Like Fire

[taken from To Make A Difference by Dr. Peter L. Steinke, pp.97-99]

            Mission is the activity that births and sustains the church. Mission is the church’s vocation. A church that neglects the missionary call ceases to be the church, “Just as first exists by burning,” theologian Emil Brunner remarked, “so the church exists by mission.” Simply, if there is no mission, there is no church.

The word mission is derived from the Greek words pempein and apostolein. These words appear 206 times in the New Testament. Apostolos (one who is sent) is used 79 times. Christianity is a “sending” affair in which God’s redemptive love is announced and shared.

All mission whereby church people invest their gifts and efforts proceeds from the reality that “God so loved the world.” Theologian Christopher Wright summarizes: “The Bible renders to us the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation.” The Gospel speaks to every human experience and need and to the whole creation. It makes a difference.

As the church enters a different and confusing world, its place erodes. Its membership continues to decline. For the moment, mission emphasis has centered on growth. The major citation for mission work as growth has been Matthew 28, otherwise known as the Great Commission. Oddly, Matthew 28, until two hundred years ago, was essentially repeated at baptisms. Now, it is the catchall phrase for missions. But David Bosch states: “The validity of mission should not be deduced from isolated sayings but from the thrust of the central message of Scripture.”

Jesus did not come into this world and live His life on a mountaintop isolated from human suffering. He walked among us, ate with us, and shared in our humanity. He did not heal the lepers from a distance, but touched them into wholeness. He pressed His disciples and prayed for them to be in the world but not of the world. The focus of their three years together was not the salvation of the Twelve, but their ministry to the entire planet.

Ervine McManus, Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul

            Isn’t the church called to live in the world? Isn’t the church a sign of hope for the world’s future? Can the church limit its mission to an evangelism that seeks to salvage individuals not the whole world?

Jesus came into the world and walked among us, ate with us, and shared in our humanity. In his paraphrasing, Eugene Peterson caught the essence of it: “And the Word became flesh and blood and took residence in the neighborhood.” He touched the sick, consoled the distraught, and he even talked to women in public. He prepared the Twelve for their ministry to the whole world, not for some spiritual gain apart from earthly matters.

Theologian Gerhard Lohfink claims, “For Jesus the reign of God first of all means this life, this world, this history…” What God does in redemption is in service of divine goals in and for creation. God’s intended future for the world is to create a “new creation.” God’s redemptive acts are in behalf of the whole world.