I tried to argue in the last post that neither soteriology nor ecclesiology nor eschatology should define our priorities in mission. Rather, it’s our doctrine of God that must be our first point of call. It is the God whose being is in the Father’s sending (missio) of the Son who is the proper foundation for missiology. If that’s true then it follows…
4) A deficient doctrine of God will lead to a deficient missiology
5) The divorce of ‘God the Creator’ from ‘God the Redeemer’ is one of the chief errors in doctrine of God and, consequently, missiology.
John Stott has been a vocal proponent of “evangelism + social action = mission.” The links with his doctrine of God are exposed in quotes like this:
“[There are two freedoms and two unities for which Jesus Christ is concerned] On the one hand there is socio-political liberation and the unity of all mankind, for these things are the good will of God the Creator, while on the other there is the redemptive work of Christ who sets his people free from sin and guilt, and unites them in his new community. To muddle these two things (creation and redemption, common grace and saving grace, liberation and salvation, justice and justification) is to plunge oneself into all kinds of confusion.” (From a sermon quoted in Timothy Dudley Smith, John Stott: A Global Ministry, IVP, 2001, p204).
Here we see God the Creator and God the Redeemer laid side by side. The concerns of creation and redemption are, in this way of thinking, separately addressed by the Living God.
Now of course the Father is very interested in the whole spectrum of these activities above. Yet He accomplishes them through the one Gospel.
As Athanasius was so keen to stress:
“The first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation #1)
The Word became flesh – there are no purposes of God that are not bound up in the exaltation of His Son, in Him creation and redemption are inseparably bound.
6) God’s mission is a Gospel mission
The purposes of the Father from all ages have been exclusively focussed on His Son (Psalm 2:1-12; Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13,14; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:15f).
In the power of the Spirit, His word has been the agent for all divine activity in creation and redemption.( 2 Peter 3:5-7; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:1-3; 5:24; 6:63,68)
In the Incarnation of the Word, the Father gives to Jesus His word (John 8:55; 14:24), which accomplished all that Jesus does (John 14:10; Mark 4:41; Luke 4:43; John 5:24; 12:48; 17:17).
It is this word that Jesus entrusts to his followers (John 15:20; 17:6,14,20).
The Church has inherited a Gospel mission for the world, i.e. the Father’s mission to the exalt His Son in His Spirit-empowered word.
God is exclusively concerned for the exaltation of His Son. All other interests (in justice, liberation, common grace etc) find their place under this one agenda. And the Father has committed all His omnipotent power to Christ (Matt 28:18) who in turn grants it to the Church (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 1:22-23). The Living God has unreservedly committed Himself to the Gospel mission of the Church.
Barth saw these things so clearly. In 1934 the pressure for the Confessing Church to have another agenda was immense. Yet even (and especially) here Barth is adamant that the mission of the Church is the proclamation of Christ:
‘The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.’ (Barmen Declaration, article 6)
Or as he says in IV/3:
“The first if not the only thing in its witness is the ministry of the viva vox Evangelii to be discharged voce humana in human words. It is its declaration, explanation and evangelical address with the lips.” (IV/3, p864.)
Now if Barth can say that in the face of the Nazis, can we really countenance a socio-political side-show in our own day? In my next post I’ll tease out some of the implications for the Church’s ministry today.
I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.