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Our historical-narrative interpretation of the missio dei. Or: What is the gospel today and what then is “effective church”?

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Be an effective (missional) church. How do we measure this today?

Andrew Perriman 11.11. 2020

Another round on the question of the church's mission and its gospel. Here is a detailed suggestion of how the historical-narrative reading changes the concepts of “mission” and “church”. The practical question that A. Perriman tried to answer here, is: How do we judge them? effectiveness or validity of missionary activity when the “product” is qualitative rather than quantitative? Church growth models prove to be effective when they are... larger churches or to multiplication lead by churches. The “incarnational” forms of missionary activity that have become widespread over the past twenty years tend to not much to grow. They expect that they will instead be measured by the impact they have on the social context of a local church. But how or what do we measure this impact? 

About our background experiences:

Perriman works with an international mission organization called Communitas together. They have a small presence in the UK and if anyone would like to know more about them please get in touch Please to you. This is the personal background for the question that A. Perriman would like to address in this article. We at nuPerspective in Germany draw from various traditions such as measuring the quality of communities using the methods of “natural Community developmentand innovative theological developments of the emerging discussion in Germany. There have been lively discussions since 2006 Publications of new questions about theology or understanding of the church, all of this parallel to the ones that are multiplying FreshX projects with missional forms of church. With this contribution, however, Perriman poses the questions more radically about the reason for the mission. And derived from this, what successes can be expected from this type of mission in the 21st century?)

How do we measure the effectiveness of what we do?

There are some obvious metrics for an organization that is essentially a “church planting” organization. 

  • How many churches are we planting? 
  • How many people join these communities? 
  • How many of these people are actually new to the faith? 

However, in the western context there is a feeling that this kind of Impact assessment increasingly irrelevant becomes. We may like to give the impression that we are paddling hard against the current of history's swollen raging river and making newsworthy progress, but by any honest self-assessment the river is carrying us downstream much faster. We're going to the carried away the same future as everyone else, only backwards (we don't look where we're going) and slower. 

So we may start to wonder if it's less about quantity and more around Quality goes, less about growth and more around Influence, less around Evangelization and more around symbolic presence. But how do we justify this shift biblically or theologically? And: How do we measure their impact?

I'm not a missiologist, so I'll do my usual thing and start with the New Testament and see where that takes us. 

Our basic thesis is that “mission” begins not with anthropology (humans are sinful, alienated from God), but with history (Israel is in crisis, alienated from God). Therefore, the effectiveness of the mission must be measured in historical terms.

A. Perriman

Mission in the New Testament 

So we begin by asking what the “mission” of the early church was. Or more precisely, what the Missions of the early church. There was one Mission to Israel about Israel, and there was one Mission in view of the Nationsover the nations. These two ventures had very different outcomes in mind - one aimed at Reforms, the other on the annexation. But the methodology was more or less the same in each case. 

This is already a rather unconventional way of approaching the topic. The task passed not in this, 

  • to save people from their sins, 
  • to found churches, 
  • to take care of the poor or 
  • to advocate for social justice. 

The task was to to make known what the God of Israel was doing (we must keep this nationalist aspect in mind) to change the political-religious landscape of the old world. Everything else was just one logical consequence of this.

So there were two dimensions to the mission of the disciples and churches in the New Testament: 

1) the prophetic conviction regarding God's intervention in history to reform his people and to establish his own rule over the peoples surrounding Israel, what that Coming of the Kingdom of God was; and 

2) that work of proclamation — first to Israel, then to the peoples of the Greco-Roman world — that this eschatological process was underway and would reach its climax in the foreseeable future, which was the good news.

Simply put, there were visions of what the God of Israel would do in the future, and there was the proclamation of those visions. 

That "this eschatological process was underway“, perhaps needs to be explained. The popular “now and not yet” representation New Testament eschatology highlights a real tension, but misses the point. The early churches believed that their world would soon change dramatically—the shape of their world would pass away; and they believed this because Jesus had been raised from the dead and had poured out the gift of the Spirit upon his followers (Acts 2:32-36). 

So on the one hand it was the despised Son of Man, the stone rejected by the builders (Mk 12:10-11), whom the leadership of Israel would enthrone at the right hand of power on the day of God's wrath against his people and come with the clouds of heaven would see (Mark 14, 62).

On the other hand, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was proof that God had set a day on which he would judge the Greco-Roman world in righteousness, thereby ending its long political-religious hegemony (Acts 17:30-31). First the Jew, then the Greek (Romans 2:9).

This new future was guaranteed by the work of the Son who became a servant of the circumcised (Rom. 15:8-12), and in this respect at least, Jesus was the means to a political-religious end. In fact, the narrative gives us what we might call the “Trinitarian” basis for the entire eschatological process. 

  • God the Father did this that his name might be among the nations sanctified and his Domination on earth as in heaven built will (cf. Mt 6, 9-10). 
  • He would bring about the new future through and for the sake of Abraham's descendants, but not because of Torah observance. It would happen because people—Jews and non-Jews alike—believed that God raised his son from the dead and had seated him at his right hand to judge and rule in the midst of his enemies. 
  • What the eschatological mission made possible for this renewed people serving YHWH was the spirit of prophecy and a new covenant given to them.

The measure of missionary success in the New Testament 

So if the narrative of the mission was the proclamation of a new future, first to Israel, then to the nations, from Jerusalem to the ends of the Greco-Roman world, then the effectiveness of that mission had to be measured in both space and time. 

On the one hand it was geographical reach more important than the number of Jews and Gentiles who are on the way to the eschatological vision converts. Numbers didn't matter so much because eventually every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the God of Israel. 

The disciples were sent out all nations the to proclaim good news about what YHWH did to reform his people. In order for the Twelve to achieve this goal, they were allowed to admit disciples from the nations to learn and understand this vision in depth, who would then help spread the message (Matt. 28:19-20). 

No doubt Paul would have liked to see large numbers of people become part of the movement of eschatological transformation, but his priority as an apostle was to ensure that this happened entire Roman Empire as a political unit, from east to west, from bottom to top, learned of the impending takeover of the region by the God of distant Israel (Romans 15:14-29). 

On the other hand, the churches were called upon to proclaim and live the message faithfully until the end of the age, until the dawn of the new political-religious order. When that day came, their work was done. 

The mission to Israel would end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman armies and the vindication of the Son of Man for calling Israel to repentance and rebuilding on the rock of his vision for a new future. If his disciples had faithfully carried out the task entrusted to them, they would hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful about a little; I will put you above a lot. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt. 25:23). They would inherit the new age that would follow the age of Second Temple Judaism.

The mission to the nations would be over when Jesus was officially declared Lord of the whole empire and the churches would be publicly vindicated — thereby proving that they were in the right — because they clung, sometimes against fierce opposition, to the gospel of the coming reign of YHWH and his anointed King, which we call Christianity. They would stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10-11) and be rewarded for their faithfulness — or perhaps not. Only then could the church truly claim that the mission was a success. And as we know, there is one too realized Part of this New Testament Eschatology

The realized part... 

In the intervening decades, even centuries, there have been countless unexpected Signs for the effectiveness of this company. People came to faith, demons were cast out, the sick were healed, lives were transformed, Jews and Gentiles worshiped the one God YHWH together under the same conditions, enemies were reconciled, powerful personalities were won over to the cause of God, difficult moral decisions were made , martyrdom was faced bravely, plague victims were cared for, and so on. 

But these things were not the order (missio). They were side effects, by-products, spin-offs, harbingers of the large-scale political-religious realignment — the Chaff in the mighty theocratic Wind that swept through ancient times. First and foremost it was about the coming glory and sovereignty of the living God. 

So when it comes to determining the effectiveness of churches' missions, three questions need to be asked. 

  • First: they have them Message about the future intervention of God across the entire geographical extent of the “Oikumene” (the Roman Empire)? 
  • Second, they stopped at this task until the end, until the moment in which God did what he said in historythat he would do? 
  • Third: there was Signs on the way, that the apostles and the churches were on the right path — that they were on the right side of the God of history?

So in broad strokes we have one eschatological Mission model outlined in the New Testament; and if anything biblically speaking the name mission Dei deserved, then it is this: reform Israel, annex the Roman Empire. 

We also have a pretty clear idea preliminary and final Criteria by which “mission” could be judged successful or unsuccessful. But is this model transferable in the modern context?

Which direction does the wind blow from? 

The church in the West is currently going through one perfect crisis storm: the steady one decline of Christianity (in Germany see SME 6), the rise of a self-confident and assertive secularism, the cleansing of the evil legacy of colonialism, the decline of the capitalist paradigm, the shift of the global power from west to east, the Powerlessness of the churches during the coronavirus closures and the looming and deeply threatening prospect of one ecological catastrophe to lifetimes of our children

If we want to think biblically about what we do and why we do it, we cannot separate our mission programs from these narratives. It is unbiblical to say that the church's mission is to save souls or build churches as if history doesn't matter would play. The holy Scripture is above all a record of the dynamic, disruptive and transformative presence of the God of history. 

So just as a mighty divine wind blew through the political-religious convulsions of the first Christian centuries, to which the early churches bore painful witness, so, I dare say, a mighty divine wind also blows through the global, planetary convulsions that... Mark the transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. 

What this tells us about the mission of the church and how its impact might be measured will now be considered. In part 1 we looked at the mission - strictly speaking Missions — the church in the New Testament. I suggested dividing the task into two parts: 

1) to knowledge, what God would do in the future - first in relation to Israel, then in relation to the nations; and 

2) to proclaim, what God would do - first to Israel and Diaspora Judaism, then to the pagan nations of the Greco-Roman world. 

The success or effectiveness of these missions could accordingly be measured in three ways: 

  • Has the desired future for Israel and the nations finally arrived — decades or centuries later? Did God do what he intended? 
  • Did those who believed in the new future fulfill the geographical and temporal scope of the mission—to the ends of the Empire, to the end of the age? 
  • Could something of the new future already be seen in the common life of the churches? Were there signs along the way that they were on the right side of the God of history? 

Finally, I pointed out that we now find ourselves on the border between two ages, much like the Church in the first century only on a much larger one --- probably more likely "anthropo-geological" - Time scale. So there is some justification for taking the New Testament template and applying it directly to the mission of the church today.


Where is God in this? 

For the last few hundred years, global humanity has had one massive change in consciousness went through. 

  • We used to live in a sacred or enchanted world; Today we live in a godless, disenchanted world.
  • We used to be vulnerable and fearful in the world; now we have acquired the scientific knowledge and technological means to dominate the earth. We develop massive solutions, for example for pandemics. 
  • We used to think that our anthropology was given to us by the gods or God and that it was unchangeable; today we take it upon ourselves to determine what constitutes appropriate human behavior. 

At the highest level this is now seen as a transition from the natural Edenic Order of the Holocene to an age of human dominance over the natural order, which is called Anthropocene is known, viewed. We enter this new era facing the prospect of ecological catastrophe, but we are nonetheless driven by the feeling that everything is in our hands. We created the problem, we will solve it. 

Where is God in this? 

One would think that if the Living God had anything to do with the invasion of Israel by the Assyrians and Babylonians, or the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the armies of Titus, or the defeat of classical paganism (not to mention the flood!) , then it would have something to do with such a profound and destructive transition in human history today.

So in order to apply these models, we must first know what God does. We need to tell a story about God that goes beyond just that Writing, but also with the historical circumstancesthat we are faced with, congruent is. The biblical God is not an abstraction - neither that unchanging abstraction of traditional Western theologies changeable Abstraction of process theologies. He is the dedicated Creator God, who directs the existence of his priestly people in history - clearly in times of crisis - for the sake of his honor. 

So we have to answer the question: How is he doing this right now? What is God up to in these “last days” of the Holocene? 

I believe that our God is pressuring the Church to bear a focused, resilient, credible and prophetic witness to the eventuality of the ecological climate crisis having an overwhelmingly destructive impact on global society in the coming decades. I'm also inclined to think that the Crisis as a manifestation of the “wrath” of God — to use the appropriate biblical terminology — must be understood against the hubris and excess of modern global humanity. Beyond that, things are still a little murky.

So what is the message? 

The clearer the vision becomes, the clearer the message becomes. 

For the followers of the crucified Jesus in Jerusalem, the good news was that YHWH was about to judge and reform his rebellious people, and in devastating fashion, as it turned out. For the churches in the wider Greco-Roman world, the good news was that God was about to end the ancient corrupting hegemony of classical paganism and establish in its place a new political-religious order in which the peoples would accept one God would worship and confess the Son at his right hand as Lord. 

I think we should expect that the good news that needs to be proclaimed by the churches today is that Pattern corresponds to: The living Creator God is about to do something negative for the sake of something positive; he is about to tear down and build up, judge and reform. 

Of course this message needs to be worked on, but from a biblical perspective here is the “gospel” to find - not primarily in that Offer of personal “salvation.”“, but in the Proclaiming what the living Creator God does socially. The euangelion is always public Proclaiming God's historical actionto put things in order. 

A key measure of the effectiveness of a prophetic missional The Church must therefore say: Let us convey clearly and clearly the ““good” news that God is actively involved in the ecological crisis at the beginning of the Anthropocene? The answer, according to my observations, is probably not at the moment.

What are the eschatological omens? 

Once we are clear about the message, we can then ask what are the likely signs that this thing is really happening, that this contemporary story about the living God is really happening. 

How will it be reflected in measurable ways in the life of the church? How is it made plausible in broader society? For example, if speaking in foreign tongues was a sign of judgment against rebellious Israel at the end of the Second Temple Period, or the healing of a lame man was a sign of repentant Israel's forgiveness of sin, then what phenomena today could be signs that God is fully behind the message of the prophetic church? I have some suggestions here. 

1. Hallowed be your name 

In biblical terms, God acts primarily in history about himself for the sake of his honor and reputation among the nations. A measure of the effectiveness of the Church's mission would therefore be whether the name of God is sanctified in the Anthropocene. 

Generally, God is absent from public discourse, and the church has mostly come to terms with this fact. Any attempt to bring his name back into the conversation will likely be met with ridicule. The claim, for example, that COVID-19 is in some way an expression of God's displeasure with modern society is seen as a barely understandable, narrow one religious opinion that must be vigorously excluded from the sphere of scientific and political policy-making. That's why it's the bestnot to take any risks. 

But if we do mission in the name of the God who created heaven and earth, who always was and is and is to come, then I think we should expect the name of God to be taken seriously in public, even if we don't at all sure what that may sound like. 

I have more or less come to the conclusion that the conversion of the Roman Empire, historically speaking, was the reconciliation of dominion in heaven and dominion on earth envisioned in a text like Colossians 1:15-20. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray for the coming kingdom of God, he had in mind a similar historical expression on earth that expressed God's purpose to judge and restore his people. 

The mission paradigm of the outgoing age can also lead us to believe that both the ecological crisis (judgment) and any positive behavioral change in response to it (repentance) are concrete expressions of the will of the living God, which is done on earth as in heaven . Amen.

2. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of creation 

The church is an incredibly diverse and contradictory thing. One part wants the salvation of all people, another wants prosperity, another wants the restoration of traditional family values, another wants to regain political influence, yet another wants racial justice.... 

The presence of a growing number of believers who are deeply aware of the eschatological moment, who mourn over climate destruction and excess, who regret their participation in it, who groan before a groaning natural order, who hunger and thirst for a creational justice, who dream troubling dreams and see troubling visions of a great and terrible day of the Lord...that would be a compelling sign for the validity of a “anthropo-geological” prophetic movement within the larger church. 

3. The Lord added to their number 

I have the impression (I could be wrong) that the incarnational missionary church has rather given up trying to win large numbers of people to its cause. There may be good reasons for this. For one thing, the model doesn't really work when the numbers are extrapolated; on the other hand, a prophetic movement is almost by definition a marginal phenomenon. Nevertheless, the small number of disciples in Jerusalem were greatly appreciated by the people, and many were persuaded by their message (Acts 5:13-14; cf. 2:46-47). If then, why not now?

4. Theological renewal 

The old way of thinking is wholly inadequate for understanding and constructively responding to the interconnected crises ushering in the Anthropocene. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins,” Jesus said. “If he does, the wine will burst the skins - and the wine will be destroyed, and the skins too. But new wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). 

The leadership of the church in the coming age will have to grapple with a new theological paradigm consisting (I boldly suggest) of such key components as 

  • The Abandonment from the person-centered salvation history paradigm. The biblical priority was never the salvation of individuals from their personal sinfulness; it has always been the strategic management of the presence of a committed priestly people among the nations, in the changing historical conditions that prevail in the real ones Triumph of the God of Israel over the nations of the ancient Mediterranean world. 
  • Restoration of the involvement of the living God in history to the extent that large-scale historical developments can be seen as of central theological importance. 
  • An expanded concept of “Annunciation“ as the church, the prophetic speaks in the name of the God of history whatever is merely the restoration of a biblical understanding. 
  • One reading the Holy Scripture, which foregrounds the contingent historical perspective of the biblical communities. 
  • narrative trinitarianism, which resists metaphysical closure and emphasizes the ongoing eschatological or crisis-resolving work of Father, Son and Spirit. 

Shifts like these—no doubt many others could be identified—are a measure that God has not removed himself from the scene of history, in good times and bad.

5. The renewal of religious language 

With the recovery of prophetic vision comes a revival of religious language. The poetry of the Old Testament prophets and its intensification in Jewish apocalypticism are clear evidence of this. Likewise the parables of Jesus, the dense argumentation of Paul, the kerygmatic narrative of the Gospels and Acts and the hearty intertextual allusion to the book of Revelation. Strong evidence of the validity of the mission of the prophetic church would be the renewal of evangelical discourse. And not ahead of time.

6. Communities of the coming age 

Let's start again with a biblical example. Paul said in his usual unequivocal way that the sexual immorality, idolaters, adulterers, men who sleep with men as well as women, outrageously effeminate men, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers and cheaters will not inherit the kingdom of God. In other words, the churches at that time were supposed to ethical values of the coming era in the shop window (1 Cor 6:9-10). Homosexuality was so important at the time because, in Paul's view, it was in a certain way Mark of the pagan Greco-Roman worldview, which he believed would soon be overthrown (Romans 1:26-27; cf. Acts 17:30-31). You can find out more about this in my book End of story? Same-sex relationships and the narratives of evangelical mission. 

We are in a very different place today. The Christianity has disappeared it's a completely different situation Understanding of nature, a new anthropology has emerged, and it certainly cannot be said that same-sex relationships are the defining feature of decadent Western culture. 

The Prophetic missionary church must therefore pursue an ethics appropriate to the challenges and opportunities arising from the chaotic transition into the Anthropocene. Of course it stays Corruption of sexuality and the human relationships are fundamentally a problem, but there are probably entirely other important categories of injustice that need to be considered — other groups of people who should be excluded from the community now because they will not have a good role to play in the time to come. 

Conversely, churches that gather locally, discourage air travel, appropriately reduce the weight of their footprint on the planet, celebrate life and not just the redemption of life, as positive signs the abiding presence of the living God in the time to come. This is how we realize hope.

7. Gifts of the Spirit of the New Creation 

Pentecost was not the beginning of the church. It was the one Empowering a small community for eschatological witness within Israel to continue the prophetic mission of Jesus in Israel. Drunk with the Spirit, the disciples proclaimed the “mighty works of God” in the languages of the Jewish diaspora (Acts 2:11). But the mighty work of God that was particularly in view was the coming "great and terrible day of the Lord" when YHWH would judge His people. The entire diverse, unprivileged community was gifted with the ability to prophesy the way Jesus prophesied, to dream the dreams that Jesus dreamed, to see the visions that Jesus saw, and to call Israel to repent and from disaster , which befell the nation, to be saved. 

For this reason, Paul gives priority to prophecy: “Pursue love and sincerely desire spiritual gifts, especially that you prophesy... He who prophesies speaks to men so that they may be uplifted, encouraged and comforted” ( 1 Cor 14:1,3). The churches existed for the sake of the future; she were an eschatological movement; they were sustained and encouraged and edified by the affirmation of the hope that eventually every knee would bow and every tongue would confess Jesus as Lord. 

So we should probably expect the church today to emerge as a charismatic movement driven by the prophetic vision of a coming great and terrible day of the Lord. From this would flow the rich gifts of the Spirit: healings, austerities, reconciliations, rethinking, pilgrimages, protests, symbolic acts, worship, poetry, art, and so on. That would be a most appropriate biblical standard for their validity. 

8. Righteous Outsiders 

Jesus affirmed the faith of the centurion and the Canaanite woman without offering them acceptance into Israel (Mt 8:10; 15:22; Mk 7:24-30; Lk 7:1-10). They remained outsiders, but their faith was a sign of coming judgment and restoration. He angered the Jews gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth when he observed Elijah being sent to a foreign woman in Zarephath and Elisha to Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-28). Righteous Gentiles who did their best to alleviate the sufferings of the disciples while carrying out their mission could expect to participate in the Kingdom of God through their good works in the Parousia (Matthew 25:31-46). 

Paul, as I understand him, believed that when God's judgment came upon the ancient world, a significant number of Gentiles would find approval because they had kept the law in practice and shamed the Jews in the Diaspora (Romans 2:12-24). 

So perhaps it is now a proper part of the church's prophetic mission, "to identify “just” outsiders or to associate with or validate them, that is, those who are either not part of the problem or are part of the solution. So we say to the climate activist: “Nowhere in the church have I found such faith.” We say to the homeless man, "We must be more like you" - after all, our Lord said to one of the scribes, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Mt 8:20). ).

Well, it's a start... 

This has not gotten us very far in defining the measurable characteristics of churches — as we attempt to respond to the current crisis of humanity's existence on the planet as the early churches responded to the crisis of the end of the age of Second Temple Judaism . But at least it seems to me that the basic congruence is valid: 

The living God is the God of history; He is present with his people, not least in moments of historical crises; the mission of his people is, first and foremost, that to foresee future works of God and as good news to announce; and concrete evidence will accompany this missionary activity.

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