Missionary Church: Help…? The Message of God's Judgment in Evangelism
Do not speak about judgment! It happened when I again became a pastor of a reformed church after having worked years in Venlo as an evangelization minister. I was interviewed and naturally evangelization was brought up. The journalist smelled sensation and began speaking about the judgment of God. He asked if I believed in it.
The tone and also the caption of the article was based on my confirming answer, something like, The new minister and the last judgment. What was interesting was the reaction that came from the side of the evangelization committee in the church. They were not very impressed with my honesty. They found it a very negative beginning. They believed that we, as churches, must work on a positive image. Obviously the last judgment does not fit within that image.
When you hear reactions such as this, you begin to question what people are exactly imagining when they speak of a “missionary church”. We have been startled once before by that journal through critical remarks which prof. Dr. Jacob van Bruggen made about the missionary church. That someone who knows the Bible so well begins to ask questions is a bit frightening. The missionary church is my great longing and the driving force in my work. But it is thus not as beautiful as you might think. It feels about the same as if people would begin to make denigrating remarks about the appearance of your beloved wife.
That feeling came back when I was busy with the book Marginal and Missional by Wim Dekker. He works with the IZB, the reformed organization with passion for mission. He also is of the opinion that being mission inclined leads sooner to the breakdown of the church than it does to its building up.
How can it be that men who both are so immersed in the Word and its necessity for the world can write so critically about the “missional church”? I will try to say something about that, also because the article and the book are too valuable to leave gathering dust.
Thinking From the Point of View of the World
Why is it that people in an evangelization committee really think that you must not speak about the final judgment? That is a sign of thinking from the world’s point of view toward the church. You begin to judge that which happens in the church by the world’s standards.
Imagine that you take someone from your workplace along to church. You have had whole conversations about God and faith and now she is going with you this time. What do you think is important to occur at this service? That says something about how you yourself think. Are you hoping for an enjoyable experience or are you sitting with a prayer in your heart that the Holy Spirit will render the message (yes, the sermon) as an arrow that will shoot God’s love into someone’s heart, as happened when God opened the hearts of the first European believers (see Acts 16:14) ? Many accessible, in that they demand little thought, services which aim to entertain, have become a downright disaster for the church because they exude the message that the church is about entertainment and not about the Word. Sooner music than a sermon — this is how the people think and they see their wishes (not those of the guests) come back in the so-called mission services. Wim Dekker writes that it is possible that the church in a mission structure designed to be open to the outside, with a strong emphasis placed on that function, is being hollowed out from the inside or core. In the past decades we have clearly seen examples of this in our country. Many efforts to step outside and meet the world have led to a greater and greater accommodation of the church to the world and seldom to new converts. Yes, in this manner the missional church can become a danger for the reformed church.
Deterioration happens not only when the message is moved to place number whatever in a hyped-up mission church service, but more yet when the message itself becomes “fun”. Everything must become a little lighter, more superficial and less about the darkness without Christ. Precisely those who have contact with others, desire that the service will stay friendly. Many people who do not (or no longer) believe, are our good friends or our children or grandchildren. We encounter all kinds of Christian remainders in them and we find them compatible. Then it is very uncomfortable to accept, at the same time, that there truly is a breach in relationships when it comes to faith. When these emotions begin to set the tone, the missional church becomes a direct danger to the church.
Often the intention is good; people organize simple services in order to reach the world with the gospel. But you will repeatedly see the miserable effect that, especially then, many church members show up who themselves have come to stand at a distance from the church and show no real commitment in their own church, but are on the hunt for a religious kick. Cloaking that with the understanding “missional church” is a danger, for it furthers and works on the side of religious independence.
Thinking From the Point of View of the Bible and the Church
That thinking from the point of view of the world is often a judgment about laziness, sloth and convenience. When you do not feed yourself with the Bible, but with the television, your thinking is brought into line with the thinking of the world. But it should be just the other way; you should not conform yourself to the world, but change by renewing the attitude of your mind, in order to discover what God wants from you and “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
If the church truly becomes a missionary church out of the Bible, you will learn how important it is to seriously contend with the questions of the world. Then you will reach for the Bible more and more and the hunger for good, in-depth, real sermons will grow, preferably sermons twice each Sunday, so that you will tank up (refuel) in order to live as a Christian in this world. When God’s Word is really allowed to speak, you will notice that questions will emerge that the world will not ask at all, but God will ask them — of us!
It is therefore especially important that the church ensures a day of deepening of faith on the inside, at its core. That does not have to be in contraposition to movement towards the outside. Then it should occur in such a way that only the questions that have been picked up from the outside (questions such as: is God truly a person? Is the Bible not just a religious book just like all others? Is there life after death? Etc.,) should be discussed again in depth by the church in the light of the biblical abc. The contrast is not mission focussed or turning inward in self preservation. The contrast is a church of Christ which knows what she believes and lives out of it or a church in which the living Christ and the knowledge of Scripture are disappearing more and more.
Much has been spoken and discussed about Wim Dekker’s book. That is understandable, for it is a book that makes you think, that gives you lessons and that entices you to speak against it. But, noteworthy for me was that there was so little reaction to what he writes about the concrete work of evangelization. He beautifully concurs with the reformed missions man, J. H. Bavinck, as he says that you must take the other person seriously and must walk beside him until you come to the point from which you will proceed together or where the roads cross, at the cross of Jesus. Yes, it begins with listening, but what is then your message?
Wim Dekker surprisingly argues for a message that goes against the grain. The Bible brings a message that runs counter to our culture, and that confrontation between the Bible and the world in which we live, culminates in two points. Over against the focus on ourselves in economic well being, stands the message of Jesus to offer yourself up for your neighbour, and over against the here-and-now focus of our culture of pleasure, the Bible speaks about eternity.
Self-development Offering up of self
Closed world vision Open vision of the world
It is intriguing to ponder this suggestion. In any case, with it, you will come closer to the Bible than that evangelization committee that was so afraid for the image of the church. Read once again how Paul approaches this issue. After opening his discussion with the citizens of Athens about their service of images, he says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
When people who think from the point of view of the world become involved with the missionary church, you feel trepidation; that you should hold on to your heart. But if we desire to think about the world based on God’s Word and God’s church, we will learn how the Word makes the church a missional church.
Healthy Mission Church
Prof. Van Bruggen spoke about the high ideals of the existing missionary church, ideals which can make the church sick via the virus of inferiority complex. The high ideals come forth, according to my insight, from thinking out of the world toward the church. But, what is he actually speaking about when he speaks about the missionary church? He describes the idea of a “mission church” as follows: “The church would only have the right to exist when she is growing and working, otherwise she becomes a museum piece. It is therefore not about the conversion of the Christian and the rising up of the new man. It is about the rising up of a new church. The church must change radically.” Yes, I can imagine that this did not make him happy and that (all?) emphasis is placed on the mission task of the Christian. But is that right?
It is appealing to look at what a reformed missionary such as Prof. Dr. J.H. Bavinck says about the missional church. The first task of the church listed by him, is prayer. Then he lists that Christians must conduct themselves as children of the Light so that they stand out in the dark. And in the third place, he says that the church is called to be a continuing witness. He sees the mandate of the church described the most clearly in 1 Peter 2:9, 10. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Missionary church: 1. Prayer;
2. Live as children of the light;
3. Witness as church.
Prof. Van Bruggen thinks in the same way about the first two points. In 2011 he wrote, “The established church is called and made holy to be a new offering for God in this world. Their first task is to pray for all people, that they may come to conversion. And their second task is to live in such a holy and loving way that through it, the defamation of the unbelievers may be refuted.” The difference is in the third point, the missionary task of the church.
For Dr. Van Bruggen it is, in the first place, about the Christian as missionary, and not about the missional church. But I would not want to set them against each other, and I would think it a pity if the idea that the church also has a task, would disappear. Let us not approach evangelization individually. The office bearers are also there to encourage and direct the members of the church on the way that leads to the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:12). Perhaps Van Bruggen does not deny this, but in his article this is too little evident.
A Church in Motion
Judgment is coming, even if some evangelization committees find this unpleasant. That should motivate us instead of causing us to react by pushing it away. I agree with Van Bruggen when he writes, “The most important question for believers and church is whether or not, in the future, they will be allowed to go in to the joy of their Lord, coming out of the great oppression.”
Yes, that is true, but that is too little if that would be the only thing. Besides the question about myself, it is also about others. If people have not learned to know Christ, the judgment becomes an eternal and horrible punishment for them. Who would not be moved by that?