For more on this subject from Rev. Edgar Bazan, read his first post, “Transformative Mission,” here.
How do we understand and define what the church is constituted to be? To answer this question, one must first ask: what is the mission of the church?
The Missio Dei
The first thing to notice in this question is the assumption that the mission is of the church. Here lies significant misunderstanding and misplaced value: the mission is not of the church but of God. To answer the question, “what is the mission of the church?” we need to learn that the mission is of God, who invites and commands the church to accomplish it together. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord, sharing his teachings and doings – this is an act of God that the church undertakes as a witness.
From here, we can say that the church is constituted to be an agency of God’s work in the world. To further explore what this agency looks like, we start by studying what is it that God is doing in the world, his missio Dei.
In The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, author Chris Wright explains, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church, the church was made for mission –God’s mission.” (Wright, Chapter 1)
The mission of God precedes the church, and the church came into being for the sake of accomplishing such mission. Missio Dei refers to “all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.” (Wright, Chapter 1) There must be a fundamental understanding that the mission of the church does not belong to the church, nor does it proceed from the church; it is the acting of God through the church.
This is deeply significant because it shows us that the church does not define its mission, but rather learns it, and assumes it by discerning what God is doing.
More Than a Ticket to Heaven
For example, the church has vastly appropriated what the mission is by defining it merely as an act of sharing the gospel, often disregarding many other aspects of peoples’ lives that need healing and formation. Consider that when we use the words “missions” or “missionaries,” we tend to think mainly of evangelistic activity; however, if the task is to procure God’s mission, this understanding must be expanded. God does not only care about the salvation of peoples’ souls, but also for their feeding, care, healing, liberation, protection, defense, and justice.
In this framework of the mission of God, everything the church ought to be doing must be mission-oriented, for there is no other task for the church but to carry the works of the kingdom of God.
This definition of the mission of the church as the missio Dei sets Christianity apart as intrinsically a missionary faith, one that exists for the purposes of accomplishing the works of God in this world. This is what Jesus did as he was sent; he left succinct and character-defining instructions for the church when he sent it by saying, “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
The “command[ing]” of Jesus refers to much more than just the salvation of souls, but indeed to all the acts of healing, reconciliation, liberation, and justice that Jesus heralded in his life and throughout his ministry. This “command[ing],” is precisely the inauguration of the presence of the kingdom of God: now we know what God wills and does for humanity (a reconciled, healed, saved, and new creation born again of the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ).
The missio Dei, therefore, is not a specialized ministry of the church, but the realization of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And what is in heaven is life and not death; wellness and not illness; fullness and not brokenness. Hence, the kingdom of God, the missio Dei, can be explained in the brief statement that Jesus made: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)
If Jesus’ arrival initiated the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and if his mission was to bring life, then the mission of God as revealed and demonstrated by Jesus (and that he has entrusted to the church to embody) is characterized by bringing life and everything needed to sustain it on earth right now, and not just salvation for tomorrow as an eschatological provision.
God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven
This missio Dei is not a new movement or cause, but the sovereign rule of God over all people and nations, interjecting into history and each person’s story, giving and sustaining life. It is the manifestation of what God always intended for the earth since the beginning of time and now has been brought back by Jesus into the alienated and broken humanity in order to restore God’s order (kingdom).
In this regard, the purpose of the kingdom of God is to bless everyone, and to bring into completion the Father’s will: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” The kingdom of God is the reality of God’s continual work in the world, not leaving it behind or to its own devices, but effectively engaging in its redemption. Thus, the Father sent his Son to manifest this kingdom and to open it to the eyes and ears of mortal human beings; and the Son sent his church to do likewise.
In The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Lesslie Newbigin explains this imparting of God’s kingdom by saying,
Mission seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events in history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is the acting out of the central prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to use: “Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Newbigin, Chapter 3)
If the mission of the church as the missio Dei is fundamentally about bringing and proclaiming the kingdom of God to restore life in humanity, what does this look like? Newbigin talks about it as love in action. (Newbigin, Chapter 5) This love in action refers to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus as not just a matter of words, but the very presence of the kingdom of God which is revealed and experienced through redeeming acts of compassion and reconciliation. The proclamation of God’s kingdom is in the embodiment of the teachings of Jesus in everyday life. Those who follow Jesus, calling him Lord, are sent into the world to carry on this mission as the bearers of his kingdom teachings.
If we know Jesus as Lord and do what he says, that makes us the church, a constituted body for salvation and healing in the world.
Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” His statement requires us to ask the question: what is it that Jesus was sent for? What did he do? How did he relate to people? How did he treat people? How did he speak to people? What did he say? What was his behavior around those in need, his friends, and his enemies? These questions are paramount to our understanding of why we are sent and to what we are sent.
If we are sent as he was sent by his Father, then it is critical for the church to assess the life of Jesus not only in relation to God but in relation to humanity. If we believe who Jesus is, if we do what he says, then we are on a mission alongside him. And this sending has a particular purpose: to bring peace.