[Caveat: Figuring that I would be questioned/challenged thus, “So Timmy, what are you doing to be a missional Christian or advance the cause of a missional SBC? You blog, so what? And you’re a Calvinist! I thought you guys didn’t do evangelism.” That’s what yesterday’s post was hoping to address at least in part. Now to my conclusion . . .]
Ed Stetzer has stated in numerous conferences that the leading issues facing Southern Baptists deal with missiology and ecclesiology. I happen to agree with him, although theological error and heresy is always around. Questions like, “How does the church relate to the culture?” and “What ways of doing evangelism will reach the next generation?” and “What constitutes a church?” will continue to be hot button topics in the years to come. Let me briefly mention some things to consider as we look for a promising future and greater emphasis on being Great Commission Christians.
There are two polarizing camps which we need to be careful to avoid. The first is the camp of liberalism. Liberalism has historically embraced a naive, postmillennial position where Christianity is subsumed in the culture as their over-realized eschatology forces them to think with an unbalanced emphasis on the immanence of the kingdom of God. The most popular form of contemporary liberalism can be found in the Emergent organization (not to be confused with the emerging church movement, although Emergent is the liberal end of it) who espouse a postmodern epistemology and want to revise and reconstruct orthodox Christian belief. On the other hand, there is the camp of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has historically embraced a dispensational premillennialist stance advocating a rejection of the culture as entirely worldly. The tend to have an over-reactive, negative view of culture with an under-realized eschatology that leads them to an unbalanced emphasis on the transcendence of the kingdom of God. I believe that both these camps are dangerous to the future of the SBC. The former emphasizes orthopraxy over against orthodoxy; the latter emphasizes orthodoxy over orthopraxy; the former has uncritical acceptance (radical continuity) of the postmodern culture in which we live; the latter has an uncritical rejection (radical discontinuity) of the postmodern world in which we live. Unfortunately, in recent years, what we have seen is these two camps feuding with one another, neither producing converts, and neither championing the cause of the mission of Christ.
Yet there is another stance that Southern Baptist can, and I would argue, should take. It is the camp I call being missional. Those who seek to be missional live with the “already”/”not yet” tension of the reign of Christ and work with the continuity/discontinuity relationship of the church with the culture. They are forced to have a critical appraisal of the culture in which they live, separating themselves from the other camps aforementioned. They recognized that there are aspects of culture that Christians can relate to that is not inherently sinful, creating avenues of meaningful relationships and conversation. They also recognize that there are aspects of culture that is antithetical to Christian faith and practice that must be countered with the way and truth of Jesus Christ. Finally, there are aspects of culture that is broken, whether society on a macro level or families and individuals on a micro level, that must be redeemed. Missional Christians, therefore, must be a counter-cultural community of Christians whose presence in the world can be seen and felt beyond the walls of their church building.
The majority of Southern Baptists live in the South–a place where the culture has for a long time been influenced with Christianity. The result of having been raised in a Christianized culture is that we have quickly come to assume the culture without realizing that the gap between the church and the lost world has been widening with our eyes wide shut. As our culture becomes increasingly secular under the influences of postmodernism and pluralism, Christians are finding themselves father and farther away from any significant impact in their world and at the same time becoming increasingly irrelevant. We have fenced-in yards, gated communities, and alarm systems to keep out any unwelcomed guests from entering our world; consequently, we have never lived so close and the same time been so far away from the world we are called to reach.
What we find in Scripture is a pattern of sending where God the Father sends the Son into the world (a title Jesus gives himself some 40 times in the gospel of John alone), God the Son sends the Holy Spirit after His resurrection and ascension, and followers of Christ are sent into the world in the same manner the Father has sent the Son into the world. This “sent” lifestyle is reorienting of one’s life around the mission and message of Jesus Christ whereby we subordinate all other things for the supremacy of Christ and our desire to see others satisfied in Him. Far too many churches have taken this glorious gospel and put it on the shelf. Far too many Christians have been told that the gospel was necessary for you to believe and be saved, but now you are to mature into other truths of the Christian faith. The single greatest challenge for Southern Baptists to embrace the missional life is to recover the gospel in our churches and have it become normative in our lives. Our churches, Sunday School classes, and preaching should be shaped and driven by the gospel. Our families, encouraged to have family worship and devotions, are to preach the gospel to one another regularly. All of us together must make the gospel “a matter of first importance” so that we can honestly say, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:23).
When Jesus prayed for us, He prayed that we would not be taken out of the world. He also prayed that we would not be “of the world” either. Yet is it not apparent that we have come to the place that we are “of the world” and not “in the world”? This time of the year annual church profiles (ACPs) come out, indicating that over half our denomination don’t are enough to come to church on Sunday. There is a higher divorce rate among Southern Baptists than non-Christians. Christians are increasingly becoming enslaved to the American dream while accumulated insurmountable debt by treasuring the things of this world. We are quickly coming to the point in our lives that no one would have an idea that we were Christians were it not for marketable products of our Christian subculture.
So here’s the challenge before us today. We must deal with the worldliness in the church, meaning we must recover the practice of church discipline and regenerate church membership. If the church is the Bride of Christ (and she is), then we must care about the corporate sanctification of the covenant community in which we belong, and hold ourselves accountable to a pursuit of holiness that resembles one who is running a race so that they may win. But secondly, we must get in the world. I know this sounds controversial, but Jesus did it. He dwelt among us (John 1:14, literally “tabernacled among us”). He was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners, reclining at their dinner tables and enjoying their company in their homes. He “must needs” go to Samaria to reach the Samaritans. In his Incarnation, Jesus came to our neighborhood, wept over the death of our loved ones, held our children, helped the needy, and even experienced our temptations. He told us to prepare a banqueting table and a feast where the invited guests were not our family and friends, but the lame, blind, deaf, and mute, because that’s what those who believe in the resurrection do. He also told us that we should visit those in prison, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the widows and orphans, for in as much as we do it unto the least of these, we have done it unto Him. And he told us that these were not just mere suggestions or good five minute devotions to tip our time and energies towards, for not every one who says “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven,” but rather he who does the will of the Father who is in heaven.
Brothers and sisters, there was a time where we were a people marked by a mission. We were a society of “sent” people. This is our Baptist Identity. It is not an identity that hides in the fundamentalistic ghettos nor is it a watering down of the gospel and redefining our mission as anything less than the total transformation of individuals, families, and societies through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gave us an example that we might follow in his footsteps. If we would follow his lead, we would find ourselves saying things we thought we didn’t have the courage of saying, going places where the people were “not like us,” and having such an overwhelming burden and compassion for our world that we cry out, “Here am I, Lord. Send me!” And in that battlecry, there will be the sound of people marching in step, all on mission, where the Church is the Church and Christ is the King.