When you hear the words “missions”, what comes to mind? You might think of very pale Victorian missionaries, lost in the jungles of Africa but faithfully maintaining proper British decorum while being stewed by savages. Others might think of Mother Theresa, working tirelessly to provide for the basic needs of the poorest of the poor of the world. And still others might recollect your own strange encounters with men and women with incredible stories and poorly dressed, socially awkward children!
The fact is, for many of us, no matter what our background, we tend to think of missionaries as people who are fundamentally unlike us, and to think of long-term missions as something that other people get involved with. Although many of us will quickly contribute time and money to advocate or give aid for humanitarian relief, the thought of being personally involved in cross-cultural missions, either as one who sends or as one who goes, can often seem beyond us. For some, this may be because we do not see a good reason to be involved in missions (I will be writing about the “why” of missions in next month’s Resurrection Times). But for others, there may be confusion about what “missions” actually is.
The word “mission” literally means “a sending,” and understood in this way, it becomes clear that our God is himself on a mission! God the Father sent his Son on a mission into a strange world of human creatures, cursed because of sin, and did so to redeem a people from every tribe and tongue and nation. Then, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit into the world to draw sinners to the Father through the Son. By way of his two missions, the God of the universe has brought us an eternal salvation, and because of these two missions, Jesus now sends out his Church, that is to say, he sends us out, with a Great Commission.
Our Commission to mission is an amazing part of Jesus’ mission from his Father in this world. After rising from the dead, Jesus tells his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” (John 20:21), and pours out the Holy Spirit on them to empower them for their mission. In even more detail, in Matthew 28:18-19, he delivers the four parts of what this Great Commission to mission actually entails. He says:
Go. Jesus really means it! A mission is by definition cross-cultural, just as the church itself is by definition multi-cultural. Jesus offers salvation to everyone, no matter what language, no matter what culture, no matter what sins they might have, and extending this offer to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) is our mission! Paul makes it clear that in order for people everywhere to call on the Name of Christ so that they may be saved, someone must be sent to proclaim the Gospel to them (Romans 10:13-15). The true practical upshot of this is that the Church’s ministry must to a significant degree move across cultures if it is to model the ministry that Christ demonstrated to us by coming into our world to save us. This happens through real individuals being sent by a church and going. It is not enough to affect our neighborhoods for Christ: the nations must hear of his Good News, and we must take it to them!
Make disciples of all nations. Showing up in another culture has a definite purpose for a missionary. At the heart of cross-cultural missions is the aim to bring the enemies of the King of the universe into a right relationship with him, to become disciples of his Son Jesus Christ. While being a disciple of Jesus is a lifetime journey, and becoming more like him is a lifetime process, we are made his disciples when we first trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life and call upon him as our Lord and as our Savior. As difficult as it may be, cross-cultural missions has at its heart the proclaiming of Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection and the calling on men and women everywhere to experience new life in him.
Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Not only do missionaries focus on preaching the Gospel cross-culturally, but they also focus on building up the Church cross-culturally through worshipping the Triune God, and in particular by administering Baptism and the Lord Supper. If a missionary teaches a person to know who Christ is and yet allows him to remain cut off from his Body, the Church, he has failed to truly introduce him to Christ. Christ builds up his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit not only through the preaching his Gospel but also through the administering of his Sacraments, and this is just as true in cross-cultural ministry.
Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you. While a missionary should not preach his own life or inculcate those to whom he has come with his own culture, he is to teach all that Christ would have his hearers to know about his Kingdom and about living in the Kingdom. The Apostle Paul, a veteran missionary, says to the elders of Ephesus, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,” (Acts 20:27). It is through real people teaching the Word of God effectively in the context of another culture, often in another language, that God molds and fashions the whole life of both the new believer and the mature believer into the image of his Son Jesus and prepares them for the difficulties that they will face in this life being Christ’s disciples. Cross-cultural teaching is not only needed but necessary for Christians in churches everywhere, and it lies at the core of missions as Jesus intended it.
So then, what is “missions”? “Missions” is the active and joyful obedience of a church to Christ’s four commandments listed above, as the church commissions and supports individuals from within her fellowship to go and cross cultural lines in order to proclaim the Gospel and bring people into a relationship with Christ, to administer the Sacraments, and to build up and shepherd the Church in that culture in all the ways that Christ has commanded until he comes.
In addition, we are used to hearing about medical missions, construction missions, healing missions, and other kinds of welfare-related missions, and all these can be very helpful! They can function in much the same way that a local church’s diaconal ministry demonstrates the love that God has for the poor and sick and destitute. However, what lies at the core of missions is taking the Good News of Jesus across the borders of culture to bring forgiveness to the lost, to build up the church, and to bring worship to God where there was none before.
We at Resurrection are a church that is passionate about cross-cultural missions in exactly the way that Jesus commissions us in Matthew 28:18-19. Now the question is: are you as a follower of Jesus willing to dive deeper into the exciting world of sending missionaries, or maybe even to going as one?
This is the first in a series of six articles by Fr. David on cross-cultural missions and the Christian life, initially published in the May 2010 edition of The Resurrection Times.