From its very inception the church has grappled with clearly understanding the mission Jesus assigned. It is not that the words Jesus spoke to the disciples are hard to find or understand. The words are simple and direct. They essentially defy any human misunderstanding; nevertheless, the church has debated the concept of mission for centuries. The words of the mission are located in five different places in the New Testament: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-22 and Acts 1:8.
A quick perusal of the phrase “mission of the church” on the Internet results in 29 million hits. The reason for so many hits could be the difficulty that comes when each denominational group seeks to define the mission in terms related to their understanding of the gospel. All of the groups seem to agree that we need to preach the gospel to all the world and make disciples of all mankind. The question that troubles them is what kind of disciple are we called to make. Even when we more clearly define the search and use the phrase “mission of SDA Church” it results in over 383,000 hits. We debate among ourselves how much of the culture in which we live we need to take into consideration in our preaching and teaching. This troubled the early Christian church as they debated how much of “Jewish culture” Gentiles needed to absorb before they could find fellowship in the church. Peter’s rooftop vision and Paul’s teaching placed before the early believers the truth that the gospel commission meant just what it said in that we are to go to the entire world and make disciples of all people regardless of culture. The Gospel was for all. Period! No additions! No subtractions! For All. The church must be the living embodiment of the reality that Jesus came to seek and save the lost!
John R. W, Stott, Evangelical preacher and Bible scholar, spoke to this issue at the the Congress on Evangelism in 1996. “Our commission, therefore, is not only to identify ourselves with the world, as Christ did, but also to proclaim to the world the Gospel of divine forgiveness…The Church’s message, as originally given by Jesus, has not changed. Man’s greatest need is still the forgiveness of his sins and his reconciliation to God. The whole world is burdened with a bad conscience; mental institutions are full of guilt-laden souls. But we have the message to set men free and must proclaim it with authority and without compromise! It is a message of blessing and of judgment: of the remission of sins to those who repent and believe, and of the retention of sins to those who will not.” (From the Archives of Wheaton College/Billy Graham Center)
The Adventist Church cannot simply speak of mission in the abstract. We must face the reality of our world and its culture in order to effectively deal with the mission entrusted to us by our Savior. We are not tasked with deciding what the gospel is and then preach it to whom we choose irrespective of culture and world conditions. It is not ours to decide the mission and define the gospel. That was done for us by the Holy Spirit. It is our duty to seek the Holy Spirit and let Him instill in our hearts the message our sin-sick and dying world needs at this time. Our pioneers recognized the need to reach people not just with words but with deeds when they sought not only to preach but also to teach and heal. Bruce L. Bauer, in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (p. 995-996), makes clear that Ellen White was at the forefront of shaping the Adventist view of mission. She believed that the work of evangelism and work of relief, development, and health should not be carried out separately.
The General Conference Executive Committee, at the Annual Council in 2009, passed a resolution that expanded the mission to include the concepts of preaching, teaching, healing and discipling. In this resolution the church sought to clarify the words of the mission to the actions of the presenters as well as the wellbeing of the hearers. In regard to the concept of healing, the committee voted the following: “Affirming the Biblical principles of the wellbeing of the whole person, we make the preservation of health and healing of the sick a priority through our ministry to the poor and oppressed, and cooperate with the Creator in His compassionate work of restoration.”
If we were ever to get serious about mission we would get real about culture, life and what the Gospel has done for us. We would to be the living embodiment of the change that the gospel can work in the life of human beings. We would discover what troubles people today and by our actions show them that the Gospel is relevant to their needs. What our culture and world is looking for is consistency and transparency in the lives of those who claim to follow Jesus. If we preach and teach that God has created us, made us equal, and that we are all precious in His sight, then we must show that “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us we are all equal”(Galatians 3:28, Message Bible).In other words, what the world wants from us before it will readily listen is a living demonstration of the power of the gospel. While words are the currency of our mission, actions must be its demonstration.
We can continue to discuss the scope of our mission as God’s remnant people, but that debate will not bring us any closer to the completion of our task. We can continue to do things as they have always been, or we could change things and demonstrate the power of the gospel in our thinking, preaching and living. We could let the words of Romans 12:9 be our directive: “Let love be without hypocrisy”(NKJV).
Al Konrad has been a pastor for more than 25 years, Nursing Home Administrator for 21 years and is a grandfather of three. He serves the Grasonville Adventist Church as senior pastor.