The Church And Its Mission: Part 3

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.

The Church And Its Mission: Part 2

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.

The Church And Its Mission: Part 1

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.

Training Verses Trying - Part 2

If you have come to a point in your faith where you are having to face the ugly reality that there often exists a serious gulf between what you intend on your best day and the poor decisions that you make on your worst, let me assure you, you are not alone. Let's look at a great example of this in Scripture. Peter was one of the disciples that followed Jesus the closest. He loved the Lord and served Him faithfully. He was a leader of men, bold, sincere and passionate, but like each of us, Peter was a work in progress. He was prone to emotional, even angry outbursts. He was proud and self-assured, arrogant and completely ill-prepared for the challenges he was about to face.

The night before Jesus was crucified, He gathered with His disciples to celebrate a very important passover meal. Towards the end of the evening, Jesus made a statement that alarmed everyone. He said, "Tonight I will be betrayed into the hands of my enemy and all of you will desert and abandon me". He then addressed Peter specifically, saying, "Peter I have prayed for you; when you have repented strengthen the others". At this Peter blurts out, "Even if all the others deny you surely I will not". Now let me ask you a question, do you believe that Peter was sincere in his statement? Did he really mean this? Did he fully intend on remaining faithful no matter what? I believe he was but as we have already established, there is often a difference between what we intend and how we act. Notice, Jesus did not just fix him. He did not do anything to prevent him from facing this trial. No, Peter would have to face this and through it grow into the person that God had called him to be. I assure you, this is a lesson Peter would never forget. I am sure that in his dying days, shortly before his own martyrdom, he reflected on this life lesson often. Jesus prayed for Peter and then left him in the hands of His Father. These events played out exactly as Jesus had predicted.

Luke 22:54 NIV
[54] Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.
The one that had followed him so closely now follows from afar or as the Message versions puts it "a safe distance".

Matt. 26:69-75 NLT
69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, "You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean."
70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth."
72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. "I don't even know the man," he said.
73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, "You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent."
74 Peter swore, "A curse on me if I'm lying--I don't know the man!" And immediately the rooster crowed.
75 Suddenly, Jesus' words flashed through Peter's mind: "Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me. "And he went away, weeping bitterly."

We must under­stand that good intentions are not enough.

He wept bitterly. He is sincerely repentant, brokenhearted over his actions, truly sorrowful. So what happened, how do we explain Peter's failure--our own failure? Like Peter, we find ourselves in this position of acting contrary to our heart intentions. Try as we might our efforts often fall short of our intentions. Jesus had warned him; Jesus even prayed for him. Please understand I believe that the answer surely is in the reality that Christ has set us free from the overpowering control of sin. In no way do I want to diminish the sacrificial work of Christ, the victory He has already won over sin. So why do we still sin? There has to be more. Dallas Willard says this about Peter, "All of his sincere and good intentions, even though specifically alerted by Jesus' prediction and warning a few hours earlier, were not able to withstand the automatic tendencies ingrained in his flesh and activated by the circumstances". We must understand that good intentions are not enough. We have relied on "trying" for too long. We must realize that there are latent tendencies, call them habits, that exist even after Christ has broken the power of sin in our lives.

Christ came to set us free from bondage to these ingrained tendencies or a hypocritical existence pretending to be something we are not. Christ did not bid us to come and follow Him and He would give us the appearance of transformation. No, He came to give this life to us in reality not just in theory. The Scripture promises that you will never face a temptation that is not common to man or beyond your ability to withstand. Indeed God is faithful and compassionate toward us and He promises to give us "strength of resistance and the power of endurance". He has promised that He will provide a way of escaping sins grasp. (1 Corinthians 10:13 AMP) Now whether we choose this path of escape or not is another matter. We have in fact, been given a certain victory over the power of sin. Peter was specifically warned and then given what I believe was a way out or at least a way through the temptation he was about to face. When Christ invited him to join Him in the garden for prayer, He was modeling for him a solution to combating these ingrained tendencies of his flesh. Christ was demonstrating that our battle with the flesh is not one that can be attempted with a frontal assault. He tells Peter that it is imperative that in the face of an imminent attack to be vigilant. He helps us to see how prayer positions us and prepares us for the battles we will most certainly face. Jesus tells Peter, "PRAY, pray that you do not yield to this temptation". Christ tells him what each and every one of us have learned, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak". The Message puts it this way, "There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire."

Disciplines are, in essence, activities in our power that enable us, by grace, to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

Jesus is trying to teach Peter how to weaponize prayer, how to use prayer as a discipline against the ingrained tendencies of his flesh that are warring against his spirit. Dallas Willard defines discipline this way, "Disciplines are, in essence, activities in our power that enable us, by grace, to do what we cannot do by direct effort--by 'just trying'." They are, "Necessary components of life with Christ--they are simply activities that we undertake, activities in our power. They are something we do that enables us to disrupt evil habits and patterns in our lives and receive grace to enable us to grow increasingly toward easy, routine obedience to Christ." Christ is showing Peter that the only way you can overcome the temptations you face in life is not through direct effort but rather by developing the spiritual character of Christ within you and by replacing the ingrained habits, failed responses and lusts with new ingrained spiritual character. There are simply no short-cuts. Without the cross, we would have no power to exercise over sin. But without spiritual growth and formation, we will never experience that power.

Training Verses Trying

I would like to talk about the often great divide that exists between our intentions and the reality of our actions. As Dallas Willard states, "Most people deeply desire to be good, but they are prepared to do evil, and to do it repeatedly." Paul candidly and transparently addresses this subject in Romans chapters seven and eight--so candidly that we almost feel embarrassed reading it. We feel like we are reading some diary entry where he is bearing his soul's shame. Let me quote just a portion of it:

Romans 7:15,18-24 (MSG)?[15] What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. [18] I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. [19] I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. [20] My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. [21] It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. [22] I truly delight in God's commands, [23] but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. [24] I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?

Paul's words are so candid, so raw and so revealing. But let's be honest, we have all felt this rush of emotion, this same hopelessness that overwhelms us at the moment of our weakness and failure. The mistake is to believe "I will do better next time" or "this is the last time" or "I will try harder and have more discipline." That is what you said last time and you were as sincere then as you are now.
Fortunately, Paul concludes in Chapter eight by talking about how Christ came and conquered the power of sin to rule us. Let me quote again:

Romans 8:2-3 (MSG) [2] A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. [3] God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all...

Most of us at this point are thinking then what is the problem? To begin with, many mistake Christ's redemptive act as it pertains to sin. Believers often mistakenly believe that Christ has set them free from sin, when, in fact, this is not true. We know this because believers have proven quite capable of going right on sinning. No, Christ has not set us free from sin because we continue as free moral agents quite capable of sinning. The New Testament writer James puts it this way, "Temptation to sin still is still active in our lives when we are drawn away, enticed and baited by our own evil desire (lust, passions)" James 1:14. These still remain a part of our lives as long as we do nothing to renew our minds, address habits and other ingrained tendencies. The reality is that Christ did not free us from sin but rather the control of that sin. You see, before Christ, sin had dominion over man, he could not through any effort of his own free himself from slavery to sin. Christ set us free from this enslavement and the death consequence of sin. We, however, must by God's grace work to see our minds renewed, old habits changed and our lives transformed by his indwelling presence.

More on this later...

Discipleship is What Makes Christian Character Possible

I want to begin with some thoughts on discipleship.  Dallas Willard states, "The growing assumption today among professing Christians is that we can be "Christians" forever and never become disciples--as if it is optional."  The idea is that I can choose Christianity without embracing a life of discipleship.  At this point, some definitions might be helpful.  The word Christian appears in the New Testament only three times and was initially used to describe individuals in the church at Antioch that presumably reflected the character and life of Christ.  Let me contrast this with our modern concept of the word Christian.  Today, it simply means one who was born into a particular religion or possibly one who has chosen that religion through some profession of faith.  The aspect of Christ-likeness has almost been completely lost.  The word disciple appears in Scripture over 250 times and refers to one who receives instruction from another.  One who accepts the doctrines of his leader and assists in spreading them.  A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice--a practitioner.  Now ask yourself this question, which comes first?  Often we mistakenly believe that Christianity is the doorway to discipleship.  We concentrate all of our efforts into convincing someone to "accept" Christ as Savior as if this is what makes them Christian and completely ignore a lifestyle that produces Christ-likeness in us.  We treat discipleship as if it is optional but in no way is it required.  The reality is quite the opposite, it is discipleship that makes Christianity possible--at least that is, if Christ-likeness is what we are searching for.  Look at the disciples that followed Christ and answer this question for me, when were they "born again" or when did they "become Christian"?  Well technically speaking it would have to have been after Jesus' resurrection.  Most people would point to John 20:22, when after His resurrection Jesus breathed upon them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  However, at this time they had been following Christ as his disciples for over three years.  I am not trying to diminish the importance of a personal profession of Faith.  However, that profession is not the end but just the beginning.  What we are striving for is that Christ-likeness and it is discipleship that makes it possible.  Let me explain.  In the book of Acts, Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin and asked to give an answer for the spiritual uproar that was occurring in Jerusalem and the healing of the crippled man that once sat at the entrance to the Temple?  The religious leaders marveled at the courage, the boldness, the intellect and eloquence, not to mention the power that was upon these ignorant, unschooled and ordinary men from Galilee.  They attributed this to the fact that they had been with Jesus.  They had indeed been with Jesus, not as casual acquaintances but as followers.  They were His disciples and Jesus was their teacher.  They had spent the better part of three years going where He went, listening to Him speak, watching His every move.  John, much later in his life, would begin one of his great letters to the church by reminding his hearers of this special relationship he had had with the Master.  He said, we were with Him, we followed Him everywhere, we listened to His teachings, we observed Him and everything He did with our own eyes.  We were personal eyewitnesses to all that He did everywhere He went.  We touched Him and He has eternally touched us.  They witnessed the miracles He did.  They were there when He healed the crippled man's withered hand.  They were there when He gave sight to Bartimaeus from Jericho.  They were there when He interrupted a funeral procession in the city of Nain and raised the widow woman's only son from the dead.  They were there and personally participated as He multiplied a little boy's lunch into enough food to feed a multitude numbering probably more than 20,000 people.  Both Peter and John had answered that call to come and follow Christ.  They had left behind their old lives and found new life in following Christ.  Now, several years later, there is no denying and there is no other explanation for the transformation that has occurred in their lives.  They have been with Jesus.  This association with Jesus was recognized because of their dedication to become like him in thought, manner and word.  They were recognized as followers of Christ or as Christian because of the long years they had spent as His disciples.  The truth is this, a disciple is not, as Dallas Willard states, "a deluxe or heavy-duty version of the Christian--especially padded, textured, streamlined and extra-powered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way."  No, a disciple is one who, "intent upon becoming Christ-like in his Faith and practice, systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end."  Christ has called each and every one of us into a dynamic, life-giving relationship with Himself.  He is still calling us to come and follow Him, to become His student, to make Him the master and teacher.  If we do this, some day, somewhere someone will look upon our life and note--they have been with Jesus.

For audio messages on Discipleship and other topics click here or download directly from this link: "A Call to Discipleship"

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"I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God; first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done."
- Hudson Taylor
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