In The Contemporary Christian (356-374), John Stott outlines a Christological approach to mission under the following headings:
1. The incarnation of Christ – the model for mission
In some ways, the incarnation was a ‘mission’ like that the Apollo space flight to the moon was a ‘mission’. Each was a daring journey between two completely different places and situations. But the Apollo astronauts had to bring everything needful with them, whereas Jesus brought nothing but himself. And his was no superficial touchdown: he made this place his home, and he made our nature his own.
Jesus says, ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’, Jn 17:18; 20:21. Our mission is to be modelled on his.
‘All authentic mission is incarnational mission. It demands identification without loss of identity. It means entering other people’s worlds, as he entered ours, though without compromising our Christian convictions, values or standards.’
Consider the apostle Paul. He was not a preacher to anonymous hearers, keeping his distance from those he addressed. No: he wrote: ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some’ (1 Cor 9:19-22).
When in 1732 Count Zinzendorf sent to of his misisonaries to the West Indian sugar plantations, they found that the only way to reach the African slaves was to live with them in the same huts and work with them in the same chain gangs.
In 1992 Major Frederick Tucker launched the Salvation Army in India. In seeking to reach the outcastes, he and his associates dressed like them, ate like them, walked barefoot and adopted Indian names.
In 1950 the young Italian Roman Catholic priest, Mario Borelli took on the dress, habits and speech of the street children of Naples in order to express his practical concern for them.
We ourselves may not be required to go so far (and, in any case, ‘going native’ is not always wise). But we do need to enter into other people’s thought world, understanding the world views that they inhabit.
‘We should, I believe, be praying and working for a whole new generation of Christian thinkers and apologists who will dedicate their God-given minds to Christ, enter sympathetically into their contemporaries’ dilemmas, unmask false ideologies, and present the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that he is seen to offer what other religious systems cannot, because he along can fulfil our deepest human aspiration.’
Moreover, we should enter other people’s heart world. We must learn to weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15).
2. The cross of Christ – the cost of mission
Mission involves suffering. We see this in Isaiah’s suffering servant (Isa 50:6f; 52:15; 53:3-12), in the example of Jesus himself (Jn 12:23f), and in the ministry of the apostle Paul (Eph 3:13; 2 Tim 2:10; 2 Cor 4:12).
‘Paul dares to claim that through his sufferings others will enter into glory, that through his endurance others will be saved, and that through his death others will love…It is not, of course, that he attributes any atoning efficacy to his own sufferings and death, as he does to the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. [But] people can receive salvation, life and glory only when the gospel is preached to them, and those who preach the gospel with faithfulness invariably suffer for it.’
The pages of Christian history are full of stories of persecution, be it physical, mental or social.
‘Where is the willingness to suffer for Christ today? In the evangelical tendency to triumphalism there seems little place for tribulation. And the false “prosperity gospel”, promising unlimited health and wealth, blinds people to the biblical warnings of adversity. Yet the fact remains that if we compromised less we would assuredly suffer more.’
Why is the Christian gospel opposed? Because the doctrine of Christ crucified is folly to the intellectually proud. Because the ethics of Christian self-denial and self-control are unacceptable to the self-indulgent. And because people do not like to hear that, due to lack of discipline in regard to repentance and faith, they are denied access to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
‘Are we ready, then, to bear the pain of being ridiculed, the loneliness of being ostracized, the hurt of being spoken against and slandered? Indeed, are we willing if necessary to die with Christ to popularity and promition, to comfort and success, to our ingrained sense of personal and cultural superiority, to our selfish ambition to be rich, famous or powerful?’
3. The resurrection of Christ – the mandate for mission
The Great Commission arises from, and is dependant upon, Christ’s resurrection. In the Old Testament, the perspective was one of centripetal action: all nations were to come and worship Israel’s God. In the New Testament, however, the emphasis is on centrifugal missionary outreach. Instead of the nations coming, the church is to go to the nations. But it is centrifugal in order to be centripetal. The church is to go out with the gospel, in order that believers – Jews and Gentiles alike – may be brought together. And it is the risen Lord who sends us out to the nations, and who gathers people in to his church.
4. The exaltation of Christ – the incentive for mission
Christian mission is hard work, unpopular, and often unappreciated. Indeed, it often provokes opposition and even persecution. But the exaltation of Christ offers the strongest of motives for the enterprise.
God the Father has vindicated, promoted, enthroned and invested his Son. He has been elevated above all possible rivals (Eph 1:21; Phil 2:9; Col 1:18). We do not claim superiority for ourselves, but rather for Christ, who has been exalted to the highest place precisely because he humbled himself in love even to the cross.
In consequence of the exaltation, God desires ‘every knee’ to bow to him and ‘every tongue’ confess to his lordship (Phil 2:9-11). And if this is God’s desire, then it should be ours, too (like Elijah, 1 King 19:10, and like Paul 2 Cor 11:2f). Henry Martyn, missionary to Muslim Iran in the early 19th century said:
‘I could not endure existence if Jesus were not glorified; it would be hell to me if he were to be always thus dishonoured.’
It is such ‘zeal’ or ‘jealousy’ for the Lord which impels our mission today.
5. The Spirit-gift of Christ – the power for mission
The church’s missionary enterprise is a divine enterprise, and depends absolutely on the power of the Holy Spirit for its effectiveness. Jesus himself was aware of the missionary nature and purpose of the Holy Spirit describing ‘streams of living water’ flowing out from every believer and irrigating the parched desert (Jn 7:37-39). Just as streams of water cannot be contained, so that Holy Spirit cannot but flow forth.
Whatever our understanding and experience of the charismatic movement, we must all agree that evangelism is impossible without the Holy Spirit. In the words of the Manila Manifesto:
‘The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, love, holiness, and power, and evangelism is impossible without him. It is he who anoints the messenger, confirms the Word, prepares the hearer, convicts the sinful, enlightens the blind, gives life to the dead, enables us to repent and believe, unites us to the body of Christ, assures us that we are God’s children, leads us into Christlike character and service, and sends us out in our turn to be Christ’s witnesses. In all this the Holy Spirit’s main preoccupation is to glorify Jesus Christ by showing him to us and forming him in us.’
Human sources of knowledge and human methods may have their place. But they must not be allowed to diminish our reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. For,
‘Only the Holy Spirit of God can take words spoken in human weakness and carry them home with power to the mind, conscience and will of the hearers. Only he can open the eyes of the blind to see the truth as it is in Jesus, unstop the ears of the deaf to hear hs voice, and loosen the tongues of the dumb to confess that he is Lord.’
6. The parousia of Christ – the urgency of mission
At the same time that the apostles were commissioned to go ‘to the ends of the earth’, they were promised that Jesus would return in the same way that he had left them. Jesus had gone. Jesus would return. And between those two events lay the task of world-wide witness to the gospel, empowered by the Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost.
Jesus himself said that the end would not come until the gospel of the kingdom had been preached throughout the world to all nations (Mt 24:14). But this lends urgency, not complacency to his witnesses.
We must one day appear before the judgment seat of Christ, in order to give an account of our Christian life and ministry (2 Cor 5:10). Knowing, then, ‘the fear of the Lord, we persuade men’ (v11). As in Ezekiel’s day, God ‘s watchmen are responsible for warning people of coming judgment, and are held accountable for this (Eze 33:8). Paul urged Timothy to ‘preach the Word’ with urgency, not only in ‘the presence of God and of Christ Jesus’, but also ‘in view of his appearing and his kingdom’, who ‘will judge the living and the dead.’
‘To live, work and witness in conscious anticipation of Christ’s parousia and judgment is a wholesome stimulus to faithfulness. Scripture bids us remember that, from God’s perspective, the time is short, the need is great, and the task is urgent.’