Missional Musings

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Elsewhere in the blogosphere there has been considerable chatter about the issue of what it is to be 'missional' arising out of Kevin DeYoung's excellent seminar at the Desiring God conference. He defined the mission of the church in these terms:

The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. In other words, the mission of the church is not equal to everything God is doing in the world, nor is it everything we do in obedience to Christ. The mission of the church is the Great Commission.

There is always the danger of collapsing the Great Commission into the Great Commandment or into the Cultural Mandate in such a way that the gospel loses its priority and the church as the Covenant Assembly of God's people loses its significance. Kevin was careful not to tar everyone with the same brush on the one hand but argued nonetheless for precision in the language we use. Making disciples is not the same thing as loving our neighbour or managing our environment.

When our fathers were struggling with the nature and calling of the church at the Reformation it was not hard to see where their priorities lay. How can you tell a true church? Calvin in his Institutes argues that there are two marks of the church:  the first mark is the Word of God purely preached and heard; and the second, the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution. Both of these are mentioned in the Great Commission. In the Reformed tradition of Scotland and in the Westminster Confession we add church discipline as a third mark. Calvin doesn't do that though the amount of ink he spills on the subject alerts us to the importance it had in his thinking, he almost makes it a mark. David Calhoun suggests that the reason Calvin does not include discipline as a third mark is that the preaching of the Word and the giving of the sacraments are 'sheer objective elements in which the grace of God is given to us. That is what makes the church the church.' Now what is interesting is that since the Confessions were drawn up there have been other proposals for additional marks of the church, for example, Donald MacLeod says we could have a fourth mark, which would be compassion for the poor, and a fifth, which would be worship. Perhaps it would be helpful to think of discipline, charity and worship as entailments of the ministry of word and sacrament.
When John Knox and others were urged by Parliament to contribute a Confession and a Book of Discipline for the formation of a Reformed Church of Scotland there was no doubt where their priorities lay. They wanted a clear statement of the gospel of the grace of God in Christ and wanted it to be a matter of priority to get men trained up to preach the word. They even advocated temporary offices to meet the crisis of that time, laymen who were able to preach the gospel where it had not been heard. But as they urged on Parliament the promotion of a gospel ministry, they added to their proposal an urgent need to provide education for the masses and care for the poor whom they regarded as having been fleeced by the outgoing papal church. It was out of this concern of Knox and Melville that there developed within the Scottish Kirk a social concern which co-existed with the priorities of gospel work. One only has to read the biographies of McCheyne and Chambers to see that this compassion for the poor did not impede their heart for the lost.

Here in the UK there is a polarizing tendency around these issues. Some mainstream evangelicals and charismatic's use language that equates social justice with gospel work - be the gospel, live the gospel, do the gospel - such language suggest a confusion of categories. You can only be/live/do the news if you are in the news and none of us are the subject of the gospel. Only Jesus did/lived/was and is the gospel.  On the other hand dear brothers, who are passionately committed to getting the gospel right and getting it out, eschew all efforts to reach out to the poor. They would argue that individual Christians may act with charity to the poor but the church as church should stick to gospel work. One such leader even asked me recently (I think he'd visited our website and see a reference to 'deeds of mercy') "so what are ministries of mercy anyway?"

I would want to agree with Kevin's definition of the church's mission as he stated it above. The Bible has given us categories of speech in which to think of our various duties. The church's mission is the making and maturing of disciples of Jesus Christ through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The Church's work is gospel work. From the earliest days, the thing that has distinguished the people of God from the world has been that 'they called on the name of the Lord.'

On the other hand Scripture gives us a category for our daily work and our mercy ministry, and that is to 'love our neighbour.' I love my neighbour who is my employer by giving him a fair day's work for a fair day's wage. And I love my neighbour who is in need, whether of the household of faith or a member of society at large by doing what I can do for him. We also have a church office especially geared to helping the needy. When Calvin was in Geneva the diaconate took the initiative in housing refugees and finding work for people as well as caring for the elderly, the frail, the sick, the widows and the orphans.

My questions are these, 'does the Christian ever function as an individual apart from his connection to the body of Christ?' 'Isn't Paul's exhortation to 'do good to everyone and especially those who are of the household of faith' addressed to a group of churches? And 'if an individual believer would open his or her home to a person in need can't we by extension use that property we hold in common - our church facility - for the same purpose?'

We are a gospel driven church who make the word of God and the sacraments a priority in our corporate life together. We gather on the Lord's Day as His covenant Assembly at His command, at the foot of Mount Zion,  to hear his promises and respond to His word in prayer and praise. Then we leave to serve the world as those who love our Lord Jesus. Our ministry team are charged with teaching the bible and using the bible in all their areas of work and with individuals and groups. Evey day we have ministries actively at work that are centeeredaround the Bible and the gospel. This week I taught Calvin's Institutes in a pub on Monday night to all comers, churched and unchurched alike. Wednesday night (tonight) there is a Chrisianity Explored course running for unbelievers. Thursday we will meet for prayer. And on Tuesday evening (last night) I dropped into our church where a team of dedicated folk feed the hungry and needy in conjunction with other churches in our area. Some of our guests are homeless, others are inadequate and struggle with life, and some a plain lonely. This is a costly ministry because many of these people will die prematurely of exposure or complications from various addictions.
When I arrived they were helping themselves to some groceries someone had kindly dropped in. Others were in an elective Christianity Explored group over in the corner. One man told me he listens to our radio ministry and asked for a CD of a specific message, while another asked if he could have a copy of last Sunday night's message on the Covenant with Abraham to give to someone he'd had a conversation with on the street. We make no requirement of them that they attend church or a class. We live in the richest borough in London and. over the years I have been here, most conversions we have seen is from this bunch of people. They come to services and their rich aroma (!!!) adds spice to the occasions, but none of our young professionals seems to mind. When we spent our $7.5 million on a redevelopment of our building one priority was putting in showers so our guests could wash. No one has yet complained when our building is left dirty or dishevelled after their visits. Our congregation are gospel hearted people who work hard to get the gospel right, to get the gospel in and to get the gospel out and they see no contradiction between that and helping their neighbour. Some of them are working with an evangelical relief agency whose HQ is nearby, and just yesterday one guy who's been working in the private sector wants to move over and start a debt/financial  management business  with some church people acting as 'pastoral' people to those he's helping. He wants to help people for their sakes and he wants to get the gospel out.

For the last ten years our family has worshipped a couple of times each year at Redeemer in New York. We go there for the teaching and the worship and have never been disappointed at the high standard of biblical exposition. Our Fellowship Groups have recently used Redeemer material for their study. Yet here is a church which has seen significant conversion growth over the past 20 years that has also led the way in creative ministries of mercy. We need to exhort each other as Kevin DeYoung has done to keep the main thing the main thing. Our Father in heaven has in His saving grace, raised up His church to keep the light of truth shining in the darkness, but he also acts in common grace towards everyone irrespective of their eternal destiny because while His elect are the apple of His eye, He also loves all that He has made.

So where do I stand? I stand for the church being the church, making a priority of the gospel and the sacraments, building up the church. But I also stand for obeying the Scriptures, whether it is by excercisong Church Discipline, holding Public Worship, or loving our neighbour practically. But how we use language is important. Carelessness about words we use now can set us on a trajectory that takes us away from the gospel. So let's agree on the mission of the Church and the duties of its members whether acting individually or corporately. The mission of the church is to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them and baptizing them in the name of the Triune God.  

Posted October 13, 2010 @ 4:11 PM by Liam Goligher

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