This is the last in a series of posts on the Missional Church. We’ve been looking through the lens of Karl Barth, to see that at it’s core, the Church exists because of the mission of God in the world. We’ve seen how the Church is gathered together by the power of the Holy Spirit; looking at how God works to awaken and bring Christian witnesses into community with Himself and others (You can find that post here). Last week we looked at how the Church is built up into a community of witnesses who are equipped and empowered to be a part of God’s mission (Find that post here). Today we finish the series looking at the sending of the Church into the world. The Church is, at it’s core, the Church for the world. The Church exists to be sent into the world.
In the Church Dogmatics Barth writes, “The existence of the Christian is not an end in itself. As fellowship with Christ it is in principle and essence a ministry. It is witness.”
I like that language.
“The existence of the Christian is not an end in itself.” It is ministry. It is witness.
To be a Christian means to be a witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in everyday life. Now, I don’t mean everyone is called to a soapbox or street corner to “preach” the gospel.
I do mean that the gospel message of hope, love and new life is to be lived out in our daily lives. Around our Church we have a saying, “Everyone is on mission all the time—only the location changes.” It’s a great challenge. When and where are you “on mission?”
The Community is Sent: Through the Lens of Scripture
In Genesis 12 we read, “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’” It is clear that, although Abram’s calling is to bless the people of Israel as God’s chosen people, this blessing is not also without a sending into the world. “All peoples on earth,” are blessed through God’s election of Israel. Christians are also chosen and elected in order to be a blessing to all peoples. Our calling is to the vocation of being a witness in the world so that the world might be blessed by God.
We see this same pattern in the sending out of the disciples in both Matthew and Acts. First, in Matthew we read, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The disciples, who have been taught by Jesus what it means to believe in God and be faithful witnesses throughout all of Jesus’ earthly ministry, are subsequently sent out into the world to bless the world; baptizing and teaching all that Jesus commanded them. The sending of the disciples is the final step in Jesus’ ministry on earth. He gives the disciples power and authority to preach the resurrection and teach everything that they had first been taught themselves. Barth puts it this way, “One thing is required of the disciples, namely, that they are to help all nations to become what they themselves are, i.e., disciples of Jesus. You see Matthew 28 is not the conclusion of a story—it is the beginning of the disciple’s own commissioning, calling, and vocation.
Again, in Acts 1:8 we see the same command and commissioning made by Jesus to the disciples. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Through the promise of the Holy Spirit Jesus equips the disciples to be faithful witnesses in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. They were not called to go out alone and preach the message of the cross, but rather they were sent out in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.
It becomes very clear through the lens of scripture that human salvation is not an end in itself. Individuals are saved for a purpose beyond themselves—to be witnesses. The Bible testifies to the mission of God in the world not as some secondary movement but as primary.
Christopher Wright, in his book, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative writes, “Mission is not just one of a list of things that the Bible happens to talk about, only a bit more urgently than some. Mission is, in that much abused phrase, ‘what it’s all about.’” Today, Christians, just like the first disciples, are called by God to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Church is called to bear witnesses to the message of the cross and the hope of resurrection in our everyday lives. We are to live out our John 20 calling, ”As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The Church is sent.
In Dogmatics in Outline Barth writes, “There is the ‘Christ-believing-group’; but this group is sent out: ‘Go and preach the Gospel!’ It does not say, ‘Go and celebrate services!’ ‘Go and edify yourselves with the sermon!’ ‘Go and celebrate the Sacraments!’ ‘Go and present yourselves in a liturgy, … ‘Go and devise a theology which may gloriously unfold like the Summa of St Thomas!’ Of course, there is nothing to forbid all this…In it all the one that must prevail: ‘Proclaim the Gospel to every creature!’ The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message.”
I’ve always been captivated by the story of three lepers in the book of 2 Kings 7. Samaria has been under siege, surrounded by an enemy army, and forced into famine and ruin. There is death all around. Very early in the morning, the three lepers decide to themselves that it would be better to die quickly by the sword than slowly and painfully from starvation. The lepers are sick outcasts who are considered unclean and are not even named in the passage. Yet, they are tasked with the unique privilege of discovering and spreading the message of salvation. When the lepers arrive at the enemy camp they discover that during the night the enemy army had been run off by the sound of chariots and angel armies. The soldiers had left so abruptly in the night that they left fires burning, food, water, and much needed resources during a famine. What do the three lepers do? Probably the very thing any of us would do, they eat. They eat and eat and begin hiding food and plunder in the bushes for fear that the armies would return and discover them. I can picture them in the bushes stuffing food into their mouths when one of them exclaims, “What we are doing is not right, today is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves.”
Today is a day of good news. That is the reality of the gospel. That is the reality of the event of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. That is why the Church exists.
Today is a day of good news!