“Therefore go and provide access to the gospel for all unreached people groups, engaging them 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. If you get your strategy right, I’ll be right there beside you until you finish the task.”
This is not the Great Commission found in Matthew 28. It is, however, our much-improved interpretation of those final earthly instructions Jesus gave to His disciples and (therefore) to the church. You’ll notice quite a bit of jargon in there, but don’t be alarmed, It all makes sense to us, and we’re the professionals. We’ve made some slight modifications to the wording in order to help make the our obedience in the matter much more organized and easily measured; two things that certainly matter to Jesus. He clearly didn’t have time to expound on His instructions, (what with His impending ascension into heaven and all), so we’ve added some vital details.
He said “I have the authority, so make disciples.” What He obviously meant was “engage” them. Get at least one person to adopt each group, and you can check them off your list. The bit about “all nations?” Time and social sciences have demonstrated that people are organized into static, measurable “people groups” that we need to reach in order to fulfill the Commission. We know where the unreached ones are. If only we had enough people or enough money, we could engage them all right here and now.
“Make disciples” is clearly a euphemism for “provide them with access to the gospel,” isn’t it? If we can just get the Bible (the most gospely parts, of course) translated into words, pictures, or dramatic re-enactments that the people will understand, we’ll be well on our way. After all, “God’s word will not return void,” right? Incarnation isn’t necessary, information is the key.
Sure Jesus is with us, but only if we’re on the front lines, driving back lostness. It’s fine if you want to live in South America, just don’t call yourself a missionary. We reached them already. Now it’s on them to compete with the Mormons, atheists, and Mary-worshipers. There are enough Christians there already– if we do it for them, they’ll never be as mature as we are (spiritually, I mean).
So we’re missions-minded people, engaging people groups and providing access to the gospel. We can do it. If not, why would Jesus have commanded us to go? If the task isn’t finishable, it could, like, go on forever. If you really want Jesus to come back, you should adopt an unengaged, unreached people group today.
Growing up in church, kids always got special treatment. At my church, for example, there was some unwritten rule giving all adults in church “special” permission to “discipline” us as though we were their own kids. Doyle Braden was an arm-grabber, as I recall. Mr. Lettow would flick the backs of our heads. Sean’s dad pinched ears. Hard.
Church kids didn’t have to listen to sermons. We were allowed to draw on the backs of bulletins and take naps. The sermon was for “grownups.” The kids, well, we were told “Bible stories.”
I remember my Sunday School teacher pulling out the flannelgraph and using felt-cutouts of camels, caves, and men with beards retell (okay- summarize) the stories of the Bible. Noah and the Ark. The Fiery Furnace. The Good Samaritan. Great stories, all told in kid-friendly ways. You know, like on Sesame Street.
And that was the problem. Our little kid brains had a hard time telling the difference between Bible stories (which, I presume our teachers believed to have really happened or, in the case of the Samaritan, to have really been told by Jesus) and every other story we had been told. After all, David and Goliath had a giant, but so did Jack and the Beanstalk. Jesus was resurrected by the power of God, Sleeping Beauty was revivified by the Kiss of a Prince. To us, it was all kind of the same.
To make matters worse, our teachers often oversimplified the stories, diluting them into moralistic tales that they were never meant to be. Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, and Achan, taught us that is was bad to tell a lie. David and Jonathan showed us that sharing made us a good friend. Jonah was a lesson in obedience. Sunday morning Bible stories were like lo-tech Saturday morning cartoons. Only boring.
Looking back, I recognize that each “story” was an opportunity to share the gospel; to demonstrate our need for a savior and to recognize God’s provision in Christ. But instead, we learned that sharing and using good manners made Jesus happy. As we grew up, those stories were left behind for more practical topical Bible studies and the abstract “meat” of Pauline theology.
Of course, we eventually learned that The Three Little Pigs, The Seven Dwarfs, and all the other protagonists in our childhood stories weren’t real. How were we to know that their Bible story counterparts were?
I suppose what I’m getting at is that we need to be careful how we communicate things. The Bible isn’t God’s Cautionary Tales. Sure, there are lots of examples in the history of the Creator’s interaction with creation, but there’s more to it than that. Everything recorded in the text points to humanity’s relationship to God, made right only through the life, death, and real resurrection of Jesus. The way we talk about that history will affect how it is understood by those we tell.
Missiological passages of scripture that I’m working through:
v.14 “…And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
This verse has probably been the greatest scriptural influence on the “Unfinished Task” missiology. In other posts, I’ve explained my opinion that verse 14 (as the rest of the context, and Mark 13:10) is meant to be descriptive as opposed to prescriptive. In other words, while there are many passages in which Jesus’ followers are commanded to go, preach, and make disciples, this isn’t one of them. Does it still have implications for missions? Of course. It describes God’s people obedienty doing what their master told them to do while he was away. But to develop a global missions strategy based on this passage seems like a stretch.
Another problem is this idea that Jesus can’t come back until all of the people groups have heard. What about the people groups who are now extinct and never heard the gospel? And how can “the task” be finished with the birth of new people groups all the time?
v.34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
A difficult verse for literal translation. There are better treatments of this passage elsewhere. I include it here as context that further prevents me from using v.14 as missiological motivation. If we’re going to say that, based on v.14, Jesus isn’t coming back until we ‘finish the task, why not use this verse to say “Our generation won’t die until ‘the Task’ is complete?”
v.36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…”
v.42 “…Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. “
These verses in this same chapter keep me from playing the guessing game of when the Son will return. They also reminds me that His retunr isn’t up to me, or us, or our missionary success. Obedience should be the motivation for missions; obedience to directive passages of scripture, such as Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18, and to the step-by-step guidance on the Holy Spirit.
Missiological passages of scripture that I’m working through:
This Passage is often used as a template or model for missions. The concept of the “Person of Peace” comes directly from Jesus’ commission of these 72 disciples. The passage is full of wisdom and truth for all believers on mission, but we need to remember that the context of this passage is a specific historical event (mission trip) with a beginning and end.
v.1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go…”
Unlike us, these disciples went ahead of Jesus. This verse stands in contrast to Matthew 28, where Jesus says, “I am with you always.” I also think it’s important that Jesus sent people to places where He was “about to go.” While I believe that God was in Western Europe before we arrived, we have certainly seen Him work in the lives of the people around us just after our arrival.
v.2 “He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”
For my thoughts on this verse, see my post, Workers.
v.4 “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.”
I’m not sure how this instruction to “travel light” applies to those of us who feel led to plant our lives in the mission field indefinately. Perhaps just that we shouldn’t ever get too comfortable on this earth?
I also wonder about the second half of this verse. It seems to contrary to the common wisdom that warns us to take every opportunity. What about the person I sit next to on the plane on my way to the field? It goes to stress the fact that we need to depend on the Holy Spirit even for guidance as to with whom we should share the gospel.
v.5-6 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.
In our experience, God has been faithful to bring us to the Person of Peace even though we haven’t gone hunting for him/her. I think this verse speaks to the relational context of the good news; a personal connection with an unbeliever is a good sign that God is at work.
v.7-9 “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’”
What constitutes a welcome? As I mentioned above, I think that friendship is the welcome we should be looking for.
v.10-11 “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’”
When is it time to leave? In my posts Front Burner and Back Burner, I talk about the idea of relational ministry “dead ends,” and the desire of some to pursue especially (only?) relationships with those people who are responsive to the Good News. I believe that there are people who can drag us down and hinder our ministries, but I think these verses are talking about those times when we have no personal connection with the people to whom we are sent.
v.16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
I’ve heard lots of missionaries use this verse as an excuse for social rejection by a host culture. Usually, I want to say, “No, they aren’t rejecting you because they are rejecting the Gospel, they are rejecting you because you: a) are a proud, condescending, know-it-all stuck in American culture, b) not sharing the gospel, or c) a big dork.
v.22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
That pesky predestination keeps coming up…
v.23-24 “Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Please see my post, Passion.