Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Jesus: The Message and Model of Mission;" An Article Review

We live in the midst of a Christianity that, for the most part, is biblically illiterate. Many wrongly assume that this neglect of the Bible only affects our doctrine. Not so! Bad doctrine produces (for the most part) bad methods. In fact, many modern day missionary organizations have hindered the spread of Christianity more than they have helped. Ajith Fernando, in his article "Jesus: The Message and Model of Mission," attempts to provide missionaries with a more biblical view of mission. This article is broken up into two sections: 1. Jesus: The Message of Mission, and 2. Jesus the Model of Mission. Fernando spends much less time on the first section than he does on the second, therefore less attention will be given to the first section.

Without the message of Jesus there would be no mission. Christian mission is based upon the unique teachings of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of Christ and His work. Without doctrines like justification by faith alone, the exclusivity of the Gospel, the rejection of universalism, and the unique nature of Christ, there would be no Christian mission.
The knowledge of what Christ has done for sinners is not just informative, but also prescriptive. Doing mission in a biblical way means imitating Christ, which is not always easy. American missionaries often find it hard to imitate Christ because they have been conditioned to living in a convenient and comfortable environment. The examples of Christ in the New Testament are radically taxing on every level. In fact, the majority of Christ’s examples have to do with meekness, humility, suffering, service, and forgiveness. Each and every one of these involve discomfort on one level or another.

Often times missionaries do not follow Christ’s example of meekness, and end up hindering the work of the gospel. There is need to be bold for the sake of Christ, but some confuse being bold with being rude. Christ was bold, not rude. Surely he did offer some pointed rebukes to the Pharisees, but he also dealt with the prostitutes and tax collectors with an amazing amount of patience and love. Missionaries are not commanded to choose between uncontrolled passion and apathetic pleas, rather they are to imitate Christ in his temperance and wisdom.
The greatest hindrance facing Christianity today is a negative view of conversion. This negative view is exhibited in the extremes of both pluralism (in its rejection of proselitizing) and extreme forms of fundamentalism (and it’s refusal to allow others a chance to speak). Christians must rise above these two extremes if they are to faithfully follow the example of Christ.

What a challenging essay! Saying the things that Christ said is different than doing the things that Christ did. Loving with more than just head and heart, forgiving, suffering, laying aside personal rights and freedoms. What a daunting task. No! What an impossible task! The scriptures discussed in this essay force the reader to the place of dependence.
This is the type of essay that makes the "Footprints in the Sand" poster look so ridiculous. The "Footprints in the Sand" poster communicates that Christian maturity is best evidenced when the believer is strong enough to walk by him/herself. True Christian maturity however, is evidenced in a knowledge of our need of the Spirit of God and our actively seeking His help. Maturity is found in weakness and dependence, not in strength and independence.
How can a believer love and forgive as Christ if they are walking on their own? How can a believer be selflessly committed to a community of faith while receiving unjust reproach and abuse if they are not being carried along by the Holy Spirit? Did Paul, in his own strength, work up such a love and compassion for the messed up Romans that he could say, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers" (Rom. 9:3)?
Preachers are afraid to preach the ethics of Scripture because the demands of Scripture primarily have to do with giving up rights. When Christ was ridiculed He gave no reply. Being God, He had the power to call down legions of angels to come to his defense when they nailed him to the cross, but rather than retaliating, He prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:24). Christian mission, at it’s most fundamental level, is loving God, people, and the truth of the Gospel so much that you are willing to throw your individual rights to the curb. Those who give money, time, and talents to ministries, missionaries, or the poor are considered to be super spiritual one even in the church.
This review, even now, is so easy to type, but what will happen after it is written. This review is so easy to read, but what will happen after it is read. This essay was especially challenging to me right now, because I am in the process of church shopping. My question to myself is, "Am I going to be unsettled until I find a church without problems? Am I going to be unsure until I find a church without sinful people?"

What a challenge! But I don’t want to be a part of a church where people are picky, rude, and
difficult. I want to be part of a perfect church. I want to be a part of a church that will not cause any inconvenience. A church that will not cause my spirit any troubles. In the same way, I want to evangelize, but I do not want to evangelize to someone who is needy, hungry, dirty, stinky, annoying, and poor. I want to evangelize to those who can follow my carefully put together gospel message. I don’t want to evangelize those who talk too much and cut me off.
Everyone claims to be a missionary or evangelist, but very few strive for the character of Christ. What does the world think as it looks on? We all claim to be followers of Christ, but very few seek the radical ethic of Christ. The sad thing is that there is no Christian mission apart from the ethic of Christ. We have acted much like the Pharisees in the Sermon on the Mount–we have dumbed down the radical demands of the gospel so that they are attainable. It is very difficult to find a pastor whose ministry is built on service. Many, like James and John, have wrongly assumed that the way to greatness is paved by power, knowledge, and prestige.

Today we build emotional fences around ourselves so that we might be protected from the inconveniences brought about by intimate relationships with other people and families in the church. Christians surely do give of themselves, but only when it can be done without great cost. Granted, some people are awful, and some situations are down right preposterous, but for the most part, people pack their bags as soon as they see anything that might potentially put them in a situation requiring radical Christ-likeness. Our approach to Christian mission is diametrically opposed to Jesus’ approach to mission. Everything He emphasized is considered radical today. Today, the ethic of Christ is a mere option for those who "really love God." But this is not the way the example of Christ is treated in the Scriptures. The Bible presents the example of Christ as the divine mandate for Christian mission.

One of the biggest evidences of a missionary or evangelist that has not built their evangelistic method on the Scripture is one who is militant about their evangelism. The power of their evangelism is bound up in the delivery of their message, rather than in the sovereign Spirit who supernaturally reveals the message to the heart. Therefore the success of the encounter is dependent upon the evangelist and his ability to either sell or force the message.

Without a complete depedence upon the Spirit in Christian mission it is impossible to follow the example of Christ, because even Christ, being God, was dependent upon His Father. How much more should we mere humans look to the Father for the strength and ability to fully carry out the demands of Christian mission. The call of Christian mission is the call of dependence.


Pastor Luke said...

Excellent post!

2 thoughts came to mind:

1. The message of the Gospel is not a compartmentalized series of independent doctrines for mental assent, but a person: Jesus Christ. While the independent doctrines describe and point to Christ, apart from Christ and His preeminent focus in the Gospel message, the Gospel message turns from gospel to academia!

2. John 15:5, "...apart from Me you can do nothing." Edwards in his great sermon, "God Glorified in Man's Dependence," said it this way, "universal dependence." Dependence is both the fruit and manifestation of the sum of the fruit of the spirit; apart from it the fruit is not present.


Jimmy Snowden said...

Thanks for the comments! I really liked your first point. Extremely helpful. This is a lot of what I was talking about in an earlier post when I was talking about taking the doctrines of the Bible and making them your very own. It is an attainable thing because God is not distinct from doctrine. Can you expand on how this would relate to Christian mission? Thanks