Biblical Basis for Mission: What I learned...
by Jessica Scott - #NPLOKC Church Planting Resident
After a semester of church planting residency, cross cultural engagement in my own city, and harvest time here are a few thoughts about what God taught me about himself and His mission...
Immediately before ascending to Heaven, Jesus commissioned His disciples to be His witnesses in all the world through the power of the Holy Spirit Who would come upon them. (Acts 1:8) The Church has since been held responsible for this same task. Followers of Jesus have responded to this command in various ways: some in full obedience, some in utter disobedience, some by redefining the mission in their own terms. People have argued for centuries over what the Church’s role is in reaching all the nations. Many have found ways to excuse themselves from this work; however, by examining the Scriptures, it becomes clear that this is not an option. The idea of missions is not a human construct; it is rooted in and accomplished by the One true God Who is missional in nature. The biblical and theological basis for missions penetrates every aspect of God’s Word and work, and must, thereby, be explored for His people to be fully equipped for the work to which they have been called.
The idea of missions is not a human construct; it is rooted in and accomplished by the One true God Who is missional in nature.
Defining “mission” is the necessary first step in rightly understanding its basis. Timothy C. Tennent describes the term as “God’s redemptive, historical initiative on behalf of His creation.” (Tennent 54) He stresses that mission is “far more about God and who He is than about us and what we do.” (55) It is the missio dei – the mission of God; the task does not originate in humans. God is the One Who initiates and completes His mission of redeeming this broken, rebellious world back to Himself. Branching from the previous idea, the term “missions” refers to the ways in which the Church enters various cultures to engage in His mission by reflecting the Triune God to the world and proclaiming the New Creation God is bringing into being. (59) Missions is accomplished by God alone, but He invites His people to be a part of it through His power.
The Lord created humans in His very image (Genesis 1:27) to reflect His glory and fill the earth with His image-bearers. However, people rebelled in favor of their own path. Creation was tainted, and God’s image-bearers were defiled; nevertheless, the Creator’s plans were not thwarted. He immediately set His plan of redemption into motion, alluding to a particular “seed” who would come to conquer the enemy. (Gen. 3:15) With this promise in view, a desperate hope for restoration stirred in the hearts of people. As sin continued to invade all creation, the Lord responded to its worldwide effects by consecrating a man named Abraham with a call to faith and the promise of blessing. (Gen. 12:1-3) This blessing was both “personal and global, local and universal” (Tennent 107); not only would Abraham and his family be blessed, but all the nations would benefit from God’s blessing as well. Clearly, from the start, God had in mind the salvation of all peoples.
Remaining faithful to His promise to Abraham, the Lord established for Himself a people through whom He would reach the world. Though it is common to view God’s work in the Old Testament as centralized around Israel alone, His heart for the world is clearly demonstrated the entire time. 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 depicts the missio dei through the people of God: the Israelites were to proclaim God’s deeds and glory before all nations (vv 8-9, 24); God served as Judge not only over them but also the whole earth (vv 14,19-22, 25-26, 33); and all creation and nations were called to worship (23-24, 28-33). The Lord’s blessing on His people was not to stop with them; His glory was not only for a certain group to enjoy. God has desired all along for all the nations to come and give praise to Him.
The Lord’s blessing on His people was not to stop with them; His glory was not only for a certain group to enjoy. God has desired all along for all the nations to come and give praise to Him.
The prophet Isaiah outlines some of the most descriptive, well-known prophecies of the Servant Who would come to fulfill this role as “the seed.” This “Chosen One” would bring “justice to all nations.” (42:1) In addition, He would be a “light for the Gentiles,” offering God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth.” (49:6) Although the Servant will face hostility from many, He will remain loyal to the Lord, trusting in His deliverance and calling others into obedience as well. (50:4-11) The magnitude of his suffering would be great, reaching the point of disfiguration (52:14); and it would all be done in place of sinful humans who had rejected him. (53:5-6) Nevertheless, through His selfless sacrifice, the Lord will draw many to Himself. (53:11-12) Isaiah depicts the beautiful yet grotesque truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
After examining Isaiah’s words, Tennent identifies three key themes worth mentioning. (119) First, God initiates redemptive mission. He sent His Servant, He willed the suffering for His good purpose, and He accomplished the works of salvation. Second, God’s mission is global. Streaming from His consecrated people, the Lord made His salvation available to the whole world. Third, God used the suffering of His servant to bring about His justice, salvation and blessing to all peoples. The Lord uses all things for His glorious purpose and nothing can stand against Him.
The Lord uses all things for His glorious purpose and nothing can stand against Him.
Entering the New Testament, the gospels are filled with several “great commissions” to followers of Jesus to go into the world and make disciples. Tennent shows how each of the four gospels is constructed with a particular vantage point, highlighting various aspects of the mission of God. First, the book of Matthew promotes the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant through making disciples of all nations. (Tennent 130) For example, Matthew includes a unique genealogy by delineating Jesus’ ancestry from Abraham instead of Adam, emphasizing the finished work of God’s promise to His people. Furthermore, the author includes several teachings of Jesus that show how Israel’s claim to salvation is not automatic; it will be given to those who believe and obey. (132-133) These teachings include: the workers in the vineyard who all received the same payment no matter what time they came (20:1-16); the wedding feast which was eventually celebrated with those who had not initially been invited (22:1-14); and the parable of the sheep and the goats. (25:31-46) Finally, Matthew’s call to make disciples of “all nations” clearly articulates God’s heart for all peoples.
Second, the book of Mark focuses on proclamation amid suffering. (Tennent 139) Mark’s gospel is believed to have been scribed during Nero’s devastating persecution of the church. Tennent notes the significance of the anonymous ending to this book, which includes Jesus’ commission to His disciples. Within this commission, the disciples are urged to “proclaim” the good news of Jesus to “all creation.” (16:15) The result would be the salvation of those who believe or the condemnation of those who do not (16:16); there would also be the accompaniment of miraculous signs in the name of Jesus. (16:17-18) Although the exact author of this portion is unknown, Tennent emphasizes that its inclusion by some in the early church reveals their understanding that the Gospel must be made known even when suffering abounds.
Third, Luke’s gospel reflects the “holistic, empowered witness” of followers of Jesus to the world. (Tennent 142) Since the audience of Luke was primarily Gentile, the whole gospel story is presented with the awareness of “the growing Gentile presence in the church.” (143) Therefore, the author provides a global scope to the work of God. This is demonstrated, for instance, when Jesus sent out the seventy-two on mission who symbolize all the nations and “anticipate the later mission to all the nations of the earth.” (146) Moreover, the mission is presented as holistic throughout this gospel by connecting the proclamation of the Kingdom to the ministry to the outcasts of society. The work Jesus did among women, tax collectors, and Samaritans is frequently mentioned and used to show how Jesus transforms lives completely, meeting both physical and spiritual needs. (145) Finally, special attention is given to the Holy Spirit, Who fills believers, empowers them even in persecution, and baptizes people into the life of Christ. Considering this, the disciples are urged to go into the world and make disciples only when God’s “power from on high” has showered upon them. (24:29) The Holy Spirit enables His Church to engage in the mission of God.
Fourth, the book of John reveals the “Sending Sent One.” (Tennent 153) The whole purpose for which John wrote His gospel was so that his readers “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and thereby “have life in His name.” (20:31) After identifying from the beginning Who Jesus is (1:1-9), John proceeds to emphasize throughout his work that it is the Father Who sent the Son to do His work; this is evident through passages such as John the Baptist’s acknowledgement of Jesus (1:30-31), the famous words of John 3:16, Jesus’ explanation of His work (4:34), and Jesus’ summary of His mission. (12:44-45) Finally, after demonstrating His power so wonderfully, Jesus exhorts His followers in this way in the book of John: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (20:21) The Church is left to carry on the mission of God which was obediently executed by the Christ.
In his book of Acts, Luke continues to devote special attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in His mission. A major role the Holy Spirit plays is empowering the Church for His global mission. Directly before ascending, Jesus told His disciples that they could only be His witnesses to the world, as He had commanded them, upon being filled with the Holy Spirit and His power. (1:8) The Church has been chosen as the messengers of the good news of Jesus; however, it is the Holy Spirit Who accomplishes the work through His people. An expected outcome of the work of the Holy Spirit is the performance of signs and wonders which reveal the ushering in of the new creation and promote understanding of salvation. After a congregational prayer for boldness following persecution, God answered His people by shaking their meeting place, filling them with the Holy Spirit, and enabling them to boldly speak the message of God. (4:30-31) The miraculous works done by the Spirit of God testify to His commitment to fulfilling His mission through His redeemed instruments. Lastly, this book emphasizes God’s initiative in His mission to the world, seen clearly through the story of Peter and Cornelius. (Tennent 429) While Peter was trying to figure out a vision from God, the Holy Spirit moved him to action to bring the good news of Jesus to this Gentile man. (Acts 10:17-20) As from the beginning, God was extending His salvation to all peoples, and He deliberately ensured that His newly found Church grasped the full scope of His plan.
Throughout the remainder of the New Testament, the Church is implored toward godly living in obedience to the Lord and for the message of Jesus to resound from her to every nation.
Throughout the remainder of the New Testament, the Church is implored toward godly living in obedience to the Lord and for the message of Jesus to resound from her to every nation. Although this world is corrupt, and suffering abounds, the Church is reminded that God patiently offers salvation to all peoples because He desires for no one to die separated from Him but for all to repent and come to Him. (2 Peter 3:9) He has been faithful to His promise from the time He established it with Abraham, and He will faithfully bring it to completion. In Philippians the beautiful outcome of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Messiah is outlined: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:10-11) From the start, God has been about reconciling the world to Him, and the substitute of Jesus was the culminating work that has made this glorious promise a reality. For the Lord has revealed the end, and in His eternal Kingdom there will be “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” praising the God of salvation forevermore. (Revelation 7:9-10)
The most fundamental principle for missions which can be gleaned from Scripture is the initiative, authority, and empowerment of the Triune God. Tennent describes the roles of the Trinity in the missio dei as follows: The Father is the Sender; the Son embodies the mission; and the Holy Spirit empowers the mission. (75) By His will and authority, the Father initiates salvation for His fallen creation and continually pursues its completion regardless of whether His people remain loyal to the work. Humans have rebelled against God’s perfect design from the beginning; His chosen people Israel perpetually turned against Him; the Messiah was hated by the world; and His Church continually forgets His mission in selfishness. Nevertheless, the Father graciously disciplines His children to bring them back into fellowship with Him and to consecrate them as lights to this world. God does not depend upon humans to accomplish His will; He accomplishes His will despite human attempt to diverge progress. Therefore, the works of reconciliation have its origin in God not the Church, and the Church is lovingly invited to participate in what the Lord is doing.
Therefore, the works of reconciliation have its origin in God not the Church, and the Church is lovingly invited to participate in what the Lord is doing.
Moreover, the Son embodied the mission when He descended from Heaven to enter into the fallen communities of the world and offer the means for restoration. He demonstrated the missional heart of the Father by laying down His life on behalf of mankind to quench the Father’s wrath and make those who call upon His Name righteous before God. He continues to carry out the mission by standing as the continual, living Interceder on behalf of all Who come to the Father through Him. (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus is the perfect example of faithful obedience within the mission of God. The Church is able to know exactly what the Lord expects by examining the model Jesus established during His life on earth. Jesus completed the work He was given by the Father to do (John 17:4) by using His ministry to prepare His disciples to make His Name known to all the world, which is the commissioning He entrusted to His Church upon His leaving this earth. The mission is accomplished through the salvific work of Christ and it is proclaimed by following the model He established.
The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is the empowering force behind all of the redemptive work. In the Old Testament, those set apart to lead the people of Israel or proclaim a word from the Lord were able to because the Spirit fell upon them. Even Jesus did not begin His ministry until the Spirit anointed Him at His baptism; He then went on to teach with undeniable authority, heal with incomparable supremacy, and move with unshaking confidence. On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord poured out His Spirit upon His children to continue the works of Christ until the end. Hence, the same Spirit which has been accomplishing God’s mission from the start, the same Spirit Who filled Jesus the Messiah, resides within all those who have been adopted into the Kingdom of God to proclaim the Kingdom come. In this manner alone is the Church able to fulfill the missio dei.
Having acknowledged the Lord’s ownership of His mission, His Church is freed by a wonderful truth: God’s faithfulness to His mission is unwavering, and He works through the weak to accomplish it. The Lord’s methods are not intuitive; He has chosen to use that which is foolish, weak, insignificant, and despised.
The Lord’s methods are not intuitive; He has chosen to use that which is foolish, weak, insignificant, and despised.
Why? So that no one can take the credit but God alone! For our sake, Jesus “became wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.” (1Corinthians 1:26-31) God does not look for the most qualified to be His servants; He seeks the lowly and does immeasurable wonders through them to demonstrate His absolute power. As a result, children of God need not feel the weight of obligation to complete all this work. Rather, He calls His people to submit in humility and allow Him to do the work through them. As He declares, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Lay down the chains of inadequacy and embrace the sufficiency of God.
Lay down the chains of inadequacy and embrace the sufficiency of God.
A further principle to adopt is the global scale of God’s vision. As seen in Revelation 7, every people group will be represented in Glory. This being the case, the efforts of the Church must be driven by the universal mission of God. When God called Abram, He proclaimed that the people He would establish would be blessed by Him and as a result all the peoples of the world would be blessed through them. (Genesis 12:2-3) The Lord chose a particular people group as the means to extend His presence and gifts to everybody. On the same terms, Jesus implores His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The Church should resound the message of salvation to all the earth. Local expressions of the Church should, then, faithfully begin their witness in their own communities as they also launch out to reach those around the world who have not heard the name Jesus. The total identity and all the activities of the Church must align with the Lord’s purpose.
Finally, the Church embodies the New Creation which the Lord is establishing through the means of salvation. The rebellion of humans defiled God’s perfect creation; however, the work Jesus accomplished on the cross has made it possible for all His creation to be restored as new. In fact, the Lord provides a description of what this new creation will be like: “Look! God’s dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) What a glorious restoration God guarantees! Today, the world is still broken; nevertheless, as people are made new by Jesus, they are transformed into God’s likeness and reflect His glory to the world. (2 Corinthians 3:18) The children of God testify to this corrupt generation who God is and the magnificent redemption He offers.
Creation is far from God’s perfect design, in which God walked with humans uninhibited. Mankind has chosen its own path – the path of death. Nevertheless, the Father intervened because He desired for His glory to be known and enjoyed throughout His creation. From the moment sin entered the scene, the Father set in motion His plan for restoration. God continues to initiate and propel forward His work. Jesus stepped down into His creation to become like His creatures in order to finish what was necessary for people to become God’s redeemed children. The Holy Spirit has been the powerhouse of the missio dei all along, and He continues to empower His Church to carry on the work. The Church is left with a big task: to proclaim the Name of Jesus to all the world until every people group has the opportunity to hear the Good News and respond. Praise the Lord, it is He Who does the work through His Church. All that is required of His people is humble submission.
At the conclusion of time, when the New Creation is established and the Bride of Christ is brought home, what a celebration there will be when every language is heard singing praises to the Almighty God!
Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century by Timothy C. Tennent
Tennent was one of the books we read from this semester for discussion. Parenthetical references are page numbers in this work.
Jessica Scott is a master's student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While working full time, Jessica is practicing her studies in real time through the #NoPlaceLeftOKC church planting residency and leading a high school girls small group. Occasionally her conversational mandarin makes ordering a hot pot a little easier.