We understand that the Scripture serves as the basis for our understanding of the church and its mission. We have already established that if a separation is allowed to exist between our study of Ecclesiology and our study of Missiology, the result is that neither achieves its purpose in the earth. If the understanding of church is not informing our understanding of mission the church will forever remain disconnected from the mission of God. There may be limited forays into mission, occasional attempts, but there will always exist a divide between the local church and its foreign mission. We will continue to allow there to be "mission-people" and a "non-mission-people". The church will function as one entity under one set of standards and mission will always be no more than an adjunct activity of the church carried out occasionally by a few.
So, let us revisit my pastor friend's statement, "We want our Missiology to be a reflection of our Ecclesiology". While I completely agree with this statement, it poses one very obvious question. What if our Ecclesiology isn't biblical? What if the way we view the church, the way we understand its function isn't biblical? I mean it is possible that characteristics of our church are non-biblical.
What if our Ecclesiology isn't biblical?
We look at the church throughout history and certainly not every church, everywhere has been a biblical representation of the Body that Christ envisioned. This begs the question, among those that are more or less biblical, which model is correct? How are we to know how to do church, what church is? If our understanding is influencing the way we carry out mission, it is extremely important that our understanding of the church is right--and by right I mean biblical. We have to acknowledge that there may be aspects of the church that are not biblical. Beyond this, there are many aspects of the church that may not be antithetical but they are not necessarily fundamental either. We could refer to these characteristics that define a church as being extra-biblical, they are not non-biblical but we have no Scriptural support for them as foundational for the church. They are the particulars. We often think of church in terms of our traditions or our own cultural expression, limited by our perceptions: culturally, generationally, etc. Again, the church may take on many forms and indeed has taken on many forms down through history without becoming non-biblical. However, if we believe that our Missiology is a reflection of our understanding of the church, we readily see that it is imperative that our understanding of the church as far as it is influencing our practice of mission must be biblical and everything that is extra-biblical is going to be of little use in informing our actions in mission. Occasionally our practice of mission reflects non-biblical perceptions of the church but more often, we see extra-biblical perceptions of the church hindering the birth and growth of a truly biblical expression of the church among a people. Our tendency is to export our particulars, often because we only understand the church from our limited perspective. However, we really don't understand the church. We understand, or at least we think we do, in our context but when we attempt to multiply the church elsewhere more often than not our focus is on the particulars. We then begin with a less than biblical expression of the Church and what would certainly be a failed cultural expression of the church. The result of this is that we transplant a very unnatural expression of the church.
Ecclesiology needs to begin with a Biblically minimum understanding of the church
This new church is lacking the living DNA of the Spirit and will never take hold in the cultural soil of the new community. The church that is established will never serve as a local representation of local believers gathering in community to worship, pray, grow in faith and reach out. So we must begin by looking to Scriptures to inform our understanding of the church as it was created, as it existed and even as it was contextualized throughout history as a model for us today. This will help us establish an understanding of what is a biblically-minimum church and serve as a starting point. Beginning with this understanding, we can then allow the church to take on differing forms, even extra-biblical characteristics that represent the context of the people that make up that church. So think of the church not as something you export or replicate but something you plant and nurture. Our Ecclesiology needs to begin with a Biblically minimum understanding of the church and strive to contextualize the church from there all the while never compromising the biblical standard set by Christ. In this way, our Ecclesiology can safely inform our Missiology because both are being informed by the Scripture.
In part one of this post I introduced how historically there has existed a divide between those who studied Ecclesiology and those that study Missiology. I shared with you the statement by my pastor friend, indicating their desire to see their Missiology reflect their Ecclesiology. In essence, they are saying we believe that our understanding of the church needs to inform our understanding and practice of Mission. While I wholeheartedly agree, our understanding of God's mission needs to inform the way we structure and practice church. Without a Biblical understanding of both Ecclesiology and Missiology and how they work together, we run the risk of missing the importance of both and diminishing the importance of either one.
Many churches exist today without any sense of God's purpose
If missiology is not informing ecclesiology we run the risk of allowing the church to develop along lines that are not Biblical, much less missional. Many churches exist today without any sense of God's purpose for man or for the church. They are living within an endless cycle of programs all designed towards self--improvement. When the church loses its focus on mission we betray one of the primary functions of our existence. With this loss, the church increasingly turns inward and loses its evangelical fervency. His church was to be the mechanism by which his Kingdom would be advanced in the earth.
If Ecclesiology is not informing our Missiology, we lack the framework for understanding the means Christ intended for fulfilling His mission on the earth. Our Kingdom mission was meant to be embodied in the church--the church is God's means. Christ's intention was that the Good News would be expressed in and through His body the Church and that the whole world could look upon His
Our objective is to see people joined to other Bible believers
church as a sign and wonder testifying of His love. When we separate the mission from the church we can be guilty of losing sight of the relational element of the Great Commission. God wants a family. It is not enough to think strategically about our Task. We cannot think of people as objects to be conquered. The objective of our mission reaches beyond evangelizing and even discipling. Our objective is to see people joined to other Bible believers, or new faith communities (churches) formed capable of locally facilitating the advance of the Kingdom. Mission is about restoring order to all of creation and restoring the creation to right relationship with the Creator. When this is accomplished there will be no more mission, but the family of the redeemed, Christ's body and the Church will stretch into eternity.
In conclusion, the church has a mission to facilitate the local and global expansion of God's eternal Kingdom. The objective of our mission is and will always be the establishment and strengthening of local faith communities, capable of completing God's redemptive mission. Thus the cycle continues.
Hopefully, as we continue this study we can truly see how vitally important it is that the Bible serves as the basis for studying ecclesiology and missiology. It is my desire that we see the manner in which each study informs our understanding of the other. Then we will see once again, that there can be no separation between the church and its mission, without destroying the integrity of both.
I recently had a pastor say to me, "We want our Missiology to reflect our Ecclesiology," or the way we do mission to be a reflection of the way we see the church. On the surface I agree with this idea and I understood perfectly what this pastor was trying to say to me, but this statement really caused me to think. This may be fine in theory but what if the way you see the church is just completely wrong? What if the way you see the church is right but only in your limited context? Do we really understand just how our understanding of the church has influenced not only our philosophy of mission, but our practice of mission as well?
We should probably define some terms.
Our Missiology and Ecclesiology need to develop together
Ecclesiology: The branch of theology that is concerned with the nature, constitution and functions of a church. I would define it as the study of the church as Christ introduced it and the New Testament writers expounded upon it, but would include every Biblical expression of it throughout history.
The Question: What is the church, where is the church, who is the church, why is the church?
Missiology: The study of the Missio Dei - The Mission of God to reveal himself as loving Father, expressed through a merciful savior, sent to redeem a people unto himself from every people group on earth.
The Question: Who is the Mission, where is the mission, what forms and strategies should we utilize as we set out to fulfill the Mission, how do we know when the mission is complete?
As I further researched, prayed and studied about this subject I began to see the way in which historically Missiology and Ecclesiology have been separated into different and even opposing studies. There are those that say that its Missiology, not Ecclesiology that is really important. They would assert "We must begin with mission; that is to say, we begin with God and His mission of Redeeming a people unto himself through Christ, and what God is continuing to do in the world through the church to enact his purposes throughout the earth."
Then there would be those that counter, "No, it's Ecclesiology, not Missiology that is important," They would state, "God begins and ends with a people—the church. The church is the agent through which God's mission is carried out, and so in that sense I think ecclesiology must precede missiology. I think the biblical pattern in both the Old and New Testaments indicate this—God calls a people to himself (first Israel, now the Church), constitutes them under his rule and pours out his blessing on them, and then sends them out to be his agents and witnesses in the world. In the book of Revelation we see that the end of God's mission of redemption will be concluded, but the community we now call the church will be living in relationship to God throughout eternity."
Let me suggest: These are not separate, and certainly not opposing theological studies but rather one unified revelation. Our Missiology and Ecclesiology need to develop together—each informing our understanding of the other and both completing our understanding of God's plan for mankind. Our ecclesiology shapes how we understand and practice mission and our lives lived on mission continue to shape how we understand and be the church.
Ecclesiology and missiology—one does not "come from" the other, but they are both derived from scripture, interact with each other and can be understood only in light of the other.
I hope that you will continue to follow us in this discussion, I believe there is much we have to learn about this important subject. I ministered on this subject at a recent conference and you can view the video here.
Over the past several months we have been taking time to focus and understand the importance of contextualization in missions. Our understanding of this topic is critical as we advance the knowledge of the Lord in the nations.
2 Corinthians 4:6 says, "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (italics added)
This is precisely what is taking place in the hour in which we live. GOD is making the fragrance of the knowledge of Himself known in all the nations (2 Cor 2:14). It is important for us to recognize that this is God's mission, not ours. He is King and He will accomplish His mission in the earth. With this in mind we have a proper perspective to engage the nations for we understand that God is inviting us to take part in his plan for the nations. This produces rest and peace in our hearts because we know that the fate of the nations does not rest on us alone. It also invigorates us to engage the nations because we know that we have been invited to participate as a co-laborer with God in His great plan to reach the nations.
Right now all across the globe people groups that have never once heard the name of Jesus proclaimed are hearing His name for the first time. Two years ago a list of the top 639 unengaged people groups was published. Unengaged means that these people not only have never heard the gospel, but that no one is laboring among them. Since that date over half of those people groups have been engaged and these people are hearing the gospel for the very first time.
This should set off an alarm in our spirit. Not a negative one, but one of great rejoicing which urges us on to ensure we are working with the Lord and not against. This is also when our understanding of contextualization becomes key. If we lack contextualization, the price can be costly. As the church of Christ emerges in the nations, among both the unreached and reached, those who are carrying the message must be careful to present the message in a manner that allows for the truth to penetrate the hearts of men and women without cultural baggage and without adding or subtracting from the gospel. Contextualization is the process which addresses this. We must be diligent to process our preaching of the gospel in a manner which will transform the worldview of the receptive hearer. We must preach the word stripped of our own culture, and infused only with the culture of Christ. Simply translating our preaching from one language to another will not suffice. Knowing that God is at work in an incredible way in the nations at this very moment, our effort should be structured in a way that creates an open avenue for him to move, rather than a roadblock.
This is why contextualization is important, and why we must make every effort to understand the deeper dynamics of the people we are working among. Without proper contextualization, men and women end up receiving a gospel that may effectively not be the gospel at all. Without contextualization the faith that we preach may simply become a cloak of "form", rather than a heart invigorated with the Spirit of Christ.
I want to talk about the importance of contextualization. Contextualization is presenting and practicing the Christian faith in such a way that is relevant to the cultural context of the target group in terms of conceptualization, expression and application yet maintaining theological coherence, biblical integrity and theoretical consistency. This may involve the use of stories, parables, illustrations or any such valuable and adequate compartments in other religious and philosophical systems to explain biblical truth to a specific culture so that they eventually internalize it into their own thought system. This must involve the communication of the gospel not only in ways the people understand and are relevent, but in ways that also challenge them individually and corporately to embrace the transformational power of God. If the Gospel does not confront their condition apart from Christ it can leave the door open for Syncretism. Syncretism is the mixing of Christian faith with secular attributes of culture that are incompatible with Christianity so that the result is not Biblical Christianity.
We have several examples of contexualization in scripture including Christ's approach to the Samaritans in John chapter four and the apostle Paul's ministry along his missionary journeys. Paul summed up this approach to ministry when he wrote:
1 Cor 9:19-23 NLT
19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. 22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.
Paul understood that the Message of Christ was never to be limited to a particular people group or a particular time and with this understanding, he sought to communicate truth in such a way that is could be understood, conceptualized, internalized and passed along. Ultimately, our goal is to reach people. We know that the message of Christ is powerful and life-changing so we need to make sure that we are not artificially creating barriers to people's acceptance because of the way in which we are communicating. The Willowbank report reads, "Sometimes people resist the gospel not because they think it false but rather they perceive it as a threat to their culture, especially the fabric of their society. Sometimes the Gospel is presented to people in alien cultural forms. Then the missionaries are resented and their message rejected because their work is seen not as an attempt to evangelize but as an attempt to impose a foreign custom and way of life." It should be our desire to seek the common ground, to find the bridge between people and Christ's message. It should be our desire to become all things to all men, that at all costs and in any and every way we might save many by winning them to faith in Jesus Christ.