The theme of our study is “Mission in Christ’s Way”, which is a call to rethink our concepts about mission, which, in some cases, involves a U-turn in our understanding. For example, missions is about the Kingdom of God and Jesus is the Kingdom, In other words, without Jesus, there is no sense to the reign of God’s Kingdom, nor to mission. Participating in his Kingdom does not mean establishing a mission program or movement, but rather participating in what Newbigin calls “costly discipleship”. Mission is therefore not a success story, at least as defined by our worldly business model. The Holy Spirit is the success story and is reflected in Acts 1:6-8 as the promise to the disciples. This occurs right after Jesus commanded his apostles to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift he was going to give them. The disciples, however, had another question in mind:
6 While the apostles were still with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, are you now going to give Israel its own king again?” 7 Jesus said to them, “You don’t need to know the time of those events that only the Father controls..8 But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.”
So the presence of the Kingdom of God is in Jesus, not in our program. We don’t need to worry about the program. As Newbigin reminds us, “I believe in the resurrection of Jesus and therefore the question [of being optimistic or pessimistic about the future] does not arise.” It is a fact, so it asks a different question: “Do you believe it or do you not believe it?” The question is about the Kingdom, but the promise is about the spirit.
This can be considered as a warning not to consider Christianity simply as a good cause, like taking back America with 200 million signatures or supporting the various cancer walks. These are important and fine to participate in, but they are a program and not the Kingdom.
It is also important to notice is that what God gives us is a promise, and not simply a command. The promise is this:
The H.S. will come and you will be witnesses v. You must go and be my witnesses.
In this context, Newbigin comments on the word arrabon, which Paul uses when talking about the Spirit. The word denoted cash that is paid in advance of a pledge to pay in the future. It is therefore both present cash and a promise of cash in the future. “The Holy Spirit is the arrabon of the Kingdom.” It is a real gift we have now as a gift given to the church, but it carries with it something that speaks of the future as well. The Holy Spirit is not only the advocate defending the church but is also the advocate for the prosecution of the attacking world.”
The concept is something like the old lay-away plan: you put down money with a promise of more to come in the future. Of course, the H.S. is more than a promise, it “is a real gift now, a real foretaste of the joy, freedom, the righteousness, the holiness of God’s Kingdom.” And yet, at the same time, it “makes us look forward and press forward with eager hope towards the greater reality that lies ahead.”
This was the promise of Jesus to the disciples (and we as believers). Jesus had already reminded them (in John 16:7-10_: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.”
Jesus is telling his disciples that people have a number of false assumptions:
- That people are wrong about sin; [thinking that Jesus doe not forgive sin]
- That people are wrong about what is right; [thinking that Jesus was not of God]
- That people are wrong about God’s judgment [thinking that Satan was not judged]
This fact of being witnesses to what God will do among the nations is further born out in the prophecy in Isaiah 43:8-11:
8Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
who have ears but are deaf.
9 All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of their gods foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
In the Gospel of John we read that when Nicodemus came to Jesus (at night) and wanted to know how he could find God, Jesus told him that he had to be born again. In the ensuing discussion, Jesus uses the analogy of the H.S. as wind: You can’t see the wind, but you can see the result and effects of it. You see movement. [Illustration of Kirk and boys up on the mountain and the branches of the tree moving.]
However, we cannot harness the H.S. like we speak of doing with the wind. For example, there are 40 different wind farms in west Texas and wind power accounted for 9% of the electricity generated in Texas during 2014.
Because the wind is a movement of the air and cannot be seen, it may bring destruction, make the sea rough, drive ships, and come from any directions. In the Bible the wind is instrumental by bringing floods, locust, quail, rain, breaking up mountains, and tossing ships about. However, Christ is able to calm and control the wind. And it is figurative for empty speech, empty promises, God’s discipline and judgment, even false teaching (Eph. 4:14—the shifting wind and deceitful teaching).
In other words, it does not always figuratively or metaphorically represent the H.S.
We return to Newbigin, who says, “The disciples are witnesses; the great actor is God, God the Holy Spirit.” He relates how there were all sorts of activities that were at work that had no visible connection to those people who came to Christ and were baptized—yet the Holy Spirit was working.
We know this from stories we have heard, even perhaps from our own, of how people come to God in many different ways. In my own case it was the witness of many people (a neighbor, a girlfriend, a buddy who was converted in Korea in the army, a young pastor, and a teacher).
In other instances and cultures, God may use dreams or visions, even though we can seldom “program” how he is going to do it. It encompasses ordinary people doing ordinary things in their congregations, but it is not a result of an obligation laid on us. It is primarily a work of the Spirit, a spill-over from Pentecost. According to Newbigin, “In fact most of the great Christian preachings in Acts are responses to questions, not actions initiated by the church.” Paul does not exhort his followers to be active in evangelism—he does not need to because they cannot keep quiet about what God has done. “Mission, in other words, is gospel and not law.”
The history of the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International) because a man in Guatemala, a “normal” missionary, responded to an Indian’s question “Why doesn’t God speak our language?” To the Indian, God seemed only to speak Spanish. Similarly, in many missionary contexts their supporters want God to speak English, even King James English.
In past history the “missionary mandate” and the “white man’s burden” have been motivations for missions, rather than a natural spiritual response.
In my own case, I ask the question, “Why do I think that Hebrew or Greek are a more holy and spiritual means to communicate God’s message than the vernacular languages?”
Newbigin reminds us that the great teachings in Acts are responses to questions, not actions initiated by the church. “He is never found exhorting them to be active in evangelism…he does not lay this constraint [Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel] on them to rouse their consciences because mission “is gospel and not law; it is the overflow of a great gift, not the carrying of a great burden. It is the fulfilment of a promise: ‘you shall be my witness when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’”.
The evidence of the Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22). We are familiar with the list: love, joy, peace, longsuffering [stick with thing], gentleness [compassion], goodness [basic holiness], faith, But we need to know what the spiritual “fruit” contrasts with and the list is long: adultery, fornication [immorality], uncleanliness [impurity], lasciviousness [lewdness], idolatry [trinket gods], witchcraft, hatred, variances [making trouble], emulations [angry with one another], wrath, strife, sedition, heresies, envying, murder, drunkenness, and reveling [wild and wasteful parties].
When I was working with Kewa people to find acceptable words in translation, it was not difficult to find words for the bad list. In the bad list, words and phrases like these occurred: stealing women, bad stinking ways, bad behavior arising in the stomach, deceitful ways, lifting the names of spirits, doing poison, becoming enemies and fighting, jealousy, cooking anger, dying with wanting things, separating from fathers and brothers, causing divisions in the clan, drinking beer and going crazy, dancing badly (not poorly). People who do these kinds of things will not see (be a part of) God’s place of protection (the Kingdom).
So doing mission by the Spirit is a powerful promise because it provides release from the ways of Satan and instead allows us to abide in Jesus and in the Kingdom.
Some comments and questions for reflection:
- John 20:21: “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. [What doe that mean to you? There is no other way. The Father sent his son because of his love for the whole world.]
- How did the Father send the Son? (Mark 1:14-18): [As an announcement of a fact; about the sovereign rule of God; on the reign of God (revealed, yet hidden), which is now; a call to do a U-turn and believe; God takes the initiative.]
- The church is to be a sign, instrument and foretaste of the Kingdom. [When people see the church do they see people who represent that church?—what does a foretaste of the Kingdom look like?]
- We go in word and deed, whatever the cost; [As individuals we are to demonstrate faithfulness in action for truth, justice, mercy, compassion, all bearing witness to God by explicit word.]
- What does it mean to say “Jesus is the Kingdom”? [He lives in and among us]
- How is the Kingdom of God hidden and revealed in the cross? [Hidden—it is a stumbling block; Revealed—by the power of the resurrection]
- The presence of the Kingdom and the proclamation of the Kingdom. [The Kingdom is already among us—we are part of it—and we proclaim it to others.]
- What is the relationship between the presence of the Kingdom and the proclamation of the Kingdom? [presence—it represents the Kingdom here and now; proclamation—it is commanded to do so through its people]
The promise of the Spirit is the assurance of the Kingdom among us (and others). It is represented in Jesus, not in the programs we plan.
Planning is necessary, but we must remember: “People may plan all kinds of things, but the Lord’s will is going to be done.” (Proverbs 19:21)
A strong evidence of the Spirit will be how people manifest spiritual attributes and spiritual contextualization in their cultures.
“Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” (Proverbs 20:30)
“Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
“Never ask, ‘Oh, why were things so much better in the old days?’ It is not an intelligent question.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
Also from Newbigin (if there is time):
Newbigin: Christ and the cultures (from The Open Secret, 1978; Foolishness to the Greeks, 1986; and other materials recorded in Weston’s Reader, 2006)
- You must always use the language of the hearers—no language is neutral so you must use the idioms, life-style of rite and liturgy that will share the truth of the Gospel in a way the hearer understands.
- The bearer of the message is also shaped by his language and culture.
- There is a 3-cornered relationship: the traditional culture, The Christianity of the missionary, and the Bible.
- David B. Barrett (1968, Schism and Renewal in Africa: An Analysis of Six Thousand Contemporary Religious Movements. Nairobi: Oxford U. Press) has demonstrated “an extremely close correlation between the formation of the Independent churches [of Africa] and the availability of the Scripture in the languages of the communities concerned” (97).
- When the message is gladly received there is often no attempt to separate it from the culture of the people who brought it. There is no culturally uncontaminated Gospel.
- Objections ( and answers) to seeing the Bible functioning as a third independent source:
- The Bible itself represents a particular culture.| Defining mark is the presence of the Holy Spirit.
- There are a variety of interpretations. | Christology is always from the cultural perspective. That is why, unlike the Koran, it is translatable.
- How can it speak to all if from one perspective? | It is not bound to the culture of the NT but was handed on as an original testimony of those who knew Jesus