Eddie and Sue Arthur

What is Christian Mission?

I’ve been mulling over the question of the nature of Christian mission for a while now. I’ve not come up with anything new – others have looked at this in more depth and with more knowledge than me. However, I am repeatedly struck by the way that many evangelicals stick to using the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) as their defining statement of what mission is about. The great thing about this passage is that it underlines the need to make and baptise disciples from all nations. That is to say that it really emphasises the geographical spread of mission. What it doesn’t do, and what Jesus does elsewhere, is give a full picture of the types of work that God is interested in. In Luke 4:18-19 when Jesus started his ministry in Nazareth he said;

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

In other words, his work was more than preaching and teaching, which of course we see illustrated amply in the Gospels. Yes, Jesus did set out to bring salvation to humankind, but he also improved the lot of the people around him. His teaching on the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven makes it clear that he has a concern for justice and righteousness in the here and now as well as for salvation for our souls.

Of course, you could read all of this into the command to ‘make disciples’ from Matthew 28, but it is very easy to take the Great Commission and just see mission in spiritual terms. I wonder whether, for the sake of clarity, missionaries wouldn’t be better opting for another passage – one of the Kingdom parables, or the passage from Luke mentioned above as a basis for explaining and promoting their work.

One of the things that I really appreciate about working in Bible translation is that we do have a holistic ministry which seeks to make the Gospel relevant through the dissemination of the Bible, but also seeks to improve the lot of the people we work with through literacy and basic education.

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Interesting DVD’s

No, I’m not about to suggest a movie that you might want to watch (though, in passing, we watched Alexander last night and I really wouldn’t reccomend that you waste your time on it – there are better ways of wasting two and a half hours). A couple of friends have recently produced Christian Training DVD’s that I’d like to highlight.

The first is Teaching the Bible In Challenging Times which David Couchman has put together. The blurb says”that this is; ” A new course to help and encourage people who want to teach the Bible in a way that’s relevant to today’s world and engaged with contemporary culture.” I’ve followed the production of this course over the last year or so and I’ve been involved in producing some of the materials on the associated website and I’m very impressed with the thorough job David has done. If you are involved in training people to teach the Scriptures, or if you are just interested in knowing more yourself, it would be well worth your while taking a look.

The other title is Christian Life & Global Mission which John Ayrton from Interserve has helped to put together. This is an excellent study guide for small groups who are interested in knowing more about what the Bible has to say about mission and how it relates to contemporary society. The DVD has study material for groups, reflections on the Bible and all sorts of interviews with big names. It’s well worth a look. You can see a trailer here.

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Product Placement

There has been some recent criticism of BBC television dramas, saying that the producers have taken payments from companies in return for displaying the products of those companies during the dramas. It is claimed that this allows companies to effectively get cheap advertising from the BBC, where overt advertising is banned.

In the same spirit, but not expecting to get vast sums of money from companies, I’d like to discretely speak up for a company that have just given me superb service. They are Lands End makers of fine clothing and excellent cloth brief cases. Sue bought me a LandsEnd bag many moons ago. Having been hauled on and off airoplanes, stuffed to the gills with books, papers and laptop, the bag developed one or two holes. But LandsEnd, have agreed to replace it with a new one under their lifetime guarantee without asking any awkward questions. Brilliant service and well worth a link.

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Books and Stuff

I’ve just finished my first study week at Spurgeon’s College. It was an interesting, though tiring time. One of the great things about starting a new course is that it gives me the excuse to buy more books. Though fortunately for the Arthur family budget, we already own quite a few of the books that were on the reading list for this first module. Generally, I buy my books through Amazon. They are relatively cheap and seem to have most things in stock. When I review books on this website, I tend to put a link to the book on Amazon – for which Amazon send us a small proportion of the sale price. However, there is another source of books that we are increasingly using: ABE Books. This site links together a lot of second hand booksellers and is an excellent place for finding obscure or expensive books quite cheaply. I managed to find one of the course books I need in hardback (including postage) for less than Amazon were selling the paperback. We also had the pleasant surprise, when buying books for Sue, in discovering that the seller was our tutor from Bible college twenty years ago. He has started a small second hand book business as a retirement hobby.

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Electronic Bibles

The team who are working together here in Manila start of their day with a short time of Bible study and prayer. This morning, I noticed that not one of us sitting round the table had a paper Bible open. Each of us was using a Bible in one electronic format or other. These days, when I travel I rarely carry a Bible I prefer to use Olive Tree software on my Palm Tungsten E. I’ve got the New Living Translation, a Greek text, the AV, a couple of old French Translations and a daily reading guide all stored on a flash memory card. It’s much more convenient than carrying a paper Bible and once you get used to it, reading from the screen is not a big problem.

I’ve also downloaded the Net Bible as a Windows help file. This is a free download and includes all of the translator’s notes, which are really well worth having. If anyone reading this knows where I can get a copy of the Anglican Prayer Book on Palm format, I’d be very grateful.

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Church at the Flicks!

I went to Church in a cinema yesterday. Christ’s Commission Fellowship in Manila is a huge Christian Community. The main service is held in a very large building, but still there isn’t enough room for everyone, so the service is relayed to two cinema’s nearby. Being a conservative type, I expected to find following the service on the screen to be distracting, but I was rather surprised to find that it was actually a very positive experience. The service started off with a very lively time of singing. The band was excellent and the worship leader (on screen) did a good job of helping us focus on the Lord. Singing in the cinema was accompanied by a small vocal group. Worship Time At CCF

The sermon, which lasted for about an hour, was excellent. The overall theme was based on Jesus meeting the Centurian in Matthew 8, but I found myself very struck by a passing remark that the pastor made. Commenting on Micah 6:8 he said that God makes things very simple – but when it comes to doing them, simple isn’t the same as easy. Think about it….

Another striking thing about the service was the age of the congregation. I reckon that there were about 500 in the cinema. Apart from a few (aged) Europeans and Americans, the average age could not have been above 25. In fact wherever you go in Manila the whole city is full of very young people. If you have any doubt about the concept that the economic powerhouses of the future will be in Asia (not to mention a huge slice of the growing churches) you just have to look at how the population is growing.

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A Failed Missionary?

I preached on Jonah 4 yesterday. I was really struck by how Jonah seemed to be totally untouched by his experience of preaching to the people of Nineveh. If you put his initial running away and the incident of the whale on one side for a moment, Jonah seems to have been an incredibly succesful missionary. He preached on sermon and a whole city/nation turned to God. Even the most grandiose televangelist can’t claim that sort of success rate.

Jonah was used by God and he clearly understood something of God’s nature:

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (4:2)

but he was entirely untouched by his experiences and his understanding. Jonah seems to have had no fellow feeling for the Ninevites as people in need of salvation and he saw God’s grace as something to get angry about, rather than something to rejoice in. Jonah allowed God to work through him, but not in him? This wasn’t part of my original sermon, but it strikes me as being of vital importance.

And what about me (or you)?

We often say that the most important thing about mission work is what God does in the heart of the missionary. You can do great things for God, but if you are not changed yourself, then you have not acheived much. Paul says a similar thing when talking about love – to paraphrase – if I become a martyr for the faith, but I don’t love my brother, I’m wasting my time. Judged by these standards, Jonah who lead a whole people to faith, was a failed missionary. Food for thought.

ps. The sermon, itself, should appear at Bible Today sometime soon.

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DA Carson on the Emerging Church

Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications

If you are interested in the Emerging Church (note the capital letters), a Christian critique of post-modernism or a critical review of Steve Chalke’s new book, then this is probably a good place to start. The chapter titles give you a good idea of the content:

The Emerging Church Profile.
Emerging Church Strengths in Reading the Times.
Emerging Church Analysis of Contemporary Culture.
Personal Relections on Postmodernism’s Contribution and Challenges.
Emerging Church Critique of Postmodernism.
Emerging Church Weaknesses Illustrated in Two Significant Books.
Some Biblical Passages to Help Us in Our Evaluation.
A Biblical Meditation on Truth and Experience.

Carson points to some fairly serious theological weaknesses in the Emergent scene and this book doesn’t always make comfortable reading. I’ve not read enough by the Emergent authors myself to say whether or not I agree with the criticisms Carson makes, though he does document his sources very thoroughly, so I assume that his criticisms are accurate. That being said, I found that this book left me wanting more.

To be a little provocative: I am increasingly convinced that Churches whose primary mode of functioning is the traditional service (with the vast majority of people sitting in pews facing the front and one or two people teaching and leading from the front) are not going to make an impact on post-modern society. I think we need to seriously rethink how we experience church. I am not convinced that the pattern of service that dominates Church life in the UK and elsewhere is Scripturally ordained and I believe that a style of worship and teaching that is more dialogue and participation based is much more appropriate in our culture. This does not mean that I want to ditch the traditional service format, but I would like to sideline them somewhat in the life of the Christian community.

The reasons I am attracted to what I have read from Emergent is that here there is a group of people who are willing to reconsider how Christians should relate to one another and how they should grow and express their faith. However, as Carson points out, the Emergent school is not just rethinking the way that the Church lives out its life, they are also rethinking other areas which I am less comfortable with.

So, for me one big question remains unanwered. Is it possible for Evangelicals to radically rethink the way that the Church works while remaining Evanglicals?

I’ve tried to allow comments on this post, so if you feel that you would like to comment please give it a try.

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Holiday Photographs

If you would like to see a few more of the Arthur’s holday photographs, you can do so by clicking here. There are a few panoramic pictures of Lake District scenes that I’m really pleased with, but there don’t seem to be many pictures of the family, David and I being particularly noticable by our abscence.

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Missiological Myths

The AIM Summer Magazine has a number of excellent articles including one by John Brand, the UK director. On page ten of the magazine, John looks at the suggestion that the world needs the Western church in order to know God. In a short, but very instructive article, he points out the importance of cross cultural mission to the life of the church.

I am more and more convinced
that we need the rest of the world in
order to know God properly. What I
mean is this – the more we are
exposed to and interact with what
God is doing among the peoples of
the world, the greater will be our
appreciation and experience of the
grace and majesty of God.

There are a number of other articles in the magazine that are well worth a read.

This post is more than a year old. It is quite possible that any links to other websites, pictures or media content will no longer be valid. Things change on the web and it is impossible for us to keep up to date with everything.
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