who disagree with us pretty badly. Spiritually, we’re great. Socially, it hardly looks like we’re saved. Maybe we’ve only heard the spiritual half of the gospel.

For some reason, people are afraid that I might give “a cup of cool water” to someone in need without telling them that I’m doing it in Jesus name. To me, that’s the same as sharing the “plan of salvation” and not addressing physical/social needs. It only presents a part of the gospel. Many of my missionary friends would probably say, “Yeah, but it’s the most important part of the gospel.” But I don’t think we get to make that distinction, either.

What is the Gospel?

All believers know the good news about Jesus, and most are able to sum it up in a few phrases. “Jesus loves you and has a plan for your life… All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” These things are true, and part of the gospel, but they are not the gospel. I once had a discussion (read: arguement) with a friend over “sharing the gospel in its entirey vs. sharing it in bits and pieces.” You can imagine how it went: he was of the opinion that due to the urgency of the message, and the uncertainty of our immediate futures, we ought to make the most of every opportunity to share the complete gospel with every person we could. Mostly, I disagreed with his interpretations of the concepts of urgency, opportunity, and gospel. Yes, we are in the last days of life as we know it, and time is short. Yes, we need to be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope we have, and make the most of every opportunity. But how much information must a person know in order to be saved? What is required understanding for a follower of Jesus?

No, the gospel is not information. It is a person. Jesus. He is the way, truth and life. A person knows the Most High God by meeting Jesus. Telling other people about Him, no- introducing others to Him is a huge part of who we are. But loving people unconditionally is sharing Christ. Feeding the hungry and caring for the sick is indeed being Jesus to people. It is incarnation of the Word.

Whatever Happened to “Experiencing God?”

It wasn’t long ago that Dr. Henry Blackaby was our “It” guy. His wildly popular book and Bible study giude Expereincing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, was a huge seller for Lifeway, and the SBC was happy to push it as the answer for Sunday School, small groups, discipleship, youth groups, and anyone else willing to give 10 weeks and $19.95. Some people criticized the study’s theology, others were repelled by the Law and Order-esque niche market spinoffs, such as, Experiencing God Day by Day, Experiencing God: Eddie Bauer Edition, and E to the G: Fo’ Shizzle. Despite the commercialization of it all, I think the basic idea is a good one: we should find where God is working and join Him there.

We need to “go where God is working.” But what does that mean? In Western Europe, people are slow to come to know the Lord, and few churches have been planted. Is this an indication that we ought to leave? Pull out of France, and move everyone to China, where the good news is spreading like wildfire? Should we determine our calling by looking at the results? It is impossible to measure the extent to which God is working in the hearts and lives of Western Europeans. Only God knows that. Our measure of where God is working must be the calling that he has placed on our lives. Has God called me to Italy or Spain? Then my responsibility is to stay here until I hear otherwise from Him; as difficult as it might be, whether I see “results” or not. It is a dangerous thing to get ahead of God and assume we know what He’s doing and how He’s going to do it. It is a powerful thing to be behind God, following Him every step of the way as He uses us to take His message of Life to all the people in the world.

The whole “10/40 Window”/”Final Frontier” mentality has essentially led us to look around the world, find where God isn’t working, and start something for Him there. “There are no churches in Yokelville,” we reason, “so let’s send a career family and two ISCers.” Now I understand that it’s hard for us to even know if God is working unless we’re there to see it, but God is certainly working in those places to which He is calling us. Perhaps His direction is a better guide than statistics.

Matthew 24

Missiological passages of scripture that I’m working through:

Matthew 24

v.14 “…And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

This verse has probably been the greatest scriptural influence on the “Unfinished Task” missiology. In other posts, I’ve explained my opinion that verse 14 (as the rest of the context, and Mark 13:10) is meant to be descriptive as opposed to prescriptive. In other words, while there are many passages in which Jesus’ followers are commanded to go, preach, and make disciples, this isn’t one of them. Does it still have implications for missions? Of course. It describes God’s people obedienty doing what their master told them to do while he was away. But to develop a global missions strategy based on this passage seems like a stretch.

Another problem is this idea that Jesus can’t come back until all of the people groups have heard. What about the people groups who are now extinct and never heard the gospel? And how can “the task” be finished with the birth of new people groups all the time?

v.34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

A difficult verse for literal translation. There are better treatments of this passage elsewhere. I include it here as context that further prevents me from using v.14 as missiological motivation. If we’re going to say that, based on v.14, Jesus isn’t coming back until we ‘finish the task, why not use this verse to say “Our generation won’t die until ‘the Task’ is complete?”

v.36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…”

v.42 “…Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. “

These verses in this same chapter keep me from playing the guessing game of when the Son will return. They also reminds me that His retunr isn’t up to me, or us, or our missionary success. Obedience should be the motivation for missions; obedience to directive passages of scripture, such as Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18, and to the step-by-step guidance on the Holy Spirit.

Luke 10

Missiological passages of scripture that I’m working through:

Luke 10

This Passage is often used as a template or model for missions. The concept of the “Person of Peace” comes directly from Jesus’ commission of these 72 disciples. The passage is full of wisdom and truth for all believers on mission, but we need to remember that the context of this passage is a specific historical event (mission trip) with a beginning and end.

v.1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go…”

Unlike us, these disciples went ahead of Jesus. This verse stands in contrast to Matthew 28, where Jesus says, “I am with you always.” I also think it’s important that Jesus sent people to places where He was “about to go.” While I believe that God was in Western Europe before we arrived, we have certainly seen Him work in the lives of the people around us just after our arrival.

v.2 “He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

For my thoughts on this verse, see my post, Workers.

v.4 “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.”

I’m not sure how this instruction to “travel light” applies to those of us who feel led to plant our lives in the mission field indefinately. Perhaps just that we shouldn’t ever get too comfortable on this earth?

I also wonder about the second half of this verse. It seems to contrary to the common wisdom that warns us to take every opportunity. What about the person I sit next to on the plane on my way to the field? It goes to stress the fact that we need to depend on the Holy Spirit even for guidance as to with whom we should share the gospel.

v.5-6 “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.

In our experience, God has been faithful to bring us to the Person of Peace even though we haven’t gone hunting for him/her. I think this verse speaks to the relational context of the good news; a personal connection with an unbeliever is a good sign that God is at work.

v.7-9 “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. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’”

What constitutes a welcome? As I mentioned above, I think that friendship is the welcome we should be looking for.

v.10-11 “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’”

When is it time to leave? In my posts Front Burner and Back Burner, I talk about the idea of relational ministry “dead ends,” and the desire of some to pursue especially (only?) relationships with those people who are responsive to the Good News. I believe that there are people who can drag us down and hinder our ministries, but I think these verses are talking about those times when we have no personal connection with the people to whom we are sent.

v.16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

I’ve heard lots of missionaries use this verse as an excuse for social rejection by a host culture. Usually, I want to say, “No, they aren’t rejecting you because they are rejecting the Gospel, they are rejecting you because you: a) are a proud, condescending, know-it-all stuck in American culture, b) not sharing the gospel, or c) a big dork.

v.22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

That pesky predestination keeps coming up…

v.23-24 “Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Please see my post, Passion.

Matthew 28

Missiological passages of scripture that I’m working through:

Matthew 28

v.18 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Many reasons have been given for why believers should participate in misisons. Some of them are true, some are not. Most of them use guilt as a motivator, but that’s another post. Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these:
“We’ve been blessed, so we need to be a blessing.”
“Jesus will not return until we finish the task.”
“There is such great lostness.”
“You may be the only Jesus they ever meet.”
For me, the only motivation for mission obedience. I think it’s important that here, as He gives His final instructions to His disciples, Jesus doesn’t say, “Since there is great need…” or “Because it all depends on you…” Instead, He asserts His
authority. By His authority, He sent the original disciples, and sent me.

v.19 “Therefore go and make disciples…”

It is often overlooked that Jesus gave his disciples some specific direction. As IMB representatives, we are all church planters. But the commission Jesus gives here is to make disciples. It seems clear enough, but why then, do we tend to focus on evangelism and church planting? I don’t mean to say that they are exclusive of one another, but Jesus didn’t say: “Therefore go and reach” anybody.

Another observation is that whil discipleship depends to a large extent on our obedience to God, He is the one who does the saving and the church planting. It’s good that we count things like baptisms and churches started, but let’s not measure our sucess by something God does in His timing. Those things are evidence not of our obedience, but of God working.

“of all nations,”

The greek scholars will tell you that “all nations” is translated from the greek word “ethnos.” Today, we use the term “people groups.” I like this understanding of the passage, but only in the sense that it helps us recognize that different groups have different cultural contexts. I don’t think Jesus’ use of “all” here means that we should catalogue and classify every people group in the world so that we can have well-defined “to do” list.

“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”

It’s funny that there is a controversary amongst baptists concerning baptism. While I believe that baptism is an ordinance of the church, I don’t see biblical support for linking baptism to a local body of believers. The only biblical link between baptism and a local church are the cases of “oikos” church plants, where every member of a household is baptized upon their salvation.

v.20 “…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

In church planting, we’ve long asked: “what is the minimum a person needs to know in order to grow in his/her faith?” Not because we want to get by with doing as little as possible, but because we often cross paths with nationals who, though they call themselves believers, aren’t even aware of some important doctrines. I think Jesus speaks to this here, essentially saying, “What they need to know is what I’ve commanded you, and that their part is obedience.” Oddly enough, I can’t seem to find where in the Bible Jesus commands us to abstain from alcohol…

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this verse brings me back to the necessity of a right relationship with the Holy Spirit. I think Jesus ends with this as a reminder that because He goes with us, we should follow Him step-by-step to whatever He has for us. This, I think, is where we tend to go wrong; mistaking direction for destination, and getting “ahead” of God by making plans and asking Him to bless them. If He tells us to go to a place that is “reached,” we should go. If He leads us into physical danger, He is with us.

My favorite part about Him going with us is that He gives us the supernatural “upper hand.” When sharing our faith, He knows our audience; what they need, what they think. If we stay in tune with Him, we’ll be led by His strategy. It kind of takes the pressure off of us, don’t you think?