Christianity is a Going Concern.
In one sense that sentence is simply a claim that mission is central, pivotal, crucial. How could it be otherwise with the huge statements of Matthew and Luke, to “Go into all the world” and “You shall be my witnesses….to the ends of the earth”?
Also, however, it is a statement of how that centrality moves from being an intellectual construct and becomes a modus vivendi– the very way that we live together.That is to say, the consideration is, of course, primarily corporate. I want to take a look at Paul’s calling as an apostle and how it worked out in his life and ministry. And here we consider much more personal issues of calling, personal holiness and the gifting and pastoral demands of ministry.
The term Apostle comes from the Greek apostolos, meaning “one who is sent as a messenger”. It translates into Latin as missio from which we get the word “missionary.” In the New Testament, it also carries the narrower meaning of the twelve first followers of Jesus.
In the letters of Paul (and elsewhere in the New Testament) there is something of an interplay between these two meanings, between –you might almost say – The Apostles (also called “The Twelve”) and lower-case apostles (followers of Jesus who are sent on a mission). Paul also makes the claim that he is no less an apostle then some of these others. He even uses the designation “super-apostles” somewhat derisively, as he defends his own authority!
How does this relate to the way we understand our business of “Going” today?
We are messengers who carry a message of vital importance. We are ambassadors from a distant country, who have the authority and obligation to act on our King’s command. The “we” is important here. The Bible teaches that this is the corporate responsibility of the people of God.
Emil Brunner once said that “The church exists by mission the way a fire exists by burning.” That is to say, that mission is not a slice of the total action, but the whole thing.
Paul defined himself as “Apostle to the Gentiles” and I believe that this needs some careful reflection. To put it in a nutshell, I believe that his self-understanding has much to teach us in our day. We are summoned to the outsiders in a way that he would understand completely.
Our world is no more pluralistic than his was, nor is it less riven with injustice, cruelty and impossible situations. A study of Paul’s apostolic vision, therefore, may inform ours. I pray it does.