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Some Thoughts for Churches and their Support of Missions

The following thoughts for churches and their support of missions come from a reflection on Scripture and personal experience in the Church and in foreign missions.  They are presented as theses that could be discussed, and several, indicative Scripture passages are offered for that purpose.  What is necessarily lacking (for reasons of space) are anecdotes that make the points from Church history and mission practice as well.  The points seem obvious enough to me, but they challenge much of contemporary, Evangelical missionary practice.  Thus, they are presented to stimulate reflection and discussion by missionaries, churches, and mission agencies.

1. A primary reason for churches to unite into denominations or fellowships should be to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20) and to accomplish good works in fulfillment of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22.38-40).  [Non-denominational, independent churches are greatly hindered in their calling.]

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Matthew 22:38-40 This is the great and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

2. Celebration of holistic theology and ministry in Evangelical churches and their ministries is good, but a distinction of the Gospel from good works, related as they are, is theologically and practically important.  Faith is inseparable from good works, but it is not the same.  Good works can be done without faith, and faith can be had without doing good works (as a person can be a doctor and not practice medicine).  While faith and good works are inseparable, they are distinct.  The place where missions and good works come together is not in definitions but in people, individuals and churches.[1]

James 2:17-18 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  18 But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Acts 6:2-4 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

3. The Church should understand ‘missions’ as fulfillment of the Great Commission, with ministries of Bible translation, evangelism, church planting, and teaching as aspects of this ministry.

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

1 Corinthians 2:2-5 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

4. The Church should understand ‘good works’ as related to proclamation of the Gospel, as related to almsgiving and care for the poor, and as a mandate for the local church directed first to its own community and then to the outside community.

Acts 4:33-35 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold  35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Galatians 2:10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

5. The Gospel is not about ideals or abstract values such as ‘justice,’ ‘mercy,’ and ‘love,’ but is about the concrete, historical, specific, personal, and powerful work of God for salvation in Jesus Christ.  It is about God’s sending His Son in fulfillment of the prophets to take on flesh (incarnation), die on the cross for our sins (atonement), be physically raised on the third day from the dead (resurrection), ascend to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father to rule in power (ascension and Kingdom of God), and one day return again to judge the earth (second coming).

Romans 1:1-4 the gospel of God,  2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,  3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord….

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….

Romans 2:16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

6. Ministry of the Gospel is more than proclaiming a message.  It is accompanied with miraculous deeds as it is a Word of power, a message of transformation and witness to God’s saving power.  God’s grace is both a ‘forgiving grace’ and a ‘transforming grace.’ [Some presentations of the Gospel focus on justification in such a way that sanctification is not central, and some denominations and churches established in the Enlightenment (yet thinking themselves to be orthodox) have rejected the very notion of miracles in our day.]

Matthew 10:7-8 And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.

Galatians 3:5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith….

1 Corinthians 1:17-18 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 15:18-19 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience- by word and deed,  19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God- so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ….

7. Missions is not only overseas ministry, since the focus is firstly on a mission, the proclamation of the Gospel.  Mission work to unreached people, nevertheless, is a particular focus for Great Commission missions.  [This is not only about reaching new tribes that have not heard the Gospel but is also about each generation proclaiming the Gospel where it needs to be heard.  The Gospel needs to be planted in the same land more than once, and sometimes the Church itself may wander so far from the truth that it needs to hear the Gospel all over again.  One of the ‘foreign lands’ for the Gospel in our day are mainline denominations.]

Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

2 Corinthians 10:15-16 We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged,  16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's area of influence.

Romans 15:20-21 … and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation,  21 but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."

8. The local church is not a worship service in search of community but a community that, among other things, also worships.  Its community is itself a missionary witness.

Acts 2:42-47 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

9. ‘Community’ is not defined merely as fellowship (unity per se) but as agreement (unity) in essentials.  [A major error in recent times is to confuse ‘unity’ with ‘fellowship’ instead of understand it as the fellowship that derives from common beliefs and practices.]

Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

10. Local churches and the Church at large are Spirit-gifted bodies (especially 1 Cor. 12) with multiple, upbuilding ministries and set apart to God to be a holy and blameless people in love, a temple where the Spirit of God dwells.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Ephesians 1:4 … just as he [God the Father] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love (NRSV translation)

Ephesians 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

11. Being the church means calling sinners to repentance and separation from the world, not being inclusive and welcoming of diverse moralities and beliefs that undermine the commandments of God or the truth of His Word.

1 Corinthians 5:6-13 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-  10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler- not even to eat with such a one.  12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  13 God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."

Ephesians 5:5-16 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  7 Therefore do not associate with them;  8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light  9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),  10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,  14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."  15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,  16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

12. Support of overseas missionaries in our day is often, not always, in hopeless disarray as churches give far too little support to Great Commission mission efforts, missionaries are far too poorly trained, the Church has lost its understanding of what the mission is (‘if missions is everything, it is nothing’—Stephen Neill), resources for missions are squandered in short-term, overseas exposure trips, significant mission agencies have no clear mission but just connect people to overseas ministry opportunities, and independent churches lack connectivity to other churches that would help clarify and accomplish missionary tasks without duplication.

3 John 3-8 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.  4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.  5 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,  6 who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.  7 For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.  8 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

13. Missionaries should neither come with enticing resources in addition to the Gospel message nor become financially dependent on the receiving church.  Paul sets the standard: to be funded by other churches in other locations and/or to earn a living oneself (so-called ‘tent-making ministry’).

Matthew 10:9-10 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts,  10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

1 Corinthians 9:9-12 For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.  11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?  12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:3-5  I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,  4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…. Philippians 4:15-18  And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.  16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.  17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.  18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

14. All mission work should be from and for the Church.  It should be from the Church/church in that the Church, in faithfulness to Scripture, defines the mission; the Church is responsible to equip missionaries; and the Church should support missions and missionaries.  It should be for the Church in that missionaries should work with and through churches, connect with and contribute to churches, establish churches, work to reform churches, and not partner with other organisations (such as academic programmes or aid agencies) that do not embrace the Gospel and work to establish the Church on orthodox faith and practice.  [While the Church is not the only community that does good, everything it does must be focussed in Christ.  Anything else will dilute the Gospel.]

Jude 1:3-4 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Ephesians 3:8-10 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,  10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

15. The mission of God is to make His glory known throughout the world.[2]

Ezekiel 36:22-23 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

[1] The alternative view has been argued by Bruce Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010).
[2] As Christopher Wright states, behind the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 22.37-40) lies the Great Communication: Communication—the revelation of the identity of God, of god’s action in the world and God’s saving purpose for all creation’ (Christopher Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), p. 60).