A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 4: Christ)

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.

William Carey’s View of History

One of the complaints I sometimes hear from students is that their church history and Baptist history classes are not “practical” enough. Instead of asking, with Tertullian, “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem,” many of them want to know what any of it has to do with Burnt Hickory Baptist Church. Many of these same students complain similarly about their theology, ethics, biblical languages, and philosophy classes. My response is always to try and convince my more pragmatically minded students that history actually has a unique role to play in their theological education and can lend practical help to any number of contemporary concerns.

As Timothy George likes to say, there is a whole lot that happened in church history between Jesus and your grandma. Because we have two thousand years of Christian history behind us (as well as 400 years of uniquely Baptist history), we do not have to repeat the same mistakes that have already been made. We do not have to commit the same theological errors. We do not have to get trapped in some of the same practical quandaries. Our 21st century ministries can be informed by our forefathers from previous centuries. We can learn from their mistakes, and we can benefit from their successes. Your ministry should not occur in an historical vacuum.

William Carey understood this well. The second section of Carey’s famous An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens was devoted to historical precursors in foreign mission. Carey discussed New Testament mission, medieval Catholic mission, Reformation mission, New England mission, and especially Moravian mission. Though he is often known as the “father of the modern missions movement,” Carey was keenly aware that he stood in continuity with a long tradition of Christian cross-cultural evangelism. And he applied his knowledge of history to both his personal piety and his ministry.

History influenced the missiology of Carey and his associates. Scholars argue that the Moravians, David Brainerd, and John Eliot were all taken into consideration when Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward drew up their famous Serampore Form of Agreement. In other words, Carey and friends understood that there was nothing new under the sun and they wanted to learn from the successes and failures of missionaries who had gone before them. History was used in the service of cross-cultural evangelism and church-planting.

In at least one case, history also served as an aid to Carey in his personal piety. Carey tells us in his journal and correspondence that he read regularly from David Brainerd’s famed diary. Like thousands of missionaries who have come after him, Carey found Brainerd a source of spiritual strength and missional inspiration. History was used in the service of personal piety.

My own desire is that we would use history in the same ways as Carey. As with Carey, ministry examples from the past have much to offer 21st century Baptists. We have much to learn from the preaching of John Chrysostom, Ulrich Zwingli, and B. H. Carroll. We have much to learn from the evangelistic zeal of Francis of Assisi, Pilgram Marpeck, and Daniel Taylor. We have much to learn from the pastoral theology of Martin Luther, Richard Baxter, and Andrew Fuller. And we have much to learn from the missionary zeal of St. Patrick, Adoniram Judson, and Samuel Zwemer.

Past saints also have much to contribute to our present pursuit of godliness. We need the devotional theology of Athansius, John Owen, and John Dagg. We need the fire of Savonarola, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon. We need the gospel-driven piety of John Bunyan, David Brainerd, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne. We need the same God-centered commitment to Christian scholarship as Jonathan Edwards, John Gill, and J. Gresham Machen.

William Carey resolutely believed that the sovereign Lord of all creation was moving history toward a glorious denouement when He will make all things new. Those who preceded Carey in the faith were a part of that history, even as he himself was a participant in all that God was doing to make His name great among the nations. You and I are also a part of that history, and it is my prayer that each of us will own Carey’s God-centered view of history as we seek to live rightly before God in our own time “between the times.”game download

Some Reflections on Missions and Evangelism

Southern Baptists are a Great Commission people. We have been infected with the gospel of Jesus Christ and missions and evangelism are in our blood. It is the heartbeat of who we are. Without a “hot heart” for soul we will die and our death will be deserved.

Our passion is to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We receive our marching orders from Him. Two passages in particular lay the foundation for who we are and what we are about in the context of missions and evangelism:

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 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NAS).

He [Jesus] said to them … but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall by My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:7-8, NAS).

Jesus said go and so we must go. Jesus said witness and so we must witness. Anything less is blatant sin and disobedience. Deep within our soul is the conviction that heaven is real and hell is real and Jesus is the only difference. This “soul conviction” does not mean that we do not love and respect those of other faiths or those who have no faith at all.

Because of our unrivaled commitment to religious liberty we would willingly die for their right to believe as they choose. However, it is because we do love them that we go, witness, share and tell, that we build relationships and live missionally wherever it is that God has placed us. We cannot escape the words of our Lord who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). We are haunted again by our Savior’s warning, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

It was exactly this kind of conviction that launched the Modern Missionary Movement through a British Baptist named William Carey (1761-1834) as he spent his life in India.

Reflecting upon our awesome task he wrote,

As our blessed Lord has required us to pray that his kingdom may come, and his will be done on earth as in heaven, it becomes us not only to express our desires of that event by words, but to use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his name (emphasis mine).

This same hot passion burned in the heart of the American Baptist Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) and his wife, Ann. It sent them both to serve and die on the mission field in Burma. This burden for souls stirred the heart of Luther Rice (1783-1836) and set him criss-crossing America to raise support for those who were evangelizing around the world.

Southern Baptists, in particular, recognize that we may be out of step with many current trends in theology. So be it. We reject outright as unbiblical heresy any theology that weakens the missionary/evangelistic mandate. We stand against the modern and post-modern mindset which says,

The task of the missionary today … is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents of those religions to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions … The aim should not be conversion … an attempt to establish a Christian monopoly … The ultimate aim … is the emergence of the various religions out of their isolation into a world fellowship in which each finds its appropriate place (“Rethinking Mission: A Layman’s Inquiry after 100 Years,” in Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, p. 456; emphasis mine).

No, we look for encouragement and motivation from another Baptist, the great British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1842). Challenging the pastors of his day he said,

The minister who is sent of God has spiritual children, they are as much his children as if they had literally been born in his house, for to their immortal nature he stands under God in the relationship of sire …. No minister ought to be at rest unless he sees that his ministry does bring forth fruit, and men and women are born unto God by the preaching of the Word.

Spurgeon also had a needed and pointed word for parents in this context, and one certainly needed among Southern Baptists today.

It is very grievous to see how some professedly Christian parents are satisfied so long as their children display cleverness in learning, or sharpness in business, although they show no signs of a renewed nature …. When a man’s heart is really right with God, and he himself has been saved from the wrath to come, and is living in the light of his heavenly Father’s countenance, it is certain that he is anxious about his children’s souls, prizes their immortal nature … If you are professing Christians, but cannot say that you have no greater joy than the conversion of your children, you have reason to question whether you ought to have made such a profession at all.

Spurgeon knew evangelism in the church starts at the top, with those God has called as pastors. Spurgeon also knew that there was no better place for evangelism to begin than in the home. The people called Southern Baptists must well understand that our very reason for existing is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We must also be very much aware that there are many things we can do to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. However, there is one thing we can do now to bring our Lord glory that we cannot do in eternity. That one thing is to share the gospel and tell a lost soul about a Savior whose name is Jesus. And so we go, share, witness and tell. Why? Because we know and understand that lost people matter to God, and therefore, lost people should matter to us. Paige Patterson puts it well,

More than 6 billion souls populate our globe. If the biblical message is true, then hell is a tragic conclusion for those who have not come to God through Christ. The potential of forgiveness and eternal life with God demands that all avenues of evangelization be pursued. The urgency of the task is the most compelling of any assignment the believer has been given.

This assignment is ours and this assignment we will endeavor to fulfill. We must, for the eternal destiny of men and women demands it. Our Lord demands it too!java download games