Must a Christian have the “mission call” to become a missionary? Is the mission call general and ubiquitous to Christians (the Great Commission) or specific (your tribe is the Hoaoranis in Ecuador)? How do you decide on a sending agency(geography specific, denomination specific, ministry specific)? How do you know if “the call” is really from God (It came in a clear voice) or perhaps I am feeling a well spring of emotions (I just finished a short term mission trip and can’t imagine being anywhere else but back in Africa)? Can “the call” change over time or is it life long? Should missionaries faithfully remain in one place or should a ministry have a beginning and end point at which time the missionary leaves? How can we make short term missions more effective? These are all good questions addressed in the recently published book “The Missionary Call” by David Sills.
I wanted to like this book. And it seemed like I ought to like this book, but after I held more pages in my left hand than my right I don’t know if I liked this book at all. I was too distracted by the language that I couldn’t remember whether the previous questions were answered or not?
This is a few sample texts that didn’t sit right.
“The missionary call is about a burden to see hell-bound souls saved.”
“I bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire.”
“Develop a passion for reaching the lost heathens”
“50,000 pagans die everyday.” (I’ve also seen blogs to this dramatic affect with a ticking clock count-up of those who have died just since I have been reading this blog. For the record the while I was on the blog the counter was already up to 179) Is this suppose to instill some type of righteous frantic guilt?
I’m really not post-modern or only about liberation/social gospel. I think I fall in line with traditional protestant/evangelical thought (Bible is inspired Word of God, Jesus is both fully man and fully divine, Heaven and Hell are real). But if this how evangelicals speak of those we are trying to serve? Is this how we classify the sick, the broken, the poor? Is my job description to “pull sinners out of a lake of fire? If so I better start with myself. I don’t think I am wrong but I don’t refer to my target culture as hell-bound, pagans, heathens, and sinners on their way to a “lake of fire.”
On the other hand, I don’t want to diminish a real issue: What about those who have never heard? What about the fate of the unevangelized. Spiritual darkness and separation from God are real here in this world. These two texts frame the fate of the unreached in my mind.
God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to
knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:3-4)
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men
by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
God wants all to be saved, but over 2 billion people in this world have never heard the Gospel message of Jesus Christ in a meaningful way. I think many Christian struggles to reconcile God’s wide mercy, yet simultaneous specific plan for salvation. And we keep struggling and grasping after texts like these. It’s a hard issue
How you reconcile these New Testament texts becomes manifest in your view of missions. Christians of all stripes have wrestled with the implications of the Great Commission in their own lives. You might ask what does “taking the Gospel to all nations” look like for me? Some go. Some support financially. Some go on short term missions. Some tutor a child. Some hand out gospel tracts. Some build a home with Habitat for Humanity. Some send. Some are dedicated Christian parents. Some ignore. Some make a great difference exactly where they are. Some are faithful deacons, greeters, elders and sunday school teachers in their church. Some pray fervently. Some feed the poor at soup kitchens. Some visit the sick and shut-ins. Some lead churches to support missions. Some don’t care. Some are deeply burdened.
So this issue of those who have never heard is real (they need to hear the Good News), but we ought to be careful what language we use to define them. The first step to define a group is to name it. Are they undocumented workers or illegal immigrants? Is the movement the pro-choice or pro-abortion. Are they pro-life or anti-reproductive choice? Are they bicycle commuters or speed bumps? And so it goes with each side seeking to win the argument by naming it in their favor.
So how do we define “those who don’t know his name”? Has it been tradition in the past to call them heathen, sinners, pagans, etc. If we stick with that type of language we promote an us/them, in/out, we got the info you need/you don’t mindset. Do we want to keep that mindset when we are told to not cast the first stone, to take the plank out of our own eye, and to know that while WE were yet sinners, Christ died for US. I think we can find better language.
In the end most language and metaphors (except for the Bible) fall short of his amazing love for us? I remember seeing a diagram with cliff on the left and a cliff on the right separated by a deep chasm bridged by a cross dropped in the middle? I remember hearing about a group of non swimmers in a lake needing a divine rescue floatation device? God decided to whom and when would that floatation device be flung. Then there is a middle school kid who deserved to fail with a 69 on his Algebra test..but the teacher rounds up to a passing grade to represent grace (a gift we don’t deserve)? A death row prisoner gets a heart transplant and pardon from the President in the 11th hour (to describe atonement)? I imagine a lot of these metaphors have really helped a lot of people.
I like the different ways some Christian writers are painting God’s saving grace for us.
A Navy SEAL was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His friend’s team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They called to the prisoners telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans. The SEAL’s stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALs got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? he said. The hostage stood to his feet...then another, until all of them were willing to go. (Donald Miller-- Blue Like Jazz)
I like this story and how God came and asked us to follow Him. But we were resistant and reluctant. Then He came down beside us like no other belief system or Religion talks of.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10).
And He rescued us.