We must give full recognition to the already-not yet dynamic, so basic to biblical eschatology. Or to put it differently, we must get our expectations right this side of the new creation. While the church can indeed have an effect on culture, especially when its counter-cultural witness is clear and strong, nevertheless, transforming the culture is beyond both the church’s calling and the church’s ability. We cannot “bring in the kingdom,” much less may we participate (here and now) in the final renewal of all things.
It has never been more urgent for the PCA to articulate a clear vision of mission—calling all its member churches to obedience to the summons of Christ to reach the nations with the good news of Jesus Christ. We must remain “faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.” Understanding mission with clarity is vital if we are to stay the course and fulfill our calling. Before we outline the mandate given to the church by Christ, allow me to suggest three trends that threaten missional clarity. None are new to the church, but these three continue to distort or distract from the mission entrusted to us.
Threats to Missional Clarity
- The first threat to missional clarity is what I’ll call aesthetic faddishness.Constrained by the expectations of our ecclesiastical tribe, we too readily insist that unless a church adopts our aesthetic—especially in worship—it simply will not be effective. But in moments of honesty, too many of us must confess that what we are really doing is signaling to the available market-share of Christians in our region that we speak their language, embrace their “vibe,” and thus they will find a ready home among us. For some, being “missional” is less a description of our stance and commitment to the salvation of the unconverted and more a code word designed to summarize our preferred style.
The dangers here are not hard to identify. First, we easily begin to baptize our preferences, allowing us to dismiss others who do not embrace them. Sometimes, affixing the adjective “missional” to our choices is really little more than a mechanism by which to place them beyond debate as the assured and unquestioned conclusions of the culturally savvy. And secondly, having hitched our ecclesiastical wagon to the cultural horse, we discover that we must update our aesthetic constantly in order to keep up with what’s “hot” and what’s not, to the bewilderment of the church and the ridicule of the world.
- The second threat to missional clarity is doctrinal vagueness. Our motives for mission must be zeal for the glory of God and love for the souls of the lost. When these enflame the heart, Christians become passionate and persistent evangelists. Let us pray that the Lord of the harvest would send many more such laborers. But what use is there in seeking to reach the world if we have no definite message to share? Yet when we ask what the gospel is, a confusing array of answers continues to be given. Perhaps, driven by a concern to make social justice or political activism or cultural transformation part of the core mission of the church we have expanded what we mean by “gospel.” The gospel, we are told, is the good news that “God is making everything new”, or that “in Jesus, God is restoring the shalomof the broken creation”, or that because of the cross “everything sad is coming untrue.” Any or all of these may be true, of course. But since I am unable to tell what any of these means precisely, I can’t be sure. They sound lovely, though.
Doctrinal vagueness, when it comes to the content of the gospel message, imperils souls. We cannot afford to sound an uncertain note. So let us be clear: the gospel is the good news that God has acted in the obedient life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ to save sinners. This is the only remedy for the real problem of the human condition—our sin and guilt before God. We must go to the world proclaiming this good news, offering Christ freely, and summoning all people to repentance and faith in him.