On Missions

A Theological Doctrine of Evangelism & Missions

The Christian Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 is the primary passage from the Bible used to explain what we mean by evangelism and missions. However, it curiously leaves out the words ‘preaching’ and ‘conversion’, which are assumed. Instead, the Church is to make disciples of all nations.

The task of the Christian Church is to
• know the gospel,
• proclaim it responsibly and
• disciple believers in a growing faith.

Evangelism comes from the Greek word euanggelion, which means the Good News. One who evangelizes is one who proclaims that good news that God is revealed in Jesus. He took on the burden of the human condition and consequence of our sin. In his death and resurrection, Jesus redeemed us into the presence (panim) of God.
Evangelism has come to mean sharing the gospel within the local community, as Jesus himself did. However, after His resurrection, Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the good news to the entire world. This became known as missions, the evangelism of communities outside the local region.

Today, the difference between the terms evangelism and missions has become almost nonexistent. For example, Billy Graham is known as an evangelist as he preaches all over the United States. However, when he visits foreign countries to do exactly the same thing, it is called a missionary activity and the BGEA calls all its major activities missions.

In this age of international travel, even the terms foreign and local lose much of its distinctive. It used to be that a Church regards foreign missions as sharing the gospel with non-Americans. There are millions of non-Americans visiting or residing in the United States and many million Americans visiting or living abroad.

• Is sharing the gospel with American soldiers in Saudi Arabian military bases evangelism or missions?
• Is sharing the gospel with foreign businessmen working in Wall Street evangelism or missions?
• What about long-term non-citizens like the staff of the United Nations Secretariat, who are not allowed to take U.S. citizenship if they serve their country and while living on U.S. soil, work on property that is not legally part of the U.S.

If evangelism and missions are pretty much the same thing nowadays, what about sharing the gospel with those who do not know it or have heard wrong teachings about the gospel (which may include some church goers)? Is such clarification and teaching also a part of evangelism or missions?
At ACT, we seek to evangelize, serve missionally, teach and disciple in a climate fostering a theological safe-space, where sincere questions about the mystery of faith are welcome.

For example:
• Why is Jesus is the only way.
• I cannot believe in miracles.
• Christianity is unscientific.
• Christianity is intolerant of other religions.
• Why does the Bible refer to discipleship of the nations?

The Great Commission

Jesus said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

1. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Jesus claims authority over the metaphysical and the physical universe, over the sciences and the arts, music, literature, history, geography, psychology, etc. There is no exception to the command He is about to give. No government or culture and withstand this command. We claim the uniqueness, sufficiency, and finality of Jesus Christ. What this means is that it is nothing short of divine authority that paves the way for our own moral authority to preach the gospel despite our own sinfulness. We do not evangelize in shame.

2. Go therefore. It is only because of the authority that Jesus claimed that we dare to go...therefore, not go because I feel like it, not because I have compassion for the suffering, or go because I am fed up with my day job, or since my father is a missionary, I ought to do just that to make him happy, etc. Full-time Christian work is far too important to be a standby or backup career move. We are to serve the Church, not have the Church serve our egos. The Christian mission is the clue to world history, claims Lesslie Newbigin. How any Christian behaves and acts in his or her workplace shapes the movement of world history. We have the privilege and opportunity to participate in making the world what it will be when we share a common vision of what is real and true.

3. and make disciples of all nations. The proclamation of the gospel is a given, but the making of disciples is difficult to do and easy to ignore. However, several consequences result from the focus on the discipleship of nations rather then mere individuals:

(a) Discipleship of nations does not strictly refer to nation-states but also speaks at first instance to the transformation of communities of peoples in cities, or buildings, or homes. To truly disciple an individual is to disciple his community.

(b) The gospel must be able to transform not just individual thoughts but entire worldviews, shaping the culture of belief. Stephen L. Carter wrote The Culture of Disbelief to call America back from an institutionalized culture of skepticism. Yet, even just such a culture of disbelief reflects a culture of belief, in of skepticism in spiritual matters. We cannot escape believing. The collective web of beliefs forms the structure of worldviews. Some are coherent while others are not. Even coherent ones can be erroneous if based on incorrect suppositions. Developing a comprehensive and biblical worldview is the prime duty of a thinking Christian.

(c) To make disciples of all nations also means to transcend geography, history, culture, language, politics, economics, and even genetic pedigree. Jesus makes the alarming claim that the Jews, his own people, are not to be isolated from the rest of the world. In the context of his recent execution and suffering because of the proclamation of the gospel, he now commands his eleven remaining disciples to risk their very lives to bring the good news to their enemies and all the non-Jewish peoples of the world. This was the scandal of the Great Commission.

(d) The words of the command show that the true missionary is the Holy Spirit. Conversion is not the explicit task or power of the Church but only the Spirit, as the true evangelist and missionary, can turn the hearts of people to Christ. This at once relieves our guilt about how many we can convert in our lifetimes and humbles our pride in how many we think we have converted in our lifetimes. It moderates any religious fanaticism and purifies any misguided motivation for evangelism/missions. (4) Emerging from the Middle East, the gospel went in all directions. In the recent past, we have come to realize that the West is once again a mission field. You can strategise how you wish to be an evangelist/missionary right here where you live, in the West

4. baptizing them. This public declaration reflects what is already inside the mind (cognition) and heart (emotion) of the believer. It confers mystical benefits and binds one into a community of mutual accountability. Converts from other religions realize the power of just such an act of obedience to demonstrate their break from the slavery to religion and an embrace of a relationship to the creator of the universe.

5. in the name of the Father and of the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian formula imposes a public commitment to the confession that Jesus is Lord, and not just the generic notion of God, and that the Spirit is out guide, not just an attribute of the divine. No longer is it sufficient to go to the temple to pray to God. God is now revealed as three persons, so that the Trinity has to be the necessary starting point of preaching to the non-Christian. Jesus cannot be understood apart from his being as the second person, the Logos, of the Trinity.

6. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. We are charged with being messengers of the message. We teach because that is the best way to remember what we have learned. Where two or more are gathered, there is the Church: The Church as Apostle to the World reflects the role of the community of believers (not individuals) as the one who brings the Good News.

7. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. We will never have to live as one who is alone again. All that we do to accomplish the task of discipling all nations is in fact, one of being witnesses to the power of the Spirit. The Church is not promised success; it is promised the peace of Christ in the midst of tribulation, and the witness of the Spirit given out of the Church’s weakness for we are to be of good cheer, because Jesus has overcome the world.

Who are the evangelists/missionaries in the Old Testament?

Israel was elected for missional service. When this service is withheld, election loses its meaning. Abraham was to be a blessing of all nations. God is God of the entire world so that the history of Israel can only be understood as part of world history. Jonah is a prime biblical example to symbolize the people of biblical Israel, who have perverted their election into pride and privilege. In the story of Jonah stands the story of God calling his elect to repentance. If there is a missionary in the Old Testament, it is God himself!

What sort of proclamation do Christians engage in?

If the whole history of the pagan nations is in the hands of God, then Christian Missions must account for world history. God is interested in the world, not just the Church. Missions must prepare for direct engagement with every avenue of the human enterprise.
While we must not allow the success of the Church to be judged by the direction of world history, we must not be insensitive to the cry of world affairs in issues of injustice, exploitation and untruth.