In the past year, whenever I have been doing any teaching on our sentness as God’s people, I have tended to anchor in John 20:19-21. There is a lot to love about that story!
But lately I have been worrying that we need a wider argument. John 20, after all, is a closed group of disciples, most of whom are apostles.
So I think adding Luke 9 and 10 is a good practice. Then we see the progression from Jesus to Holy Spirit to a missionary band. Apostles are just one small group among the missionary band that Jesus sends into the world.
We are all sent, and we are all missionaries.
Anytime we talk about this sending dynamic, we should anchor it in the life of the Triune God. The rhythm of God’s life is both inward in community and outward in love. When we distort the rhythm or lose one movement, we distort the Gospel in turn. (Distortions in practice soon become distortions in theology). Mission can be an idol; without theological rooting it is simply activism. (And see “Mission_Discipleship“).
Framing this in classical terms, missiology does not determine ecclesiology; there is another priority and it is theology. The life of God should be mirrored in the church as the very Body of Christ in the world. Any ecclesiology that is not first a theology is a cultural accommodation.
If we miss this step by starting with missiology, we hit a host of other problems.
1. contextualization becomes primary and we no longer do critical work.
2. Christology becomes the foundation and individualist paradigms and individualist soteriology are not challenged. We end up emphasizing decisions over discipleship.
3. following on no 2, without the nature of God as our starting point, living incarnationally can mean an individual living on mission in their context, rather than the church as an embodied presence. It is in the multiplicity of gifts and in the loving unity of relationships that Christ is made known.
4. following on no 2 and 3, apart from this embodied presence, to what do we call people? We call them to Jesus, yes, to the Word, but we must also call them to a Way (the kingdom way – “the way and the truth and the life”)
This in part is why we need to shift from believing before belonging, to belonging then believing. People need to SEE the presence of God among us because they don’t come knowing the story. So it takes longer than it used to, to see people enter the kingdom. There are exceptions of course, because this process is mysterious and the sovereign Spirit is involved. Where there are works of power, people can come very suddenly through experience of the risen Lord. But that isn’t the norm.