Is “missional” Reformed?

11 06 2008

This missional talk is very unsettling – and some of us are hoping it’s just a fad so we are not giving it much attention.  We’ve seen so many things come and go so it certainly makes sense to initially hold that perspective – but when you spend some time digesting the subject and acquiring a better understanding of our culture holding that postion becomes very difficult.

In the post yesterday Reggie McNeal states something quite profound, “The rise of the missional church is the most significant development in the church since the Reformation.” That is a huge statement! And as huge as that statement is there are some noteable thinkers that go one step further – they are saying that we are actually in the beginning stages of another Reformation! (more on that in a future post.)

In an effort to give those of us who are “loyal to the death” to the reformed tradition “license” to explore this missional stuff a bit of modern history may be helpful.  The following comes from a post written by Andrew Jones in March 2006 on his “tall skinny kiwi” blog (which sounds less wierd once you know he’s from New Zealand).

“The Emerging Church Phenomenon has placed a renewed emphasis on the sovereignty of God in the area of missions – in particular a focus on the Truine nature of the missionary God, His attributes as well as His actions as impetus for mission, and the incarnation of Christ as a model for a biblical, holistic missionary encounter with the emerging culture.

“One of the themes I was chasing down was the impact of Reformed thinking on ‘missio dei‘ and subsequently, the renewed interest and current understanding of ‘mission-shaped church’ (UK) and ‘missional church’ (USA).

“Most interesting was Missons Under The Cross (1953, ed. Normal Goodall) and Christianity on the Frontier (1950) by Dr. John Mackay (3rd President of Princeton Theological Seminary). Dr Mackay was the Chairman of the International Missionary Convention when they met for the fourth world congress in Willingen in 1952 – the series of meetings where the idea of mission (preferred over ‘missions’) was hammered out and gave birth to the term ‘missio dei‘ a short time after.

“In Christianity on the Frontier, Dr Mackay had written a chapter in this book called Contribution of the Reformed Churches in which he offers the various areas of impact stemming from Calvin’s Institutes:

‘True to the central meaning of ‘theology’, Reformed doctrine is a doctrine of God, begun and pursued in the light of God. The sovereign God, whose redemptive purpose constitutes the scarlet thread of Holy Scripture, whose Son is the saviour and lord of life, and whose church is the true bearer of history, is the theme of Reformed theology, in the same way that the concept of His sovereignty is its organizing principle.‘ (pg 88 )

“In 1952, Dr Mackay’s address to the Enlarged Meeting of the International Missionary Convention, of which he was the Chairman, was entitled The Great Commission and the Church Today. In this address, Mackay deals with the theme of the convention, The Missionary Obligation of the Church, and makes his appeal again (a common theme in his writings) to Calvin’s motif of the flaming heart as a symbol of Christian devotion. He also makes clear that ‘the Trinity is in the Great Commission, not by implication merely, but directly.’ (Missions Under the Cross, pg 133) and gives a statement that embraces the heart of the missional idea:  ‘A truly apostolic Church can never be satisfied with merely sponsoring missionary interest or in giving birth to ‘missions’. It must itself become the mission.

“Am I saying the the missional emphasis of the emerging-missional church has its roots in Reformed thinking? Yes I am. The emerging-missional church has placed a stronger emphasis on the sovereignty of the Triune God in the area of mission, an emphasis with a clear heritage back to the 1950’s. The idea of ‘missional church’ has always seemed Reformed to me. Especially the idea that God is sovereign over his missional aims and the role of the church is more participation than innovation. Sometimes I wonder if we are reverting to the days of William Carey who argued for the use of ‘means’ for the work of missions in response to those insisting that God would sort it out Himself. Except the emerging-missional church might be on the other side of the table from William Carey. Now that’s an interesting thought.

“I close with a prophetic quote from the Reformed Dr. Mackay at the Willingen Convention:

‘When the Christian Church as a whole recovers a sense of missionary responsibility, and is imbued throughout its ranks with missionary ardour, certain things will happen. Christian thought will become concerned not merely with a theology of missions, but with a theology of mission. The role of the missionary society, and the meaning of missionary vocation will be re-thought. The spontaneous expansion of the church will be regarded as a natural thing to hope for and promote.’ (Missions Under The Cross, pg 141)”

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