Our Mandate for Mission

February 25, 2010

We’re planning a parish mission in August and have set aside the last Wednesday of every month for concerted prayer for the mission.  Here is the talk I gave last night before the prayer time began.  Anyone wanting to think deeply about mission should read Chris Wright’s book “The Mission of God.”

OUR MANDATE FOR MISSION

Evangelical Christians like ourselves like proof-texts.  If someone suggest that we should be doing something in Christ’s name, we like them to show us a text that backs up their assertion.  If someone tells us that our doctrine is wrong, that our thinking needs correcting, we will insist that they show us from the Bible; preferably with a specific text or two. 

Looking for proof-texts isn’t always wrong.  But it does have its dangers.  After all, there are a lot of texts in the Bible.  Many of these are in the form of commands.  For example, Jesus once said, Sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor and come and follow me.  Down through the centuries that text has been used to insist that Christians live a life of poverty.  But most Christians have resisted that interpretation. 

What text would you appeal to if someone questioned our desire to hold a parish mission?  If someone, indeed, questioned the whole idea of mission?  We live, do we not, in a multi-cultural society.  We must learn to tolerate, to respect other religions, other faiths.  Mission is about trying to convert people.  And that’s rude.  It’s insulting.

I suppose the text that many of us would turn to would be Mt.28:18-19:

Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

That seems clear enough.  We are to go and make disciples of all nations.  And yet I want to suggest that even this is inadequate.  Inadequate in the sense that it is too limiting to take one or two texts and claim these as our mandate for mission.  Why should we exalt this one command over and above other Biblical commands.  The liberal critic might ask us to turn back a few pages to Mt.25 and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  Are we just as concerned to feed the poor, shelter the homeless, and visit the lonely as we are to win the world for Jesus? 

So I want to begin these evenings of concerted prayer for mission by asserting, affirming, and assuring you our mandate for mission is not based on a few isolated texts of Scripture.  Far from it.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that the whole of the Bible is about mission. 

Let me read to you the words of the risen Lord Jesus to his disciples (Lk.24:23):

45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Note carefully what Luke says Jesus is doing.  He is opening the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.  Jesus says, “This is what is written.”  What is written?  That the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.  Then what?  And repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name.  Who to?  To all nations. 

The Lord Jesus is saying that the Old Testament is about mission.  So too the New Testament.  Why are the Gospels called Gospels?  Because they testify to the good news about Jesus.  And the epistles—written in the white heat of missionary church spreading throughout the Roman empire. 

The Bible is a book about mission.  For the simple reason that our God is missional God. 

I came across this quotation from Charles Tabor, who thinks and writes about mission:

The very existence of the Bible is incontrovertible evidence of the God who refused to forsake his rebellious creation, who refused to give up, who was and is determined to redeem and restore fallen creation to his original design for it…The very existence of such a collection of writings testifies to a God who breaks through to human beings, who disclosed himself to them, who will not leave them unilluminated in their darkness…who takes the initiative in re-establishing broken relationships with them.

I had never thought of that before: that the very existence of the Bible is incontrovertible evidence of the God who reaches out to us in order to restore a fallen, rebellious humanity. 

Thus the Bible tells us that there is a God, a creator God, a holy, loving, just, gracious, merciful God.  Tells us this, not simply for our information, but so that we will respond to him with worship and with lives that reflect his own character. 

The Bible tells us that though we were made in the image of this God by have rebelled against him and as a consequence the world is in a mess, and so are we. 

Furthermore, the Bible tells us that there is nothing we can do about it.  However, this God has initiated a rescue plan.  He chose a people for himself, the people of Israel, through whom he intends eventually to bring blessing to all nations and ultimately to renew the whole creation.

The Bible tells us we meet this God in Jesus.  It tells us that in Jesus the promised climax is guaranteed.  The Bible tells us that by faith in Jesus we can become the people of God. 

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Jesus.  (Eph.2:13)

By his grace, God invites us to join his mission. 

One final quote:

it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission. 

The whole of the Bible testifies to this.

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Bullying in the work place

February 22, 2010

The news that allegations of bullying have been made against the Prime Minister by his staff has brought back some long dormant memories of my experience of bullying in the work place. 

My two years as a legal trainee had been within the congenial surroundings of a firm of solicitors with a 200 year-old history.  We were one of just two firms in a small county town where the profile of the local solicitors was very high.  It was the kind of firm which had a safe “pregnant with wills”.  My boss was a privately educated man who hated conflict and was loath to criticise anyone about anything (unless their behaviour was un-gentlemanly).  When correcting my poor efforts at drafting deeds he would say, “There’s nothing wrong with what you’ve done, it’s just a matter of style.” 

The one area of legal practice denied me was court work.  We hardly ever appeared in court, but farmed it out to those firms which cluster around sheriff courts rather like minor clergy around a cathedral.  And I wanted to have a crack at being a court lawyer.  After all, it was Rumpole of the Bailey who had persuaded me to enter the profession in the first place. 

So I applied for the post of court assistant at a medium sized firm in one of our larger towns, and got the job.  I was going to be working for a man who was undoubtedly the best court lawyer in the town.  A tall, thin praying-mantis of a man, who was well aware of his abilities.  He despised his rivals.  Like Napoleon, he had studied his enemies.  He could predict their every move.  I would be learning my art from a master.

We didn’t get off to a good start.  On my first day he took me out for lunch and told me that I’d only got the job because someone else didn’t want it.  Thereafter, the relationship became terribly strained.  Instead of going through cases, pointing out the pit-falls, and showing me how to avoid them, he watched to see how many traps I’d fall into.  And when I did, he tore me to shreds.  I would come into my office in the mornings to find him going through my files to ensure everything was up-to-date.  He let me know in no uncertain terms that he was watching me.

This was all very unsettling and was a million miles from the work-place environment I had been used to.  Even writing about it (which I have never done before) is stressful.  The result is that my personality changed.  Someone commented that I was like a dog with its tail between its legs.  The expectation that I would make mistakes became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Mostly, it was wee things, like not spotting spelling mistakes.  On one occasion I served a writ on a witness.  I could do nothing right.  He was rude and abrupt. 

The day came when he called me into his office.  “Ian, things aren’t working out.  We’re going to have to let you go.”  Nobody has been more relieved to be sacked than me; for I would never have quit.  My contract allowed me two months notice; he was willing to give me three.  I told him there and then that I’d be away within the month.  And I was.

This is where the sovereignty of God becomes so manifest.  A job was advertised.  I called an acquaintance who headed up the branch office of a large Edinburgh firm to enquire about the firm.  “Never mind them,” he said, “my assistant has just quit.  Come and work for me.”  And I did.  And I had two very happy years with him. 

But the bullying experience had made me question whether or not the law was for me.  I’d certainly never be as good as my boss.  Did I have a future in the profession?  The Lord had started calling me to the ministry. 

For months afterwards I had a recurring dream.  My memory of it is vague now, but it involved me offering him an ice-cream cone which he refused, and me saying, “What is it you want?” 

A post-script.  A few years later that man died, very suddenly of a heart-attack, at the breakfast table, in front of his wife and child.  He was only 50.  I knew his minister, and had already told him about my experience.  However, that minister was able to tell the widow that he knew someone who had worked with her husband, and that I had said he was undoubtedly a great lawyer.  I was told that the widow had appreciated this.

Last night, while ironing, I watched a programme about the Home Office.  It’s the first in a series about the three great offices of state—the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Treasury.  Kim was filling in her job application on-line, and I had just come in from the Prayer Meeting.  I saw there was ironing to be done, and decided to tackle it. 

I hate just ironing.  I have to be watching or listening to something at the same time.  So I booted up the lap-top and went, first, to the Reformed Forum, an on-line chat show, hosted by Camden Bucey.  If you don’t know it you should look it up.   It’s only because of this show that I know what are the current hot topics in the Reformed world!  They usually also review any new publications which may be of interest to their listeners.  How these guys get the time to read so much I don’t know.  Probably they aren’t notching up a couple of funerals per week. 

Last night I listened to an introduction to Karl Barth’s theology.  Having studied theology at a Scottish university I’m not entirely ignorant of what Barth is about, but the discussion was useful in that there were questions asked which had arisen in my mind too, and were answered.  For example, how do Barthians escape the charge of being universalists?  Answer, they may try to wriggle out of it, but not convincingly. 

Anyway, after that discussion, there were still plenty of clothes to attend to, so I turned to BBC I-Player.  I’m the kind of person I-Player was invented to serve.  For me, it stands along side the Answering Machine as among the greatest inventions ever.  It was getting late, and there was absolutely nothing on TV that I wanted to see.  The programme about the great offices of state was just the right subject and the right length of time. 

The programme was interesting in itself.  But the reason I’m writing about it is because of something Jack Straw said.  Jack Straw was New Labour’s first Home Secretary, and apart from Gordon Brown, is the only member of Tony Blair’s original Cabinet never to have been out of office.  I wonder why.  During the course of the interview he used the word or phrase “Insh-allah”. 

I’d never heard someone who is not a Moslem use that phrase before.  I believe it means “God willing”.  Mr. Straw used it in a context in which others would have said “touch wood”.  He meant “if we’re lucky”.  Here’s what I’m thinking.  Mr. Straw is not a Moslem; I think he is an atheist.  This being so, why did he use that phrase?  He is MP for Bolton, with many Moslems as constituents and I understand he has worked hard at building a good relationship with them.  Has he merely picked up the phrase?  Is he using it casually?  If so, do Moslems mind? 

Or, has he developed the habit of using the phrase in order to show familiarity with the it?  It’s a way of demonstrating solidarity with his constituents; he has adopted some of their language.  Again, what do Moslems think of that; for if this is the case, it could be considered a rather cynical ploy.  Do devout Moslems hear him bandy about a phrase that actually contains meaning for them, and do they cringe, as real Christians cringe when we hear the Lord’s name used in vain?  I’m just wondering.