Redestined to Be a 4-Point Missionist
I’ve begun to notice how repetitious my public speaking has become. Ethiopia or some other faraway mission field I have visited always seems to creep into the conversation, regardless of the topic at hand. I’ve asked myself why. Here’s the best answer I can come up with.
The meaning of Christianity is ministry and mission, disciple-making at home and in actual “missionary” lands. This to me has become a settled conviction. But it was only after I began my personal studies of the Scriptures, not merely on an academic level but on a more devotional level – I dislike the term, but it must suffice – that I was “redestined,” as one might say, to become a 4-point missionist, that is, a world Christian. (The number “4” refers to the points of the compass: north, south, east, and west.)
There was nothing strange about this. It was the natural result of reading the Scriptures. This refocus corresponded completely with my own inclinations, especially since I had grown disinterested in biblical scholarship per se. My concerns and my outlook were, I think, always missional.
Of course, not everyone agrees what it means to be “missional.” Today we read of Christians who support our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq as “missionary” opportunities to reach the lost in those nations. Let the world be plunged into war if it can further the spread of the Gospel! Americans have no monopoly on this kind of thinking. We hear the same thing every day and on all sides, the only difference being that the threats are somewhat more modest and a little more restrained when uttered by less powerful nations engaged in the “war on terror.”
These are myths formed in the social milieu itself, out of its own spontaneity. Growing up on the military bastion known as Oahu I well remember how easily and frequently the line between flag and cross was blurred. It is no different today. Christian America must wage this war against the infidels of Islam! Ours is a righteous cause! There will, of course, be a few deplorable cases of abuse due to pardonable weakness, but let us look to the positive side: it is a page of glory, a call to courage, heroism, sacrifice! Wherever the soldier goes, the missionary will not be far behind.
Obviously I disagree with this way of thinking. No statements are more inordinate in my opinion than those made by present-day pulpiteers whose “Christianity” tries to justify our murderous nation-building. But mine is a gentle contempt for the world, not spiteful, not bitter. I can resist the general madness, and I have done this lately by sticking to the simple words of Jesus in such places as Matt. 28:19-20 or Mark 16:15 or Acts 1:8. Here our Lord summarizes all that He expects of His true followers. There is no way to avoid it. What shall we do with our lives other than mobilize them in sacrifice and suffering to share His love with the nations? It is a cruel and scandalous failure of Christian compassion to do otherwise.
Thus we come around in a full circle: in our society, war is considered ipso facto justified. But the crucial problem for the Christian is not the conversion of nations to democracy but the conversion of people to Christ. As a Christian I firmly hold to what Jesus taught about the relation of church and state. Of even more crucial importance to me, however, is the paradigm of the crucified Christ who was put to death by austere and virtuous men who devoted themselves with great energy to “doing good” as they saw it. We must realize that within our own “austere and virtuous” hearts exists a tendency to become exact replicas of the Pharisees – “doing good” by having the mentality of killers. We cannot forget the mistakes of the crusades. This is the exact opposite of everything Jesus ever did or taught.
If this is an extreme and radical view, implying the rejection of culture, so be it. But once again, it is only God who can redestine a man to become a Gospeler. It is also true that there is no time for ethical speculation, for such speculation implies that Jesus has not told us what we are to be about. Christ-followership demands a virile ascesis, not simply gentlemanly retreat into occasionally leaving a tract in a restaurant. The missionary consciousness of today in America is simply a marginal worldly consciousness. It won’t do.
The world is a huge necropolis, a cemetery entombing lost people by the billions. But there is also a city of the living, a zoopolis if you will, whose citizens gladly enter the death, the sickness, the vice of the necropolis and tell those who remain imprisoned in their sins of One who was nailed to a Roman cross on their behalf, One who indeed “loves the world” (John 3:16) – the inhabitants of every tribe and people and nation, men and women, Muslims and Hindus, brown and white. I would not be a missionist if I did not believe this with my entire being.
It seems to me that this is the true heart of Christianity – when you want to live for the Gospel and, if necessary, die for it. It is hard but not depressing, difficult but not impossible. If what you are doing is truly the work of God, He is surely able and willing to provide for it.
May 8, 2008
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.