MISSIO DEI, Short-term Missions, and an Apostolic Pentecostal Hermeneutic

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Mission church in eastern Cuba

Historical patterns of Christian missions have followed a colonial model. This means missionaries would act as extensions of a “home” organization, and were sent to establish and maintain the agency on foreign soil. The mission belonged to the sending agency and those who are sent. Missio Dei brings a “correction to this view by putting God, not the church or denomination, at the center of mission. Mission is the originator of the Church, not the other way round.” [1]

The term Missio Dei is Latin and can be translated as either the “mission of God” or the “sending of God.” The concept of missio Dei anchors our actions in the eternal plan and program of God, rather than in our temporal processes and programs. Missio Dei releases missionary zeal in the hearts of God’s people, allowing the Spirit of God to do the calling, choosing, ordaining, and sending of missions. It also reorients our thinking about missions. Instead of the church being the primary originator of missions, missions is the expression of God’s own nature. In the words of missiologist David Bosch, “God is a missionary God.” [2] Missions then becomes the operation of the Spirit of Christ inside the Church, laying claim on individuals for missionary purpose.

Consider the missionary actions of God in Acts 13:1-3:

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Whose needs drive the decisions about short-term missions? 

“If the short-term mission movement is to be brought in line with New Testament thinking, it is essential that the needs of the field become the driving factor for when, where, and who is sent.” [3] Philippians 2:25 offers a glimpse into short-terms missions of the 1st century:

“Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants.” (Emphasis mine)

This short-term missionary was identified by Paul as brother, companion in labor, fellow-soldier, messenger and minister. Epaphroditus came from the church at Philippi at a time when Paul was in prison in Rome. His coming was a blessing and encouragement to Paul the missionary, and therefore a blessing to people in the missionary’s field of labor. He did not go for self-enrichment, a cultural experience, or to see the impressive architecture of Rome. He was sent with purpose and intent to bless the work of the missionary. He was not sent empty-handed, but with financial support from the sending church(s).

Although the needs of the mission field are what drive the motive and actions of the sending church, there is still a great need for wisdom and proper approach to how we meet those needs. It is possible to do more harm than good. Interestingly, the Jerusalem and Antioch churches did not simply pour in a wealth of funds to spread the gospel in the Roman Empire. In fact, it was the mission churches planted by Paul and other missionaries who gave to help the saints in Jerusalem (the mother church) during great famine. Regardless of who was helping who, the early church never created a sense of superiority with regards to missions. The only exception from Scripture may be the Judaizers, who were sharply rebuked for trying to “Judaize” the new Gentile Christians. Paul’s custom was to make converts, disciple them, ordain elders and let them lead the new churches. He did not linger long, nor did he assume a decision-making role for Holy-Ghost filled saints who were capable of doing the work of the church.

Paternalism is habitually doing for people, and providing for people, things they can do and provide for themselves. Unfortunately it is also the program of many well-intended missionary endeavors. On surface level it seems just and right, that if we have the means, we must go, do, and give to those who “have not.” There is also a sense of pride that easily attaches itself to missions, assuming that because one is going to those in need, they must have the answers, the solutions, the provisions, the “upper-hand.” History and witness show us that this produces a welfare church dependent on foreign resources (both financial and spiritual). It does not heal the people, and rarely, if ever, produces any visible revival in the nation. Short-term missions must focus on long-term spiritual and physical well-being, not quick fixes and immediate results. Immediate needs must be understood for what they are: the top layers of deeper, more fundamental needs that will never change if we only address surface issues.

An Apostolic Pentecostal Hermeneutic of Mission

The task of an apostolic Pentecostal theology is to understand the Scriptures and let them speak for themselves; then, interpret and apply their meaning to our present-day context. From the beginning God is missional, going forth, restoring order to the void and chaos of the earth (Gen 1:2). After the Fall, we see God healing relationships and speaking prophetic promises of a future redeemer. The promises continue through generations, until the fulness of the time was come, and God sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to put all things under his feet, and restore perfect order to mankind and all of creation.

Essential to Jesus’ nature as the Son of God was that he was “sent.” John 3:17 records, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Jesus transferred this same “sent-ness” to his apostles. “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). The “sent” nature of the early church influenced the gospels and epistles written to the churches. The missio Dei was transferred to (or better, manifested through) Jesus Christ, then to his apostles, and then to the churches. It follows therefore, that every church established by the Apostles was planted by apostolic, missions-minded individuals, continuing that self-same mission of God that was first embodied in the man Christ Jesus. The shared scriptures of the early churches, eventually referred to as the New Testament, are “apostolic” and “Pentecostal” in nature, being written by apostles who were sent on mission with the anointing of the Spirit received at Pentecost.

An apostolic Pentecostal hermeneutic of scripture must be missional. The Spirit baptism of Pentecost gave the early Church their sending (i.e. apostolic – from apostéllō, “to commission, send forth”) power. Such a hermeneutic means that we will draw out from the texts (Genesis – Revelation) the principles for mission and redemption (the two always working in tandem together). Having located and articulated missional content in scripture, we may then incorporate these truths into our 21st century mission context. Christopher Wright, author of “Mission as a Matrix for Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology,” says, “Mission is not just one of a list of things that the Bible happens to talk about, only a bit more urgently than some. Mission is, in that much-abused phrase, ‘what it’s all about.’” [5] J. Andrew Kirk has spent much of his life in theological education and written extensively on Christian missions. He defines a theology of mission as:

“… the task of keeping under review and validating best practice in all areas of missionary obedience. It tests theory and practice against the apostolic Gospel and history read eschatologically (i.e. from the perspective of the full realization of God’s rule on earth).” [6]

Kirk observes several ways the New Testament gospel affects lives through mission:

“[There is] creation of a new humanity—Christ the last Adam, the head of a new race which is freed from the power of sin by being raised to a new liberating life of obedience to God. There is the gift of the Holy Spirit … the whole of creation will be redeemed from frustration and decay … creation of a new community, God reconciles the humanly irreconcilable—Jew and non-Jew, ‘cultured’ and ‘non-cultured,’ male and female, privileged and exploited, people of every race, culture and class.” [7]

Conclusion

The missio Dei emphasis originated with denominational, Trinitarian theologians who saw a need to “relocate” a theology of mission in a more proper, biblical construct. Apostolic Pentecostal missionaries can certainly relate with their desire for biblical accuracy. There should be a willingness to evaluate our missions work, and take steps when necessary to bring it into more perfect accord with the mission of God. No one is immune from human contrivance, misplaced loyalties, fallacious thinking, ethnocentric attitudes and actions, or trying to “figure out” a missions strategy, even among apostolic Pentecostal missions. A tendency to hold tightly to antiquated methods or paradigms are of little importance when compared with a distinctly apostolic Pentecostal hermeneutic for missions.

Short-term missions are beneficial to the overall mission of God when they focus on the needs of the people we are trying to reach, and not those who are being sent. While missionary workers and helpers may be blessed as result of their missionary experiences, the primary goal is to bless and establish and build up the the people in the mission country.

The Indigenous Church by Melvin Hodges and Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen are two landmark books on missionary methods. Each focuses on biblical models for missions and how to avoid paternalism and empower national churches for mission. The core principles of these books would serve short-term missionaries well also, giving them a general sense of duty and carefulness before going to the mission field.

Our attitude and understanding of what exactly we are sent to do is vitally important—it is the mission of God.

 

[1] Eddie Arthur, “Missio Dei and the Mission of the Church,” Wycliffe Global Alliance, 26 March 2016, Online: http://www.wycliffe.net/missiology?id=3960#_ftn25.

[2] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991, 389–390.

[3] Stephen Allard, instructor ofShort-Term Missions,” Apostolic School of Theology.

[5] Christopher J. H. Wright, “Mission as a Matrix for Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology,” in Craig Bartholomew et al., eds., Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Carlisle and Grand Rapids: Paternoster and Zondervan, 2004), 104.

[6] J. Andrew Kirk, What is Mission: Theological Explorations (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1999), 21.

[7] Ibid., 68. (cf. Rom 5-6; 8:9-17; 8:18-25; 9-11; Eph 2:13-22; 3:3-7; Col. 3:10-11; Gal. 3:28).

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