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  • Writer's pictureMark Bocanegra

What is "missions" exactly?

As I just submitted my ordination exam, I'd like to share again one of my answers to certain questions ( but this is not my exact answer on the exam). Disclaimer: This section comes out of the "Hot Topics" sections--so I assume some of you may disagree with me, but perhaps it would stimulate thought and prayer as you pray for missions. Feel free to give me your thoughts as well! How should the church relate to the culture of the world? To politics? To social action? Since “the culture of the world” is a fairly broad definition, I will start by defining the mission and nature of the Church, then address specific issues. First, as the PCA Book of Church Order* 3-3 states, “The sole functions of the Church, as a kingdom and government distinct from the civil commonwealth, are to proclaim, to administer, and to enforce the law of Christ revealed in the Scriptures.” Furthermore, the Church's mission is limited to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-22): preaching the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, and instructing (or disciplining, in some cases) Christians in all of Christ’s teaching. If this is the “sole function” or mission of the Church, then the works of the Church should be limited to this mission. Since the Church is called only to proclaim the words of Christ, does this mean that the only way Christians are to relate to the world is to to preach and evangelize to your co-worker 24/7? I believe Titus 2-3 and 1 Peter 2-3 gives a vivid picture of how Christians should apply this function in the world. Paul calls Titus and the elders to the church to teach the Church to pursue obedience and good works according to “doctrine” for threemissiological purposes: 1) they may not “revile the word of God” (2:5), 2) an opponent “may be put to shame" (2:8), and 3) they may “adorn the doctrine of the Word of God.” Where does this happen? On a short-terms missions trip to Mexico? Paul first calls us to do this in the context of their ordinary vocations--as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, and masters and servants. Before any large scale ministry to "love the world," Paul calls Christians to live holy lives in their ordinary callings in the world by loving yourneighbor. What about the injustices in the world? Is the Church suppose to speak to that? An oppressive government (1 Pet 2:13-20)? Peter says, "Submit." An unjust master? Peter says, "Serve!" (2:18-25). An unbelieving spouse? Live in holiness (3:1-7). It is clear in 1 Peter that Christians are called to “not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (3:9). The same kind of theme is presented in 1 Peter 2, Titus 2-3—a physical embodiment of Christ’s call to turn the other cheek. This seems to be the Apostle's missionary or evangelism strategy: live holy lives. . Why? To cause non-Christians “to ask you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). This is why (I think), Paul and Peter emphasize the importance of elders and pastors (Titus 1, 1 Peter 5, 1 Tim 3)--it is not merely because he wants keep internal order, but also to produce holy lives in Christian people so that it would draw people to church. Essentially, the "missio-ethical" purpose for good works is to provide opportunities for the preaching of the Word. But what if the politics or government become morally corrupt? Should not the Church be a prophet in the political or social arena as well? As WCF and the BCO rightly and biblically assert,* the Church should not ordinarily make any conclusions or evaluations regarding civil or political matters; however, only allows for “humble petitions” in extraordinary cases: WCF 31.4 - Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. BCO 3-4. The power of the Church is exclusively spiritual; that of the State includes the exercise of force. The constitution of the Church derives from divine revelation; the constitution of the State must be determined by human reason and the course of providential events. The Church has no right to construct or modify a government for the State, and the State has no right to frame a creed or polity for the Church. They are as planets moving in concentric orbits: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). Does this mean the Church cannot speak against social sins like abortion, racism, materialism, consumerism, unjust war, sex trafficking, or same-sex marriage? No, not at all! Since the Scriptures speak against these sins, it is not only permitted to do so but commanded. However, the sole mission of the Church is to bring people to the Gospel, grow in the image of God, and love our neighbor—not to propose a specific government policy, call for reform in a certain government institution, or present a church-approved presidential candidate. Furthermore, it is entirely possible for Christians to build institutions (e.g. soup kitchen), do relief work, support socio-political causes, or further the common good; however, it is important to see that this must be seen as separate or third or fourth degree removed from the “mission” of the Church. The Church, missionaries, pastors, and Christians are called to love social justice (or any other good thing), but not do social justice. Church history has seen churches emphasize social and political endeavors to the point it significantly dilutes or distracts from the preaching of the Gospel. The Scripture, the WCF, and the BCO merely wants to protect the Church from "majoring in the minors" and to prevent the overuse of vital ecclesiastical energy, time, effort, and resources on things that governments and/or NGOs can help address. Why? Because there is no government or NGO that is laser focused on preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and encouraging growth in holiness (i.e. discipline) within the Church. Lots of people (Christians and non-Christians!) can care about the starving Filipino street orphan; however, no one cares about the proclamation of Christ and the planting of churches except for the Church. The Church (and the missionary!) needs to remember that she is exclusively called to be a Herald of the Kingdom--not a builder of a kingdom--until the perfect city, the New Jerusalem, that Jesus built for us, descends to restore us into everlasting life. *For those who are unfamiliar with how Presbyterians view the WCF and the BCO, I cite the Westminster Standards and the PCA Book of Church Order not because I believe that they are "on par" with the Bible, but I believe that they faithfully represent and summarize the biblical position.

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