When the term “missions” is used, great missionaries such as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and/or William Carey come to mind. For others, missions may bring the thought of a Christian sitting amongst tribal peoples in a jungle. Yet, the term “missions” is understood to be, as Moreau and his colleagues describe it, the “specific work of the church and agencies in the task of reaching people for Christ by crossing cultural boundaries.” Yet, one must inquire, what theological foundation exists for one to engage in missions? This paper will argue that missions is built upon biblical and systematic theological understandings about God. The paper will first examine two Old and New Testament texts that support missions. Next, the paper will examine the nature of God as he relates to missions work. In addition, the paper will examine two theological attributes of God and how they relate to missions endeavors. Then, two motifs pertaining to mission theology will be evaluated. Finally, the paper will demonstrate that missions should be part of the lives of missionaries, clergy, and the laity alike. In the first section, the paper will provide two Old and New Testament texts that support the field of missions.
Old and New Testament Texts that Support Missions
Strewn throughout the Bible, one will find evidence that God has been involved in missions endeavors since the fall of humanity. The first evidence of God’s mission work is found in Genesis 3:15. Moreau and his fellow authors call Genesis 3:15 the “protoevangelium…the promise that Jesus will come for all people.”
In the so-called protoevangelium, God makes the promise to Adam and Eve, as well as to Satan—the instigator of the fall—that God would “put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, brackets mine). Thus, the passage ensures that God would save humanity from the fall and the separation that exists between God and humanity. This solution would materialize in the Messiah who “takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Yet, within the Old Testament there exists another example of God’s mission mindset.
In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abraham, then known as Abram, to leave his homeland. God promises Abram that he would “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). While God concerned himself with the so-called chosen people, known as the Israelites, God’s mission mindset was demonstrated as he sought to use the Israelites to reach other nations for his glory. As the psalmist recalled, “All of the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27). Whereas the mission-mindedness of God is acknowledged in the Old Testament, the mission-minded nature of God is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament.
Sometime after the resurrection, Jesus meets eleven disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16). Jesus tells them that they are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Particular individuals who hold to extreme forms of cessationalism view the commands of Christ as applicable to only the eleven apostles at the time. Yet, William Carey, the patriarch of the modern missions movement, argued that “if the command of Christ to teach all nations be restricted to the apostles…, then that of baptizing should be so, too…then ordinary ministers who have endeavored to carry the Gospel to the heathens, have acted without warrant…[and] the promise of the divine presence in this work must so be limited.” That is to say, if Christ’s command to evangelize all nations was only given to the apostles, then the promises offered by Christ were only given to the apostles. In addition, one must ponder the following: if the commands of Christ given in the Great Commission only applied to the apostles, then why was Matthew compelled to document Christ’s teaching in the first place?
Before the ascension of Christ, Jesus provides a model by which the apostles were to perform their missions work. Jesus instructed the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). From the instructions given by Jesus, the apostles were to begin where they were located—“in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). From there, the apostles were to reach outlying areas—“Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8). In the end, the apostles were to reach the world with the gospel message—“to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ command not only provides an example for the great emphasis that God places on missions, he also provides a model by which mission work can be accomplished.
The Nature of God and Missions
God’s attributes are so complex that not even the most brilliant of scholars could traverse the width and breadth of the canyon of his being. Notwithstanding, God has revealed to humanity certain elements of his nature and character. This paper affirms John S. Feinberg’s notion that the “simplest division of the attributes distinguishes those that reflect moral qualities of God and those that refer to non-moral qualities.” The non-moral aspects of God’s character are far more complicated than the moral aspects, as the moral aspects are related to God’s dealings with humanity. Of the moral attributes as it relates to missions, God’s omnibenevolence stands supreme. Omnibenevolence refers to God’s all-loving nature. Geisler denotes that John refers love to God in such a way in 1 John 4:16 as if “applying the term to His essence.” Thus, God’s essence is that of love. It is important to note that God’s love coexists with God’s holiness, thereby discrediting any universalistic methodological interpretations to salvation. Nevertheless, as it pertains to missions, God’s love is central. God does not desire that “any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, one would expect a loving God to be involved in missions activities. One must also query; do the non-moral attributes of God anticipate God’s involvement in missions?
How Mission Relates to God’s Aseity and God’s Omniscience
Two non-moral attributes of God, among many others, relate to God’s involvement in missions. The first attribute may sound bizarre to some readers; nevertheless it is the so-called “aseity of God.” J. I. Packer states that “The word aseity, meaning that he has life in himself and draws his unending energy from himself (a se in Latin means “from himself”), was coined by theologians to express this truth.” Isaiah demonstrates this truth in proclaiming that “The LORD is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). God’s aseity also includes the acknowledgement that “there are not properties independent of God upon which he depends in order to have the constitutional attributes he possesses” as well as acknowledging that God is “totally immune to external influences so that nothing that happens in our world fazes him.” So how does God’s aseity relate to missions?
God’s aseity impacts missions when one understands the concept that God’s salvific emphasis did not stem from something that God was forced to do. No higher authority pressed upon God the necessity to save souls because there is no higher authority than God. Rather, God chose to offer salvation to individuals not for the need or desire that God had in and of himself, but rather due to God’s good pleasure and loving nature. This demonstrates John Pipers’ point vividly in that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” Therefore, missions is performed for the good of humanity not because of some deficiency in God. Missions work brings people to a saving relationship with the God of aseity. Due to this, one should consider it an honor that God would choose not only to save anyone, but to also use his people to do missions work. God relies upon nothing; therefore God does not need human help to reach others, but chooses to allow people the opportunity to reach others as part of his kingdom work.
Another missional aspect of God’s character is God’s omniscience. Timothy George defines God’s omniscience as God’s “comprehensive knowledge of all that was, is, and ever shall be.” George also notes that God’s omniscience is a “corollary of his eternity.” God’s omniscience indicates that God knows all events in the past, present, and future. God knows all contingencies. Therefore, God knows what a person would do, would not do, and would do under certain circumstances. In correlation with God’s omniscience, God is also omnisapient. Geisler defines omnisapience as God’s “unerring ability choose the best means to accomplish the best ends.” Since God is all-knowledgeable and all-wise, then God knows who would be saved, who would not be saved, and what it would take to reach those who would be saved. In combination with God’s power and love, one can clearly note that God’s plan to reach others will always be effective one way or another. God’s choice to use those in missions is an example of the person’s worth to God. Therefore, missions is a high calling for anyone and should never be taken lightly.
Two Key Motifs of Mission Theology: Jesus and the Holy Spirit
Scott Moreau and his colleagues provide six motifs that are fundamental to mission theology—“1) the kingdom of God, 2) Jesus, 3) the Holy Spirit, 4) the church, 5) shalom, 6) the return of Jesus.” While all six motifs are important, two are critical for mission theology.
First, Jesus (i.e. Christology) is essential for missions. Moreau notes that “Jesus is central not only to the Christian faith, but also to the mission that is integrated into the faith.” Jesus is the means by which individuals are saved. Peter and John made it clear before the Jewish council that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Without Jesus, no mission work would be necessary. All would be lost and there would be no plan of salvation. However, because Jesus came, salvation is available to all who would receive the salvation afforded to them by the invitation and revelation of the Holy Spirit. Piper states that “A new day has come with Jesus Christ. The people of God are being rebuilt in such a way that they will no longer fail in the task of reaching the nations.” Jesus is the reason that mission work is possible. Therefore, a proper understanding of the person and work of Christ is of utmost importance as it relates to missions.
In addition, the Holy Spirit is essential for missions to work in the first place. It is impossible for anyone to come to faith without the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit of God. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus noted that “when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). It is impossible to convince someone to come to faith unless the Holy Spirit is drawing that person. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the lifeblood to missions. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no success in any mission effort.
How Missions Relates to the Church
The previous sections have discussed the nature and attributes of God as God relates to missions. Yet, a person may inquire how mission work applies to the individual Christian. The universal church consists of all regenerate believers across the world and is comprised of various individuals in heaven and on earth. The universal church also consists of congregations which themselves contain individual believers. Without the work of each person, missions work would not be accomplished. Geisler is correct in noting that “whereas the universal church contains the whole body of Christ, the local church has only part of it. Christ, the Head of the church, is visible to members of the universal church who are in heaven, but He is the invisible Head of the local churches on earth.” Thus, under the leadership of Christ, church leaders cast the vision for missions to the laity. The laity, responding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, provides means for local and global mission work. Missionaries, who are called by the leadership of Christ, use the means afforded to them to spread the gospel message to particular areas. Great things can be accomplished when Christians heed and respond to the leadership of Christ Jesus.
This paper has demonstrated that the concept of missions is rooted in a proper biblical and theological understanding of God. It is clear that both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate that God has a global purpose to his salvific plan. God’s loving nature demonstrates his desire for people to join him for eternity, while God’s aseity and omniscience provides exemplifies the free choice God made to save the lost. The work of the incarnate Savior provided the means to salvation, thus allowing for missions; while the Holy Spirit is the imparter of grace. Thus, God is the agent who saves and illuminates, yet God chose to use his children to partake of the blessings of the kingdom. Missions is a critical aspect of Christian ministry. When one fails to understand one’s role in missions, one fails to understand the God who made missions possible.
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Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Fourth Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009.
Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.
Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.
George, Timothy. “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts.” In A Theology for the Church. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H, 2014.
Moreau, A. Scott, et. al. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.
Packer, J. I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1993. Logos Bible Software.
Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. Kindle Edition.
Copyright July 20th, 2015. Brian Chilton
 A. Scott Moreau, et. al., Introduction World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 17.
 Ibid., 30.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture used in this paper comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed, Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 314
 John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 237.
 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.
 J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), Logos Bible Software.
 Feinberg, No One Like Him, 240.
 Ibid., 241.
 Timothy George, “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts,” in A Theology for the Church. Daniel L. Akin, ed (Nashville: B&H, 2014), 197.
 This is also known as Scientia Media, or Middle Knowledge, as popularized by Luis de Molina and philosopher William Lane Craig, a concept that this writer accepts.
 Geisler, Systematic Theology: All in One, 515.
 Moreau, et. al., Introducing World Missions, 80.
 Ibid., 81.
 Piper, Let the Nations be Glad, Kindle Edition.
 Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume, 1146.