December 17, 2017

Missions Matters

Mike Alvis

Although we have work to do on our missions programs, the importance of the subject makes even the discussion a blessing. Rethinking missions allows us to give serious thought to a serious matter. Getting back to basics on missions means “getting back to the Bible.” I am personally thankful for the thoughtful articles in this issue of FrontLine and for the opportunity to participate. We are taking another look at nothing less than the Great Commission itself. Personal motives, prevailing methodologies, and historical models must be rethought and retaught in every generation. We speak of our “missions program” today with too much emphasis on “program.” May a rethinking of missions expose mere pragmatism and call us back to the Biblical integrity of a Biblical missiology.

Any discussion that calls us back to Biblical thinking must begin with the Bible itself. The Gospels and the Book of Acts are not the only New Testament source of missiology, but they do present five concrete elements that supply the foundation on which we can build. Our mission was commissioned by the Lord Himself. He came into this world to save sinners. He commissioned us to do the same. Missions is the extension of His mission in glorifying the Father by making disciples of all nations.

The Imperative of Our Commission

Matthew displays Jesus as King, dispatching His subjects under His authority (Matt. 28:18–20). This is the imperative of our commission. As they were going, baptizing, and teaching, they were to disciple nations. This is the imperative of missions: to make disciples who understand the kingdom ethic in which subjects live for their new King. This mission is the responsibility of all that are true disciples of Jesus Christ. It is a matter of obedience; it is not optional. If you reject the King, you reject the kingdom.

Let’s not argue the obvious: when you come into the kingdom, you have obligations to the King. Under King Jesus, we serve as an offering of love for our Sovereign, not out of fear. Matthew summarized the Law as loving God and loving our neighbor. This is the mission entrusted to God’s people. Discipling the nations is not a burden to be despised, but a blessing to be embraced. As we rethink missions, we must rethink our love for God. Our love for others flows out of our love for Him, which is the only rational response to His love for us. How can we worship Him, grow in Him, and fellowship around Him if we have little or no interest in what concerns Him most? Making disciples is a temporary privilege; it is terminated when we depart from this world. As our faith and hope are realized, our opportunity and responsibility to make disciples will be ended. Seeking to enjoy the benefits of a relationship while neglecting the primary privilege of the relationship is self-defeating and dishonoring to our Lord. No wonder so many Christians are adrift without a sense of purpose.

The Implication of Our Commission

Mark’s Gospel adds yet another dimension to our mission. His emphasis is on the implication of our commission (Mark 16:15, 16). Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). The implication of our commission is that individual responses to the gospel will result in either total commitment or hopeless condemnation. Jesus leaves no room for a neutral response or partial faith. Man’s response to the gospel either produces spiritual life or ensures eternal death. Jesus reveals the sobering reality of the believer’s mission as one which deals with the eternal souls of men. Just as He had come as a servant to men, we are to serve men by confronting them with gospel realities. Each soul needs to hear the good news, and the response results in either eternal life or eternal death. This is the sobering implication of our commission.

The Importance of Our Commission

The importance of our commission is evident in Luke 24:45–48. Jesus opened the understanding of the disciples by saying, “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” God’s plan for missions includes firsthand witnesses attesting to the saving grace of God. No one else is equipped to accomplish this task except those who have experienced salvation through “repentance and remission of sins” (24:47). Paul’s admonition in Romans 10:14 emphasizes this responsibility: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” The Sovereign God chooses to use frail humanity to carry out His mission on earth. He uses firsthand witnesses who have responded to his grace to testify of eternal life to those in darkness. The Son of Man left us on earth to bear testimony to His saving work, not only through our works, but by our words.

The Impact of Our Commission

In the fourth Gospel, John reveals the impact of our commission. The resurrected Lord commissioned His disciples with these words: “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). Jesus dispatched His disciples under the authority delegated to Him by his Father. They were dispatched to sound forth eternal declarations of revealed truth: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). The impact of our commission is made the same way, as we make profound declarations concerning the singular way to eternal life. When a listener comes to rest in the finished work of Christ through repentance and faith, we can declare with authority that his sins are under Christ’s blood. Conversely, a refusal to trust Christ alone gives us the authority to declare that that individual remains at enmity with God.

The truth of John 14:6 is the foundation of our message: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Jesus is the way to God, the truth about God, and the life of God. No one ever knows God apart from being introduced by His Son. This is the impact of our commission! There is a singular way to salvation. Jesus declares that no man will ever know the Father apart from a trusting relationship with the only begotten Son of God. The world discourages us when its citizens dismiss the gospel by saying, “You believe you are the only ones who have the truth.” The Bible encourages us tell men, “You must believe in the only One who is the Truth.”

The Initiation of Our Commission

Finally, we see the initiation of our commission in Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Just before His ascension, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit’s descent, which would initiate the apostles as witnesses to “the uttermost part of the earth.” As the apostles were promised God’s Spirit, Christ spelled out the extent of our commission. “Every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev 5:9) are included in this mission initiated by God’s Spirit.

As we can see, the mission of Christ’s church is clearly and concretely expressed by our Lord Himself. These foundational statements declare the Biblical missiology of individuals, churches, and missions organizations. All missions activities must be scrutinized to determine their legitimacy based upon these texts. The elasticity that so often exists with the term “missions” could be brought into check through faithful submission to the Scriptures. All missions matters are to be dictated by the Lord of Glory because missions is central in His preparation of a bride for Himself. What matters to Him must matter to us.

As refreshing as it is to see a rethinking of missions, if our foundation is awry, we will accomplish little in adjusting our course to honor our Lord. Discussions of personal motives, prevailing methodologies, and historical models must occur in a Biblical context. Creative ideas and proven practices mean little apart from a clear, Scriptural foundation. Every program, including the missions program, must be examined from time to time, but failure to begin with the Commission of Jesus Himself will produce only confusion and static energy. The Master left us with the mandate, the message, the model, and the methodology for Great Commission living. Our need is to bring our agenda into adjustment with His and faithfully carry the torch in our leg of the race.

We cannot help but wonder what would be the outcome if each individual, church, educational institution, and missions organization would embrace with exactness the Biblical model that our Lord established for His church. No doubt, if His mission were embraced afresh as our mission, the constant pursuit after mancentered ministry would wane and the satisfying fulfillment of Christ-centered ministry would prevail. Great Commission living would replace self-consumed existing, and God would be glorified. Fulfillment would be found in actively pursuing the purpose for which we were created, redeemed, sanctified, commissioned, and left on this planet. Glorifying God includes pursuing the purposes for which He left us here. It is time that His mission became our mission again.


Mike Alvis has pastored Heritage Baptist Church in Smithville, Ohio, since 1993.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September / October 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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