Then and Now
I constantly remind my congregation, and myself, that the events of the Bible happened thousands of years ago and that there has been a lot of history between us and Jesus. The scriptures were written for another time, another place and another culture. It is doubtful that the writers of the Old and New Testaments knew their words would be canonized and become the foundation of two major religions 8000 to 2000 years later. If Paul had known his words would be quoted 2 millenniums later would he have told the women in Corinth to shut up and listen to their husbands? Moses dictated laws to govern tens of thousands of people wandering in the desert. Elisha spoke out against tyrannical rulers of his own people, Paul gave advise to his young friend Timothy as well as to the various churches facing unique issues in their communities. And John’s Book of Revelation may have been as much subversive against Roman rule as it was prophetic. Patriarchs, prophets and apostles all spoke out about issues of their own time over which they had influence. Their mission field was in the times in which they lived and they attempted to inspire and assist the people of their world.
With modern knowledge and awareness of diverse human culture, we cannot address the issues of today in the same way that the early followers did. While the work of the prophets, apostles and church fathers can provide a template for action, our ability to effectively minister to the world is guided as much by our practical understanding of the geo-political machinations as by spiritual guidance. It is not that we need to regard the scriptures as archaic and outdated by modern knowledge and awareness. The question is, do we need to re-evaluate our understanding of the scriptures to make them applicable for fulfilling God’s mission in the world? Some may feel that reinterpreting scriptures to accommodate modern culture undermines the core tenets of faith. Yet even Paul knew that converting the gentiles to Christ would not succeed if they had to be circumcised. Christians need to understand how to do missions in a modern world and still fulfill our Biblical mandate.
For many churches and Christians, missions are a sort of bucket list to be marked off as we achieve them. Do we understand why we do them and what God is achieving through our missional efforts? Or are they another plaque to hang on the church office walls. Modern Christians should understand that missions are a continuation of the work which God did through Moses and Paul. It is not a legacy which needs to be maintained. The ministry of missions is a way to understand God’s purpose for the world and its people.
Nor should missions be discarded because a church is spiritually, financially and demographically challenged to carry on the work. Christians need to understand that missions are a core value of their faith, an undertaking that has sustained the faith throughout the past and will propel the church into the future. The modern church and its members shouldn’t asked “if” they should do missions, but rather “how”. Though scriptures were written for times long past, they remain relevant because we have a deeper understanding of their core message and their timeless value in the present day. Missions reminds a church and its members of the their work and should be viewed as a cornerstone of discipleship.
The world has not really changed since Biblical times. Humanity faces the same avarice, bigotry, xenophobia, hatred and intolerance that have always plagued the human family. It is our awareness and insight into their causes which have changed. This in turn cause our understanding of the scripture to evolve. While the Apostle had no knowledge of sub-atomic particles, DNA or people living beyond a vast ocean, God knew. The words of Jesus and his disciple inspired followers to do mission work. While the nature and style of missions have been altered by growing knowledge and awareness, the purpose of mission remains the same. Knowing all this God provided the scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide us through each age and each generation to continue the fulfillment of his Kingdom. The narrative of the Bible remains focused on the purpose of missions not on its application which is in constant flux. The teaching of the church and its members should be directed toward achieving the Kingdom of God, not preserving the Garden of Eden.
Missions can be a means of fulfillment by which people can see the intentional and transformational work which God is doing in the world. They are a fruit of salvation and an expression of God’s grace in our lives. It is also the means by which Christians, individually and collectively demonstrate God’s presence in the world. Pastors need to teach that Christians are a missionary people and their church is a missionary instrument of Christ. This best exemplified in the scriptures from James 2:14-18 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[i]
[i] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 68636-68639). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.