Completing the Task: A Personal Response to the Biblical Theology of Missions

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In Acts 1:8 Jesus told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (NASB).

Within this passage of Scripture Jesus was showing a model for ministry and missions. This confirmed His promise to His disciples for the baptism with the Holy Spirit that came on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, as well as revealed that the disciples will bring their ministry into their city (Jerusalem), and then spread out to their nation (Judea and Samaria), and then to every nation (remotest part of the earth).

Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God by healing the sick, freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry and casting out demons. His ministry and empowerment by the Holy Spirit was programmatic and paradigmatic for His disciples and that ministry is continued through time to believers today. The promised Holy Spirit is “for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself,” as the Apostle Peter declared (Acts 2:38-39).

It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Christians are to operate in reaching a hurting world, spreading the gospel message. However, there are some people who may disagree with efforts to reach other nations with the message. Furthermore there are others who have a conviction that God desires all people to come to repentance and receive redemption through Jesus His Son, and organize ministries and missions to do so.

Purpose

This paper will reveal and defend ‘missio Dei’ as the central theme of the Scripture while showing that socio-humanitarian missions are part of the Great Commission. This paper will also give the author’s opinion concerning how the Church should respond to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 as well as share the author’s personal ministry and steps in fulfilling the plan of God.

Defense of Missio Dei and the Promise Plan of God

There are some scholars who oppose the theology or Biblical understanding of one unifying theme within the Bible. Their rationale may be, “It is reductionistic to claim that missio Dei is the unifying theme of the Bible…many themes found in the Bible do not depend on the theme of missio Dei.” They may continue to say, “The phrase ‘plan of God’ or ‘mission of God’ does not occur in Scripture except in cases referring to certain plans which were contingent upon particular circumstances,” and “There is no single unifying theme in the Scripture.”

From Old Testament to New Testament

Scholars who believe that missio Dei is not the the unifying theme of Scripture should see clearly that the patriarch Abraham was blessed to bless other nations according to Genesis 12. This theme was later continued to Isaac in Genesis 21 and on to King David, leading up to Jesus.

In The Promise Plan of God Kaiser shows that the promise to Abraham was threefold: “…a ‘seed’ a ‘land’ and a ‘blessing to all the nations of the earth’ of the gospel” (1978, 54). Throughout his book Kaiser solidifies through Biblical theology that the central unifying theme within the Bible is the ‘promise plan’ of redemption. First there was a promise made to Abraham for a literal geneaology and the land that would become known as Israel, and then on to the Kingdom of God expressed through Jesus and all who believe in Him becoming spiritual heirs of that promise to Abraham.

Kaiser continues this theme in Recovering the Unity of the Bible saying “Beecher defined this promise this way: ‘God gave a promise to Abraham, and through him to mankind; a promise eternally fulfilled and fulfilling in the history of Israel; and chiefly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, He being that which is principal in the history of Israel.’ That single promise was the one given to Abraham and to Israel.” Kaiser continues, “The New Testament writers regarded the development of this promise as a single promise (Gk., epanglia) that was repeated and unfolded through the centuries” (2009, 142). This reveals that the NT and OT writers saw the promise of God as one promise.

Kaiser solidifies his point by saying, “Occasionally the one promise spread itself out into many specifications, and therefore the plural form, “promises,” was used with the reference to the numerous times it was unfolded as well as to the large number of doctrinal aspects it included” (2009, 143). Thus, there are many different terms used to describe what is known as missio Dei, but each is part of the original plan of God for redemption.

Paul the Apostle carries on this theme in Galatians 3:28-29 saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” This is a NT verse unifying salvation and the Abrahamic promise for all people who have faith to accept it. George Eldon Ladd confirms this by saying, “The central theme of the entire Bible is God’s redemptive work throughout history” (1981, 92).

Missio Dei or Plan of God Terminology

The argument that “the plan of God or mission of God does not occur in Scripture except in cases referring to certain plans which were contingent upon particular circumstances” is a weak argument. Even though the said terms are not specifically found within the pages of scripture, those terms explain the the spiritual truth found within its pages.

Within our limited English language, there are many terms that explain spiritual truths. Nowhere within scripture is found ‘Trinity’ yet the truth of a tri-unity of Yahweh is there in scripture passages. Menzies and Horton state, “Although there is no specific passage in the Bible that uses the term ‘trinity’ there are numerous passages that allude to the Trinity…the Trinity is admittedly a mystery, a mystery too great for human comprehension” (1993, 57). Of further importance is the very name of God, Elohim, in Genesis 1:1 in, “plural form! So from the start, God’s word shows us that we are dealing with a plural entity (not ‘entities’)” (Hayford 2001, 42). This same logic may be applied to the unifying theme within Scripture concerning the plan and purpose of God. Scriptural passages clearly state and declare it, using many different terms to explain one truth.

Also, it could be debated that certain practices the Church may ascribe to or traditions it has adapted are not Biblical, but more cultural, such as choir robes as seen in some Protestant groups. However, it is not the tradition or practice that is to be elevated, but its truth of leading believers in worship of the One True God. The Church around the world has adapted different cultural norms in order to express their faith in culturally relevant means. As long as it is not distracting but esteems the Lord and does not contradict the Scripture these things may be a matter of conscience.

The Truth of the Matter

The silence of a term within Scripture does not always mean that its truth is not present. The ‘plan of God’ is not specifically mentioned in scripture but we see its truth many times. The Bible is infallible but men are fallible, yet they draw out truths from the Word and express it in terminology mankind can understand.

Thus, even though ‘plan of God’ or ‘mission of God’ are different terms, they each declare the truth that God’s redemptive plan for everyone throughout the Scripture and to this present day is that all are to be reached with His love and redemption. God has been using fallible people since His creation to declare praise to Him and to declare Him to all people of all time.

The on-going plan of God or the extension of the Kingdom of God may be expressed in multiple ways. There are many organizations from Bible translation to water purification, micro-loans and culture specific ministries that people can support. Christians can also serve at homeless shelters or missions, even seeing themselves as missionaries and agents of change in their workplace or schools.

George Eldon Ladd says, “It is in the present mission of the Church, as it carries the good news of the Kingdom of God unto all the world, that the redemptive purpose of God in history is being worked out” (1981, 93).

Socio-humanitarian Missions

Many ways that some agencies or missionaries expand the Kingdom of God is by providing a form of aid to needy people. Each ministry may express its humanitarianism through various ways. Some give food to refugees or victims of floods as seen in Pakistan recently, while others such as the Los AngelesDream Center teach job skills to people. And still others support the education of a child up through school completion. Soup kitchens and inner city ‘missions’ are a classic example of providing both a presentation of the gospel as well as food and shelter to the needy.

Gordon Fee says in Called & Empowered that mission cannot be divided into ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ needs, but “both constitute the global mission of the church” (1991, 17). Some Christians point to the example of Jesus, and while He did not specifically command believers to feed the hungry, He did demonstrate it by performing a miracle as recorded in Matthew 14:13-41, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15.

Richard Stearns says in The Hole in our Gospel, “Jesus’ heart was continually moved to compassion as He encountered the lame, the sick, the widow and the orphan”. It was the example of Jesus that Richard followed as he became President of World Vision and ensures the on-going mission to reach the poor around the world through humanitarian aid. Stearns further says, “Jesus commanded His followers to take the good news of reconciliation and forgiveness to the ends of the earth. The dictate is the same today. Christianity is a faith that was meant to spread…God’s love was intended to be demonstrated, not dictated” (2009, 29).

The gospel message, without a demonstration of power and love, contradicts the basic teachings of the Bible. James 2:14-16 says, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (NASB). Thus meeting people’s basic needs was part of living out the faith and spreading the gospel message. Preaching the gospel and demonstrating the gospel through acts of mercy complement each other.

A number of missionary organizations express their socio-humanitarian efforts as ‘mercy’. Free dental clinics are provided, clean-up efforts such as Samaritan’s Purse are put to work after natural disasters, or massive food aid is handed out, such as that given by Convoy of Hope. All are gospel organizations whose central aim is to show the world the love of Jesus by providing something tangible first, and then spiritual.

It is unfortunate that some ministries in pursuit of social justice or humanitarian aid lost their focus from being gospel oriented. However, it is a great thing that they are trying to make a difference, but it would be an even greater thing if they return to their roots.

The Church’s Response 

Matthew 28:18-20 says, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’”.

The Body of Christ should always be a community studying, interpreting and applying the Scripture, preserving its sacred truths and preaching and teaching to the world its contents for  spiritual and cultural transformation. The application of scripture may also be referred to as obedience.

When a student of the Scripture reads the Great Commission, one should see that even though Jesus originally commanded it to His disciples, the task is incomplete until all nations are reached. It was commanded to the disciples but had completion in mind for making disciples  and teaching His commands to all nations with the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus knew and understood that it would be a long process of time, that making disciples would be an on-going task for many years, starting with those gathered at the mountain in Galilee. Jesus was conscious of the time-consuming mission by promising that He would be with them and all disciples “to the end of the age.” Thus, the Church was to begin the task of obeying His last command and continuing in obedience until He returned at the end of the age.

Some may object to continuing the task set by Jesus due to the silence within the Epistles concerning continuing the Great Commission, yet Philip Steyne says, “Each letter presupposed the mandatory, ongoing task of world evangelization” (1992, 287). The Church of the New Testament continued the promise plan of God, understanding its mission was the continuity of the message given to Israel, by becoming a witness to all nations, in preaching the gospel (296).

David Hamilton of YWAM says, “When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He commanded His followers to ‘disciple all the ethnos’ which imperatively means He was calling them to go to all peoples” (2008, 60). Missions are to be an everyday lifestyle for Christians. While not all are called to be full-time vocational missionaries, every person may participate in the missionary task of the Church, by supporting their local fellowship financially and prayerfully first, and then giving above the tithe to official missions agencies.

The New International Bible Commentary says concerning Matthew 28:18-20, “Now His authority was world-wide and absolute, so their [disciples’] commission was also world-wide (Bruce 1979, 1154).” The disciple’s commission carries on to all followers of Jesus, as the task of reaching all nations is not yet complete. Jesus intended for there to be an unbroken chain of mission to the world. He was carrying on and solidifying the promise plan of God seen in Genesis 12.

Personal Response 

The author of this paper attends a church fellowship in Jacksonville, NC known as Discovery Church International. Its personalized mission is, “To reach this generation with the Good News in creative and culturally relevant ways and equip them to become successful, self-feeding, mature, fully devoted followers of Christ.” It does not compromise the gospel message, but relies on the Holy Spirit to reach people creatively and in unique ways.

Discovery Church International has its roots in the Word of Faith, and has relationship with the International Apostolic Harvest Network. However, Discovery fellowship can license and ordain people for ministry within its walls unlike denominational structures.

Discovery Church accomplishes its mission by providing weekly Sunday services, with age appropriate ministries such as nursery, Sunday school classes, children’s church and the main Sunday morning service. It also provides other ministries such as men’s and women’s groups, youth ministry, family fun events through the course of the year and growth groups. These groups are simply small gatherings of people “doing life together”.

The growth groups sometimes meet in member’s homes for Bible study, in a restaurant or elsewhere. There was a group that rides motorcycles and another one that goes to the beach or plays games. These growth groups change every quarter of the year as long as people within the fellowship have an idea and get it approved through the church in order to grow in Christ and “do life together”. Honestly, these growth groups have a lot of positive feedback as people learn and grow together, building friendships and bonds between Christians.

Pastor Ron Stribling recently challenged the church leadership to, “Do everything with excellence to the best of your abilities and resources”. And that is what every ministry within the Church strives to accomplish in order to glorify the Lord and extend His kingdom, whether it’s within the walls of the church building or outside of it.

Discovery Church is located in a unique community. It is surrounded by Camp Lejeune, a large Marine Corps base. Therefore, attendees and members may be within the church for a season before deploying overseas or being stationed elsewhere. Not all its constituents are military personnel but a large percentage is somehow associated with it. Training for ministries is constant and fluctuating and even multi-faceted. People can receive training in its various arms of ministry such as children’s ministry, CD duplication or media and then train others to continue the work even after they move on. Some may participate in a growth group and then deploy and lead a Bible study overseas such as in Afghanistan, Iraq or other foreign nations. Nations can be touched by Discovery Church, paid for at the government’s expense!

DCI’s philosophy is to make as much of an impact as possible in one location–where people are. For missions specific work, other than government deployments, DCI sends out short-term volunteer missionaries who participate in a number of ministries or missions agencies. Specifically, missions money that is raised is sent to Grace and Glory Ministries based out of Florida which specializes in crusades in Latin America but also holds conferences around the world and supports the education of underprivileged children.

What DCI Could Do

There is a vision within a number of its members for the church to have a defined and strategic arm within its walls of a Biblically-based ministry and missions program. Pastor Ron Stribling calls it “Ministry Expeditionary Force.” It’s a play on words since US Marines are part of the “Marine Expeditionary Force” and people in this area can identify with the expression.

The program will entail internships, annual mission trips, hands-on ministry skills and Bible education as well as equipping people for the marketplace. It will be a place where people can receive intensive discipleship participating in the various ministries within Discovery Church, and send them out in time to accomplish what the Lord has directed them to do.

This program may or may not look like a traditional School of Ministry. It will have its own distinct flavor within the culture of Discovery Church International, and may or may not be reproducible within other churches. Only time will tell. The vision is present and is being prayed into consistently.

Also, the author of this paper believes that DCI could have a formal education and tracking system in place for equipping military members with the tools necessary to lead Bible studies or some form of ministry while on deployment. A short-term course to train willing members in this process can be set in place, and then an on-going system of communication between DCI and the member overseas, whether by email, regular mail or some other means of communication can be set in place.

Every church fellowship can get key people together in order to pray and cast vision and flesh out details on how they can specifically participate in the mission and plan of God. It is unfortunate that there are some fellowships that are only surviving and not reaching out. There may be a time where this plan is necessary, but the Body of Christ is a living organism and should obey the mandates of the Lord’s mission.

Further Options for the Body of Christ

The author of this paper was previously in an Assembly of God church which supported many missionaries for $25 a month per family. But when all the missions money was added up it could have supported one missionary family full-time. Personally, the author of this paper believes that it is unfortunate that many missionaries have to leave their ministry for 3-6 months in order to itinerate in the US to raise support and pledges and then return to the mission field. This may cause strain their ministry, especially if it is a pioneering work.

Churches that spread out their monthly support for missionaries could reconsider their options and decide to impact the Kingdom more specifically. One option is that these churches could adopt one couple or missionary family and pay their part-time or full time salary or adopt the monthly field expenses and pay those on behalf of the family. The Southern Baptist denomination has a program that all money raised for missions from its constituents goes to the headquarters, and missionaries are supported full time through the fund. Missionaries need not return to itinerate to raise support.

Some denominations support their ministers and missionaries by paying for their seminary education costs. Possibly all the finances for the degree or a substantial amount is paid toward their degree so that the minister or missionary has little to no debt and may enter into full-time ministry. Too often, due to debt, students of Bible colleges and seminaries who are called to ministry are unable to enter full-time ministry until loan debts are paid.

Also, the author of this paper supports the concept of native missionaries, especially within the ‘10/40 Window’. As an alumni of two YWAM schools and mission trips, he is an avid proponent for missions. Youth With a Mission is the world’s largest missionary organization and leads the way in pioneering concepts and ministries.

YWAM became the first American missions group which had a two-thirds world native from New Zealand be its president. This marked a significant shift from North American led missions to native or national led missions. For many missionaries from North America, the goal was always to raise up nationals who would carry on the ministry; thus, what is being seen now are less North American missionaries and more native missionary support. This may be a future trend for many missions agencies.

However, missions and ministry are contingent upon its constituent’s giving. Money has to be raised in one form or another. This topic is controversial, sometimes due to misuse or abuse, and many times even Christians don’t want anyone, ‘telling them what to do with their money.’

It is of the author’s opinion that the tithe is a minimum amount of giving. The New Testament teaches and shows examples of generosity above and beyond the tithe. The author knows of one church called The Rock of Roseville in California where 90% of its members tithe! And Francis Chan’s former church, Cornerstone Community Church, also in California, gives more than 50% of its budget to missions! These things are possible if the Church begins to live it out, preach and teach it as well as practice it.

The Author and Missio Dei

This author is currently being medically retired from the Marine Corps and has been youth pastoring at Discovery Church International since January 2011. Upon medical retirement the author will be the official part-time youth pastor, teaching, preaching and discipling youth.

The author has been in many different variations of ministry, such as leading a prayer group and Bible study in combat environments in Afghanistan, and as a previous youth pastor in several churches leading internships, mission trips and camps. Currently the author is developing an intern program within DCI, having one current intern who is also awaiting medical retirement from the Marine Corps.

Short-term mission trips are a priority in the author’s ministry, and a trip to Honduras to participate in Grace and Glory’s ministries are in the works. Also, the author wants to start up a School of Leadership and Evangelism, combining the YWAM Discipleship Training School model and Master’s Commission model, making it relevant for Discovery Church specifically. Its components will also apply some Bible college credits within its curriculum and allow a part-time job for its students. The author believes that this will add a sense of balance to the students within the program as it is ‘real-world’ education.

The author believes in supporting national missionaries and is currently looking at how micro loans through ministries can help nationals become more self supportive and receive the dignity the gospel gives them. This will combat poverty and an entitlement mentality. It is unfortunate that well-meaning missions groups have aided an entitlement mentality for some poor cultures, trying to end poverty but adding to its disastrous cycles.

Since being part of a YWAM team to India in 1999, the one billion people within that nation are on his heart. It is a very needy and backwards nation, needing lots of prayer and ministry. The book Revolution in Missions by KP Yohannan can help North American believers see the current shift within missions. For $30 per month, a minister in India can be supported for full-time ministry until they are self-supporting. And then the cycle starts again with the monthly gift for a new missionary. Yohannan says, “We must understand that the primary role for Westerners now should be to support efforts of indigenous mission works through financial aid and intercessory prayer,” (2003, 147).

Also, equipping students to reach their campuses with a demonstration of the gospel is a high priority within the author’s ministry. This has been accomplished through weekend training for youth interested in starting a Bible group on their campus and using the Youth Alive/Campus Missions concept from the Assemblies of God.

The author is challenged by Matthew and Tommy Barnett’s founding of Dream Center in Los Angeles. Matthew Barnett’s books The Cause Within You and The Church that Never Sleeps are inspiring and stir vision within a person’s heart. The concept of churches taking such faith in order to love people, and having no particular ‘model’ of ministry or church growth techniques, is a testimony to the power of God. Too often churches buy into church growth marketing techniques and programming options or gimmicks, yet miss loving its people. But the Dream Center is open 24 hours a day, ministering constantly to the surrounding community, loving people with no strings attached.

There are some great books on making disciples such as Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism and The Master Plan of Discipleship that the author of this paper takes to heart through the ministry God has blessed him with. The invaluable principles gleaned from those books are based in the Bible, expressed by Jesus and the apostles after Him.

Concerning missions the author of this paper is encouraged by Loren Cunningham’s Is That Really You God of YWAM’s humble beginnings, Richard Stearn’s The Hole in our Gospel, and Pete Grieg’s Red Moon Rising concerning 24/7 Prayer founded in Europe.

Books are good things to read in order to be inspired or taught scriptural truths, but more importantly Bible study and prayer is key with obedience. A love for God and love for people is necessary as people flesh out the gospel to the world. As Pastor Ron Stribling says, “People need Jesus with skin on.” That means that every believer represents Jesus to every person they come in contact with, and the world needs to see His love in action through Christians.

Every believer plays a part in the overall mission of God. It simply takes faith and the power of the Spirit in one’s life in order to see how one can play their specific role in His plan.

Conclusion

The Greek word for gospel is evangelion, meaning “good news”. It is glad tidings of a victory, and it was Jesus’ victory over death and the evil one for the redemption of the world that the Church declares. Gordon Fee said, “The proclamation of that good news, of course, is what the ongoing mission of the church is all about” (1991, 16).

The Holy Spirit empowers His children for works of service, just as He did on the Day of Pentecost to the 120 in the Upper Room. The Spirit’s baptism is very important for the Body of Christ to continue spreading the good news of Jesus and His written word, the Bible. Discovery Church International’s doctrinal statement says, “We believe there is an experience called ‘The Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ following conversion that is available to all believers. This experience is for supernatural power to know and demonstrate God in a greater way in the earth. This experience does not make someone better, only better equipped” (http://discovery-church.net/believe.php).

John R.W. Stott says, “Without the Bible world evangelization is impossible. For without the Bible we have no gospel to take to the nations, no warrant to take it to them, no ideas of how to set about the task, and no hope of any success. It is the Bible that gives us the mandate, the message, the model and the power we need for world evangelization. So let’s seek to repossess it by diligent study and meditations. Let’s heed its summons, grasp its message, follow its directions and trust its power” (1981, 26).

(This was a paper submitted to Dr. Teague of Global University in June 2011 for the Biblical Theology of Missions course, MIS 5013)

Reference List

Bruce, F. F. 1979. Gen. Ed. New International Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers.

Discovery Church International. 2010. What We Believe. http://discovery-church.net/believe.php (accessed June 18, 2011).

Fee, Gordon. 1991. The Kingdom of God and the Church’s Global Mission. Ed. Dempster, Murray, Byron Klaus, and Douglas Petersen. In Called and Empowered 7-21.

Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hamilton, David. 2008. Foreword. Ed. Stier, Jim, Richlyn Poor, and Lisa Orvis. In His Kingdom Come 47-76. Seattle: YWAM Publishing.

Hayford, Jack. 2001. Grounds for Living. Kent, England: Sovereign World.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. 1978. The Promise-Plan of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

________________. 2009. Recovering the Unity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Ladd, George Eldon. 1981. The Gospel of the Kingdom. Ed. Winter, Ralph and Steven Hawthorne. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 83-89. 4th ed.

Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Menzies, William W. And Stanley M. Horton. 1993. Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective. Springfield, MO: Logion Press.

Stearns, Richard. 2009. The Hole in our Gospel. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Steyne, Philip. 1992. In Step With the God of the Nations. Columbia, SC: Impact International.

Stott, John R. W. 1981. The Bible in World Evangelization. Ed. Winter, Ralph and Steven Hawthorne. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 21-26. 4th ed. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.

Yohannan, K.P. 2003. Revolution in World Missions. Carrollton, TX: GFA Books.