Sentness is the by-product of Grace

Last week, Ray Ortlund posted a quote from Lesslie Newbigin on his Gospel Coalition blog. The full quote is reprinted below.

“There has been a long tradition which sees the mission of the Church primarily as obedience to a command. It has been customary to speak of ‘the missionary mandate.’ This way of putting the matter is certainly not without justification, and yet it seems to me that it misses the point. It tends to make mission a burden rather than a joy, to make it part of the law rather than part of the gospel.  If one looks at the New Testament evidence one gets another impression. Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed. It must be told. Who could be silent about such a fact? The mission of the Church in the pages of the New Testament is more like the fallout from a vast explosion, a radioactive fallout which is not lethal but life-giving.”

sentnesslogoNewbigin says, with slightly different language, what I’ve been trying to communicate for some time now. Namely, that sentness is the by-product of grace. The missionary impulse, living sent, is an overflow of grace before it is obedience to a command. Sentness as the by-product of grace is summed up in the tag line of this blog. “God’s glory, our spiritual poverty. God’s grace, our sentness.” Ultimately, it’s our life with Jesus and our realization of God’s great grace that fuels the mission of living sent to make disciples.

Bonhoeffer on Sentness

The Christian belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?’

Bonhoeffer quoting Luther in Life Together, p. 17-18.

Dallas Willard on Sentness

The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence. Will they break out of the churches to be his Church—to be, without human force or violence, his mighty force for good on earth, drawing the churches after them toward the eternal purposes of God? And, on its own scale, there is no greater issue facing the individual human being, Christian or not.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Omission, p. xv.

Stott on Sentness

If we have resisted the missionary dimension of the church’s life, or dismissed it as if it were dispensable, or patronized it reluctantly with a few perfunctory prayers and grudging coins, or become preoccupied with our own narrow-minded, parochial concerns, we need to repent, that is, change our mind and attitude. Do we profess to believe in God? He’s a missionary God. Do we say we are committed to Christ? He’s a missionary Christ. Do we claim to be filled with the Spirit? He’s a missionary Spirit. Do we delight in belonging to the church? It’s a missionary society. Do we hope to go heaven when we die? It’s a heaven filled with the fruits of the missionary enterprise. It is not possible to avoid these things.

John Stott in The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World, p. 335.

Every Believer A Missionary

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My hope is that this blog helps catalyze the following vision: every believer a missionary resulting in a Holy Spirit directed spontaneous expansion of the Church. I’ve heard it said in response to this vision that if everybody is a missionary then nobody is a missionary. The words of the late missiologist J. Herbert Kane summarize this objection.

The Chinese have a proverb: If two men feed a horse, it will lose weight; if two men keep a boat, it will soon leak. What is everybody’s job is nobody’s job. If every Christian is a missionary, missionary work is bound to suffer. It is correct to say that every Christian is, or should be, a witness. It is not correct to say that every Christian is a missionary.

When missiologists make statements like this they are wanting to preserve the important task of carrying the gospel across cultural boundaries to those who owe no allegiance to Christ. If missions is defined as everything the Church does, what’s lost is the notion of going somewhere to minister cross-culturally. Without crossing cultural boundaries, everybody’s job becomes nobody’s job and true missionary work suffers. I get that. I understand the reasoning. And I agree-for the most part.

Not everyone is able to pack up their family, move overseas, and cross significant cultural and linguistic boundaries for the sake of the gospel. By the way, missiologists call this E3 evangelism. So, yes, in this sense not everybody is a missionary. However, every believer is called to participate in the Great Commission through neighbor to neighbor missions. Missiologists call this E1 evangelism, if no significant cultural or linguistic boundaries are crossed.

It’s at this point that I would like to push back on the missiologist and widen the definition of a missionary. Just because the cultural distance traversed through E1 evangelism isn’t great doesn’t mean the boundaries crossed are insignificant. Often times the most daunting boundary to meaningful engagement with the gospel is, for example, the backyard fence separating neighbors. The person who prayerfully overcomes that boundary has done the work of a missionary; this is more than being a witness.

So, not every believer is a missionary in the E3 sense but everybody is a missionary in the E1 sense. Some believers will cross great boundaries to bring about meaningful engagement with the gospel. Others will cross smaller, less daunting boundaries. Both are missionaries because boundaries have been crossed. It’s with this nuance that I suggest the vision of every believer a missionary resulting in a Holy Spirit directed spontaneous expansion of the church.

Do the work of a missionary. What is everybody’s job is in fact everybody’s job. Cross those boundaries. Live sent!