Showing posts with label Missions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Missions. Show all posts

January 6, 2014

Epiphany and Gospel-Passion for the Nations

Today is Epiphany, the day on which the Church celebrates the arrival of the Magi to honor and give gifts to the Christ child. The Magi were foreigners come to honor Christ as king. Matthew is commonly known as the gospel to the Jews; so it may strike some as somewhat peculiar that the first evangelist would place an account of the journey of these (non-Jewish) Magi prominently near the beginning of his gospel. When we remember, however, that the Old Testament - the Psalms and Isaiah not least - is full of passages that anticipate the day when Israel's Messiah shall rule the nations, it shouldn't surprise us that the gospel to the Jews would highlight a vignette in which representatives of the nations flock to worship "the child who has been born king of the Jews" (Matt 2:2).

Given this focus on the gospel for the nations, the lectionary yesterday directed us to Ephesians 3:1-12, in which Paul explains the mystery that God has kept hidden for ages, namely that "the nations have become co-inheritors and participating members of the covenant promises in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph 3:6). That the nations have been incorporated into the promises of God to Abraham and his descendants drives the passion of the apostle to the Gentiles. It is that passion that motivated him to write (despite his sufferings) in hope that the churches - then and now - would catch his passion. So, as we celebrate and anticipate the ongoing in-gathering of the nations, here are three reasons drawn from Ephesians 2 and 3 for why we as Christians should have a passion for getting the gospel to every nation. 

1. Because God is Passionate about the Nations
There's a reason that the gospel accounts of Christ's suffering and death have come to be known as passion narratives. Our word "passion" comes from a Latin word that means to suffer, and if you care so deeply about another person that you are willing to suffer for them to the point of death on a cross, then it's safe to say you are passionate about them. When Paul starts talking about what is accomplished in the cross in Ephesians 2:11-22, his focus is on its instrumentality in creating peace between Israel and the nations. The uncircumcised have been reconciled to the circumcised; those alien to the commonwealth of Israel have been made citizens; strangers to the covenant are now participating members. "The blood of Christ" has done away with division and hostility between Israel and the nations to create "in Christ" a "new humanity in place of the two" (Eph 2:13-15). The cross is not only about individual forgiveness (it is about that because that's how you get in!), but also about creating a worldwide and international single people of God in Christ. If the cross means anything, it means that God is passionate about incorporating the nations into the family of Abraham through the preaching of the gospel. And if God is that passionate about the nations, then his people must be passionate too. 

2. Because We are the Nations
If you are reading this as a Christ-following Jew, then you are permitted to skip on to number three. I'm writing as an American of Irish descent, which means that when Paul writes in Ephesians 2:11-12 about the Gentiles who are "aliens from the commonwealth...strangers to the covenants....having no hope and without God in the world," he is talking about me, and everyone else who is not physically descended from Abraham. Of all people, we should be passionate about getting the gospel to the nations because we are the nations. Those who by grace have been "brought near by the blood of Christ" and made citizens of the commonwealth of Israel and members of the covenant have benefited incalculably from the passion of God for the nations. Shall we now not also passionately desire the unreached peoples of the world to likewise share in those rich blessings of God's extravagant mercy? We should be passionate about getting the gospel to the nations because the passion of God has brought the gospel to us. 

3. Because an International Church Displays the Richness of God's Wisdom
This is the plan, the design, the point of everything. This is what history is all about. If you want to know why God made all things, why God made you and me and the world, the answer comes in Ephesian 3:10; he did it so that "through the Church the wisdom of God in its many-splendored variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." As someone once said, "It's not about you," and it's not about me. As it turns out, it's about God. Creation is about God. History is about God. The Church is about God, and about displaying the magnificently rich and varied wisdom of God. I've read that the Greek word rendered above as "many-splendored" is one that would be used to describe a garden with every imaginable color of flower. That's the rich variety of the wisdom of God, and richness like that could never be properly displayed in a single homogeneous people-group. It takes a diverse people to display the beauty of the multifaceted wisdom of God. Thus the mystery of God has been revealed: the nations have been incorporated into the one people of God. God desires a Church made up of every nation because God has designed the Church as the stage on which is displayed the magnificence of the beauty of his incomparable glory. If we want the world to marvel at the wisdom of God, then we ought to be passionately taking the gospel to the nations in order that the wonder of the wisdom of God might be displayed as he has designed. 

So, how's your passion for the nations this Epiphany? I hope it's on the rise and that the words of the Psalmist will well up within you:
May God be gracious to us and bless us
 and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
 your saving power among all the nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
 let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
 for you judge the peoples with equity
 and guide the nations upon the earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
 let all the peoples praise you (67:1-5)!

June 25, 2013

To Bless the Nations: Election in Biblical and Missional Perspective (@OfficialSeedbed)

The rapid increase of those who identify as "young, restless, and Reformed" is bringing fresh attention to the doctrine of election, which is one of the definitive issues that marks the sides in the ongoing debate between Calvinists and Arminians. The question is not whether there is a doctrine of election in the Bible, but how God goes about choosing a people for himself.

Wesleyans and Classical Arminians believe that God's election is conditioned on his foreknowledge of faith. In contrast, Calvinists and others in the Reformed tradition insist that divine election for salvation is unconditional. From the Calvinist perspective, God's choice with regard to which individuals will be saved is made without reference to their faith or anything they do. From this perspective, those who are not chosen are passed over and remain in their condemned state with no hope of salvation. The technical term for this unfortunate group is "reprobate". We must ask, however, whether these the only ways to think about election? And does this way of framing the debate make the best sense of the relevant passages in scripture? We will see that how we approach these questions will inform the way we understand what God has chosen us to do. So, let's begin with a quick look at election in some key biblical texts. Then we'll reflect on how our findings impact the church's mission to the nations.

Read the rest of the post at Seedbed.com to discover why the doctrine of election is all about how the reprobate come to experience the blessing of God's salvation. 

March 4, 2011

More Thoughts on Hell

I know; it's kind of a depressing title for a blog post. But the reality is that with the ongoing back-and-forth over Rob Bell's forthcoming book, like many other Evangelical Christian types, I've been thinking a good bit about Hell for the last couple of days. So, here goes.

I have, from time to time, found myself sitting around with friends having theological discussions in which the topic turns to the destiny of the unevangelized. At times I have decided to bite the bullet, lay my cards on the table, and admit that I actually do believe that a person has to hear the Christian gospel about Jesus of Nazareth and respond in faith in order to gain the Heaven that is eternal life in God's new creation. My declaration sometimes receives a mixed response and has been met with some surprise that I believe a loving God would actually condemn untold multitudes of people to Hell simply for having never heard the gospel. Let me say that I appreciate it when friends and colleagues press me to think carefully and biblically about issues like this, and that I typically find such conversations to be stimulating and refining.

But the question remains: Why would I believe that God would consign people to everlasting Hell? In short, my answer is: As best as I can tell, that is what Paul thought. And if the apostle to the Gentiles thinks it, then I'm basically committed to it. But what exactly does Paul say?

One of the key texts that shapes my view on this is Romans 10:9-17, in which Paul basically says that justification and ultimate salvation come through confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in the heart that God raised him bodily from the dead. He goes on to substantiate his and all Christian mission through a series of rhetorical questions which are intended to make the point that the default position of all people is unsaved; therefore we need to send out preachers so that they can hear the good news, believe in the Lord, and call upon him for salvation, because "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13). Paul is substantiating Christian mission with his belief that those who never hear the good news will never be able to call on the Lord and experience his salvation, which means they remain unsaved, which, for Paul, is a bad thing and is the same as condemnation.

I know someone (probably lots of someones) will disagree with this interpretation, but it really seems to me to be the plain reading of this text. Paul takes it as a given that the default human position is unsaved, by which he means condemned. He took the better part of the first three chapters of the letter to make the point that the common human condition, for Jew and Greek, is condemnation; falling short of the glory of God, and falling short of the glory of God is the Hell from which we need to be saved.

Here's the key point I want to make, and it is a response to the common suggestion that a loving God would not send billions of people to Hell just for never hearing the gospel. For Paul, people are not condemned because they never hear the gospel; they are condemned because they are unrighteous and have committed idolatry by worshipping created things rather than the creator who has made himself known in what has been made (see Rom 1:18ff.) People are not born in some sort of neutral default mode only later to become saved or condemned based on their response to the gospel. The default mode is condemnation; the possibility of salvation for even a few (or only one) is grace upon grace and mercy in abundance. And if we cannot see that, we would do well to spend some time reflecting biblically on the purity and holiness of God and his absolute hatred for sin, which is not inconsistent with his love.

One more thing, and I'm not the first to say this, if people will ultimately be saved having never heard the gospel, then, by all means, stop evangelizing! If hearing the gospel establishes responsibility where before there was none, then stop doing missions! If people are by default on their way to Heaven and telling them about Jesus opens the possibility of Hell, then never speak his name again! If people actually have to hear the gospel and reject it before they are condemned, then just keep quiet! You see; the very notions of evangelism and mission are inconsistent with an inclusivistic theology. People are better off never hearing.

So, let me sum up by saying that I don't believe that God will send anyone to hell just because they never heard the gospel. Rather, I believe that those who are ultimately lost will be lost because they have fallen short of the glory of God in their refusal to give glory to God instead giving the glory that, as Creator, he alone deserves to created things. There will be no scenario where an unevangelized person stands before God and hears him say, "You never heard the gospel; you're going to Hell." Scripture seems to clearly indicate something more along the lines of: "You exchanged my glory for a lie, and the consequence is that you may have no share in my glory."