Carey student Jono Edmeades has been doing the Mission of God course this semester while participating in the land protection movement at Ihumātao. In this final assignment for the course he sums up what he has come to understand the “mission of God” to be, suggests how it could be enacted, and reflects on his own learning and development through this semester.

 

1.The Mission of God

The “mission of God” is just that. It is the mission of the triune God, initiated, enacted and fulfilled by Him. It emerges from the love that is his being and which is enacted within and emanates from his triune nature.[1]  This love that exists because of God’s triune nature drives the mission action that we see occur within the trinity during the biblical narrative.[2]  For example, the Father sent the Son that our salvation might be made possible and sent the Spirit that He might reveal himself to us and through us.[3]  In being sent in mission, the actions of both the Son and the Spirit bring glory and honour to the Father in a dynamic missional process that emerges completely from the being of God.[4] This model of being sent that others might be blessed and come to know and glorify the Father is the primary model for mission.

The purpose of the mission of God is tied up in his ultimate eschatological desire that in the redeemed new creation, every tribe, people, nation and language would praise his name (Rev 7:9).[5] Jesus calling his disciples to pray that His Kingdom would come here on earth, is thus a part of this mission in seeking that His perfect rule would become a lived and perfected reality for all of creation, in direct opposition to the sinful desire for individualistic control that now dominates (Matt 6:10).[6]  Seeking to see Christ’s rule made a reality is thus the primary occupation of the people of God in mission. God’s mission therefore covers the removal of the curse of Genesis 3, with the new creation of Revelation 22 being the ultimate resolution to its consequences.[7]

The character of the mission of God is defined by good news. The good news that God returns, reigns and redeems.[8]  The mission of God is characterised by entering into God’s story of the world by through conversion and participating in the outworking of that story through discipleship, acknowledging that whilst this mission is in progress we live in the hope of the not-yet-fully realised rule of Jesus.[9] This activity is undertaken by the people of God as co-workers, drawn by the work of the Spirit into the death and resurrection of Christ.[10] The mission of God is characterised by the good news of Christ’s rule and reign, made known in the present by the Spirit in his people, the church.[11]

As a consequence of its source, character and purpose, the mission of God is impossibly broad to our human comprehension. For Christopher Wright, mission entails the entirety of God’s action in fulfilling his intentions for all of creation and all that we are invited to do as co-workers.[12]  The reality of this definition is testified to by the way God starts with the particular, in order to see his purpose realised in the universal. God’s covenantal choosing of the Israelite nation was tied to a specific calling to be the instrument of God’s blessing to all nations.[13] Scot McKnight would suggest that Israel is extended in its covenantal commitments and blessing into the form of the church, who outwork this call to be a blessing to all nations in the contemporary age.[14] God’s mission may look specific, but he moves through the specific to the entirety of creation, acting to redeem and be known by it all.[15]

In summation, the mission of God is the outworking of the love of the Creator for his creation, reflecting the action that occurs within his own triune being. It encompasses all that he has done, and continues to do, in order that his creation might know and praise him and that all things may be redeemed to his glory. Through the death and resurrection of his Son, the people of God are invited to participate in the ongoing resurrection of the creation that surrounds them as the gathered body of the church.

 

2. The Practice of Mission

The purpose of mission is ultimately that all would know and praise the name of Yahweh. As Revelation 7:9-10 depicts, the eschatological vision that God has gifted in scripture sees every different nation, tribe, people group and language represented before the throne in worship and acknowledgement of God as King. With this in mind, surely our life as the people of God, engaged in this mission together as the church, should be malleable enough to ensure that we are witnessing to every nation, tribe, people and language. Arguably the church, as the covenantal extension of Israel, who are called to be the vessel of God’s blessing to all nations, should engage in the bringing of good news to the world at both a macro-level and at a micro-level which speaks to each aspect of creation that falls within that eschatological vision.

At a macro-level, the church, as the embodiment of what is ‘present and peopled’ in the kingdom of God in the now, has a role in being a prophetic translator to the world of the truth contained in Scripture.[16] Walter Brueggemann, whilst examining the place of poetic imagination in worship, argues that if the church fails to fulfil this role in giving voice to the ancient distresses of the people of God in Scripture and God’s faithful and merciful resolutions, then it will struggle to invite its contemporary neighbours who are facing distress to call upon God to act again in redemptive ways.[17] This is an approach to mission that is profoundly centred in worship, drawing on the poetic reflections of the people of God throughout the biblical narrative and seeking to draw upon their reflections as fuel to stand against the dominant cultural narratives that surround us, which Brueggemann terms as ‘anti-neighbourly late capitalism’.[18] The church is to be a sub-culture that humbly calls people to an alternative to these narratives, which in their essence promote the desire for self-determination and individual control of our lives that is the antithesis to the Kingdom of God, in which Christ rules and reigns in and over the world.[19] It is this picture of Christ reigning which is fulfilled in the Revelation narrative. The practice of mission must at its core be centred on the people of God faithfully and humbly translating the truth of scripture to its neighbours in a way that challenges the claims of the meta-narratives of the dominant culture, bringing hope and healing in Christ’s lordship.

At a different scale, the breadth of the mission of God means that the church is called to be responsive not only to the impact of the meta-narratives of the world upon those around them, but also to the localised cultural specifics of their neighbours. Scot McKnight, within an examination of kingdom theology, helpfully illustrated how Christ speaks differently to groups in different geographical contexts, drawing on his own ministry experiences in an American context, where Christ’s gsopel spoke of hope to those grounded in city contexts where hopelessness was the challenge and spoke more strongly of forgiveness in the suburbs where guilt was the primary challenge.[20]  Whilst this particular example is strongly rooted in geographic difference, this is arguably extendable across all other strands of culture that contain a diversity of experience within our neighbourhoods. Wright uses the example of Daniel as someone who was placed in a particular position during the period of Israel’s exile and who undertook significant cultural adaptation, including changes of name, language and customs in order to serve God faithfully and bear witness to God within the power structures of a different culture.[21]  Arguably the church, which in 1 Peter 2:11, is called to be paroikoi (literally ‘the margins of the house’) or a people who are called to make their place with those who are on the edges of their world, should be a body that similarly uptakes those aspects of culture which do not bring them into disobedience to God in order that he might use them to speak contextualised truth into the world of those people.[22] The “mission of God” requires the people of God in their gathered form as the church, to be present to the margins and responsive to their culture.

 

3. My Participation in the Mission of God

For me, exploring the “mission of God” has been a very active learning experience. In engaging with the land protection movement at Ihumātao over the last three months, my view of what mission is has been extended dramatically. Although I had a prior view of mission that extended into the public sphere, community engagement and workplace presence, my view of the mission of the church was still narrow. I envisioned a church that could be free and incarnational, shaped by scripture and responsive to the needs of the community which it was serving, but had little conception of how this could form or be shaped.

Ihumātao has provided an example of what the church can look like when its presence is both malleable to the context in which it is placed and is willing to challenge the wider narratives and structures of society that remove a hope and a future from its neighbours. For those serving in facilitating whakamoemiti on Rātapu, the challenge on our first day on the whenua was immense. For those in our rōpū who are tangata whenua, the sense that we were a colonising force imposing our Pākehā ways on their own people was troubling. That night, there was a deep collective sense that we needed to be more in line with the tikanga of the kaupapa. More aware of the cultural needs of those we had been thrown in the deep end to serve. What followed was a rapid process of our musicians learning and writing new waiata, our kaikōrero and kaikarakia listening carefully to develop their awareness of what was appropriate and those of us who were behind the scenes just taking time to be still and engage carefully and humbly with each person we encountered. This was church. Church taking the time to hear the cry of its neighbours and search scripture and tradition for the stories of God’s merciful relief from past stories of exile and trauma, giving hope in the midst of the present story of exile and distress that surrounded us on the whenua. This is the challenge: can I be a missional leader who has the receptivity to listen to scripture and context, translating well, whilst remaining malleable to the leading of Wairua Tapu in each and every context I am called to serve?

 

[1] Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church:Hope for Re-evangelizing the West (Downers Grove, Illinois:Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), 85.

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 210-211.

[3] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 210.

[4] Dean Flemming, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing and Telling (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 2013), 17.

[5] Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. (Downers

Grove, Ilinois: IVP Academic, 2006), 532.

[6] Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2014), 36.

[7] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 46.

[8] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 187-189.

[9] McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy, 36.

[10] Wright, Mission of God, 532.

[11] McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy, 86.

[12] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 25.

[13] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 71.

[14] McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy, 89.

[15] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 71.

[16] McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy, 86.

[17] Walter Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference: An invitation to the contemporary church (Louisville, USA: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 136-137.

[18] Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference, 136.

[19] Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference, 137.

[20] McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy, 54.

[21] Wright. The Mission of God’s People, 230.

[22] Scott A. Bessenecker, ed.,  Living Mission: The vision and voice of New Friars (Downers

Grove, Ilinois: IVP, 2010), 94-95.