A Missional Manifesto Considered

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.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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19 responses to “A Missional Manifesto Considered

  1. You say:

    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 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.

    =========================

    I believe that this is absolutely the core of the issues that we have now in our Synod along the whole Missional/Confessional debate.

    For me, I simply see it along a continuum: that is to say, the more likely you are to speak about lay people being missionaries, the more likely you are to earn the label “missional” The more you emphasize the pastor as the one bringing the gifts of grace to the laity (whose primarily role is one of passive reception) the closer to “confessional” you tend to be labeled.

    So I think that it is here where the discussion ought to/needs to take place. Obviously, both sides have truths they are trying to protect and hold on to. Understanding that and conversing on that hopefully will bring about a greater discussion—maybe even a greater understanding—and hopefully a Synod that is a bit more united.

    • Rev. Louderback,

      As always, thanks for the thoughts. I think you are right. These are the core issues in our LCMS debates today. And they do need to be thoughtfully and collegially addressed. Initially, I do like the idea of seeing things along the continuum. It may allow us in the LCMS to recognize we all work for and serve the same Lord, and therefore not attempt to (ecclesiastically or in our hearts) kill one another. Nonetheless, I will maintain theological integrity is still vital to the process, and, in the end, may necessarily cause some to part ways in one form or another. But my prayer is with yours, that we might become a bit more united as a Synod through this process. Thanks for being willing to help move that process along.

      • Well, if we do have to part ways, I would hope that it would be over something more serious than one side saying that lay people have a call to be missionaries and share the Gospel with intention and the other side saying that, no, lay people are missionaries, but the Gospel is shared without their intention.

        That is to say, I’d hope that it is an issue of substance and not an issue of no substance that merely pretends to have substance.

        There are plenty of things that we can disagree in on in our synod—theological issues—and still remain united (We are currently. See, suffrage, woman’s). A little understanding will go a long way on this.

  2. I’m a second year seminary student currently studying to be a pastor. I just spent the whole summer reading, and re-reading the Book of Concord. In particular, I read the Large Catechism THREE times. When I study those pages I’m convinced that we have a powerful foundation for being Missional (see LC III, 53-54) in such a way that frees us from many of the theological pitfalls that are going to constantly challenge folks like Ed Stetzer.

    Being a confessional Lutheran means having and using a framework for thinking, communicating and –> living out the active trust we have in our risen Lord Jesus Christ. In terms of thinking, the confessions provide many examples of theologians interacting with biblical data and using that data to form theological conclusions. We get to see how they dealt with their own context in light of such theological conclusions in areas of ecclesiology, sociology, the political realities of their day and certainly everyday life.

    These many examples allow us to utilize that same framework in an organic manner to think about the many issues we encounter in our day. From the confessions we learn how to properly understand the WHAT so that we might be navigate the complex challenges of HOW.

    I see no evidence that the role of the Laity is to be one of passive reception of God’s gifts. That is not a role defined in the Book of Concord! Rather it is a reality that all Christians are passive in the righteousness that Christ gives us through the Church!

    So I ask this question: what is the role of the Laity?

    • Dear Mark,

      Thanks again for your thoughtful post. I am thankful for the passion you have for your theology and your desire to be so thorough in understanding your confession of faith the implications of it. Your question is good and has been debated often in these last decades. Helpful in answering the question will be to frame it in relation to what one want’s to know. My short answer to your question would simply be for them to live out their vocations 1) as a Christian, 2) as a family member 3) as a worker 4) as a member of society. And to be clear, nothing in that precludes their participation is sharing of the Good News. And again, to be sure, it even calls for it–particularly as the Small Catechism reminds us–in the vocation of the Christian parent.

      However, how do we address the role of the laity in the specific terms of the church? For example, is the role of the laity to administer the sacraments? Is the role of the laity to publicly and regularly preach the word? Is the role of the laity to regularly disciple new believers? I think it is not so much a matter of ability, as in, can I do this, but rather is it something that the Lord has given them to do and in the order that the Lord has given it to be done?

      The aim is not to take away from the laity (and therefore protect the job security of the clergy), but rather to celebrate and rejoice in what the laity has been given to do, specifically, the fullness of their vocational lives, which, yes, does include, as the theme of our Synod is now emphasizing, Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. In short, the burdens and demands of the office of the ministry are distinct to that office, of which, as you will learn in the parish, are enough to crush and bury a man in utter depression and angst. (Sorry if I burst any ideological bubbles.) The notion that everyone is a missionary (or pastor) wittingly, or unwittingly, places the demands of that office upon the laity and in ways they are not regularly called to bear up underneath (or it simply changes what they are to be), and consequently takes them away from living out the God pleasing vocations they are presently placed in.

      Thanks again for your question. I hope to address it further in future posts.

      Yours,

      Rev. Woodford

      • Rev. Woodford,

        I definitely see what you mean about looking at both sides of ministry (the thoughts about being enough to crush and bury a man in depression and angst) and this thinking demonstrates how important the doctrine of vocation really is. And don’t worry, my idealism will remain intact until Jesus takes me home. I’m an idealist to the core! 🙂

        On the other hand, I also know that I spent 15 years as an adult layperson prior to entering Seminary. One of the most important things I had to learn was the transition from a compartmentalized view of life (Church is only for Sunday and maybe Wednesday) to an integrated daily faith life as is demonstrated and taught in the Small Catechism.

        The doctrine of vocation helps us recognize our calling in how we serve our neighbor (helping us live out our Active Righteousness, as Luther calls it in his commentary on Galatians), but I have wondered if in an American context if it has sometimes served to amplify notions of compartmentalization.

        At the same time, I recognize that “being missional” can confuse things in the other direction. A lay person might hear how Construction might be his or her “day job” but it is more important to work with the Holy Spirit to help save the lost. However, as you rightly point out–that responsibility does not lie with the construction worker. He or she has his or her vocation and the pastor has his. You are wise to maintain that important distinction.

        Perhaps this is about the very heart of the ministry itself. What if the pastor is not to be spending all of his time “waiting tables” as it were, but rather he is to be about making disciples more than any other thing? Uh oh, I’m being an idealist again!

        Thanks for a healthy discussion, Rev. Woodford! You help me interact with the issues in such a way that I grow. I appreciate that very much.

      • Dear Mark,

        Your 15 years as an adult layperson, along with your passion for sound theology, and your desire to love God’s people, will no doubt serve you well when you come to shepherd a flock! The Lord bless you as you continue forward in preparation for the Office of the Holy Ministry. And I continue to appreciate your dialogue here as well.

        Yours,

        Rev. Woodford

    • Ok, first Mark, why must there be two Marks on this thread? Seriously?!? In the future, call me QL.

      Once again, I think that you nail down the issue: what is the role of the Laity? I think this is the important idea. Or, as Pr Woodford breaks it down, what is the role of the Christian lay person?

      I disagree with his statement that not every lay person is a missionary. I think that every lay person definitely haas the call to be a missionary. But once again, that is simply because I define missionary as “one sent to share their faith” not “one called to Word and Sacrament ministry in a foreign land.”

      So it is indeed all in the definitions.

      At the core of vocation though—and we need to remember this—the core of vocation is love. We love others, and so we serve them (God doesn’t need our service—others do!). If it is wrong to pass by the injured man, when we are busy and have stuff to do, is it wrong to pass by the spiritually dead person and not share Christ with them—because we are busy and have stuff to do.

      The priest and Levite both had vocations in the story of the Good Samaritan. They had duties, responsibilities, and good reasons to walk by—they had a call to vocation. But they are not showing love. You can’t use vocation as an excuse to turn away from those who are in need, whether they are in physical or spiritual need.

      That is not what love does.

      Hope your studies go well. My Confessions study group is working through the LC right now. Keep up your reading.

      • QL,

        Ha, thanks for your thoughts. Your comments remind me of the challenges I have always had when reading the Gospels. Jesus only got mad at one group of people: those who cared about anything other than helping others.

        In the parable of the prodigal son, I think that Christians always identify with the younger son, and from a one point of view that is a good thing. But the other point of view is that we spend a lot of time being the older brother! Where was his focus? On all the wrong things. What was the older brother’s vocation and how did that relate to his actions in that story?

        The motivating text for me, however, is Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus is making it clear that he is not talking to just pastors there, but instead, “all nations.”

        So, once again, here we are: Balancing between two ends of the spectrum. I think we need to put our focus Christ, thinking about what He has taught us about the “least of these,” living out our vocations knowing that He will help us do His will. And while there are many challenges in understanding what that will is as we balance the doctrine of mission and vocation, we know that sitting in a pew for the rest of our lives is not it!

  3. I would encourage everyone to read Korby’s excellent essay Baptism:Ordination into the Royal Priesthood of Believers.

  4. I agree Pastor Louderback that the laity are called to share the love of Christ as part of their vocation, but why call them missionaries? Why not just encourage them to be the priests that they already are because of baptism? Part of being a priest is “proclaim[ing] the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV) This can be done without compromising our other vocations. As Pastor Woodford said,

    The aim is not to take away from the laity (and therefore protect the job security of the clergy), but rather to celebrate and rejoice in what the laity has been given to do, specifically, the fullness of their vocational lives, which, yes, does include, as the theme of our Synod is now emphasizing, Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.

    I also have never understood why confessional and missional have to be opposed to each other. Except that being missional typically means that church has abandoned the historic liturgy in favor of cowo, which is unfortunate.

    • I guess the reason I use “missionary” over “priest” is #1: because of the baggage of priest. Words can be rescued and re-defined once they are lost…and sometimes they can’t…

      #2: Because I want to keep the idea of their “sent-ness” — that they need to move outside of their areas of comfort in order to care for others and in order to share with others.

      I want it noted that I do agree with Pastor Woodford that there is a distinction between laity and pastors. It is not one in the same, and interchangeable. Nor do I think that laity ought to be doing the vocation of the pastor.

      But being a Christian leaves a great deal open still…

      I think that Confessionals vs Missional does come about primarily because of the liturgy vs CoWo, yes. Outside of that, it morphs around a bit and you get questions of vocation. Both sides have quirks to them. But I would think that we can bring them together. That’s my hope at least.

  5. To continue, encouraging the laity to confess their faith with their neighbors should not be seen as taking anything away from the Holy Office.As Pastor Woodford pointed out the Office as responsibilities and burdens unique to itself and these should not be foisted upon the laity.

    Where I may disagree with Pastor Woodford is in the area of catechizing or teaching the faith. The Pastor is definitely the chief catechist, but we do have examples from Scripture of laity teaching even those in the Office “the way of the Lord more perfectly ” (Acts 18:26) Parents are also give the role of catechist to their children.

    • Steven,

      Thanks much for the great dialogue and clear expression of your thoughts. I think we are on the same page. I do see the Office of the Ministry as the Chief catechist, just not the only catechist, particularly, at least, as the Small Catechism reminds us of the duty of the “Head of the household” to regularly instruct the family in each chief part.

      Yours,

      Rev. Woodford

  6. Mark—have you had Prof Gibbs take apart Matthew 25 for you? It is quite the experience and it gives the verse a bit of a different read.

  7. I must say, this blog is one of the most healthy places of respectful discussion I have ever seen. Bravo to all of you in your willingness to listen to each other in patience and self control.
    Rev. Woodford, you ask if the laity should perform certain tasks – to administer the sacraments, to regularly preach the Word and to disciple new believers. Those three tasks, I identify strongly with the vocation of Pastor. I do not identify the first two with the vocation of missionary. I think the third is often a task many missionaries undertake if the seed takes root.
    And that brings me to my line of thinking on the difference between the laity as missionaries and pastors as missionaries.
    I see the laity as those tasked with planting the seeds (not to mention preparing the soil, removing rocks and thorns by living Godly lives). I see pastors as those tasked with, not only planting the seeds, but more often with watering the seeds.
    And in the end, we know that God is the one who provides the growth.
    In my opinion, the message involved in planting the seeds is a much easier message to get out rightly than the message involved in watering those seeds. That is not to say the message given when planting is always correct. I simply mean that I believe it is more reasonable to trust the laity to plant seeds than it is to trust them to water.
    Thanks again for providing such a pleasant place for discussion.

    • Dear Andy,

      Thanks for the words of encouragement! It is one of the goals of this blog to foster that type of honest and collegial dialogue.

      To your points: I think you make a great observation regarding how the Lord makes use of his people (laity and pastor alike) in their various vocations for the growth of his kingdom, particularly the very helpful understanding and distinction regarding the roles of planting and watering the seeds. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and expressing things so clearly!

      Yours,

      Rev. Woodford

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