Mission and the Spirit

You can’t do mission without the Spirit and you can’t claim to have the Spirit unless you are involved in mission.

The opening of the book of Acts is a key point in the overall story of the Bible. Ever since Genesis chapter 12, the story has revolved around the descendants of Abraham, the people of Israel. God chose to bless Abraham’s descendants, so that they, in turn could bless the wider world. Up till this point, their role in blessing the world has been rather passive; they were called to be a people who demonstrated God’s justice, love and mercy in their national life and to draw people to worship God.

Now, at the start of Acts, they are to move from being passive to active. Jesus disciples, are about to spring into action and take the message of God’s love to the wider world. So just before his ascension, Jesus gives them their marching orders and tells them that they will be his witnesses locally, nationally and internationally. Then, he gives them one final instruction, they are to go home and wait.

At this critical point, where the Christian message is about to burst onto the world, Jesus says, go home and do nothing.

Well, not quite do nothing. He tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them.

The point is that Christian mission is entirely dependant on the work of the Spirit. It’s not about our plans and strategies. It’s not about having good support networks, appropriate contextualisation and creative ways of sharing Jesus. These things are all good; but ultimately, mission is a work of the Spirit and can only be done in his power.

Then we come to Acts chapter 2 and the Spirit descends on the disciples. What happens? They immediately dash out into the streets to tell people about the greatness of God. They can’t help themselves.

Mission can’t be done without the empowering of the Spirit, but equally if we are filled with the Spirit we won’t be able to stop ourselves sharing about Christ. There are those who seem to imply that being filled with the Spirit means having wonderful worship times and fantastic experiences. That’s great, but if the Spirit doesn’t push us out into the world to witness to Christ, then there is something strange going on.

You can’t do mission without the Spirit and you can’t claim to have the Spirit unless you are involved in mission.


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2 replies on “Mission and the Spirit”

I hoped to post this comment against, your review of John Stott & Chris Wright’s book, but that is now closed for comments. But it makes sense as a comment on this post too – as you point out “you can’t do mission without the Spirit”. My comment against the book is I’m amazed at what is missing, at least in the sections I’ve read so far, on mission & evangelism: absolutely no mention of the Pentecostal or charismatic churches, by either Stott or Wright. I understood that this is the flavour of church in which most mission is happening – and it has it’s own theological questions. It’s really odd to read Stott’s argument that we should ‘do mission’ in the same way Jesus did, without any discussion of the miraculous. Jesus didn’t heal the sick & feed the hungry by running social programmes! I do agree that we should do these things, but where is the authors’ engagement with the role of ‘signs & wonders’ in mission? I would love to see either author’s thoughts on the theological questions around the relationship between miracles and mission. I’ll settle for your thoughts on the subject 🙂

I think you are being a little unfair on John Stott and Chris Wright. The origins of this book were lectures that Stott gave on specific subjects at Oxford in 1975. In these lectures, Stott was addressing issues that were very current at the time and which represented the heart of the disagreement between Evangelicals and the WCC. Wright is addressing and updating Stott’s lectures. The issue of signs and wonders was not within Stott’s brief and it would have been rather odd for Wright to go off on a tangent and introduce a whole new subject that was not in the original. Miracles are an important subject in mission, but it seems a little unfair to complain that a book which is dealing with a very specific historic context doesn’t cover every subject.

That being said, I agree with the main thrust of your remarks. This is a area which is not adequately addressed in many Western books on mission. It is something that I’ll be looking at in my studies at some point, but it’s likely to be a year or two before I get my thoughts in any sort of order.

Sorry that you couldn’t comment on the earlier post. One of the things spammers do is put comments with dubious links into older blog posts, so as part of my anti-spam regime, I have the system set to refuse comments on posts which are more than a few weeks old. It’s inconvenient, but it stops me being an unwitting advert for services which I would not wish to endorse.

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