Don’t ask me why, but Latin is in for some reason–hence we’re talking about “missio” instead of mission at my church. But we’re just following a trend. There are a number of “missio” web sites, all focusing on what God has called the Church to do.
In many ways, I’m happy about that, but recently World Magazine raised the question whether or not this emphasis on “being the hands and feet of Jesus” might not be the new legalism (see “The New Legalism” by Anthony Bradley). That thought crossed my mind again this past Sunday.
Part of it has to do with the fact that some people link the Church to Pharisees, in essence saying their problems are the same ones we in the Church now have.
What were their problems? They were trying to deal with the “secularizing” of their religious society. They believed (at last) that they were to obey God’s Law, but in the process, they added their own interpretations. Those became traditional practices, enumerated and revered much the same as if they were God-given law.
In the end, the Pharisees clung to what they believed about the Law and they rejected the Messiah to which the Law pointed.
Is that like the Church? Uh, no. The Church is the gathering of people who accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
True, we do believe we are to obey God’s Word, but not as a means to reach God but as a result of His having reached us.
It is also true that we may misinterpret what God requires of us. We are still sinful people with hearts bent toward pleasing ourselves. We still are susceptible to false teaching that tickles our ears.
As a result, we do constantly need to be called back to listen to the authoritative Word of God and to the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth.
But that’s the point. This new missio emphasis seems to miss the fundamental upon which our doing must be based. We must first hear the Word.
Jesus made this point several times. For example when He was told his family was outside, not being able to get past the crowd, He responded, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Notice, first we who are in His family must hear the Word.
The fact is, anyone who hears God’s Word will encounter what He says in the book of James:
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (Jam 1:22-25)
Of course, this passage makes it clear that hearers are only fooling themselves if they don’t put legs to the Word.
James was not initiating some kind of new teaching. Rather, he was picking up on the theme Jesus had proclaimed:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matt. 7:24-27 – emphasis mine)
My point is this, the only way we know we are to act on God’s Word is by first hearing God’s Word. The measure, then, of those who actually are hearing God’s Word is the acting out of what they hear.
So maligning the Church for not being missio oriented is misplaced criticism. Those who are part of the Church that is truly hearing God’s word will already be doing. Those not hearing the Word, don’t need to be told to do–they need to be told to hear.
Those deluding themselves? No amount of prodding toward doing will make a difference. Those folks need to keep looking in the mirror of God’s Word and stop walking away.
I think that’s what’s happening to a lot of people who fill the pews on Sunday. They hear the Word proclaimed, then they go off and live Monday through Saturday without listening to so much as one word from God’s authoritative Scriptures. An hour on Sunday is not going to get the foundation of the house built.
So here’s the point. Anyone truly missio minded will first be Biblically minded. Doing starts with hearing.