Posted by: Rowland | December 5, 2007

God’s mission

Talking with students recently I drew their attention to the fact ‘that God has a mission’ and in discovering what that is, or at least elements of it, we shall find increased purpose in our lives, and, fulfilment of God’s mission is more likely to be hastened with our co-operation. There are so many simple biblical illustrations. Israel traversing the wilderness behind Moses seemed to lack vision; they were far too need-centred, to the point of wanting to return to captivity in Egypt and so became a generation that delayed the outworking of that mission and purpose. A theoretically short journey became 40 years of wandering without entering their destination. Nevertheless Joshua and Caleb, of a different spirit, learnt much and moved things forward when they were prepared and ready to receive the opportunity. The developing unfolding of God’s mission is seen as Saul sadly frustrates things, but David moves them forward and then passes on the baton in a wonderful way to Solomon – a great example for us.

Years ago I caught a glimpse of God’s mission in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – “towards the administration of the fullness of times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth…” and yet realised that much of church ‘vision’ was, and still is, only aimed at maintaining the status quo (as some wag observed, Latin for ‘the mess we are in!’) but adding more folk to it (saving them). Jesus’ prayer that “they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you… that the world will believe”, seemed to receive scant attention – ‘not in my lifetime!’ – was a frightening response to hear.

Nevertheless some thought otherwise. ‘A remnant shall return’ and following many ‘cave of Adullam’ like hidden gatherings a magazinefulnrss-mag.jpg appeared in the 1970’s in Britain which echoed the glimpse from Ephesians and reflected what began to be worked out on the ground among the many house churches springing up at the time and among those hungry to see God’s mission outworked. We could begin to really sing the Lord’s song, and create more, for we were no longer in a strange land but a land of opportunity…
Time has gone by. Settlement has occurred. We shouldn’t be surprised that fresh ‘caves of Adullam’ exist from which new developments are appearing and thought and action is being given to “filling all things’ (and not just church buildings). A friend from those days commented recently that ‘they were now so full of hope’ at these new developments and the confirming signs of God’s presence. These developments must move beyond a mere ‘rearranging of the furniture’ or a change of method for reaching a post-modern generation; it’s a time to delve much deeper into the heart and mind and as yet unfulfilled mission of God if the current waves are to reach their destination.


  1. Rowley

    I rejoice to see a discussion of the fulness theme!

    Eph 1 and 4 especially [with sidelights from Col 1:15 – 20 and much more], IMHCO, outline the operational form of the church’s mandate, and the underlying cosmic strategy of God.

    I am interested to see your link with the challenges faced by the “Egyptian Generation,” and the “Saul Generation.”

    The examples of Caleb, Joshua and David — cave of Adullam and all (what a model for an alternative, discipleship-building educational system!) — are indeed a challenge to us!

    I discuss and link for more on the fulness theme here [for the hypothetical interested reader to follow up], but perhaps the best thing is to actually read the Eph 1 and 4 texts.

    Hope you don’t mind a cite from the latter:

    >>( . . . [Jesus] who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe [panta – all [each and every individual . . . ] things].) It was he who gave some to be apostles . . . prophets . . . evangelists . . . pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ [“the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” 1:22 – 23] may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [Eph. 4:9 – 13.]>>

    That brings us back to the test case no 1, when Paul encountered the Athenians circa 50 AD, (which I discussed in more detail than can properly be done in a blog comment in the JTS/CGST 2002 Ethics Lecture).

    Perhaps this excerpt from the paper can help:

    >>The Apostle had come to Athens five hundred years after its glory days — the days of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pericles, to take a brief respite from his stressful Macedonian adventures . . . . However, he found the all-pervasive idolatry too disturbing to keep silent. [Acts 17:16.] So as a lion, with terrible resolve, turns and vexes those who have unwisely persisted in harrying him, Paul — in the city of Socrates — went to the Agora . . . a group of pagan Philosophers . . . took the Apostle to a meeting of the Areopagus [Mars Hill] Council.

    the Athenian leaders got more than they bargained for. For, Paul made straight for the rotten intellectual foundation of Pagan thought and culture. Pointing to its beautiful temples and monuments, he picked the altar that exposed the critical instability: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the fountainhead and proud guardians of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument!

    Paul then pointedly stated the decisive prophetic issue: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” That is, the true key to the field of Knowledge is Revelation (rather than merely human speculation, argument or experiment[35]), starting from our God-given intuition that an orderly universe without and a rational mind and ever-probing conscience within jointly testify to a Rational, Orderly, Moral Creator. [Cf. Romans 1:18 – 32.] . . . . human culture is not autonomous or absolute . . . communities and their citizens are servants of God, accountable before their Creator for truth, right, justice and the proper stewardship of resources in their care, starting with their land. This opens the door for prophetic commentary on public morality, policy and issues linked to development and sustainability. [Cf. Rom. 1:18 – 32 & 13:1 – 10.] . . . .

    From Athens, the Apostle would go on to Corinth and Ephesus, building bases from which the Christian Faith would ultimately triumph in Greek culture. Intellectually, he would go on to expand his Mars Hill thesis, through penning the Epistle to the Romans[40], which articulated in greater detail the case that would at length prevail over classical paganism.

    So, two thousand years later, we know who had the better case that fateful day. For, Paganism’s hollow intellectual and moral core now stood exposed for those with eyes to observe, and ears to listen. The future therefore belonged to the Apostle, not to the Philosophers and Politicians. Thus, from small beginnings, the churches planted in Athens and other Greek cities grew strong and prevailed.>>

    And so, we can see the challenge of our own day.


    PS: For that same hypothetical interested reader, here is the paper where I laid out my thoughts as a whole the first time, including issues on the restructuring of the church on body life principles and to work through the win –> nurture –> send and support cycle. I elaborated the Mars Hill prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership strategy in part here, then of course in the above linked lecture.

  2. PPS: Following up our conversation y’day, I am now experimenting with NewsFox, the integrated RSS feed for Firefox. And with Zotero academic research augment to same. A bit of a challenge!

  3. Glad you ‘weighed in’ on this one Gordon and have provided more material for those who want to dig deeper.

    At this stage I’m only providing “glimpses”.

  4. Glimpses are a great beginning!

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