Friday, February 21, 2014

Christ's Mission is The Church's Mission

Hey Church, have you heard the news? We're on a mission! Yes, I know, this isn't "new" news...we've heard this language for years, but the problem the Church is facing isn't an inability to embrace the mission, instead it's knowing what mission we're truly called to embrace.

Jesus's mission (as laid out in Luke 4:16-21) was not one driven by politics, social transformation, economic equality or social justice. It reached far beyond the physical and emotional needs of humanity...aiming instead for the heart. Christ's mission was always about spiritual liberation not social liberation. Why? Because Christ's gospel was about eternal restoration not social change. This gospel is for everyone, and regardless of our social or economic status, we all need this gospel...equally. Are you picking up what I'm laying down here? That's right, the honest truth is this: regardless if you're rich or poor, without CHRIST you are spiritually poor. God's word tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). This means that without Christ's Salvation, there will be hell to pay. So, in the end, our politics and social status won't matter one ounce...the only thing that will matter is this, did I know Christ and did Christ know me?

Jesus Christ Came to Fulfill a Mission:

The NT is full of passages that seem to speak of Christ's mission. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a passages in scripture which more clearly captures, in Christ's own words, the mission he came to accomplish through his incarnation then the one we see in Luke 4:16-21.  
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In this passage we are reminded that Christ gave up his throne and descended from heaven with the purpose of fulfilling the prophecy foretold by Isaiah. Christ came as the messianic King and Lord of the Church. God (the Father) sent his Son and gave him a mission...and before Christ ascended into heaven, he sent his disciples to continue this good endeavor (John 20:21). Christ commissioned his church to continue his mission.

Nowhere in the words Jesus read in the OT scrolls do we see phrases like, usher in the Kingdom, restore peace, bring justice, abolish corruption etc. In fact, if we look closely, the words in Luke seem to indicate that Christ's mission was more about proclamation then it ever was about revolution. In their book, What is the Mission of the Church, pastors Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert make the following statement:
"The messianic mission statement in Luke 4 highlights the announcement of good news. If Luke 4 sets the tone for the mission of the church, then the center of the church's mission should be the [proclamation] of the gospel."
Does it Really Matter?

Why does any of this really matter? Is it really that important for a church to get so deeply theological about things like this, or is it just a waste of our time? These are fair questions and I hope to provide answers that are equally as fair. 

The reason I believe this issue matters is because of what has seemingly become a trend in the church today. You would be hard pressed to find a church that isn't deeply immersed in the language of vision and mission. In fact, Harbor has a Kingdom Concept that its leadership team worked to put together, which is closely related to a mission statement. However, the startling thing about churches casting vision is that often times their mission stems from a perception of Christ's mission that simply doesn't line up very well with what is seen in scripture. While the Bible has plenty of evidence which reveals Christ's pursuit of and compassion for the poor, his primary focus was always on people's spiritual condition. This is where many churches seem to be missing the mark. Churches have increasingly placed an unhealthy emphasis on the physical, social, and economic conditions...while avoiding the reality that in a very real sense, everyone who is without Christ is poor. The Greek word ptōchós (poor) as used in Luke 4:18—"proclaim good news to the poor [ptōchós]"—is not primarily describing a physical or economic condition, but instead a spiritual one. In fact, many Greek lexicon tools define ptōchós as: lowly, afflicted, destitute of the Christian virtues and eternal riches. This is important because many churches today seem to fall into the trap of believing that Christ's mission was to reach the materially poor. I believe this is an unhealthy view of scripture, which has unfortunately skewed the mission of the church over the years. The word, poor, both in Luke and Isaiah can best be defined as one of spiritual status, which covers a extremely wide range of people, equally. It refers to those who are open to God, responsive to him, and who acknowledge their dependence upon him and need for him. It is to these people whom Christ came to proclaim the year of Jubilee (i.e. the Lord's favor). This was Christ's mission and it is also the mission of the church today.
"Jesus's mission laid out in Luke 4 is not a mission of structural change and social transformation, but a mission to announce the good news of his saving power and merciful reign to all those brokenhearted—that is, poor enough to believe." | What is the Mission of the Church (DeYoung & Gilbert)
We must be careful. While there is certainly great virtue in serving the broken, impoverished, and socially downtrodden...the gospel of Jesus Christ is not partial. While salvation can only be found through Christ, it is offered freely to all people, regardless of their social or economic circumstances. The scriptures tell us to be careful not to show partiality to the rich (James 2:2-4), but in our efforts to avoid this snare...we must be equally careful not to show partiality to the poor by ignoring those who are considered rich.

In his recent blog post (The Sin of Partiality), Sutton Turner made the following statement,

"Fear of committing the sin of partiality leads some Christians to commit the sin of reverse partiality."
Think about this question for a moment. Why is it that the mission statements at many churches proudly and intentionally make efforts to reach the poor, while avoiding intentional efforts to reach the rich? This ought not be the case. This double standard leaves a portion the community ostracised by the church's mission while inadvertently creating unhealthy marginalizations within the church as well. Here's the it or not, we're all in this mess, together. Wealthy men and women are just as prone to struggle in their efforts to find an identity rooted in Christ, as poor men and women are. Social stigmas and economic affluence are both meaningless at the foot of the cross. We all need Jesus, equally, and this truth must never be lost in any efforts a church makes to live into Christ's mission.

When Christians put an unhealthy emphasis on social and/or economic status, rich or poor, they inadvertently detach themselves from making disciples of all nations (and all peoples) as Christ commissioned his Church to do (Matthew 28:19).
"Poverty theology considers those who are poor to be more righteous than those who are rich; it honors those who choose to live in poverty as particularly devoted to God. Conversely, prosperity theology considers those who are rich to be more righteous than those who are poor; it honors those who are affluent as being rewarded by God because of their faith. In fact, both poverty and prosperity theology are half-truths because the Bible speaks of four ways in which treasure can be stewarded...righteous rich stewards, righteous poor stewards, unrighteous rich stewards, and unrighteous poor stewards." | Mark Driscoll - Doctrine, pg. 388-389)
The Challenge:

In his recent blog post titled, The Cult of the Visioneer, Todd Pruitt gives some very insightful thoughts for the Church to consider:

There is simply not a category in Scripture for a pastor who receives, by way of revelation from God, a particular mission for his church. It is not there. So why does this notion continue to flourish? There are at least three reasons:
  1. A misunderstanding of how God speaks: The visioneering pastor and his church operate under the mistaken notion that God speaks to us outside His Word. As a result the pastor is able to act under a sense of Divine fiat - "God told me"
  2. Ignorance of the Scriptures: Too many church members (and pastors) do not know the Bible well enough to know that this approach to vision and mission is not found in the Bible.
  3. A preference for the sensational: The visioneering pastor and his church risk missing the blessing of God's ordinary means of grace. The desire instead is for a divinely spoken vision. Within this way of thinking is the prideful assumption that there is something special about my church. 
When making efforts to pursue Christ's mission, a local church must be intentional to ensure they are truly pursuing Christ's mission and not their own. While all biblical efforts to share the love of Christ with one another should be considered, the church's sights should be squarely centered on the proclamation of the gospel. This gospel, while explicit in what it claims (i.e. Jesus is the only way, truth, and life - John 14:6), is inclusive in whom it aims to reach. God's love for the world extended to the whole world. No people, tongue, tribe, nation, or social group can claim exclusive rights to Christ's glorious salvation and the mission statement of any church must embrace this truth and live intentionally into this reality. While there will certainly be diversity in the Church, the mission of the Church is never unique. Christ sent his disciples into the world to make disciples. This is the mission of the church and it is clearly defined in the scriptures. While churches will certainly be drawn to live into this mission in unique ways, their vision must be grounded firmly in God's word. Instead of seeking to hear a new word or receive a new vision from God, the local church must embrace the reality that God has already spoken to his Church and his words have been captured and sealed in the scriptures. Christ's mission has been at work in the world for centuries and the Church's only obligation is to live into this mission faithfully and obediently. The danger comes when pastors and churches feel they have a unique mission given specifically to them by God. This line of thinking is very dangerous because Christ's mission for his Church moves from the objective truths of God's word to subjective truths that can only be validated by individual(s).

It is a blessed thing for a church to know and live into it's mission, but the mission of the church has always been the same. Christ came to earth to, "proclaim good news to the poor...proclaim liberty to the captives...[restore] sight to the blind...set at liberty those who are oppressed...and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” This is the mission Christ sent his disciples into the world to proclaim and it is the mission he expects today's Church to live into as well. It is my prayer that instead of seeking unique missions, local churches will instead embrace the mission we've always had...and live into it faithfully and obediently!

For His Glory,


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