August 2021 Feature
For many of us, ‘missions’ means going overseas to do good works and to reach out to people who do not yet know Jesus Christ. Now, during the pandemic, since overseas travel is severely curtailed and will be for some time, does that mean that we can no longer do “missions”? Yes, if our understanding of missions is so narrowly defined. No, if we look at God’s first call to his people to be a blessing, and use that as a way to broaden our understanding of missions. Then we will see that missions is something that all God’s people are to do at all times.
In the beginning, God created a perfect and sinless world, but this perfection was marred due to the Fall. Genesis 3 to 11 shows the wide-ranging effects of sin in personal, familial, and social life. The calling of Abram in Genesis 12 is a key turning point. This call to be a blessing so that the nations of the world will be blessed is when God takes the initiative to bring people back to himself. Indeed, throughout history, God continues to act to bring people to himself in various ways, ultimately by sending his Son Jesus Christ. “For the Lord is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is the active person, and without God first acting, there is no missions.
Abram’s call was not just to save himself, but he was going to be a blessing, to be made a great nation, so that they could be a blessing to all peoples on earth. This blessing is holistic: physical and material wellbeing, inviting people to have a personal and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, as well as seeking the welfare of the city.
This broad vision for the world is often missing in our missions today. Today we just want to tell people that they can “be saved” and go to heaven, and so show little concern for the world in which they live: their families, their jobs, and their community life. Michael Green, in his Evangelism in the Early Church, reminds us that the first evangelists reached out into homes and that much evangelism was carried out in homes and within these social, cultural, and familial structures. When we listen to people’s dreams for their children, or take steps to help them deal with pollution in their rivers, that too is part of missions, because God is also concerned about all these parts of life.
Since God loves the world, this means that we must also be concerned for the physical, created world. God spent six days (however one interprets this) creating the world and all that live and move on this earth. Missions then includes our actions to care for the earth, whether it is to plant trees, or to clear the beach of rubbish. As Christopher Wright puts it, “We are not redeemed out of creation, but as part of the redeemed creation itself—a creation that will again be fully and eternally for God’s glory, for our joy and benefit, forever.”
From one man and his family, that call was broadened to Israel, and now, missions continues through God’s people, the church. God’s story and mission and purpose for humanity has not changed. God still wants to draw people to himself and continues to reach out to people. He does so in many ways, and we his people, are his agents and missionaries, his witnesses, to bring people to him. To use a metaphor that Jesus used, we, collectively, are to be the salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). We, Christians, and the church as corporate Christians, are still the way that God uses to bless the nations, as well as to bring judgment upon them. This is the mission of the people of God, whether it is local or overseas.
Being such a witness is not something extra that Christians do, nor is it only for special people. As John Wesley explains in his sermon “Scriptural Christianity”, Christian discipleship in itself is missional, that is, it is outward looking and seeks to reach out to our neighbours. “He that thus loved God could not but love his brother also; and not in word only, but in deed and truth… he who had this love in his heart would work no evil to his neighbour.” Wesley said that Christianity spreads when Christians shine their light in the world: Christians who love others, in compassion, would work in every possible way to save them. Whenever they had the opportunity, they laboured to do good to all people, speaking to everyone according to their needs, and in this way the Kingdom of God spread.
Going overseas for short term missions is not possible at this point in time. Doing God’s missions is always possible, and necessary, where we are. Now we can spend time with our families and neighbours, being attentive to them. We can hang around the local coffee shop, and chat with the staff there. We can take steps now to care for our environment, and seek to reduce waste. Missions is carried out by the community of God’s people, the church. The collective actions of God’s people are also an important part of Christian witness in society. Thus, statements made by the National Council of Churches on pertinent national issues, as well as local churches opening their physical premises for rough sleepers during the circuit breaker, are also acts of Christian witness to the wider Singapore society.
God’s mission began when He called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. That call, to bless the nations, is still for Christians and the church today.
Kwa Kiem Kiok teaches in the areas of mission and interdisciplinary studies at Biblical Graduate School of Theology.