The missionary call – what is it and to whom does it belong?

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
A confession

I confess, this is a partial retraction. A clarification. I have not so much been wrong, but I have been incomplete – and incompleteness regarding Scripture is often error. To give half the story is not to give the story at all.

What have I done? Virtually every month I have sent appeals such as this: “Have you ever wondered if you could be a missionary.” I have sent emails entitled, “An appeal for workers.” Very frequently I have urged individuals to look into God’s will for themselves and see if God is calling them into missions. I have been incessant.

What’s wrong with that?

Here is what is wrong: world missions is not the private and personal calling of a chosen few; it is a body of Christ decision. Missions is not the work of a separated few, but the work of the whole church.

My former appeals to individuals urging, “Pray about what God would have you to do” were well-motivated. These appeals, however, were incomplete as far as Scripture is concerned.

Incomplete? How?

In the New Testament, the calling of missionaries was much more than an individual or a married couple feeling some amorphous “call of God” and then pursuing it – informing their local church later, often as an afterthought. In contrast, the call of God was a “whole body” decision. The church called, the church separated, the church sent!

Today, here is a normal scenario: A young man desires to serve. He often waits to feel some sort of “call” to proceed. Once he feels this strange call (that presumably is more than just a firm conviction as seconded by Scripture and his home church) he applies to agencies. Sometimes during this process and oftentimes afterwards, he then informs his church – not for permission – but as part of his notification that he is now a missionary appointee. Now, in the loop, the local church begins to help and advise the appointee.

I personally knew one appointee family that were accepted and were a year and a half as appointees before their home church, presumably their sending-church-to-be, voted to support them.

What does it say about mission boards, home churches and the candidates if (1) sometimes mission organizations accept candidates who are largely unknown and untested in their local contexts, (2) potential candidates sometimes get halfway or more through the process even before informing their local church, and (3) local churches often are the last to know that God is calling someone up from among their very midst.

How does this contrast with the New Testament practice of sending?

Acts 13:2 “While they [the assembled church] were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."

The assembled saints fasted, a deliberate act of preparation. The assembled saints set apart Paul and Barnabas. Later the assembled saints sent (literally, “released”) them to the Gentiles.

Paul speaks of himself as being set apart for the Gospel. He heard as much from the risen Christ in a trance (Acts 22:21) “I will send you far away to the Gentiles...” And yet, this Apostle still waited for his “home church” to send or release him. Immediately upon returning home, he also reported back to his “home church” concerning all he had seen and heard. Paul was no lone ranger. He was a servant of his church, who fulfilled the Great Commission through him.

Western Christianity has not only privatized their religion, but has also privatized the missionary call. Only now, as I have entered into another culture more communal in its worldview than my own, have I come to see this incompleteness. Wanna know about water...don’t ask a fish! He’s too close.

Missions and, indeed, all of church life is life in community. We are saved personally but are saved into the church. The Trinity, one God in three persons is our model; unity in the midst of diversity. As I labor in mission it is not I who am laboring, but it is the whole church who is laboring through me. Even more so, all this is not even accurately referred to as the mission of the church but is ultimately the mission of God Himself, the Missio Dei.

Every Christian is not a missionary, but missions is the focus of every Christian. In World War II, the whole nation worked as part of the war effort. Though the actual members of the Armed Forces were but a minority of the population as a whole, yet America was at war. The whole nation fought, through the efforts of those they sent. The nation called, the nation set apart, and the nation sent.

Many will object to what I am writing, “But Paul speaks of his own personal call; the Prophets did too.” Yes, in regards to salvation we are saved because we are called by God. Yes, in the Old Testament many prophets literally heard the audible voice of God recruiting them into service.

The same textual evidence is absent, however, regarding New Testament cross-cultural evangelism. When a “sending” occurs in the New Testament the focus is never on the person volunteering to be sent, but on those who send that person. Look at the evidence:

• Upon Judas’ betrayal and death the gathered assembly chose Matthias.

• Philip might have briefly worked alone at first, but "When the apostles that were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John..." (Acts 8:14-15).

• When the conflict with the Judaizers arose, the churches sent an official delegation and these were not only "brought on their way by the church" but were also "received of the church" when they arrived (Acts 15).

• In Acts 13:1-3, as quoted above, the assembled church chose and set apart those who would serve.

• After the Jerusalem council, Paul chooses Silas and they depart, being commended by the brethren (Act 15:40).

• The very next chapter mentions that Timothy, whom Paul chooses to work with, was also well-spoken of by the brethren.


In the New Testament we do not have a volunteer system based on individual appeals at all; if forced between one extreme or another I would have to call the method of New Testament sending more like a draft!


Now what?


Okay, so I have hereby printed a clarification to my incessant appeals for more missionaries to join me. What now? Do I cease my appeals?


Not on your life!


Instead, now my appeals have more force and Biblical backing. These appeals are not merely given to lone individuals to navel gaze and try to discern some intangible missionary call. Now these appeals can be backed up by the authority of local churches!

In no way have I ceased my recruitment efforts, but I now seek a stronger ally, the key agent in the evangelization of the world – the local church!

Churches, pastors, and elders, please consider these steps. They require boldness and much prayer, yet they mirror New Testament practice. In Matthew 28 the Great Commission was given to the representatives of the church. In Acts 1, the command to go to the ends of the earth was given to the assembled representatives of the church. Churches - this command now belongs to you!



A bold plan: Churches, set apart your people!

I challenge you pastors, elders and churches, set apart those whom God is calling among you! If the early church deliberately fasted and prayed and sought God’s will in reference to this, shouldn’t we? If they were so bold as to seek, identify and set apart gifted individuals, shouldn’t we? If they owned their role in world missions aside from mere financial support, shouldn’t we?

Send me your own!










NOTE: I do not want to belittle “the missionary call,” only investigate it more and free it from being shackled to the myth that a powerful subjective certainty is its key feature. I rejoice for those who are “set in their minds” that they are called into missions; I merely want this to be backed up by the larger body of Christ. In the ReMAP study of missionary attrition it was recommended that agencies screen for “a clear missionary call” (however defined by the missionary) and those agencies that did not screen for such a call suffered twice the level of attrition (published in, Too Valuable to Lose).
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
Once he feels this strange call (that presumably is more than just a firm conviction as seconded by Scripture and his home church) he applies to agencies. Sometimes during this process and oftentimes afterwards, he then informs his church – not for permission – but as part of his notification that he is now a missionary appointee. Now, in the loop, the local church begins to help and advise the appointee.

Sadly, I think you are right.

I think the process of sending out a missionary is very much the same as the process of calling a man to be pastor. There is the internal call of the individual and the external call of the church, which you have strongly promoted here (and correctly, I think). The only difference with missionaries is that the man goes to a different land or culture.

Would we be on the same page, then?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Yes, we are on the same page.

A church calls a man to serve as pastor where a congregation is already established, a church commissions a missionary to go in order to establish new churches. But, it is the "church" (the larger body of Christ in its various manifestations) that does this, not the lone individual.
 

tellville

Puritan Board Junior
This is what I was trying to get at in the other thread when I was talking about how I was against churchless mission. Excellent post.
 

tellville

Puritan Board Junior
I talked about it in the Urbana thread. I didn't really develop it at all, and I had a different point in the Urbana thread (mission orgs) but what Pergy wrote is what was behind my thinking.

And I didn't think of what I was thinking on my own either :p I mainly got the critique from Bosch and one of my mission professors in seminary.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
We discover our gifts and calling by serving among the saints. There's the subjective call (I love this and I'm good at it), the external call (the Church thinks you have the suitable gifts), then the open door of opportunity. If you have all three, then its safe to say you have a call to that work. This doesn't refer just to finding laborers for cross-cultural ministry but for the discovery and use of any gifts within the body of Christ.

And you are correct, elders and leaders need to make more of an effort to press upon their congregations the need for more laborers overseas, and search their own ranks to see if any have the gifts and willingness to serve in that capacity.
 

Der Pilger

Puritan Board Freshman
Pergamum,

Great post, and well written!

I couldn't help noticing, though, that your post brings up a hermeneutical question, if I'm not mistaken. You seemed to rely heavily on the Book of Acts, but is that book normative for the church today? Was it intended to be a how-to book for church government and missions, or was it written merely to describe how the church spread from Jerusalem to other parts of the world? I'm asking this because I think that authorial intent is a vital aspect to consider when interpreting any text.

If Acts is in fact normative for the church today, wouldn't we have to eliminate quite a few practices in our contemporary churches that were clearly not in use in the time that Acts describes? For example, our modern practice of meeting for worship in public church buildings immediately becomes suspect if Acts is truly normative, since the early church met in private homes. We would also have to question our practice of taking communion by eating a pinch of bread and a thimble-sized container of grape juice, since there is no mention of that. We would also have to question our evangelism, since most of it (if not all of it) is not accompanied by signs, wonders and miraculous healings, as it was in the early church.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your post. It's just that I've struggled with this question of how to interpret Acts in the past, and your post has rekindled my thoughts about it. I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts on the issue.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Pergamum,

Great post, and well written!

I couldn't help noticing, though, that your post brings up a hermeneutical question, if I'm not mistaken. You seemed to rely heavily on the Book of Acts, but is that book normative for the church today? Was it intended to be a how-to book for church government and missions, or was it written merely to describe how the church spread from Jerusalem to other parts of the world? I'm asking this because I think that authorial intent is a vital aspect to consider when interpreting any text.

If Acts is in fact normative for the church today, wouldn't we have to eliminate quite a few practices in our contemporary churches that were clearly not in use in the time that Acts describes? For example, our modern practice of meeting for worship in public church buildings immediately becomes suspect if Acts is truly normative, since the early church met in private homes. We would also have to question our practice of taking communion by eating a pinch of bread and a thimble-sized container of grape juice, since there is no mention of that. We would also have to question our evangelism, since most of it (if not all of it) is not accompanied by signs, wonders and miraculous healings, as it was in the early church.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your post. It's just that I've struggled with this question of how to interpret Acts in the past, and your post has rekindled my thoughts about it. I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts on the issue.


Good points. It is not at all clear what is normative and what is descriptive is it? I agree.

You tell me what is normative and what is merely descriptive in the NT.


Eg...Are those Corinthian passages about the use and non-abuse of tongues normative for us today? It is not an easy answer to distinguish the normative from the mere descriptive.

Are the practices that the Apostle Paul used mere descriptions or can we gain insight into sound missiological principles by looking at how he worked in teams, tailored his message to his audience, and seemed to recruit younger workers to train up and send out in order to ordain elders and consolidate his own gains?


Also, it is of note that the Reformed use the OT quite a bit and many try even to advocate certain governmental practices and laws drawn from OT passages. If you critically look at my own missiology because I fail to always make judgment calls on whether these missiological principles are still normative for the church today, let us also look at how the Reformed view civil government and how they gain evidence from the OT and use it to push their own views on how to improve civil society.

Maybe we can draw general principles from the book of Acts about how we should conduct missions, just as we see general principles about the moral law of God when we read about the OT civil law of Israel.


Example:

After the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, a welcoming openness towards the Gentile Mission was decided upon. However, a letter, too, was circulated. While I believe that it is now no big deal to eat blood, I do believe that the principles put forth teach us that we should be aware of our cultural practices and particular sins that our particular culture is prone too and how these factors affect the spread of the Gospel. If this Jerusalem council met today as we prepared to engage new Muslim fields with the Gospel, perhaps they would have sent a letter advising missionaries to be aware to not eat pork or drink in front of Muslim neighbors and also watch out and make sure to dress modetly, since this is a Westernblindspot. I don't know, but it makes for interesting speculation.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
So much of the missionary thinking in our country has been informed by the second "great awakening" and carries with it a very weak theology.

I think it can be fairly argued that our primary focus should be on rearing Godly children and that outreach is subordinate to that.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
So much of the missionary thinking in our country has been informed by the second "great awakening" and carries with it a very weak theology.

I think it can be fairly argued that our primary focus should be on rearing Godly children and that outreach is subordinate to that.

I don't think is true. Finney had more influence on those staying in the West more than he had an influence overseas. I find missionaries, on average to have much better theology than most preachers who stay put in their little corners in the States.

I also think you are grossly mistaken to think that your duties end with raising your children. The Great Commission was given to the church and it is the whole Church's to complete, you are not exempt and your focus must be to the ends of the earth, not just your immediate household.
 

Der Pilger

Puritan Board Freshman
Good points. It is not at all clear what is normative and what is descriptive is it? I agree.

You tell me what is normative and what is merely descriptive in the NT.

Wouldn't it depend on the author's intention? Why was Acts written?

Eg...Are those Corinthian passages about the use and non-abuse of tongues normative for us today?

Why did Paul write to the Corinthians? If he wrote them with the purpose of instructing them on proper church practices, then it seems reasonable to conclude that we need to interpret them as instructive, too.

Personally, I think it might be better to go to the pastoral epistles for instruction on how to run a church and pass on the apostolic message, since they seem to have been written expressly for that purpose (or parts of them, at least).

It is not an easy answer to distinguish the normative from the mere descriptive.

I agree. But perhaps if we interpret a given passage through the grid of authorial intent, the distinction between the normative and the descriptive might become clearer.

Are the practices that the Apostle Paul used mere descriptions or can we gain insight into sound missiological principles by looking at how he worked in teams, tailored his message to his audience, and seemed to recruit younger workers to train up and send out in order to ordain elders and consolidate his own gains?

Possibly. That, of course, is my question, too.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
While I believe that it is now no big deal to eat blood, I do believe that the principles put forth teach us that we should be aware of our cultural practices and particular sins that our particular culture is prone too and how these factors affect the spread of the Gospel. If this Jerusalem council met today as we prepared to engage new Muslim fields with the Gospel, perhaps they would have sent a letter advising missionaries to be aware to not eat pork

The problem with that comparison is that the heathen in the time and area of the book of Acts didn't have a problem with eating blood, like the Muslims do with eating pork. And in addition, the prohibition against eating blood was given to Noah, and there weren't any cultures then.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
So Tim, you still believe that we should not eat blood today? Let's start another thread if you do - that is interesting.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Whether one should eat blood or not isn't the point. The point was that it wasn't cultural, since it was given to the whole human race.
 

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
So much of the missionary thinking in our country has been informed by the second "great awakening" and carries with it a very weak theology.

I think it can be fairly argued that our primary focus should be on rearing Godly children and that outreach is subordinate to that.

I don't think is true. Finney had more influence on those staying in the West more than he had an influence overseas. I find missionaries, on average to have much better theology than most preachers who stay put in their little corners in the States.

I also think you are grossly mistaken to think that your duties end with raising your children. The Great Commission was given to the church and it is the whole Church's to complete, you are not exempt and your focus must be to the ends of the earth, not just your immediate household.

A couple of things -- the OPC had its start over the changes in the missionary outreach of the PCUSA moving more toward a social gospel and insisting that missions were not a means of preaching Christ. The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was founded because of the liberal leanings of the much larger PCUSA. While it could be argued that liberalism did not arise from Finney, the theological underpinnings that are common to both are certainly in consonant with each other. Do all missionaries have such liberal leanings? No, of course not. Is much of what this country has passed off as missions fit that bill? Yes.

While "duty" does not end with a person's family and extends beyond, it is certainly just as true that the duty of all is in raising the children of the church. While all will have different emphasis ... "if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?" ... all have duty to carry out what is required of all Christians. Some may have need for focus to the ends of the earth, but not the whole body. Are you overstating what might be your own gift to make it more than what it is? The whole church is not missions. The commission has one imperative, make disciples. A father and mother raising children in the Lord do that as their primary, God given responsibility. The church should be just as concerned about "Jerusalem" as the ends of the earth.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
So much of the missionary thinking in our country has been informed by the second "great awakening" and carries with it a very weak theology.

I think it can be fairly argued that our primary focus should be on rearing Godly children and that outreach is subordinate to that.

I don't think is true. Finney had more influence on those staying in the West more than he had an influence overseas. I find missionaries, on average to have much better theology than most preachers who stay put in their little corners in the States.

I also think you are grossly mistaken to think that your duties end with raising your children. The Great Commission was given to the church and it is the whole Church's to complete, you are not exempt and your focus must be to the ends of the earth, not just your immediate household.

A couple of things -- the OPC had its start over the changes in the missionary outreach of the PCUSA moving more toward a social gospel and insisting that missions were not a means of preaching Christ. The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was founded because of the liberal leanings of the much larger PCUSA. While it could be argued that liberalism did not arise from Finney, the theological underpinnings that are common to both are certainly in consonant with each other. Do all missionaries have such liberal leanings? No, of course not. Is much of what this country has passed off as missions fit that bill? Yes.

While "duty" does not end with a person's family and extends beyond, it is certainly just as true that the duty of all is in raising the children of the church. While all will have different emphasis ... "if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?" ... all have duty to carry out what is required of all Christians. Some may have need for focus to the ends of the earth, but not the whole body. Are you overstating what might be your own gift to make it more than what it is? The whole church is not missions. The commission has one imperative, make disciples. A father and mother raising children in the Lord do that as their primary, God given responsibility. The church should be just as concerned about "Jerusalem" as the ends of the earth.

When Britain was at war in WWII, the whole nation was at war - whatever one's role was. The same should be true of the Christian Church. of course, there is also the war at home, but the main duty of the church is always ever outward and ever outward.
 

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
I don't think is true. Finney had more influence on those staying in the West more than he had an influence overseas. I find missionaries, on average to have much better theology than most preachers who stay put in their little corners in the States.

I also think you are grossly mistaken to think that your duties end with raising your children. The Great Commission was given to the church and it is the whole Church's to complete, you are not exempt and your focus must be to the ends of the earth, not just your immediate household.

A couple of things -- the OPC had its start over the changes in the missionary outreach of the PCUSA moving more toward a social gospel and insisting that missions were not a means of preaching Christ. The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was founded because of the liberal leanings of the much larger PCUSA. While it could be argued that liberalism did not arise from Finney, the theological underpinnings that are common to both are certainly in consonant with each other. Do all missionaries have such liberal leanings? No, of course not. Is much of what this country has passed off as missions fit that bill? Yes.

While "duty" does not end with a person's family and extends beyond, it is certainly just as true that the duty of all is in raising the children of the church. While all will have different emphasis ... "if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?" ... all have duty to carry out what is required of all Christians. Some may have need for focus to the ends of the earth, but not the whole body. Are you overstating what might be your own gift to make it more than what it is? The whole church is not missions. The commission has one imperative, make disciples. A father and mother raising children in the Lord do that as their primary, God given responsibility. The church should be just as concerned about "Jerusalem" as the ends of the earth.

When Britain was at war in WWII, the whole nation was at war - whatever one's role was. The same should be true of the Christian Church. of course, there is also the war at home, but the main duty of the church is always ever outward and ever outward.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The work of evangelism (outward) is only for this age. In the age to come, we will not evangelize, but we will still worship. That which is most important for the church is worship. Winning the lost can no more be abandoned than ears can say they are not a part of the body because they are not an eye. While every member of the church is required to be prepared to give an account of the hope within, it is not the primary duty of all. I would say it is not the primary duty of the church as a whole either, as the church as a whole ought to have the same chief end as any individual.

God is glorified in many ways, though he has ordained worship as the primary means of his glorification. While the spread of the gospel is a means of glorifying God, it is no more so than rearing a Godly seed. Given that God works through covenant, it would seem just the opposite. God would be more concerned with the children we have coming to a full realization of the sign and seal they were given in their baptism by being discipled and brought up in the faith.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
A couple of things -- the OPC had its start over the changes in the missionary outreach of the PCUSA moving more toward a social gospel and insisting that missions were not a means of preaching Christ. The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was founded because of the liberal leanings of the much larger PCUSA. While it could be argued that liberalism did not arise from Finney, the theological underpinnings that are common to both are certainly in consonant with each other. Do all missionaries have such liberal leanings? No, of course not. Is much of what this country has passed off as missions fit that bill? Yes.

While "duty" does not end with a person's family and extends beyond, it is certainly just as true that the duty of all is in raising the children of the church. While all will have different emphasis ... "if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?" ... all have duty to carry out what is required of all Christians. Some may have need for focus to the ends of the earth, but not the whole body. Are you overstating what might be your own gift to make it more than what it is? The whole church is not missions. The commission has one imperative, make disciples. A father and mother raising children in the Lord do that as their primary, God given responsibility. The church should be just as concerned about "Jerusalem" as the ends of the earth.

When Britain was at war in WWII, the whole nation was at war - whatever one's role was. The same should be true of the Christian Church. of course, there is also the war at home, but the main duty of the church is always ever outward and ever outward.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

The work of evangelism (outward) is only for this age. In the age to come, we will not evangelize, but we will still worship. That which is most important for the church is worship. Winning the lost can no more be abandoned than ears can say they are not a part of the body because they are not an eye. While every member of the church is required to be prepared to give an account of the hope within, it is not the primary duty of all. I would say it is not the primary duty of the church as a whole either, as the church as a whole ought to have the same chief end as any individual.

God is glorified in many ways, though he has ordained worship as the primary means of his glorification. While the spread of the gospel is a means of glorifying God, it is no more so than rearing a Godly seed. Given that God works through covenant, it would seem just the opposite. God would be more concerned with the children we have coming to a full realization of the sign and seal they were given in their baptism by being discipled and brought up in the faith.

You are using a false dichotomy, as if caring for your family means that you cannot also be focused on the lost.

The church as a whole (even you) is engaged in warfare and the church consists of Senders, and those who are Sent. A church that is not missionary in focus is a deficient church, even if they use excuses such as "what about the children..." The best way to raise holy kids is to get them involved in taking a vital part in evangelism, either by going, or helping them send others.

The whole church is not missions, but the whole church does missions. We do have multiple duties, and must fulfill them all, not using one as an excuse not to do the other. The whole body is to focus on the ends of the earth by sending and supporting the few. The whole body is also to raise up godly seed.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
When Britain was at war in WWII, the whole nation was at war - whatever one's role was. The same should be true of the Christian Church. of course, there is also the war at home, but the main duty of the church is always ever outward and ever outward.

You've got to be a bit careful of those Arminian psych up the troops analogies. Britain was at war for 6 years and she lost her empire, national saving and 25 percent of her national wealth, as well has her great power status.

To carry that analogy even to it's most simple and obvious conclusion living in a state of hyper activity burns you out.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
When Britain was at war in WWII, the whole nation was at war - whatever one's role was. The same should be true of the Christian Church. of course, there is also the war at home, but the main duty of the church is always ever outward and ever outward.

You've got to be a bit careful of those Arminian psych up the troops analogies. Britain was at war for 6 years and she lost her empire, national saving and 25 percent of her national wealth, as well has her great power status.

To carry that analogy even to it's most simple and obvious conclusion living in a state of hyper activity burns you out.

All analogies are limited, are they not?
 
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