As Baptists, we value mission action in this world. Our heritage is ripe with mission activities, mission education, and mission offerings. The turn of the century has not changed this value. However, globalization, the decline of the western church, and the shift of the majority of Christians to the southern hemisphere must force us to reevaluate how we act out this mission value. Let us look at several points that are foundational for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) movement as we strive for 21st century mission practice built upon a biblical foundation.
Missional action requires community not isolation.
We can see through the scriptures that it is in fact God that is on a mission of redemption calling his creation back into relationship with him. “The heart of the message of the Old and New Testament is that God, the Creator of the universe and all earthly life, is actively engaged in the reestablishment of His liberating dominion over the cosmos and all of humankind” (Verkuyl 1993:72). This means that in our mission action we must remember that the Spirit of God has been there first and we are merely participating with God, “It is God who chooses, calls and sends” (Newbigin 1995:18).
The Good News of the Gospel is that God chooses all of us. God aims redemption at all of humanity and longs for us to have a heart that loves God and serves in right relationship. As we rediscover this love, God brings us back into relationship through Christ and gives us new life. This new life is not a life of stagnation, but a continual life of growth in Christ by the power of the Spirit. This means that God calls us to growth.
We grow by acting on faith and participating with God on mission. The idea that the task of God is carried out only by clergy or “appointed missionaries” is false. God tasks all humanity for this purpose and all humanity is valuable. Therefore, the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, is incomplete without our participation with God, as we are incomplete without God and an invitation to participate in God’s mission. This is why throughout the biblical narrative we continuously find God calling us as God’s people to unification. The salvation of the world requires interdependent relationship of openness to one another and submissiveness to God. Mission is, in fact, the totality of the task God has sent his Church to do in the world… The frontiers the Church will be crossing in executing this task may sometimes, indeed, be geographical; they may however be – and usually are- also ideological, cultural, religious, social, economic and ethnic (Bosch 1978:132).
For the church in the West, this is a shift. For centuries now, we have found ourselves in a hierarchical model with a separation created between clergy and laity, men and woman, and more recently in the United States between public life and private faith. As Baptists, we have individualized faith to such an extreme we have forgotten community as necessary and reduced our Savior to our own “personal” savior. The church in the West is the very picture of fragmentation. Nevertheless, an awaking is happening through the movement of the Spirit. Hierarchies are flattening, networks are forming and people are seeking spiritual depth…transformation. Humans are rediscovering an internal voice that is from the core of our being driving us to be a part of something bigger than we are. The result is an increasing call to partnership across denominational lines. We are awaking to the fact that the body of Christ is made of many parts, each with unique purpose, each working together to give the body motion. We are remembering that it is the Spirit in relationship with the body that gives the body life. This rediscovery must bind us together because if we as Christians are participating in the mission of God, that implies that we are moving in a direction “together” not in isolation. We release the Spirit of God when we start asking the question, “How can we participate with God together?”
Missional action connects intrinsically to spiritual formation
God calls us into a transformational relationship. Transformational relationship is the intimate connection of awareness, understanding, and action that happens externally and internally. Internal transformation happens on two levels, internally as an individual and internally as a community. The same applies to transformation externally as an individual and as a community. All are intrinsically interrelated and interdependent. This holistic process involves spiritual formation and missional engagement with the world around us. We enter into this at any point. For example, it may be that a bible study leads to missional action in your community, which leads to a new awareness of God, which in turn leads to further biblical study.
If reconciliation to God requires a relationship with God and others, then how can we adjust our way of being church so that it leads us into transformational relationship? How do we participate alongside God and each other on mission? We must walk alongside each other and help each other experience transformation internally and externally through this cycle of awareness, understanding, and action and intentionally connect through biblical discovery with two key components: spiritual formation and participation in mission action.
Dallas Willard explains in his book Reformation of the Heart that your external character springs from an internal forming of your spirit. This happens to all of us whether we are “religious” or not. What we need is an awareness that such a formation is occurring so that a transformation or “reformation” can happen where God shapes our spirit into the likeness of Christ (Willard 2002). The church grows, “by going into the world, loving people as their neighbors and responding to their needs,” and “a come-based institution is replaced with a go-based movement” (Gibbs 2005:78, 88).
Churches need to be intentionally offering methods for spiritual formation so that individuals can engage in the opportunities for missional practice around them. This never-ending process happens inherently. Because transformation is a holistic process, you cannot separate aspects such as spiritual formation or global missions into compartments. This cycle of transformation occurs internally and externally. Therefore, churches need to be allowing people to discover and fulfill their call in a holistic way that releases them to act and participate locally and globally. This requires fluidity, trust, grace and allows people to engage as they discover their calling, but does not dictate what their calling looks like. As the body of Christ, we connect by a common goal or end result: missional engagement in the world, locally and globally, that transforms us in Christ.
The Church must encourage and empower missional participation with God.
The book of James reminds us that faith without action is dead. How can we say that we believe in a God that is on a mission of redemption, if we do not act like it? Lesslie Newbigin writes, “There can be no separation between believing and following, between faith and obedience” (Newbigin 1995:91). By training and helping people be formed spiritually through participation with God on mission, we are mimicking Jesus, in effect preaching Good News that we were captives but have been released, we were blind but can see, we were down trodden but are freed and the Lords favor is here! Stanley Hauerwas writes in A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, We thus forget that the most basic task of any polity is to offer its people a sense of participation in an adventure. For finally what we seek is not power, or security or equality, or even dignity, but a sense of worth gained from participation and contribution to a common adventure (Hauerwas 1981:13). This is our purpose, to receive the love of the Lord so that we can give the love of the Lord.
The task that we as Cooperating Baptists are participating in is exciting and challenging. I believe that the Spirit of God leads this paradigm shift in mission engagement that we are experiencing and it is crucial for us to react appropriately. “Given this radical change of perspective, the church needs to identify, empower and provide resources to a different kind of leader—one who has a missional conviction and the crosscultural training required to operate in today’s pluralistic environment”(Gibbs: 52).
We need to embrace the world as the body of Christ. For this to happen we need to remember that, we are called into a “whole life” relationship with God and others. This holistic relationship must lead to a transformation so that we can engage in missional ministry in our world. To do this we need to embrace vulnerability, extend grace and engage in interdependent relationships built on trust that help us be transformed in Christ so that we can give what we receive to a world in need. Our institutional church must also awaken and guide, shape, mentor and empower individuals in their congregations to step out on their faith individually and in community and risk the truth that they have discovered. N.T. Wright in his book, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture, writes, “In scripture itself God’s purpose is not just to save human beings, but to renew the whole world. This is the unfinished story in which readers of the scriptures are invited to become actors in their own right” (Wright 2005).
The foundation for our missional engagement is that God is on a mission to redeem and restore creation back into right relationship with God. God calls us into obedient participation. A look at scripture shows us how God is reaching out to creation, revealing himself to people, and the role of God in our lives. For too long now our Western mind has confined our experience of God to our mind. In scripture, we learn of a God seeking relationship, a God that is faithful and true. This knowledge must help us release God from the confines of our western mind into our heart, hands and feet. For many years now, we Baptists have valued mission, now is the time to embrace the world with a renewed understanding of our role in the body of Christ. By doing this, we are serving Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God given mission.
Bosch, David. 1978. The Why and How of a True Biblical Foundation of Mission. reprinted from Zending Op Weg Naar De Toekomst, J. Verkuyl, ed. (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1978), 33-45.
Gibbs, Eddie. 2005. Leadership Next. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
Hauerwas, Stanley. 1981. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Newbigin, Lesslie. 1995. The Open Secret : An Introduction to the Theology of Mission Revised ed. Grand Rapids, MI W.B. Eerdmans.
Verkuyl, Johannes. 1993. The Biblical Notion of Kingdom. In The Good News of the Kingdom, Mission Theology for the Third Millennium, edited by C. Van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, Paul Pierson. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Willard, Dallas. 2002. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Wright, N.T. 2005. The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture San Francisco: Harper
Thank you for putting into such eloquent words the very thing many of us have been thinking, but did not have the language to say. Our churches are seeing these shifts and are wrestling with them the best we can. It is good to know that the CBF is being an active participant in leading Baptists and others as we “embrace the world with a renewed understanding of our role in the body of Christ.”
Winter Park Baptist