A Theology of Missions

Theology of Missions: “The Ministry of Reconciliation”

Introduction

When God created man, He did not create a robotic likeness or a clone of Himself. He meticulously created a man with the capacity to reason, think logically, and gave him the freedom to make choices. Before the fall, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with God and with each other. However, as result of their sin, the relationship between humanity and God became damaged. As such, a decisive act was necessary for this relationship to be restored to its original state. The relationship between man and God is now broken, that is the story of Adam and the problem of sin. God provided the necessary plan for reconciling man back to Himself.

If God knew man would fall, He could have chosen not to create him at all, so that He might spare His Son the cross. Yet, because He loved man, He made him anyway. When Christ came, He had one purpose—restoring man’s fellowship with God. G.C. Berkouwer argues, “The message of Christ was every human being faces condemnation. Therein it is clear that God loved the world (John 3:16), that He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (II Cor. 5:19), and that Christ is the Savior of the world (John 4:42). That is a continuing reminder of the missio Dei, the “mission of God,” which radically excludes every religious or cultural absolutizing of work.”[1] Man is under the sentence of death because he has disobeyed God and rejected Christ. The only hope of reconciliation was provided by the grace of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Once reconciliation has been completed, God then gives each one the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the responsibility of spreading the Good News and reconciling man to God is the objective of missions.

This treatise will look briefly at the Old and New Testament Scriptures to develop reconciliation as a theology of missions. Secondly, to understand how God’s relationship to the world affects this theology of missions. Thirdly, reveal how reconciliation as a mission theology is an important part of Biblical theology. Forth, to briefly examine various motifs of mission theology as it relates to the people who are involved in the ministry of reconciling man to God.

Mission Theology in the Old Testament and God’s Relationship to the World

The idea of developing a theology of mission’s using the Old Testament is foreign to many. The emphases within its pages overwhelmingly refer to the restoration of the nation and people of Israel. Yet, within the pages of the Old Testament we learn that God is concerned for not only the welfare and ultimate destiny of this one people—[Israel], but also for “all the families of the Earth” (Gen. 12:3).[2] There is no doubt that missionary activity is more prominent within the pages of the New Testament, but the nature of missions begins in the Old Testament.

Following the fall of man in the Garden, God prophetically spoke of a day when the serpent would bruise the heel of the Messiah and the Messiah in turn would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Throughout the Book of Genesis, emphasis is placed on God’s desire to reach all the nations. From Noah, the preacher of righteousness (1 Pet. 2:5), who preached for 120 years to a wicked world that God would spare them if they would repent and sadly, only Noah and his immediate family obeyed God’s word. On the other hand, God raises up the descendents of Noah to begin again as God’s amazing plan to reach the nations began to take shape in germinal form as Abraham arrives on the scene.

Abraham is the first to whom God revealed His plan to form a nation. Even before God made a covenant with him or changed his name from Abram, God promised him that all the nations of the world would benefit from his obedience. Erwin and Bormiley contend, “The emphasis in Scripture on Israel’s separation from the nations must not overshadow Israel’s mission to the nations. The promise made by God to Abraham is, ‘by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen 12:3).[3] C. Gordon Olson states, “God confirmed the covenant with Isaac (Gen. 24:1-4) and with Jacob (28:10-14), specifically reminding Jacob that in you and your descendents shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Jacob [was] a missionary . . . It wasn’t until great his grandson, Joseph, that we see a powerful witness to the nations, especially Egypt.”[4] The nation of Israel became the example to the world of what God desired to do for the nations of the world. When Israel spent 430 years in slavery, God raised up Moses to deliver them (Ex. 3). The story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt toward Canaan is no pretty, linear process from glory to glory. There are almost too many drastic mistakes, bumps, and challenges to count. The two things that remain constant are the heart of God for the nations and the heart of Moses to follow God. Moses is not perfect, of course, but the relationship he cultivated with God kept Israel on their journey.

Forty years later, the people of Israel arrive at the shore of the Jordan River. Moses had died and Joshua is chosen to lead the people into the Promised Land. All the people over the age of 20 had died in the wilderness only Joshua and Caleb remained. Olson argues, “There is a subtle irony in God’s word in Num. 14:24. It comes out by identifying Caleb . . . Comparing Joshua 14:14, where he is identified as a Kenizzite . . .[of the] Canaanite tribe, makes it clear that Caleb was a Gentile, not a Jew.”[5] This is no accident. God made it clear that Caleb was not only a Gentile, but he was given full access into the Promise Land.

God chose the nation of Israel, a lowly people, and He elevated them above all the nations of the world, in doing so, all nations can know the true and living God; this is our missionary God. As the history of Israel moves from the time of the Judges to the era of the Kings, the promise to save the nations is expanded. When David takes the throne, God promises him an eternal kingdom. With King David’s acknowledgment of this great promise, he makes it clear that God is committed to bringing blessings on all nations of the earth in order that His name be glorified (2 Sam. 7).

Old Testament missions involved individuals and the community of God’s people cooperating with God in His work to reverse what took place as a result of the fall.[6] God’s ultimate desire was to use His relationship with the nation of Israel to provide an example of how He would reconcile all the nations of the world and restore the relationship lost in the Garden. The Old Testament emphasis of missions was God calling the nations to see what He was doing with Israel, and then for all to come to Israel to hear and be reconciled. This pattern is changed in the New Testament, the emphasis is on calling the people to go and tell the nations that God will restore the broken relationship and reconciliation is possible; this is especially true after the day of Pentecost.[7]

Mission Theology in the New Testament and God’s Relationship to the World

The New Testament writers provide an understanding for a theology of missions. From the four Gospel’s to the Book of Acts and beyond, the mission of God to reconcile man is visible. In each of the Gospels, Jesus proclaims the kingdom and calls men to be reconciled to God. John made known God’s relationship to the world when he stated how much God loved the world—humanity (John 3:16).[8] Christ set the example for the Church, and as such, the Church is to continue to carry on His mission. Jesus explained how the Church was to carry out this mission in Matthew 28. He declared that the Church was to make disciples, teach the new disciples to walk in obedience to the teachings of Christ, and baptizing all people in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today, the focus of the Church is the same: discipleship, teaching and preaching, and baptizing, rightly so.

The Book of Acts reveals that the end of Jesus’ work on earth was only the beginning of what He was to do. He would do His greatest work through the Church. Before His ascension, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be poured out on the Church. The effusion of the Holy Spirit would enable the Church to carry on the work of Christ. In the marvelous manner in which all things of God interlock and are intertwined, only the power of the Holy Spirit made the Apostles effective witnesses for the Lord (Acts 1:9).

Following the example of Christ, the Apostles continued the plan of God to restore and reconcile. As the Apostles established new churches, the mission of reconciliation became the normal pattern for the Church, as seen in the Apostle Paul’s life and ministry. David Garland states, “Paul . . .expands theologically on what God has done to bring about reconciliation. But Paul does not simply proclaim something, namely, that the cross was an event in the past which took away the sins of the world; he lives the message himself.”[9] For this reason, one must include missions as a part of Biblical Theology and reconciliation fits within that framework.

Mission Theology as Part of Biblical Theology

Theology is defined as the study of God, as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and in Scripture.[10] Reconciliation is intertwined contextually throughout the disciplines of theology from Christology, Anthropology, and even Eschatology. The mission of Jesus Christ, in total obedience to God is culminated in reconciliation.[11] Christ came to atone for the sins of man through His death on the cross. The word atonement has a 16th century meaning—at one-ment. The atoning death of Jesus Christ provided the means for reconciliation.

The exclusion of missions within the framework of theology is impossible. One cannot study God and not see His desire to restore the relationship that was lost in the Garden. The revelation of Christ is the greatest proof of God’s overall mission to reconcile lost humanity.

The Main Motif of Mission Theology and Its Relationship to People in Ministry

Many themes and motifs characterize the theology of missions. The one superior motif and overarching theme is the one already explained, namely the ministry of reconciliation. This master theme is exemplified and seen clearly in Paul, both in his actions and his theology.  Paul makes this clear in his theology of perseverance in life and mission as he calls the entire Church to follow his example. Paul realized reconciliation was the centralized motif of missions. In turn, reconciliation becomes the primary job of the missionary.

The church is called to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of Life (Phil. 2:16). Reconciliation is good news to lost humanity and every Christian missionary, Church leader, and believer must declare the good news that Christ has come to restore the broken relationship sin has caused. The message is what drives men and women to forsake everything and carry this news to the far reaches of the globe. The Holy Spirit empowers the bearer of the gospel and enables them to speak with understanding of God’s desire to reconcile humanity. Adele Reinhartz contends, “God is defined not in terms of ontic aspects of being, but by active aspects of doing, the most important of which is launching the mission of the Son.”[12] In the same manner as Christ was sent from the Father, today’s missionaries are sent carrying the same message to a lost world.

Conclusion

To have a proper theology of missions it is important to understand the central theme of Scripture, which is God’s desire to reconcile lost humanity and the restoring of the relationship broken by sin. The examples of both the Old and New Testament give vivid examples of God’s plan of restoration and reconciliation. There is no greater example in scripture than that of God sending His one and only Son—Jesus Christ. Before His death, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would empower the believers to finish what He started. From that day until the present, God continues to give power to believers to take the message of reconciliation to the world. Theology of missions in this motif is clearly a part of the overall study of God. It is not surprising that missionaries, church leaders, and lay people in modern times continue to maintain the ministry of reconciliation as the primary motif of missions.

Bibliography

Berkouwer,G. C. The Church. Grand Rapids, W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1976.

Elwell, Walter A. and Beitzel, Barry J. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1988.

Fahlbusch, Erwin  and Bromiley, Geoffrey William. vol. 3, The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Leiden, Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003.

________. vol. 4, The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Leiden, Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 2005.

Garland, David E. vol. 29, 2 Corinthians, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.

Manser, Martin H. Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1999.

Moreau, Scott A.; Corwin, Gary R.; McGee, Gary B., Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Olson, C. Gordon. What In The World Is God Doing? The Essentials of Global Missions: An Introductory Guide. Cedar Knoll, Global Gospel Publishers, 2003.

Reinhartz, Adele. Adele Reinhartz and Society of Biblical Literature, vol. 85, Semeia. Semeia 85, Semeia Atlanta, Society of Biblical Literature, 1999.


[1] G. C. Berkouwer, The Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1976), 394–395.

[2] Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, vol. 3, The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003), 558.

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 1530.

[4] C. Gordon Olson, What In The World Is God Doing? The Essentials of Global Missions: An Introductory Guide (Ceader Knoll, NJ.: Global Gospel Publishers, 2003), 27.

[5] Ibid., 29.

[6] Scott A. Moreau; Gary R Corwin; Gary B. McGee., Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker, 2004), 37.

[7] Olson, What In The World Is God Doing?, 32.

[8] For a brief example of Scriptural references see Matthew 24:14, 28:16-20, Mark 16:14-18, Luke 4:18-19; 24:46-48, John 3:16; 17:18; 20:21.

[9] David E. Garland, vol. 29, 2 Corinthians, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 291.

[10] Martin H. Manser, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1999), 8166.

[11] Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, vol. 4, The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 2005), 505.

[12] Adele Reinhartz, Adele Reinhartz and Society of Biblical Literature, vol. 85, Semeia. Semeia 85, Semeia (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999), 35.

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