Missional guru, author, and evangelical Christian, Ed Stetzer, has a lot of thoughtful things for people to consider regarding the contemporary missional movement of the North American church. Though I do not entirely agree with him on many things, I think he works hard at trying to address concerns within the missional movement and bring clarity to what the movement aims to be. One item to note is the collaborative effort called The Missional Manifesto which can be found through his website, or at the following link: http://www.missionalmanifesto.net/.
The document itself is helpful insofar as it clarifies, from their perspective, what the aim and purpose of the church is to be. However, there remains the overarching concern, at least from a confessional Lutheran perspective, that the mission of the church as they present it, has been completely, and perhaps shortsightedly, reduced to one simple purpose—to get the message of Jesus Christ out.
However, as a previous post noted, as laudable as the movement is, mounting concerns within the movement are manifesting themselves and demonstrating that in the zeal to get the message out it may not always be getting it out rightly, (see my previous post Getting the message out or Getting the message right?). Nonetheless, the movement continues on—this past weekend my home state of MN was host to the Desiring God National Conference, at which, Stetzer was a key note speaker on “Missional and the Great Commission.”
Thus, as the movement presses forward, I think it is helpful for a 21st century confessional Lutheran who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and yet, who may not agree with the tenets of the “Missional Movement,” to be able to articulate what it is “you find so objectionable about simply wanting to tell others about Jesus.” For this is often how those who object to the movement are often cast.
Thus, it is incumbent on those of us who feel compelled to object to the “missional” push to clarify why it is we think it necessary to do so, and to do so in ways that move beyond “because it is not Lutheran” to ways that winsomely demonstrate how it is perhaps not just unLutheran, but unhelpful to the fullness and totality of God’s mission.
In short, confessional Lutherans have long held that the doctrine upon which the Church stands and falls is the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ (AC IV): Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rm. 3,4). Some are tired of hearing it. Others can’t hear it enough. Either way, it is the core of getting the message right and therefore getting the message out rightly. And the reality is, when this article is replaced, Lutherans believe, rightly so, the Church will fall.
Accordingly, to ensure that this saving faith gets delivered, Lutherans confess that: God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this. Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts and works without the external work of the Gospel (AC V).
An interesting comparison, then, is to consider some of the tenets of the Missional Manifesto. Below are the final three of the document:
A strong foundation in the gospel, obedience to Christ and posture to the world are critical components to both individuals and churches living missionally. A missional community is one that regards mission as both its originating impulse and organizing principle (Acts 1:8). It makes decisions accordingly, believing that Christ sends His followers into the world, just as the Father sent Him into the world.
The Church, therefore, properly encourages all believers to live out their primary calling as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) to those who do not know Jesus. The ministry of reconciliation is applicable to both its native culture and in cross-cultural ministry throughout the world. In this sense, every believer is a missionary sent by the Spirit into a non-Christian culture activating the whole of his or her life in seeking to participate more fully in God’s mission.
Missional represents a significant shift in the way we understand the church. As the people of a missionary God, we are entrusted to participate in the world the same way He does—by committing to be His ambassadors. Missional is the perspective to see people as God does and to engage in the activity of reaching them. The church on mission is the church as God intended.
First, briefly, the organizing principle of the church, for confessional Lutherans, is justification by faith (AC IV). In the Missional Manifesto it is obedience to Christ and posture to the world” wherein “a missional community is one that regards mission as both its originating impulse and organizing principle (Acts 1:8). Thus, and I believe this to be a fair assessment, the imperative to get the message out supersedes standing on the message itself. True, I suppose one might say that getting the message right is assumed by the missional community. But, as has been previously noted on this blog, I believe there is now enough evidence that demonstrates this is not always the case.
Second, there is a distinct difference in understanding how the message is primarily delivered. Confessional Lutherans note it is the Church acting through the office of the ministry (AC V), while the Missional Manifesto articulates that every believer is a missionary sent by the Spirit into a non-Christian culture activating the whole of his or her life in seeking to participate more fully in God’s mission.
To be sure, Lutherans affirm and encourage the nature of every Christian being able to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, but they would hold that the language of “every believer a missionary” along with it being their “primary calling,” to be a bit overstated and theologically questionable.
In short, it undermines, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not, the nature, scope, and value of the office of the ministry (pastor), as well as the understanding and fullness of the various God pleasing Christian vocations, and disavows (again, perhaps unintentionally) the goodness and importance of God’s mission to care for, order, and sustain human society through the various God ordained vocations of society. Yes, of course Lutherans want “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” However, we are simply prone to affirm the fullness of how God has ordered that to happen amid this fallen creation.
In the end, the Missional Manifesto’s assertion that “Missional represents a significant shift in the way we understand the church” is certainly true, particularly from a confessional Lutheran perspective. Therefore, I contend, it is important to be able to articulate exactly how it is different, as well as the impact it will have upon the church, and even upon you dear reader.
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.