As the meta-narrative advances deeper into the Old Testament, God calls upon Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 records this contact, which ends with an indication of the necessity of missions and a forthcoming redemption. Verse 3 states in part, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” While not entirely clear at that point how all the families of the earth would be blessed, New Testament readers sit at a vantage point that affords them the ability to see this promise come to fruition. On numerous occasions, Old Testament writers look forward to this redemption, but they also serve as God’s agents to bring about his revelation of himself to other people groups. Leviticus 19:33 indicates that decedents of Abraham, the Israelites, were to love foreigners as much as the loved themselves. Kings 8:41-43 outlines how the Israelites were to share the revelation of God to foreigners and allow them to worship him in the temple. The key running through the passage is that “all the peoples of the earth” may know God’s name and worship him. In prophesying the restoration of Israel, Amos declares that all nations called by God will take part in that restoration. And Isaiah 56 shows that salvation is soon coming available to all people.
In light of Old Testament passages that show God’s love for all nations, it is important to see the role of the Israelites in God’s plan of redemption for all people. Too often, new students of the Bible will feel that God’s chosen people were the only ones he loved or blessed; but in fact, God’s people were and are actually called to be his missionaries and servants to the rest of the world. For example, Isaiah says that God has called his people, among other things, to be a light to the gentiles. “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” And in fact, Old Testament readers will find that Jonah—unwilling, but still under the command of God—went on a missionary journey to the gentiles in Nineveh. Ester too seems to demonstrate her God’s glory in a foreign land, as do Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego). As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee conclude, “Mission in the Old Testament involves the individual and the community of God’s people cooperating with God in his work of reversing what took place as a result of the fall.”
As the gospels end, Jesus gives the Church what is commonly known as the Great Commission, the very mission and duty of the Church. Jesus says to his disciples, “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.” In Acts and the epistles that follow, the very setting is within the backdrop of Christ’s commission for his Church. Paul and others are continually seen journeying to other lands and other peoples, faithfully preaching the gospel. Indeed, these texts provide the models after which most present-day missionaries and church planters structure their missions and church plants. However, it would seem that at times the Church reads over the many calls to missionary work throughout the New Testament. Duffield and Van Cleave remind their readers, “The Church has frequently needed special urging to get on with her assigned task.” But for those who engage in missions, the hope that the biblical meta-narrative points to, which believes long for, is the picture seen in Revelation 7; that is, a multitude from every tribe, people, and language continually worshiping the Lamb of God.
From the highest perspective, God’s people reach out to the lost because we are reflecting God’s desire for the redemption of his creation. This should be only natural for the regenerate believer being made in the image of God. As seen throughout the Old and New Testaments, the believer is sent—from the moment of conversion—on mission for the gospel. Therefore, it is important to understand other theology through the idea of mission. Moreau, Corwin, and McGee argue, “If Gods’ concern is truly that all nations be called to worship him [...], then it is natural to build a theology of mission at the core of all theological studies.”
Balancing various other theologies with mission theology tends to be simple in areas dealing with creation, sin, and the fall of man. It gets difficult in soteriology or the order of salvation for example. Does God’s sovereignty even require missions? This question is sometimes asked specifically by Neo-Calvinist; however, the Bible clearly demonstrates God’s people on mission. Although there are some differences in the theology of the Calvinist and Arminian or Reformed and Free-will camps, there is no doubt that believers in Jesus are to be reaching others, living sent. Packer specifically address this issue in his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, writing, “Always and everywhere the servants of Christ are under orders to evangelize[...].” Paul also speaks of this matter, writing to Timothy, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” If Paul understood the elect like those doubting the need for missions today, why would he “endure everything”? Grudem, a theologian of a Calvinist/reformed position explains it like this: “It is as if someone invited us to come fishing and said, ‘I guarantee that you will catch some fish—they are hungry and waiting.’” Notice that Grudem’s statement still requires one to engage in the act of fishing, guarantee or no.
Even still, important questions have to be asked even in areas of missiology. Does one work to reach the lost close to home or should the Church still engage in overseas missions? Traditional missions or church planting? Long-term or short-term missions? There are no simple answers, and the Bible demonstrates a variety of different models for mission work. That being said, it is important that those asking the questions spend much time in the Word of God and equally as much time in prayer. Ideally, like for Paul, the Holy Spirit will be the guide and helper.
Primary dependence upon on the Holy Spirit’s lead is one motif or theme of mission theology. Moreau, Corwin, and McGee define motif as “a recurring pattern or element that reinforces the central guiding theme for the house.” Motif is the look or feel that dictates other choices such as furniture style and paint colors. Among mission theology, Moreau, Corwin, and McGee identify a variety of motifs, that is, mission theology preferences. As already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is one motif. Those that gravitate to this theme tend to place the Holy Spirit in the guiding position of all that they do. Another motif is the Kingdom of God, which deals with the paradoxes of the Bible and tends to be driven by the idea of the coming Kingdom in and beyond the end times. The Jesus motif sees the Great Commission as the command and example of Christ. With this motif, Jesus is the absolute focal point and driving force behind missions. With the myriad of books publishing recently on the function of the local church and church planting, there is a high likelihood that the Church motif will also gain in popularity. The purpose and role of the church, in this motif, becomes the primary theme one views mission theology through. This motif seems much more community driven than some of the others and the church—having a strong purpose in this theology—plays a strong role. The Shalom motif tends to place a high priority on the peace of Jesus in world thrust in the conflict between Christ and Satan. And finally, the Return of Jesus is motivated by a strong leaning toward Eschatology. “The coming of Christ,” according to Moreau, Corwin, and McGee, “motivates Christians to be preservers in the lost world.”
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Moreau, A. Scott, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Encountering mission. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004.
Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Roxburgh, Alan J. and M. Scott Boren. Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.
1. Scott A. Moreau, Gary Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, Encountering mission (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.
2. Alan J. Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren, Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 27-45.
3. It is not the intention of the author to differentiate between the terms mission, missions, or missional in this paper. Therefore, the terms will be used interchangeably and simply mean the intentional effort to share the gospel with others in the vain of Matthew 28:19-20.
4. Genesis 3.
5. Moreau, 30.
6. John Calvin, translated by John King, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol 1., Genesis (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 128.
7. Genesis 3:16, ESV.
8. Moreau, 30.
9. Genesis 12:3b, ESV.
10. Kings 8:43, ESV.
11. Amos 9:11-12.
12. Isaiah 42:6.
13. Isaiah 49:6, ESV.
14. Moreau, 37.
15. John 20:21.
16. John 4:39, ESV.
17. Luke 10:2, ESV.
18. See Luke 8:16-18 for just one example.
19. John 20:31.
20. Matthew 28:19-20.
21. Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008), 440.
22. Moreau, 75.
23. J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 13.
24. 2 Timothy 2:10, ESV.
25. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 674.
26. For examples, see Acts 13:2, 16:6, 20:23, and 21:11.
27. Moreau, 79.
28. Moreau, 85.
* This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.
** Photo by Seth Anderson, registered under a creative commons license.