Four Truths to Ground Your Theology of Mission
As I wrote in my last post, studying missions is an important part of actually doing missions. There is a cognitive aspect to everything we do. Therefore, what we study about missions affects how we actually do missions. The Bible has a lot to say about the mission of God and the church’s role in that mission. There is another component to studying mission: the actual theology we glean from what the Bible says. Our theology comes from our interpretation of the Bible, and everyone interprets the Bible whether they realize it or not. There are theological interpretations of Bible’s bases for missions. I’ve listed a few below.
The doctrine of the Trinity informs missions.
Timothy Tennent writes in his book, Invitation to World Missions, that the doctrine of the Trinity should inform our understanding and practice of missions. God the Father is the source and goal of the missio dei, God the Son is the redemptive embodiment of the missio dei, God the Holy Spirit is the empowering presence of the missio dei. The Father initiates His mission in the world through the promise of a seed and prophecy of the suffering Messiah who would die and rise for the salvation of the nations. He then sends the Son Incarnate into the world to continue the mission, fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, and do the work of salvation. Tennent also notes that the Incarnation is an example of how the gospel can be translated and communicated throughout the world. Finally, Christ sends the Spirit into the world to empower the church to continue His mission.
Christ is central to our mission.
This leads to the Christological focus of missions. In John 10, Christ bemoans the unresponsiveness of the nations, and commissions His disciples, giving them authority over the spirits and demons. However, he warns them not to rejoice because of this authority, but to rejoice that their names are written in the book of life. It is Christ that gives them the authority, and it is because of Christ that they have their names written in the book of life. This is true for us today. Missions centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without the cross and resurrection, there is no gospel to proclaim. In addition, the work of the harvest is not done apart from Christ. Mark 4 depicts the different kinds of seed sown in the world, and only that which takes root remains. Believers must be patient as they preach the gospel and remember, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3, that it is the Lord who does the ultimate work of the harvest.
Our mission is directly tied to the church.
In Theology and Practice of Mission, Jedidiah Coppenger writes “One of the great tragedies in evangelicalism has been the separation of our ecclesiology from our missiology.” While this may be a bit of an overstatement or generalization, it points out something important: what we believe about missions is directly related to what we believe about the church. Christ established the church and gave it the Great Commission. The entire book of Acts is devoted to how the Holy Spirit through the church began to fulfill this mandate to take the gospel to the nations. Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, writes that it is precisely through the church that the gospel will be made known (Ephesians 3:10). Missions cannot be divorced from the local church. We, as members of the church, are the ones who go out into the world and help start new churches. Making healthy disciples requires making churches. Any understanding of the gospel that does not see this is less than the one the Bible gives. People are not just saved out of something, they are saved into something as well.
Our mission looks to the future.
There is also an eschatological element to the work of missions. In Genesis 22, God provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac, and the mountain there is called, “The Lord WILL provide”, indicating the future hope of salvation. Fast forward to the end of the Bible: Revelation presents the hope of the New Creation. Tennent notes that the New Creation is the future hope and primary cultural identity for the church today. As believers proclaim the gospel in the world, they are proclaiming the hope of the future- eternal life in the new heavens and new earth in the presence of God. God is redeeming all of creation and this is what believers are telling to others when they proclaim the gospel.