This is a draft session for the Window on Wycliffe course in July 2010. Many of the thoughts are inspired by Chris Wright’s The Mission of God, some are taken from various presentations from Wycliffe UK Director Eddie Arthur, and some are my random musings. Please let me know any comments that you have… (I’m thinking this might be a bit ambitious for a 35 minute session, but I’ve enjoyed thinking through these things)
Q. What is mission? What do we understand by Christian mission?
I’m guessing we’re all here today because we think mission is important in some way.
Q. Why do you think that Christian mission is important? What are your reasons for giving up a week of your life, and possibly a lot longer, to mission?
Q. If we look at the Bible, can we see that mission to all nations is indeed biblical?
Many of us, although maybe not all, have probably been taught since we were young that mission is important. This has been justified using verses from the Bible, and now we have a pretty good idea of the biblical basis for reaching out to people of all nations.
Mission in the Bible
I want to suggest to you that the Bible is the story of God’s mission to humanity. Chris Wright¹ says that we often look for a biblical basis for mission, when in fact we should be discovering the missional basis of the Bible. He would argue that the grand narrative of the whole of Scripture is God reaching out to his world.
Throughout the Bible we see God’s missional plan progressing – a plan to bring humanity back into relationship with himself.
Creation: God breathing life into man
Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.
The Fall: God reaches out to Adam
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
The Call of Abraham: Seeds of Redemption
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
The Exodus: God promises to liberate Israel, to bring them into a covenant, and to bring them to the promised land
“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt.”
The Exile: Even in judgement, God’s purpose is to reveal himself to Israel and the nations
I will summon the sword against you on all the hills of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord. Your men will turn their swords against each other. I will punish you and your armies with disease and bloodshed; I will send torrential rain, hailstones, fire, and burning sulphur! In this way, I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
The Return from Exile: God makes himself known through bringing Israel back home
I am the Lord; there is no other God.
I have equipped you [King Cyrus] for battle,
though you don’t even know me,
so all the world from east to west
will know there is no other God.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord.”
Hope for a new Covenant
I will gather all nations and peoples together, and they will see my glory. I will perform a sign among them. And I will send those who survive to be messengers to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (who are famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to all the lands beyond the sea that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. There they will declare my glory to the nations.
Jesus fulfils the mission of Yahweh in the Old Testament, as creator, ruler, judge, redeemer, saviour and reconciler.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
Pentecost: God proclaims the Good news about Jesus in many different languages
“…and we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
The Church takes God’s good news to the nations
God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.
We see that right the way through the Bible God has been revealing himself – to Israel, and through Israel and later through the church, to all the nations of the world. God’s mission is making himself known to creation through creating, ruling, judging, revealing, loving, saving, leading and redeeming. All in the context of an enduring relationship with his people.
What is the most fundamental thing we can say about God?
He is trinity. Three in One. A perfect relationship.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
God is inviting us to join in the perfect relationship of the trinity. That we would be one as the Father and the Son are one, and that we would be in the Father and the Son. First and foremost God is relational, and he is inviting humanity to be part of the relationship.
At the end of the day, God’s mission is all for the purpose of involving us in his perfect relationship.
The Bible in Mission
The Bible itself is a missional book in two senses. On one hand we can see mission happening right the way through the Bible. But on the other hand it’s true to say that the Bible is also vital in mission. It contains the revelation of God so that we can know him and receive his salvation. We might say that the Bible and mission are two sides of the same coin.
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.
2 Timothy 3:15-16
The Bible: God’s message for all nations
Ever since the day of Pentecost when each person heard God’s good news in their own language, translation has been at the heart of the gospel. Lamin Sanneh says that
“[Christianity] seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder” ²
Since the birth of the church it has been clear that God’s mission is not restricted to one language or culture, but that his message of salvation is for people of all nations. The diverse cultures of the world will see the Bible from very different perspectives, and live out its message in different ways, but the central message of the gospel is unchanging and relevant to people of every language and culture. As the church, our role is to share this good news with the world.
Communication: It’s about connecting
I’ll now give each small group a passage of Scripture where we see God speaking to people in some way. I want each group to answer the following questions:
- What do we see of God’s character, and his mission in this passage?
- Why do you think God speaks in this particular way in this situation?
- What are the implications for our involvement in God’s mission?
Exodus 3: God speaks through a burning bush
1 Kings 19: God speaks through a whisper
Matthew 13: God speaks through parables
Acts 2: God speaks through the disciples
Acts 10: God speaks through Peter
Right the way through the Bible we see that God is communicating in ways that are very specific to the situation and people he is speaking to. The aim is never just to pass information, but rather to reach out to people.
One thing I’ve learnt from spending time in Tanzania is that communication isn’t just about the passing of information from one mind to another, but is primarily about drawing closer to the other person. In many parts of Africa when you go to the market it’s important to discuss the price of whatever you’re buying. This isn’t because the seller doesn’t know what a good price is, or because he wants to rip you off, but because actually the time spent discussing is an important part of building a relationship. If you settle quickly on the first price the seller suggests, the seller may be happy to have made some easy money, but they’ll also be disappointed that you haven’t spent the time getting to know them and building a relationship.
The message of the Bible is that the Bible isn’t just a message, but through the work of the Holy Spirit it is God’s way of reaching out and restoring his relationship with a broken world.
- We see in the Bible that God is missional, reaching out to all nations
- God is first and foremost relational, and his mission is to restore the broken relationship with humanity (ultimately through Immanuel – God with us)
- The Bible itself is key in mission, helping us to know God and the salvation he has bought for us
- As the church shares this message with the world, we need to be doing so in ways that are consistent with how we see God reaching out in Scripture
¹ Chris Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative
² Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West