Monday, November 7, 2016

The Church's Mission: Post-Enlightenment to Today

The modern interpretation of the Great Commission is one of disciple-making and evangelism. This understanding is based on Jesus’ command to “go” and often defines our mission in the Church. But this has not always been the mission of the church and the outcome of history has proven that the Great Commission has been interpreted in ways that have given the Church various direction throughout Protestant ecclesiology and missiology.
Although there is much to say about the missiology of the post-Reformation era of Protestantism the real conversation exists post-Enlightenment. With the Age of Reason and scientific discovery there were realizations that pre-Enlightenment missions were not a spread of the Gospel but a colonizing force cloaked in religion. So as Christianity moved into the post-Enlightenment era there was a tonal change in mission work and, specifically in the US, there was a focus toward the spread of ‘right tradition’. The shining example for this is the Methodist movement in the US during the 19th century. But our reality of mission in the US is limited to the understanding of Scripture as a call to proclaim our own tradition. This was apparent in the 19th and 20th century with the devisiveness of denominationalism with almost all Protestant and Christian groups.
But the foundation of mission is all bust lost in Christianity since the time of the Enlightenment. Our churches have forgotten that Christ’s call to ‘baptize the nations and to make disciples’ is our call to mission. The Great Commission should be constantly discerned as our command from Christ and our discipleship and our unity must be what defines us a people of faith.
There are three texts that outline this history and have been foundational in our understanding of the mishappenings and even the hope of our faith.
In David Bosch’s Transforming Mission we hear many stories and facts that outline the history of mission as something that can be improved upon. “Advocates of mission were blind to their own ethnocentrism… and confused their middle-class ideals and values with the tenets of Christianity.” (p301) Bosch creates a conversation around this in the argument that US Christian mission was a focused on the popular and stable segment of society that would best be able to create economies of expansion.
In Understanding Church Growth by David McGavran, it is outlined that mission and evangelism has taken many forms over the years but for many Americans there is a “fog” that limits our ability to see how we can grow. McGavran forms the argument that growth is a requirement of faithfulness and that we must not see evangelism as a goal but instead discipleship as our call to fulfill the Great Commission.
All three of my readings are glimpses from the past but J.C. Hoekendijk completely understands where the church has been and where it needs to go. Initially, I started reading The Church Inside Out and with a little vocabulary adjustment, this book could have been written yesterday. His clear understanding of how the church got to where it is and the hope and mission that defines us as Christians is a positive light that we all need to realize.
But Hoekendijk doesn’t use the language of expansion like McGavran. Instead he finds fault in many of our systems and says that “we must look for another way.”(p.18) There is more to what Christ is calling us to in the Great Commission than being a multiplying people of a religion. We need to be disciples who “establish the shalom”. By living and proclaiming shalom as humble servants we live out Christ’s example that is outlined in Matthew 9 as people that go into the world with a “Messianic shalom.” (p.25)
In my next article we will look toward the future of mission and evangelism through the lense of the Great Commission. After looking at past voices we will progress into modern thinkers that are discerning God’s call to the Church to baptize the nations and make disciples.

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