Was the Reformation “Missional”?


Was the Reformation "Missional"?

Was the Reformation "Missional"?

Ed Stetzer, in his book Planting Missional Churches writes that, “After the Reformation took hold, the evangelistic mission of the church was often neglected….The Reformers were trapped within geographical Christendom while their Catholic counterparts were engaged in colonial expansion….Protestant ‘mission’ became missions to Catholics” (pp. 28-29).

But isn’t this exactly what Stetzer is claiming a missional church is?  It is a church that is “doing missions” right where they are (p. 19).  And again, “missional means being a missionary without ever leaving your zip code” (p. 19).  Is that not exactly what Stetzer accuses the Reformed church of doing?  That they focused so much on their own culture (their own zip code as it were), and the lost among them (the Catholics), and therefore lost sight of their mission?  At the very least, Stetzer is being inconsistent.

One of the reasons I hesitate whenever someone uses the word “missional” is because its “mission” is just too small!  God did not call us to only reach our own zip code!  He called us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20).  There is nothing inherently wrong with the term “missional” but we need to base our practice, and define our terms on the Word of God, not just on new terms that sound cool.

2 Responses to Was the Reformation “Missional”?

  1. Chris Gatihi says:

    Amen, brother!

    I experience the same tensions when talking about being missional and Michael Oh offered the same critique at the DG Pastor’s Conference by saying that such language inevitably calls us away from the global thrust of the Great Commission and the many people groups among the nations that remain unreached.

    So my question for you is: how should we talk about our efforts to reach those in our own zip code with the gospel (because God certainly does want us to reach them, just not only them!)? There are many in our zip code who operate in a culture that is entirely different than ours (not even sure how to define culture, though) and who speak different “languages” than we do (even though we may both speak English as a first language). Biblically speaking, how is our task in reaching these people different from reaching those who are in another nation? Do you see it as primarily an evangelism/missions distinction? We do evangelism here and missions in other nations?

    Would you say it’s too simplistic to boil missions down to taking the gospel where Christ has not been named (Romans 15:20) and everywhere else that we preach the gospel is evangelism? If so, then the question then becomes, how do we determine where Christ has truly been named in the sense that Paul is talking about. As many people as there are in the Bay Area who have heard the name of Jesus Christ, it seems to me that the being who they associate that name with is not the same Being as the One Paul names in his gospel.

    Do you understand what I mean when I say that and the tension it creates for this missions/evangelism discussion (assuming we were having that discussion in the first place. You can tell I’ve been having that discussion with myself, my Bible, and the Lord =P )?

    • nathanwells says:

      Hi Chris,

      Good thoughts – and I am glad others have seen the problem.

      When it comes to your question:
      “How should we talk about our efforts to reach those in our own zip code with the gospel”

      I think Scripture does make a distinction between the two. While implied in the Great Commission (“all nations” – we have to spread out if we are going to go and make disciples in all nations!), it is explicitly taught in Romans 10:14-15 which states: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?”

      There are two groups, those that send, and those that are sent. That does not mean those who send are off the hook for their local area – we are all commanded to “go and make disciples” – therefore we should all be about the same thing regardless of where we are. I don’t take the “go” as meaning we all go overseas or have to leave the area we grew up in (the apostles didn’t take it that way either), but as a whole body, we are to go into the whole world preaching the Gospel. If we forget the unity of the Body of Christ in this enterprise, we lose the unity that exists between those who send and those who are sent – the Church is the sphere where God designed the Great Commission to be accomplished (they waited in Jerusalem until the Spirit came – until the inauguration of the Church – Acts 1:4). Those who are sent, are sent by the body, as part of the body (Acts 13:3), and therefore share in the joy of seeing Christ glorified among the nations (Acts 15:3).

      All that to say (if it isn’t too jumbled!), is that we should not separate the two parts (those sending and those being sent) so far as to make them differing missions, but rather as a whole, an outflow of the Church obeying the Master’s Mandate.

      It is not easy to keep the balance – and history shows that! Scripture teaches we are all to “go and make disciples” and are to do so where God has called us, whether that be where we grew up or in a jungle tribe across the ocean.

      I’m not sure if that is helpful, it is a hard concept to digest, but it is an important one!

      It is hard to make biblical distinctions between “mission” and “evangelism” being that the one time (at least in the NASB) the word “mission” is used (Acts 12:25) it is a translation of “διακονίαν” which means “service.”
      The “mission” of Paul and Barnabas surely was to go to those who had never heard (and was the especially the heart and calling of Paul), but it also included ministry to those who had already believed, in building up the Body of Christ. So I’m not sure if a clean-cut distinction can be made…

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