I have been re-reading some older material lately. Good, thought-provoking articles about the Church’s mission in our world. This article written by Ryan Kelly (shared by Kevin DeYoung) is one such article. It is about the heart of God’s mission; a mission that I would gladly join. I ask that you read his article before you read mine any further. It is a great introduction to my thought process today.
If you’ve read, then please resume here: One phrase I continually hear when it comes to “being missional” is that missional churches are continually “joining God in the work He is already engaging in the community…” or something to that affect (this is not a direct quote).
This idea has had me in deep thought because I am not sure it is biblical or that we can see examples of it in Scripture. In my study I have, in fact, seen quite the opposite. Let me explain.
Let’s start with Acts 8:26ff:
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.” [ESV]
This idea spoken by missional proponents cannot be fulfilled unless a person of God is present, thus making it a false statement or simply that it is an ambiguous argument. Ambiguous because it begs the question: How would they know or point to God in their “revelation”? I believe God is present in this world, but he has equally charged us through His Son Jesus to “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...” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV) It cannot be that God is at work in the lives of the world absent faithful witnesses of Christ. That goes against everything we’ve been taught by God in His Word.
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
— Acts 8:34-35 [ESV]
The eunuch did not know what he was reading about because no one had ever explained the gospel to him.
Some might argue that God was already at work in the life of the eunuch since he went to Jerusalem to worship. However, since he was not a Jew and did not grow up hearing the stories of how God had rescued his people from Pharaoh and how the prophets proclaimed the coming Messiah. He only knew what he had read in the prophets but did not understand what it all meant. Here is how God worked in the world at this time: by sending Philip to proclaim the Gospel.
We bring the presence of God through sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Unless someone shares the Gospel, is God truly “already at work”? I would submit that God is at work in the world through His faithful followers and if we’re not willing to share, the world may not know what God’s will for them is.
And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. –Acts 8:36-39 [ESV]
Only at the sharing of the Gospel by Philip do we truly see God at work in the world. This goes for the saved and the unsaved. We must continually be reminded where our hope lies. We cannot assume God is “at work” if we’re not willing to be at work ourselves in sharing His Word with everyone we come in contact with. When it comes to that, I agree with Robert Preus when he said, “The Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.”
I see two dangers in assuming God is “already at work” in the manner of the original phrase: 1.) We get ecumenical universalism. People who accept every and all doctrine without a Berean spirit or 2.) Complete atheism.
There are many people who do good and kind things for others. Some of them who reject God or who worship other gods. Is that God “at work” in the name of a different god?
Our ultimate Mission (with a big “M” like Ryan Kelly referred to in his article) is to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. That is the best and most biblically faithful way we can join God in the work he is already doing in the world. When we share the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of the people who hear. If we are unwilling to share it, we have assumed they understand His Word and the possibility occurs that they might follow any and every kind of false doctrine that is out in the world. Some may even wonder why it matters to be a Christian since non-Christian organizations are able to accomplish the same kinds of things without Jesus. The difference is we know where our ultimate hope lies.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. — Matthew 5:14-16 [ESV]