Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.
A Hindu once asked Dr. E. Stanley Jones, ‘What has Christianity to offer that our religion has not?’ He replied, ‘Jesus Christ.'” Indeed, Jesus Christ is central to Christian belief and practice, and is the driving force in our missiology. He stands at the center of the universe, at the center of the Scriptures, and at the center of our missiology.
Jesus Christ is Supreme
Jesus Christ is pre-eminent-All things were created by Him, through Him, and for Him (Col 1:16). It is only through Him that man is saved (Acts 4:12) and only through Him that the church is built (Mt 16:18). It is in Christ, as Ajith Fernando asserts in The Supremacy of Christ, that “The Creator of the world has indeed presented the complete solution to the human predicament. As such it is supreme; it is unique; and it is absolute. So we have the audacity in this pluralistic age to say that Jesus as He is portrayed in the Bible is not only unique but also supreme.”
He is the Center of the Scriptures
In Christian mission, we are proclaiming the Scriptures, which proclaim none other than Christ himself. Both the Old and New Testaments are Christocentric-Christ Himself is the axis of the testaments, the linchpin of the canon. The purpose of the Scriptures is to present Christ (Luke 24:27).
How do the Scriptures present Christ? We may begin by saying that the central promise of the Scriptures is that God would send Messiah. Riveted to that is the further promise that Messiah would win the nations unto himself and indeed reconcile all things unto himself. From the third chapter of Genesis onwards, we see the triumphant march of God to fulfill that promise, in spite of seemingly impossible obstacles. God fulfilled His promise, in that Messiah came and dwelt among us. He was crucified, rose again, and ascended to heaven, where he is now at the right hand of God the Father. And God will further fulfill His promise, in that Messiah will come again and bring with Him a new heavens and a new earth.
He Has Commissioned Us
It is between the first and second coming of our Lord that we now live and minister. We live “between the times,” and our commission is to join Him as He wins the nations and reconciles all things unto Himself.
In Matthew’s gospel, we are given Jesus’ command: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In the first phrase, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” it is made clear that the follower of any other lord must repent and follow Jesus, and that this is on the basis of the supreme authority of the Lord of the universe. He created the universe; he sustains it; indeed, in Him all things hold together. He has authority over Satan, evil spirits, the forces of nature, the human race, and indeed all of the created order. We go in confidence.
Next, Our Lord gives the imperative, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In this command, we are instructed to make disciples, and not merely professions of faith. Moreover, we are given directives for disciple-making. We are to do so through baptism (and therefore in the context of His church) and in the name of the Triune God (who alone can save).
Moreover, making disciples includes “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The missiological implications of this are manifold. Here are two:
First, the “commands of Christ” are contained in the Christian Scriptures. There is no true evangelism or discipleship apart from the proclamation of the Word of God. Any other tool that we may use, such as apologetic dialogue, is preliminary and is for the purpose of engaging that person with the Word of God.
Second, the “commands of Christ” are not limited to those statements in the New Testament in which Jesus speaks in the imperative. Indeed, the entirety of Scripture, including Old and New Testaments, teaches us what God has done through Christ. Anything that Scripture teaches, Christ teaches. There are some who would say that this is “bibliolatry,” that we are making a paper pope of the Bible. They would set Christ in opposition to the Scriptures, and then claim that their allegiance is to Christ but not to the Scriptures. They “just want to follow Jesus.” And it is our conviction that the only way to follow Jesus is to follow him back to the Bible. We follow him, for example, to Mt 5: 18, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” All Scripture is inspired by God, and hence also bears the insignia of Christ. Our evangelism and discipleship, therefore, will include the clear teaching of the entire canon of Scripture.
He is the Impetus for Missiology
In the final phrase of Mt 28:20, our Lord promises, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is our confidence, that we go under the authority of Christ and in the very presence of Christ. Missiology is at its heart Christological. There is perhaps no better picture of the Christological nature of missiology than Rev 5, where we see the Lamb-Like Lion receiving the worship of the nations, as the nations sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
We now live in anticipation of His Second Coming, when He will be seen in all of His splendor as the King of the Nations. Until that time, and upon His authority, it is our charge to proclaim the gospel to all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations, whether they be found far or near.