Theology of Missions

missionary 101

          Before one can begin to understand the scope of missions, they must first realize the very notion of missions flows from the very heart and character of God.  This theology of missions paper will investigate scripture to illuminate that the Bible is essentially a missionary book. Throughout the Old and the New Testament God is seen moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. This paper will also explore how the nature of God relates to missions, as well as how it compares to other aspects of theology. Lastly, this paper will demonstrate how mission theology relates to missionaries, church leaders, and laity who are not involved in full-time ministry.

Old and New Testament Examples

         Mission is the driving theme of scripture and the mission of God is at the very core by offering redemption and salvation to all who respond.  A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee demonstrate, “Mission in the Old Testament is best encountered by exploring it as a divine drama in four acts: (1) the creation and the fall, (2) God’s calling and setting apart a people for Himself, (3) God’s work in rescuing His people, and (4) God’s work in sending His people into exile.”[1]

         One of the first examples of a missionary God is found in Genesis 3:9-15. Shortly after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, the first person on the scene was God, to begin the process of restoration for them and for all of humanity who would follow after. As Victor Hamilton illustrates, “The Lord addresses a question rather than a command to the secluded man, for God ‘must draw rather than drive him out of hiding.’ He is the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. Such a context calls for a display of tenderness rather than toughness.”[2]  As scripture unfolds, God is continually moving towards the lost, as evidenced by Him sending the prophets, the judges, His Son, and then the church to proclaim the gospel, to redeem humanity, and to ultimately restore their relationship and fellowship with God. As Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s clear instructions unfolds, it becomes immediately apparent there was now suffering, isolation, and consequences, as a result of their actions. It is in this account; the reader is also presented with a foreshadowing of Jesus and the promise of a future battle between Eve’s offspring and those of the Satan.

          As Moreau et al. illustrate, “With the fall came banishment from the Garden and from intimate contact with the creator… The curtain closes on this act with a world of people scattered and unable to communicate with one another. With people broken, separated from the creator, and successfully lured by a clever enemy, the stage is set for the story of redemption…”[3] In the second act of this divine drama, God calls Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 as the second representation of God being a missionary God, as Moreau et al. demonstrate:

God gives three promises all with the same purpose in mind. First, God will make Abraham into a great nation, a promise tied to the land. Second, God will give Abraham a great name. The purpose of both blessings is that Abraham be a blessing to others. The third blessing and purpose clarify that although Abraham is the means he is not the goal. It is through him that others will be blessed by blessing, but the purpose goes beyond Abraham to all the peoples on the earth.[4]

          It is interesting the shift that has taken place in this account. God’s universal intent is to now be manifested through Abraham and all of his descendants. Abraham would be God’s chosen heir of the world and it is in this act that Moreau et al. show, “God’s love and concern is clearly seen… [And] that God’s goal is not limited to any person or people… In Abraham, God manifests His reign… [And] Abraham is blessed not only for his sake but also for ours.”[5] God was calling a people through Abraham and as Walter Kaiser points out, “The fact remains that the goal of the Old Testament was to see both Jews and Gentiles come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah who was to come. Anything less than this goal was a misunderstanding of the plan of God. God’s eternal plan was to provide salvation for all people…”[6] It is through Abraham answering God’s call that the kingdom revealed to Adam and Eve in the creation account is once again restored. It is during this time where God’s love and missionary heart is clearly seen as He restores communion with His children. His missionary heart will always expect more, care more, love more, and risk more. His love for His children drives His every motive.

          In the New Testament, Paul refers to the Abrahamic covenant still being in effect in Galatians 3:14 and in Romans 4:13 Paul refers to Abraham as the heir of the world, as Douglas J. Moo illustrates:

Paul makes his case for the exclusion of the law from God’s dealings with Abraham on the basis of simple chronology—the law, given four hundred and thirty years after the promise, cannot annul or substantially alter this previous agreement between God and Abraham… Rom. 4 does not focus on the Christological implications of “seed” that Paul brings out in Gal. 3. The word here is purely collective, the reference being to all who are numbered among the “descendants” of Abraham… This language… summarizes the three key provisions of the promise as it unfolds in Genesis: that Abraham would have an immense number of descendants, embracing “many nations”[7] that he would possess “the land,”[8] and that he would be the medium of blessing to “all the peoples of the earth.”[9] Particularly noteworthy is the promise in Gen. 22:17b that Abraham’s seed would “possess the gate of their enemies.”[10] 

          This covenant blessing with Abraham and the promise it represented to all future generations is yet another clear example of God’s missionary heart. This writer is continually amazed at the wondrous nature of God and the lengths He goes to in order for His children to restore their fellowship and communion with Him. No better representation could be made to prove God’s love for His creation and the missionary heart He possesses.

          For Paul to be effective in his evangelistic efforts, Arthur F. Glasser believes that the first step began with making the people conscious of their personal needs, which would illuminate the Lord was willing and sufficient to meet every need.[11] Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus would be an unforgettable lesson in how he was to spread the gospel to a nation blinded by their own sin. Acts 26:18 is a beautiful representation of Paul’s mission, “I send you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”[12] This is a wonderful portrayal of what lengths God will go to, in order for His children to open their eyes. His word tells its readers, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[13]God desires no one to experience eternal separation from Him and that is why He is so passionate about missions.

          While Paul is a pillar of the New Testament, he would be nothing without the foundational sacrifice Jesus Christ made. It was through this selfless act: God sends His Son to fulfill the promise of the One prophesied in the Old Testament. All of the Gospel accounts reveal the love and compassion of Jesus and His sincere desire to save humanity, despite the cost. Just as Jesus was sent, He then passes on the mission to His followers in the Great Commission[14] while stressing the importance of the Great Commandment.[15]

How Nature of God Relates to Missions

            As Moreau et al. explain, “Mission is God’s project, and He graciously allows Christians to take part in it… [And] the conflict between God and Satan is not a dualistic battle. Satan’s defeat was provided for even in God’s judgment against Adam and Eve.[16] This initial promise of salvation is the assurance that Jesus will come for all people.”[17]

            Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’ Brien expound on this further:

There was no ‘mission’ in the Garden of Eden and there will be no ‘mission’ in the new heavens and the new earth. From the first glimmer of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 to the end of this age, however, mission is necessitated by humanity’s fall into sin and need for a Savior, and is made possible only by the saving initiative of God in Christ.[18]

            God has chosen to use mankind who are created in His image to fulfill the work of the calling and to bring glory to Him. The nature of God is then most reflected in missions by His deep desire to restore the intimacy and fellowship that was violated during the fall. God cares deeply about everyone and everything He has created and He wants nothing more than for humanity to find their purpose in living, which is to bring glory to God.

Mission Theology Compared to Other Theology

            Mission is best defined as the sending of someone to complete a specific task. However, as Moreau et al. demonstrate, “When it comes to defining the particular mission of the church, contradictory and competing agendas make the picture less than clear.”[19] Missions is commonly referred to the practice of fulfilling the Great Commission while mission is used to refer to everything the church does to advance the kingdom of God.

           In systematic theology, one studies Christology, which is the study of Christ. It teaches that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was one hundred percent man and God and analyzes His teaching, His miracles, and His death, burial, and resurrection. Mission theology involves cross-cultural ministry, which comes from a posture of humility and not nobility. In many instances, Christ actually allows His children to suffer for the sake of the gospel, to grow their testimony and faith.

            Missiology is the academic study of mission(s) and as Moreau et al. illustrate is made up of three central concerns: (1) the identity or nature of mission, (2) the goal of mission, and (3) the means or method of mission.[20] There is an undeniable connection between the Bible and missions as Christopher Wright beautifully portrays, “Mission is what the Bible is all about; we could as meaningfully talk of the missional basis of the Bible as of the biblical basis of mission.”[21] In terms of concentric circles, missions would be on the inside and comprised of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. In the next circle would be mission, which is what the church does for God in the world. In the last sphere is Missio Dei, and this circle encompasses all the others and comprises of all that God does to build the kingdom.[22]

            David Bosch believes, “Mission became the ‘mother of theology,’” while other scholars believe mission lies within the core of theology. Under this assumption, Moreau et al. make a bold statement, saying, “Then mission is at the heart of who Christians are and what the church is to be and do.”[23] John Piper goes even further saying, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, [but that] worship is. Missions exists because worship does not. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man… Missions is a temporary necessity, but worship abides forever.”[24] The biggest difference between mission theology and other fields can be traced back to the original initiator: God. If it was not for the missionary heart of God, mission theology would not exist and any other field would be inconsequential. Piper is correct in his assertion why missions exists, and until the church understands their corporate and individual purpose, mission(s) will always be needed until the return of Christ.

Key Themes of Mission Theology

            When people think of missions, they typically view its representations as only being practical. However, biblical missions, on multiple levels, keeps all its forms from simply becoming another humanitarian effort or initiative like the Red Cross, by the motivation behind them. Justo Gonzalez once said, “The history of the church is the history of missions,” so if one is truly going to study the theology of missions, they must look to the early church and how the gospel and Christianity were spread. It was God who chose humanity to take the message of the gospel of salvation and redemption across borders and cultures, to the four corners of the earth.

            Interestingly, it was not until the mid-1900s that there was any distinction made between mission and missions. Moreau et al. establish, “Mission was not limited to what the church was doing, since God has always been active in the world… Essentially, missions has been relegated to the specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries. By contrast, mission is broader, referring to everything the church is doing that points toward the kingdom of God.”[25] In the early church, there was no issue of trying to identify their mission or what they were supposed to do. They saw a need and they met it, as is evidenced by their assigning men of proven character to care for the widows.[26] However, today there are multiple viewpoints as to the purpose of the church and despite any good intentions, in most cases, Christians are working against each other, instead of working together to bring glory to God.

            The evangelistic model of missions cannot be ignored as it plays a huge role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Moreau et al. split the core themes into three concentric elements:

(1) Calling those who do not know Christ through the activities of evangelism and church planting, (2) growing in the capacity to live God-glorifying lives through the processes of discipleship and church growth, and (3) reflecting God’s glory to a needy world through living lives of salt and light.[27]

            It is from these three concentric elements Moreau et al. develop the six motifs that are the guiding theme of mission theology: First is the kingdom of God, which is in this world, but not of it. Second is Jesus, who the entire Christian faith is centered on and Whom Christians should turn to in trying to understand their role in mission(s). Third is the Holy Spirit, which is a member of the Godhead that empowers Christians for the work of the church. Moreau et al. describe the Holy Spirit being the agent who reversed Babel at Pentecost. In a form of parallelism, just as the Father sent Christ, Jesus also sends the Holy Spirit when He ascended back to the right hand of God. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to act as a comforter, counselor, and to empower Christians with the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Fourth is the church, which is defined as both an organism and an organization, whose ultimate purpose is to submit to Christ. In relation to the world, the church is to call the people of the world to repentance by proclaiming the gospel. Fifth is Shalom, which expresses not only a sense of personal peace, but also a sense of community peace and wholeness. Sixth is the return of Christ, which is a vision of the future that determines the responsibilities in the present.[28]

            Moreau et al. then show how eschatology relates to each of three levels at the core of mission: “First, evangelism is God’s response to the fact that people apart from Christ are destined to spend eternity separated from God. Second, the certainty of Christ’s return provides Christians with hope, enabling them to persevere in their own growth as followers of Christ. Third, the coming of Christ motivates Christians to be preservers in a lost world.”[29]

How Mission Theology Relates to Missionaries, Church Leaders, and Laity

            According to Ada Lum, “A missionary is a prepared disciple whom God sends into the world with His resources to make disciples for the kingdom.”[30] Every Christian should be a missionary at some level and as Moreau et al. point out, “Mission that does not include evangelism is missing the core.”[31] Mission is so much more than just evangelism and the ultimate purpose of mission(s) for church leaders is to be used by God. The church must then witness to people about the reconciliation available to them through the sacrifice of Jesus. They must also foster an environment where people are welcome to come and worship and submit their lives to Christ. They must continually train and equip the laity of the church for the work of the church by teaching them how to obey all that Christ commanded. These lessons are better observed than taught as each leader’s life is a reflection and testimony of their relationship with God.

            Mission theology, when properly understood, should be at the heart of every believer, leader, missionary, and church. Once this principle is implemented and all decisions are filtered through this verifier to determine if what you are doing is a reflection of mission(s) being at the heart of who Christians are and what the church is to be and do, one will truly be in acting according to God’s perfect and complete will.[32]

Conclusion

            This paper has illustrated that mission(s) flows from the very heart and character of God.  By examining scripture, it has been shown that the Bible is essentially a missionary book and throughout the Old and the New Testament, God is seen continually moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. This paper has also revealed how the nature of God relates to missions, as well as how it compares to other aspects of theology, like Christology. While Christology is centered on the person of Christ, mission theology has a much larger impact on the role God’s children play in continuing the mission for which Christ was originally sent. Lastly, this paper has demonstrated how mission theology relates to missionaries, church leaders, and laity who are not involved in full-time ministry, by showing each party has a role to play, and until all parties involved are working towards a common goal, as Piper said, “Missions will always be needed!”

Bibliography

Daniel, Robin. Mission Strategies: Then and Now. Chester, England: Tamarisk, 2012.

Glasser, Arthur. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

Hamilton, Victor P. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Kaiser, Walter. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Köstenberger, Andreas and Peter O’ Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

Lum, Ada. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Missions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015.

Piper, John. Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.

Wright, Christopher. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, s.v. “Old Testament Theology of Mission.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000.


[1] A. Scott Moreau, A., Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 29.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 192.

[3] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 32.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 33.

[6] Walter Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 10.

[7] Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 22:17

[8] Gen. 13:15-17; 15:12-21; 17:8

[9] Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 273-274.

[11] Arthur Glasser, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task, 4th Edition, Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 149.

[12] Acts 26:18 (ESV)

[13] II Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[14] Matthew 28:16-20

[15] Matthew 22:35-40

[16] Genesis 3:15

[17] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 30-31.

[18] Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’ Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 251.

[19] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 69.

[20] Ibid., 16.

[21] Christopher Wright, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, s.v. “Old Testament Theology of Mission.” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 2000), 29.

[22] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, Diagram 5.2, 71.

[23] Ibid., 72-73.

[24] John Piper, Let the Nation Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 11.

[25] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 15.

[26] Acts 6:1-7

[27] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 76.

[28] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 76-81.

[29] Ibid., 81-82.

[30] Ada Lum, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Missions, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 21.

[31] A. Scott Moreau, et al., Introducing World Missions, 83.

[32] Ibid., 73.

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