>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…