Praying with a Purpose

Since my first experience of cross-cultural missions (about 15 years ago), I have been inescapably drawn towards this sort of effort. I have had multiple opportunities for Gospel ministry in countries and cultures other than my own, and each time I teeter on the brink of selling everything I have and relocating my family to some distant land. The logistical realities and my wife’s soft reluctance have been sufficient to keep me from taking the radical plunge.

Like my prayer-life in general, my prayers for missional efforts are not systematic. I do pray regularly, and I am in prayerful thought for much of each day (not audibly, but cognitively relying upon God, thanking Him, pleading with Him, and such). However, my prayers are based on circumstance or a recent increase in awareness of some biblical truth. I learn of a friend’s difficulty, and I trust God’s providence while asking for His mercy. I feel the pressure of life upon my own shoulders, and I run to the refuge of God’s grace and care. I notice the temptation to sin and even indulge my evil desires, and I lament such foolishness while resting in God’s love and patience with me.

Similarly, I have also prayed for missional efforts sporadically, when I become aware of a particular effort or obstacle. Right now, I have spent some time praying for evangelistic efforts in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. My church family and I have partnered with churches in the Vale for almost three years, and this week is the mission trip of 2017. I was not able to be present on this trip, but my heart and thoughts are with the rest of the team. However, I have become increasingly aware of the need for a more systematic approach to prayer (and all spiritual disciplines generally).

Using the resources at www.operationworld.com, I am reminded of the great need for Gospel ministry around the world and the great need for insulated Christians (like those in western cultures) to remember the real spiritual difficulties we all face. In my rural, East Texas community, it is highly unlikely that I will face religious persecution of any real substance. It is easy for me to fall into a rut in my thinking about Gospel mission and sacrificial engagement. A little spat between church members or some budgetary difficulty is put into better perspective when I remember that some Christians in the world right now are following Christ in the face of an imminent threat to their very lives.

With God’s help, and by His grace, I will take a more systematic approach to prayer from now on. I also plan to lead my family to do the same. May God grant us love for Him, that we may serve Him and others well.

Mission in the Old Testament | A Book Review 

Mission in the Old Testament” is a fascinating read. From my perspective, dispensational theology, and its necessarily corresponding hermeneutic, has colored the lenses of American evangelicalism to such a degree that many Christians in America have become unable to see much at all in the direction Kaiser calls his reader to look in this volume. I am not a dispensationalist, and yet I still found myself surprised to learn that so much of the Old Testament reveals a gracious God who has been reaching out to Gentiles long before the days of the Apostle Paul. Kaiser points to the Great Commission of Matthew 28 as an appropriate and expanded restatement of something God had already been saying.Kaiser states his these in the introduction when he says, “It is my hope that the formative theology of Genesis 12: 3 may once again be seen for what it is and has always been in the discussion of mission: a divine program to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all on planet earth.” Kaiser believes Genesis 12:3 is the “formal” statement of the “Commission mandate” in Scripture. 

Summary

Below I have provided a brief summary and overview of the book. I have placed the eight chapters of the book into four sections – Foundation, Design, Examples, and Instruments.

Foundation – Chapters 1 and 2

Kaiser began to make his case by trying to demonstrate the foundational and integral nature of God’s promise to Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12. However, before he did that, Kaiser showed how the first eleven chapters of Genesis lead the reader to such a crucial and articulate promise. In these chapters, the Genesis record tells of three major crises – the fall, the flood, and failure at the Tower of Babel – and three subsequent promises of blessing from God (2). Immediately after the fall, God promised a seed or offspring that would right the wrong that had been done. After the flood, God promised to once again make His dwelling with man. After the failure at the Tower of Babel, God promised to give Abram a “great name.”

In Genesis 12:1-3, Kaiser claimed, we may find the succinct statement of promise that encompasses all three of these and more. He argues that the promise of Genesis 12 is the height of the universal promises God had already made. Rather than thinning the previously wide promises of blessing, Kaiser believes that God was designating Abram as the one through whom He would ultimately bring these wide promises to fulfillment. Kaiser stated that the key purpose of the blessing Abram enjoyed was (according to Genesis 12:3) “so that all the peoples on earth may be blessed through you (through Abram).”

Kaiser summarized his conclusion by saying:

“The whole purpose of God was to bless one people so that they might be the channel through which all the nations of the earth might receive a blessing. Israel was to be God’s missionary to the world— and thereby so were all who believed in this same gospel” (12).

Kaiser said that Israel (the people of God) were to be a “treasured” people, a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy” people (14-15). In this way, with these designations, Israel would serve as a “light to the Gentiles” or “agents of God’s blessing to all on earth” (16). Of course, Kaiser points out that the Scriptures place Christ as the apex agent of such blessing, but this is not to separate Christ’s ministry from the ministry of the people of God. The two are interrelated – distinct, but not separate.

Design – Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter three builds upon the idea that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bring blessing to all peoples of earth, and Chapter four runs to the end or purpose of God’s promise in order to bring the full picture into view. Climbing toward the ultimate Messianic “seed,” Kaiser demonstrates incredible similarities between the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, and argues that such things draw the two together (23). In fact, Kaiser claims that David himself understood the significance of God’s covenantal language in His promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:18-19 (25). God had promised a “seed” through Abraham that would be a blessing to all peoples, and God was reiterating that promise to David. In conclusion at the end of chapter 3, Kaiser says, “The plan of God had from the very beginning the central figure of the ‘Seed’ who was to come in the person of the Man of Promise, the Messiah” (26).

The purpose for such marvelous blessing from God is His glory. In fact, Kaiser notes that the worship of God is as compelling to unbelievers as it is informative. His claim is that the Psalms are a hymnbook with a missional perspective. The psalmists call for proclamation and singing of the deeds and nature of God, and the psalmists themselves “offer to sing God’s praises among the nations” (35). Kaiser said that the inevitable result would be that Gentiles would join in celebratory song when they were exposed to such a thing, and this is exactly the form of missional approach Kaiser argues that the Old Testament calls for.

Examples – Chapter 5

In this section, Kaiser sought to show that the plan of God was the same from the beginning by demonstrating that God has been active among the “Gentiles” all along. He phrased it this way, “The ‘nations’ and ‘Gentiles’ were envisioned as equal recipients of that same good news from the very beginning of time along with Israel itself” (pp. 37-38).

Melchizedek was a “priest of God Most High” and a king (Genesis 14:18), and yet he was also a Canaanite or Gentile. This is compelling, because it not only informs the reader of Gentile believers during Abram’s day, but it also strongly implies that there were a number of believers represented by this singular (though admittedly enigmatic) character. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, was a “priest of Midian” (Exodus 18:1). Jethro praises the name of Yahweh (the covenant name of God) and offers a burnt offering to God, both of which were specific things that only believers in the promised blessing of God actually did. This too is a demonstration that Gentile believers were in existence outside of the focus of the Old Testament narrative.

Rahab the prostitute is also added to the list of Old Testament Gentile believers, but she provides us with both a Scripturally supported example (she is listed in the Hebrews “chapter of faith”) and a more general example (many people, like Rahab, would have likely come to “fear” God in light of His demonstration of power during the days of Joshua). Ruth is another unlikely and seemingly quite unimportant convert to belief in the covenantal God of promise. While Ruth enjoys the benefit of being grafted into the physical line of king David and the Messiah, she also serves as a simple example of Gentile exposure to Yahweh’s missionary people and subsequent trust in Yahweh. It is impossible to deny that there would have been at least some number of others like Ruth and Rahab (probably many), and it is likely that there were even others like Jethro.

Instruments – Chapters 6, 7, and 8

This last section, and nearly the second half of the book, delves into the various individuals and groups God has used in the Scriptures as witnesses or missionaries to the peoples of the earth. Kaiser argues that Israel, generally, was to be God’s missionaries to the world. He includes both a plural and a singular object of focus in the “Servant songs” of Isaiah (especially 42 and 49). On the one hand, Kaiser notes (along with the majority interpretation) that the Servant songs of Isaiah are speaking of the Messiah. However, Kaiser also shows that there is a relationship between the Messiah and Israel (God’s people) that cannot be brushed aside. The Messiah does not replace Israel, Kaiser argues, but the Messiah brings the missionary task originally given to the people of God to its ultimate fulfillment.

Next, Kaiser points to Jonah as an example of God’s instrumental use of an individual to bring His message to Gentiles. God’s message was reluctantly delivered by Jonah, and the Gentile people of Nineveh were repentant. These Gentiles stood in stark contrast to the people of Israel of that day, for they heeded the word of the Lord and submitted themselves to Him. Additionally, the prophets Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all speak of God’s extended blessing to the Gentiles (the peoples of earth) as well as Israel. Therefore, not only were God’s people (Israel) supposed to be “lights to the peoples of the earth,” but God also sent prophets from among them to the “peoples” in order that they would “hear the good news of the coming Man of Promise and the blessing that God intended for all to hear” (74).

Lastly, Kaiser looks to the Apostle Paul as a case study in both missional efforts as well as a missionary with Old Testament grounding for such efforts. Kaiser said that Paul believed himself to be no innovator of missionary strategy or targets. He said, 

“The case for evangelizing the Gentiles had not been a recently devised switch in the plan of God but had always been the long-term commitment of the living God who is a missionary God. This is the same case that is consistently, even if at times only rudimentarily, found in the entire corpus of the Old Testament” (81-82).

In this concluding statement, for both the last chapter and the entire book, Kaiser summarizes his main point throughout. He did indeed work to demonstrate a divine program, spanning from Genesis to Revelation, to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all peoples on planet earth.

Critical Interaction

This book was an eye-opening and interesting read. I believe that the author successfully argued his case, and I believe that his thesis is accurate. I was impressed and humbled by the sweeping and deep knowledge of the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) the author demonstrated. I was also quite surprised by the significant scholarship interaction that the author made available in the pages of this book. 

The walk through the various covenantal promises of God and the plethora of Old Testament examples of God’s active work to bless “to the ends of the earth” was great. I believe the grand narrative of the Scriptures was mapped out well. The numerous citations of the biblical text, and the detailed interaction with them was marvelous. No reader could argue that the author merely invented a system to superimpose upon the text. The author’s mention and critique of scholarly deviations from his own view were interesting and important to the discussion of the topics at hand.

However, I have one negative to mention here. In my opinion, the book is not easily accessible for the average reader. There were a number of instances that the author went into greater scholarly depth than necessary to argue his point. On the authorship and dating of Jonah, for example, the author did not need to prove the historicity of this prophetic book in order to argue the remainder of his point. Jonah was a prophet to Gentiles, and this is evident from the text presented by the author. Another example is the discussion on “justice” and “judgment” (59). It was quite technical, but that was not necessary in my view.

Conclusion

I am glad to have read this book, and glad to review it. It has been an enlightening walk through the promises of God and the reality that God is a missional Savior for all peoples from the beginning. I believe this subject needs more time and investigation, but I may simply be unaware of the greater body of work available. I hope to read and think more on the topic in the future.

Coalescing Churches and Missionaries

The Church – the universal body of Christ – is a unique institution made up of people rather than materials or mechanisms. Established and sustained by God Himself, the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The oft-quoted passage at the end of Matthew’s gospel contains the commission of the Church – her purposeful assignment and the promise of her providential Lord. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His disciples,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Mark Dever (commenting on this very passage) says, “Jesus’ command to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ [or ‘all nations’] reminds believers that Christ is Lord over all, that he loves all, and that he will call all to account on the great day. Therefore, Christians today have a responsibility to take the gospel around the world.” Dever also understands that congregations (local expressions of the universal Church) are bearers of this same responsibility, because congregations are made up of individual Christians. “Christians together can pool wisdom, experience, financial support, prayers, and callings and direct them all to the common purpose of making God’s name great among the nations…” Dever leaves no room for individual Christians or assembled groups of the same to remain unengaged from this Great Commission when he says, “Witnessing the glory of God proclaimed around the globe in the hearts of all his people should be an end and purpose for every local church.”[1]

Involvement in this intentional activity is no peripheral matter for any local church, and many congregations have been purposefully working at it for a long time. However, recent research and contemporary conversations are revealing that a disconnect may have developed over time between the two prongs that have formed the spearhead of this Christian commission. Local churches in America seem to have been allowed to understand missions as something that is done over there – anywhere but here – by someone called a missionary. Many local churches support “missions efforts” with their financial backing, giving a portion of their budget to some kind of cooperative program that distributes funds to local and international missionaries. Sometimes local churches may even call a special prayer meetings with a “missions” emphasis, but taking ownership of particular missional efforts appears to be lacking at best. In addition, the perceived distance between missions and local church ministry has permitted most American Christians to remain personally unengaged from the Great Commission. This is a tragedy.

What is worse is that missionaries, having such a strong commitment to go and tell, are continuing to do so without an essential and healthy attachment to a local church or churches. “The problem is that there are now missionaries all over the world with virtually no connection to local churches to love and care for them, shepherd them, and join them on mission.” To compound the loss, “there are also local churches full of laypeople talking about being ‘missional’ without the benefit of learning from those who are actively crossing cultures with the Gospel. They are talking about mission without the input of missionaries (emphasis added).”[2] If one is to understand what it is to be missional, it is imperative that one understands what it is to be a missionary.

Ed Stetzer helpfully defines the term “missional” in his standard-setting work on the subject of “missional churches.” He says, “Missional means actually doing mission… adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”[3] With this definition in mind, it is helpful to consider that missional living may only realized in the local church context as missionaries and their efforts are appropriately known and celebrated in the local church.

The bringing together of missionaries and the local church is a combination that regains the benefits of the multi-membered body of Christ. If the missionary is the extended arm of the local church, then the local church is the core, which lends stability, resources, and strength to the missionary. Just as the arm needs the core to function properly, so the core needs the exercise, reach, and functionality of the arm in order to remain healthy. There are many more aspects of local church ministry that may not include a direct relationship to missionary efforts, but all of what the local church is and does should center around the idea of living missionally in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – both in the context of its own community and in the world at large. These two distinct branches of missional engagement (missionaries and the local church) are so intertwined that each compliments the other in multiple ways, particularly when they are both functioning healthily.

The pervading goal of the missionary is the same as the local church, namely the Great Commission – make disciples, baptize them, and teach submission to Christ to the glory of His great name. If this directive is embraced and acted upon, the result will inevitably be a plurality of baptized disciples who will be life-long learners who grow in their submission to Christ. This plurality of Christians, if the missionary is properly focused on the task, will be formed into a local church themselves. “The result of [the missionary’s] work should be biblical, local, independent churches that reflect the soil in which they are planted.”[4]  Therefore, the missionary is most effective when he is planting local churches with those baptized disciples who have benefitted from his proclamation of the Gospel.

These locally planted churches will be better churches if they resemble the same kind of local church(es) that have cultivated a quality relationship with the missionary who facilitated their own rooting and grounding. If missionaries and local churches work in tandem (as it seems they were designed to do), then the cycle will simply continue. Aubrey Malphurs says of church planting and its ultimate goal,

“We are not to start just any kind of church; they should be Great Commission churches. These are churches that take most seriously Jesus’s command to make disciples! Making disciples begins with evangelism and continues with edification or the building up of the saints in the faith with the ultimate goal of their attaining spiritual maturity (Col. 1:28–29; Heb. 5:11–6:1).”[5]

Malphurs’ statement brings us back to the beginning; the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The goal of newly planted church is the same as the missionary, and it is the same as the established local church congregation. When the established local church is healthy, she will serve her role well as a support structure for the missionary and a model for the church plants that (by God’s grace) result from his efforts. When the missionary is healthy, he will serve his role well as an evangelist and facilitator for the eventual indigenous church plant(s) as well as a motivation and inspiration for the congregants who support him. When the indigenous church plant is healthy, she will repeat the cycle with new missionaries and fresh groups of newly converted Christians.

There are so many benefits to this relationship that a brief work such as this cannot explore them all. Suffice it to say that the coalescing of churches and missionaries is a recipe for enjoying vibrant, Great Commission assemblies of vigorous, missional disciples of Christ – both locally and globally.

 

[1]Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012.

[2]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[3]Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

[4]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[5]Malphurs, Aubrey. The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting: A Guide for Starting Any Kind of Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.