Christ and Culture, Missio Dei, Missional, Reformed and Missional Series, Reformed theology, Reformissional

>Reformed and Missional, Part One

>Why the Reformed are Missional…or Should Be

Reformed folks tend to be very resistant to faddish trends in ministry. This is a good thing, although we tend to take it too far many times (for example, look at the standard brutalization of the emerging church by many Reformed blogs). Evangelicals associated with loosely defined movements such as the “Reformed Resurgence” and the “Return to Tradition” have taken these paths, in part, due to reactions against the evangelical fascination with following fads at any cost and the hollowness and compromise that have accompanied this fascination.

The “missional” movement is just another one of these ministry fads…or is it? Some of us believe that this is the case as evidenced by the mockery of all things missional seen from time to time around the Reformed blogosphere. As you can see from the sub-title of this post, I do not think that being “missional” can be dismissed as a mere fad but is something that should be investigated and embraced by Reformed believers. Yes, there may be a faddish aspect to missional church for some but what I want to concentrate on is the lasting, biblical core of what it means to be missional.

What is “Missional?”

The missional church begins where our corporate worship ends every week. What do I mean by that? Look at how many of our services are brought to a close. At my church, we follow a four-movement service order of Gathering, the ministry of the Word, the ministry of the Table, and a dismissal with benediction. After we are strengthened and nourished by Word and Table, we are dismissed or sent out, equipped and ready to continue to advance God’s kingdom. We are on mission from the moment we are sent out by our pastor every week.

Craig Van Gelder is the editor of a book entitled, The Missional Church in Context, Helping Congregations Develop Contextual Ministry. In his chapter, “Missiology and the Missional Church in Context,” Van Gelder writes,

“It is worth noting that the adjective ‘missional’ reframes the whole discussion of what had previously been referred to as ‘church and mission.’ The latter formulation tends to introduce a dichotomy from which it is impossible to escape without tending to give precedence to one over the other. But the missional church invites a different conception: it sees the church as being missionary in its very nature. It is also a perception that views every context as a missional context, and every congregation as a missional congregation that is responsible to participate in God’s mission in that context.”[p.27]

Ecclesiology and missiology are brought together in a missional approach because the church is inherently mission-ary and our context for missions is all around us. The concept of the church on mission necessarily involves ecclesiology, soteriology, and missiology but the idea of “mission” ultimately stems from the doctrine of God. While our traditional concept of missionary work has been seen as an activity of the church, “mission” originated with the triune God himself as seen in His nature and work. David Bosch, author of Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, states,

“Mission [is] understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It [is] thus put in the context of the Trinity, not ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine of the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit [is] expanded to include yet another ‘movement’: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.”[pg.390]

The church is not merely and end in and of itself but is also the means God uses for both gospel witness and blessing. The purpose of our calling and election does not end with our personal salvation, sanctification, and glorification. We have been called for a purpose.

As we can see, missional is not just a new term for “missions.” Darrell L. Guder, the editor of Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, writes,

“We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather mission is the result of God’s initiative, rooted in God’s purposes to restore and heal creation. Mission means ‘sending,’ and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s action in human history. God’s mission began with the call of Israel to receive God’s blessings in order to be a blessing to the nations. God’s mission unfolded in the history of God’s people across the centuries recorded in Scripture, and it reached its relevatory climax in the incarnation of God’s work of salvation in Jesus ministering, crucified and resurrected. God’s mission continued then in the witness to God’s good news in Jesus Christ. It continues today in the worldwide witness of churches in every culture to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[pg.4]

God’s blessings to the Church as seen in the doctrines of grace, for instance, are indeed an amazing thing. They deserve the time and attention we devote to them. However, as Guder stated, Israel received God’s blessings, in part, in order to bless the nations. Blessing the nations is a part of our missional activity in the world. Yes, we are chosen. We are called. But we were also chosen for a purpose. According to professor Joon-Sik Park, author of Missional Ecclesiologies in Tension, H. Richard Niebuhr and John Howard Yoder,

“The church is, then, chosen and called to be a distinctive community, a foretaste of God’s kingdom already present in its midst, as a demonstration of the power not of its own but of the Holy Spirit. Yet, at the same time, the church continues to be sent as the unworthy and humble bearer of blessing for the sake of all.”[pg.147]

A distinctive community, in the world but not of it, subjects of our Lord’s inbreaking kingdom, redeemed servants by the grace of our triune God. Those who are sent out as humble proclaimers of the Good News and bearers of blessing. This is the Reformissional church.


As Reformed believers, we tend to not have a problem with the “gospel witness” aspect of the church on mission. However, being a blessing to the nations, particularly in those in our immediate context, may be a different matter. Oftentimes we think of our cultural involvement as evangelistic only but the totality of God’s mission should be quite natural for those of the Reformed Faith. Cultural formation has traditionally been seen as a central component of God’s creating humankind in His image. In the “Foreward” to the 2001 edition of Henry R. Van Til’s The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Richard J. Mouw writes,

“And the Lord who claims all culture as part of his kingdom also calls his redeemed people to show forth his divine rule in the patterns of their cultural involvement. Here the standard Calvinistic discussion of divine election is extended to emphasize the point of that election: believers who have been elected by sovereign grace are thereby called to participate in the life of a redeemed community of believers who together must find ways of bearing witness to the sovereign rule of God over all things.”[pg.x]

Showing forth God’s divine rule in the patterns of our cultural involvement is not only missional but thoroughly Calvinistic. While being missional is often caricatured as neglecting the gospel in favor of a social gospel, the church on mission is a part of bearing witness to the sovereign rule of God over all things. The missional church honors the totality of God’s sovereignty and His redemptive work. In his above-mentioned book, Henry R. Van Til states,

“Calvin’s conception of culture is also radically eschatological. For all of life is a meditation on the life to come, and all must be seen in the light of eternity. Therefore, we must learn to possess and not be possessed by the things of this world, for the world passeth away. Culture is never an end in itself for Calvin. All of scholarship, all of art and learning, as well as humbler forms of culture, are to be used for the service of God and exercised for the glory of God. Hence a duality in human culture is found to exist, for the activity of man that is not directed to the service and glory of God is self-frustrative, is vain and meaningless. Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory! That was Calvin’s life motto, not only in the work of Christ unto salvation, but also for man’s cultural striving.”[pg.116]

Calvin saw the glorification of God in salvation and cultural striving. The missional church embraces both as well. In his chapter entitled “The Missional Congregation in Context” in the book The Missional Church in Context, Scott Frederickson explains,

“I want to argue that a missional congregation tries not to have such a bifurcation of its message and mission. To be missional in this way is to understand that message and context are intricately related. Missional congregations live our their identity as Christian communities in close relationship to their contexts without, on the one hand, succumbing to the context or, on the other hand, denying the context on the basis of their identity, history, or tradition. To be missional in this sense is to understand how God works within a context without destroying the context.”[pg.46]

The church is sent on mission within the totality of life, recognizing God’s sovereignty over all things and glorifying God by our cultural work. In this sense, we ought to be Reformed and missional.

To be continued…



9 thoughts on “>Reformed and Missional, Part One

  1. >”But the kingdom is the goal–the Gospel is a means to an end. (I don’t know how this will sit with the Reformed type.)” Just fine!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | May 3, 2008, 11:30 am
  2. >By the way, Matt, I want to thank you for your involvement here at CRM. Your comments have added a lot to the discussion. Thanks!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | May 2, 2008, 12:23 pm
  3. >”(If Brian McLaren leads the missional charge, then the issue will be the role of the church and the Holy Spirit in community transformation, and the reaction will be a charismatic-missional church.)”I’m glad you mentioned McLaren because that gives me a chance to clarify that missional does not = emerging. Missional does not require any reimagining or discarding of orthodoxy. In fact, I am arguing that we would be more missional if we were living in accordance with historic, orthodox doctrine and practice. Being the church in the world and for the world does not require the abandonment of weekly corporate worship (some emerging Xians meet up on Sunday to go walk around town and talk to people rather than engaging in corporate worship), it does not entail a false dichotomy between doctrine and practice, and while it very well may cause one to be more engaged in issues of justice it does not have to be expressed in socialist or radical left forms.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | May 2, 2008, 11:43 am
  4. >Jeff,Excellent post. I look forward to hearing the “to be continued” portion as well. I attend an Acts 29 Network affiliate church, aka Mark Driscol, and it lines up pretty much with what you are saying.

    Posted by hylander | May 1, 2008, 2:22 am
  5. >Excellent post, Jeff. As you guys know, I’m a big proponent of “missional” Church and think that it is not only compatible with Reformed theology, but a necessary component of it.I agree with Gunny’s concern on the terminology. In fact, I think that the very fact that we have to use qualifiers and adjectives like “missional” or “strategic” belies a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the Church. If we do a better job teaching the fullness of the Gospel and the nature of the Church, we will have a sustainable “missional” movement without the need for faddish branding.

    Posted by Dwight Watson | April 30, 2008, 8:14 pm
  6. >Jeff wrote:”But what about being a blessing to the people around us and being a blessing in a way that includes but is not limited to evangelism? I’m not so sure we have a great track record here.”I think that’s fair. I think we’ve been lacking in outreach other than for utilitarian purposes.When I talk with people about helping the community for it’s own sake or about being agents of grace in the lives of others, I often get blank stares.The assumption is that the only reason we’d ever be nice to the heathen is to get them saved.Sure, we want to get them saved, but that’s not the only way we can love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Posted by GUNNY | April 30, 2008, 3:01 pm
  7. >While the “missional” church is certainly trendy and reactionary, I guess only time will tell whether it is just a “fad.” I see the social Gospel movement as producing fundamentalism, which in turn produced the missional movement.I have been a part of some (mega)churches that are more or less only concerned with “gettin’ people saved” and bringing them into the church. The whole time I served there I felt like I was just feeding this machine called “the church.” I started thinking, “Is the church just a consumer? Is it just a macrocosm of all the individual consumers that make it up? Surely the church has been called to more than just kidnapping people from ‘the world’ and conforming them to our style of speech and dress. I think the church should be giving back.”Another aspect of the missional movement is a reevaluation of what spiritual maturity looks like. The old guard tends to focus on piety and personal devotion, while the missional movement tends to focus on social justice and community development. (Obviously, you need both.)I have since reevaluated the meaning of the kingdom of God and I see “evangelism” as the first and necessary step of creating a new humanity for a new kingdom. But the kingdom is the goal–the Gospel is a means to an end. (I don’t know how this will sit with the Reformed type.) My guess is that IF the missional movement sweeps the nation, it will make one glaring theological omission, and 50 years down the road the pendulum will swing the other way with regard to that issue. (If Brian McLaren leads the missional charge, then the issue will be the role of the church and the Holy Spirit in community transformation, and the reaction will be a charismatic-missional church.)

    Posted by Matt | April 30, 2008, 2:29 pm
  8. >Yes, the term is a new thing. My concern is that we not look at missional church as a mere fad or mischaracterize it as social gospel and then dismiss it out of hand. You are right to say that we are not really “off mission” at any time, including the worship service. My next post will get into a lot more about what I was meaning there. I think those of us who strongly affirm that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever are natural “Friend[s] of Missional.” We already embrace the idea that God is to be glorified in the totality of life. I think sometimes explain this as honoring God at work or being a godly parent, for example. Our understanding of vocation is very helpful here. But what about being a blessing to the people around us and being a blessing in a way that includes but is not limited to evangelism? I’m not so sure we have a great track record here. Examining what being missional is all about could energize us to recognize God’s sovereignty over all things in a fuller way than we currently are.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | April 30, 2008, 11:48 am
  9. >I don’t think being missional or the obligation thereof is faddish, but I do think the terminology is faddish.Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.I would say, in that regard, we’re missional even in the worship service.I think our chief end is our mission and we have a co-mission as well. We are also obligated to love, both God and others.Perhaps we might move the emphasis just a bit and speak in terms of being strategic.That is, what are our strategies as we leave the church building as to how we are glorify God and enjoy Him forever.How are we to go about making disciples of all nations?How are we to love God and love our neighbor as ourself?In other words, being “strategic” can help accomplish one’s mission, instead of leaving our obligations/assignments in very general, abstract terms.I’m not a hater or necessarily opposed to the verbiage of “missional,” but I sometimes get the impression that one has to know the terminology in order to actually be missional.I don’t think that’s so.

    Posted by GUNNY | April 30, 2008, 6:55 am

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