What is the Mission of the Church?
If you’re looking for a book with a straightforward thesis, you won’t find one as clear as this one. From the very start you know the question DeYoung and Gilbert will be asking. And it’s no small question. It’s quite central for how we structure our church’s ministry and what the church gives most weight to.
And they address this question carefully, biblically, but boldly. What they have done is realigned the church with its primary mission proclaiming the good news of the gospel and then connected acts of mercy, poverty relief, and generous justice should be practiced in light of our ultimate mission. They do this by making a distinction between what we ought to do (preaching the gospel), and what we may do (justice generally. There’s a lengthy discussion about loving neighbor and the realm of may and ought).
Do No Harm
With the rising tide of Kony2012, there was a swelling murmur of people saying that this campaign neglected an important principle: first do no harm. As I was reading WMC, I kept coming back to this. By prioritizing anything else above proclaiming the gospel are we do harming? I think the answer is yes. What we prioritize is conveyed to those we are loving. The most pressing need is not relieving hunger or creating culture but preaching the gospel. Christians must preach with Paul what is of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-ff). DeYoung & Gilbert get at this when they say,
We should not cheapen good deeds by making them only a means to some other end (evangelism), but neither do we want to exaggerate our responsibility by thinking it is our duty to build the kingdom through our good deeds. Similarly, we should not overspiritualize social action by making it equivalent to God’s shalom. As the church loves the world so loved by God, we will work to relieve suffering wherever we can, but especially eternal suffering. (27)
Hot Button Issues
DeYoung and Gilbert hit all the hot button missional issues. They start by pointing out that mission as defined by the larger missional movement is undefined. Their goal then is to refine and then define what mission means for the church and what is our covenant obligation as the body of Christ (see p. 62 for definition).
They move on to discuss the growing debate about what the actual gospel is. Again they are very balanced and careful when exegeting Scripture. They actually affirm much of what is being said on both sides and try to puzzle together the voices. What they end up with is “the gospel of the cross is the fountainhead of the gospel of the kingdom” (108). The chapter on the gospel could be expand into a book unto itself and be well worth the read.
The following discussion centers around the phrase kingdom and its popular usages like We’re building the kingdom by feeding the hungry. They examine the relevant passages and demonstrate firmly that the Scripture doesn’t talk about us building, participating, or growing the kingdom. Rather it shows that God is the architect of the kingdom and we are its citizens (pp. 131-39).
They then work to define the ever slippery phrase social justice. They again examine the big gun passages when discussing social justice issues. They come up with
social justice in the Bible is not an achieved result but equal treatment and a fair process. No bribes. No backroom deals. No slanderous judgements. No breaking your promises. No taking advantage of the weak. That’s what the Bible means by social justice.
In addressing, all of these misconceptions DeYoung and Gilbert start with Scripture and carefully examine the context, grammar, and structure of each passage. And without denying out right many of the social thrusts, they arrange the main truth in these passages within the larger story of Scripture and the immediate context. Many of the missional books I have read often lack a careful eye in this regard.
The Great Commission
In the end, their main contention is nothing shiny and new. It’s good old fashion preaching the gospel. But they do affirm the good and often necessary place for social working but contend that this should not be understand as the main mission of the church. In conjecture with its discussion about the gospel, What is the Mission of the Church is a great resources for churches and individuals answering these questions. The answer will impact drastically the priorities of Christian living. This book would be a great discussion starter for a group of elders or even for families. Although individuals reading it will find it useful, I see the discussion and interaction within a group that must careful delegate its resources as a primary benefit.
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