Sun, Feb 19, 2012
A God-Centered Understanding of Missiology
by Tom Fox
Knowing God, Loving God, and Planting the Church
My greatest fear in talking about missions is being offensive.  The reason is that missions demands something of us.  We are brought face to face with the implications of our theology, and we have to move out in obedient faith or live in disobedience.  I fear incurring your displeasure.  Yet, the time has come in our walk together as a church to put away all replies and rebuttals to the truth.  Yes, the biblical view of missions make little sense.  We argue against it based on local needs, economic shortfalls, and personal discomfort.  Why go there when we have people right here who need Christ?  Why not send money?  Why not hire people who are already culture and language ready?  The answer is simply God has commanded us to go.  To do otherwise is disobedience.  To think we have a better plan is both arrogance and deceit.  
 
I.Missions begins with an understanding of Who God is and a feeling of the weight of Who He is.
 
As Lee has pointed out, we “do theology from above,” so we must begin with Scripture.  We don’t look into our thoughts for an understanding of God and proper affections for Him; we look into Holy Scripture.  The danger we face from our western worldview is that we do theology abstractly—as thought without consequence.  You cannot think about God or not think about God without huge consequences.   
 
A.  Selected Readings from Scripture that Show the Majesty, Power, Wisdom, and Glory of God  
 
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And it was so. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
(Genesis 1:1-31 ESV)
 
These selected readings from Genesis 1 show us that the God of the Bible is a God who is majestic, incomprehensible, powerful, wise, eternal, self-sufficient, completely satisfied within Himself, holy, and merciful.  He is a God who was pleased make Himself known. His desire to make Himself known, that is the love He has to Himself, moved Him to create the everything that is.  This text shows that the highest good God can do to the creature is to make Himself known, to show forth the glories of His Person in power, wisdom, holiness, and mercy, etc.  God in making Himself known made a world that shows His goodness, so that, what is good is good because it is consistent with God’s character.
 
B.What has this to do with missions?  
 
Everything.  This is where missions begins and ends.  God’s mission is God.  His creating of all that exist is His pursuit of His own glory outwardly.  And we are told repeatedly in Genesis 1 that this is the very definition of good—God mercifully making Himself known.  
 
Listen to the Psalmist (Psalm 19).
 
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
(Psalm 19: 1-6 ESV)
 
God in creating the world has made his glory known (His understanding of Himself, love of Himself, and delight in Himself).  In so doing, He has done man good.  Notice that the Bible does not argue from reason to the Word of God (which would be quite impossible since it is the Word of God), but from the Word of God these things are shown to be reasonable.  The Psalmist did not first look into the sky and see God’s glory and wax poetic about a merciful God who has made Himself  known in loving kindness to sinners.  He started with the Word of God.  He knew the Genesis account of creation.  
 
In a fallen world, no one looks at creation and draws the right conclusions about God. This was Paul’s conclusion in Romans 1.  
 
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
(Romans 1:18-23 ESV) 
 
The psalmist runs to the Word of God in Psalm 19 to illustrate that right understanding of God, love for God, and joy in God are rooted firmly in the Word of God.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7-11 ESV)  
 
Listen to Psalm 8.
 
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8 ESV)
 
Job 38 (38-42)
 
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
(Job 38 ESV:  Job 38-42 is a marvelous exaltation of God.  Notice God is exalting God in these chapters.)
 
Job’s reply (42:1-6)
 
Then Job answered the LORD and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
(Job 42:1-6 ESV)
 
Isaiah 6
 
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
(Isaiah 6:1-5 ESV)
 
John 1:1-3, 14, 18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
(John 1:1-3, 14, 18 ESV)
 
Romans 11-33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36 ESV)
 
We could go on and on with texts that show us the weight of God’s glory revealed, His incomprehensible power and majesty, and the infinite display of His wisdom and goodness in all that He does.  
 
C.Why would we begin here in talking about missions?  
 
We begin here because we are not ready to talk about missions or do missions until we begin to feel and understand the something of the weight of God.  We must approach this topic awestruck, captivated, thrilled, and humbled by the fear of the Lord.  We cannot approach this subject in a cavalier manner as if our thoughts and all thoughts about missions are right and biblical and pleasing to God.  The Word of God gives us sufficient instruction to shape our thoughts and practices.  
 
John Piper says, “The most crucial issue in missions is the centrality of God in the life of the church” (Let the Nations… p. 20).
 
II.Missions is sustained by a love for God’s glory.
 
When we hear of His majesty and goodness, we will either love Him or hate 
Him.  
A.God loves His own glory.  Everything He does, He does ultimately for His own glory.  The Bible is replete with this truth.
 
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
(Romans 9:17-18, 22-24 ESV)
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
(Ephesians 1:3-10 ESV)
 
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
 
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
(Romans 11:36 ESV)
 
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
(Romans 1:1-6 ESV)
 
B.God’s desire that His Name be Great among the Nations is the aim of missions.
 
When we begin to have a proper understanding of the awesomeness of God and we love the God Who has made Himself known to us, we will join Him in making His Name great among all peoples.  
 
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
(Psalm 46:10 ESV)
 
Our global pursuit of God’s glory among the nations reflects our thoughts and feeling about ourselves, others, and God.  We can never think that we know God rightly and walk in disregard for His glory among the nations.
 
C.Making God’s Name great among the nations is the only way to ultimate good for people.  
 
It is no mystery that the law is summed up in a word, “love.”  It is no surprise that the two greatest commands of the law are to love God and love your neighbor.  The order is important.  When God is loved supremely, we love our neighbor rightly.  Love seeks the ultimate good of its object.  
 
When love from man becomes the motivation for missions, missions will not be long sustained, the gospel will cease to be proclaimed, the church will cease to be planted, and people will be done no ultimate, lasting, culture changing good.
 
We fool ourselves into thinking that we can avoid our culture.  You cannot live without culture.  When we try save ourselves from our culture, we are prisoners of it already.
 
We are to engage the culture for God’s glory.  This does sinners good.  Let me illustrate.  In Eastern Europe, orphanages abound.  Many of the residents have parents.  Some don’t.  Is it right and good to aid, educate, and care for these children.  Yes.  Is that missions?  No.  
 
In Cupcini, Moldova, there is an orphanage.  The children of the orphanage, many of whom had parents, would come and sing at our evangelistic crusades.  They would sing in English, “Jesus is alive today.”  It sounded like, “Jesus is a leaf today.”  How did this happen?  The director and his wife got swept up into a church planting effort by the power of the gospel.  That is how orphanages are transformed by the planting of the church.  I could have taken maybe 1 child.  The work of planting the church and God’s kindness in saving the director and His wife helped many.
 
III.Missions is the task of the Church in the World
 
We are to relate to the world missionally.  While the church does many good things in the world, the task of the church is to glorify God by lifting high the Son of God by preaching the gospel to the nations.  The gospel rests squarely on Who Jesus is and what He has done—that is His Person and His work.  
 
Listen to Matt. 16: 13-20
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
(Matthew 16:13-20 ESV)
 
The verses give us a view of the sovereign majesty of Jesus that leads to worship that moves us to mission.  When the greatness of Jesus is seen and felt, we will worship Him and proclaim Him globally and plant the church.
  
Does this not sound like the Great Commission?
 
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)
 
The same three points are outline here as in Matt. 16:  The risen, reigning Christ is worshiped and proclaimed.
 
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
(Matthew 24:14 ESV)
 
Lee, in his sermon last week, said that Jesus did not come to be a great healer.  He came to preach the gospel.  That was His mission.  He is the Gospel.   As the Father sent Him, so He has sent the church in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to the nations.
 
If Jesus had devoted His life to the casting out of demons, healing diseases, and raising the dead, no one would be able to accuse Him of not doing good.  Those are all good things.  Jesus came to purchase, build, and multiply the church among all nations for God’s glory by the preaching of the gospel.
 
For example, in Bosnia Southern Baptists through the IMB brought millions of dollars of relief to people traumatized by war.  It was all good, and we ought to have done it.  I wish we could have done more.  This was great humanitarian effort, but it was not our main task.  In some sense, it was like Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.  We also translated the NT into Bosnian and distributed 250,000 copies of it in the city of Sarajevo in an effort to plant the church.  This was missions.  Which does ultimate good for people?
 
IV.The Missions task of the Church is to Plant Churches
 
Read the Gospels.  Read Acts.  Read the epistles.  What to you see as the missionary task?  Planting the church.  In the wake of the life and ministry of Jesus, is the church.  Try and imagine the world without the church.  In the wake of the missionary endeavors of Acts, are many local churches.  The task and the passion of the missionary must be to plant churches among peoples and in neighborhoods where no churches are to be found.  All the good things in the world are not missions and they can distract from what we have been sent to do.  
 
Every time I have been involved in a church plant, I knew full well that something had come into being in that town, village, or neighborhood that would change everything forever.  
 
I never felt that planting the church was what the IMB had commissioned and paid me to do, although church planting is the aim of the IMB.  I felt that planting the church was what the churches in obedience to Christ had commissioned me to do, more especially the church I pastored in the USA.  I wish they would have joined me in a more personal way.  This connection is vital because churches plant churches.  The church has been given the task of planting the church among all people for the glory of God.  
 
As a church, we must identify those peoples and neighborhoods where there is no church; we must network with likeminded people with whom the Lord will give us relationships; and we must plant churches among them.  We must train and equip our members for this task.  We must pray for the resources to accomplish the work.  We must all embrace this task globally.  We must participate at whatever level and at every level the Lord gives us opportunity.  
 
We must come to terms with some disproportions that reflect a lack of vision of the majesty of God, a love for His glory, and obedience to what He has called the church to do.
 
We must focus primarily on unreached peoples and cities.  The ten largest cities in the world have a population of about 200 million people.  Within the next 10 to 15 years the populations of the largest 10 cities will near 250 million people.  19 cities around the world exceed 10 million in population.   More that 400 cities have populations that exceed 1 million.  100 million people live in slums globally.  More that half of the world’s population lives in cities.  By 2050, 70 to 80 percent of the peoples of the world will live in cities.  As the world becomes more urban, church planting efforts will need to focus primarily on cities.  
 
Many of the world’s unreached peoples can be found in the great cities of the world—New York, Paris, London, Athens, etc.  Cities may be a bridge to the remaining unreached peoples.  Most of the remaining unreached peoples are remote.  Engaging those who move to cities could be a bridge to those who remain in village life.  
 
A shift has taken place in global Christianity in the last 100 years.  In 1900, 90 percent of Christians globally were in North America and Europe.  Today 34 percent are in North America and Europe.  66 percent are in the Global South.  Of the global missions resources 87 percent goes established Christian work, 12 percent to people who live within reach of the gospel but have not responded, and 1 percent to reach the unreached.  In the last 20 years, international missionaries from the US have decreased by 45 percent (65k to 35K).