For too long, and in too many contexts (including the church I pastored), mission functioned as one of several optional programs within the church, rather than one of the identities of the Church.
While I am tempted to argue how it is that we find ourselves here, I would rather skip straight to the Biblical arguments in favor of mission being a tangible expression of who we are, rather than simply one of the things that we do.
From the moment that God calls Abraham out from his home and his people to establish through him a particular and peculiar people, he tells him that the reason is so that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,” (Gen 26:4)
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1–3)
God’s people are called out from their nation/culture, but they are called to be a “so-that people."1 Blessed so that they will be a blessing. Called out and gathered from the nations in order to be a blessing to the nations.
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
May God bless us still,
so that all the ends of the earth will fear him. (Psalm 67:1–3, NIV)
Ezekiel 36:21-32 serves as a vivid and rather shocking illustration of this reality. As the LORD, speaking through Ezekiel promises,
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27)
…but specifies, “It is not for your sake that I will act.” (Ezekiel 36:32)
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came." (Ezekiel 36:22)
For the sake of His name among the nations.
Now, it would be an overstatement to claim that this means God has no intention or desire to bless his people. He does, in fact, lavish us with grace upon grace. It is also missing the point in dramatic fashion if we do not understand that we are gathered and blessed so that we will be both a transformed and transformative community displaying and declaring the worthiness of the Triune God to the world.
Peter, co-opting God’s declaration of Israel’s identity, applies it directly to the church: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” ...echoing Exodus 19:5–6 and Deuteronomy 7:6. Why did God do this? Two reasons: because he chooses to love us, (Deut 7:7-8; Eph 2:4-5) and so, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
“God’s gracious work unfolds in the calling and forming of a church to carry the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord into all the world.”2
So, is the church an instrument to accomplish God’s purpose in creation,3 or an end in itself…an expression of God’s purpose in creation?4 Far be it from me to avoid addressing a false dichotomy. My answer to this either/or is an enthusiastic, “yes!”
More to come…..
1. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today. 41
2. Guder, The Continual Conversion of the Church. 2.
3. Guder, Missional Church. 5.
4. Chan, Liturgical Theology. 21. ; Galli, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/june-web-only/church-does-not-exist-for-sake-of-world.html