Why The Missional Church Isn't Enough
Advance & Retreat of the Church
Over a century ago, Church historian Kenneth Latourette (1884-1963), pointed out that the church’s history is one of advance and retreat, advance and retreat. This oscillating influence over the centuries has resulted in various, new expressions of the Christian faith across time and cultures. It is exciting to witness these current expressions of the gospel in Africa and Asia.
The Incomplete Glory of God
These new expressions of Christian faith, in the advance of the church, are an expansion of God’s glory. But how can a glory that is infinite be expand? Isn’t God’s glory un-expandable and complete? Not according to Jonathan Edwards, who writes:
God looks on the communication of himself, and the emanation of the infinite glory and good that are in himself to belong to the fullness and completeness of himself, as though he were not in his most complete and glorious state without it. Thus the church of Christ is called the fullness of Christ: as though he were not in his complete state without her…
God in an incomplete state? His glory not full? Sounds awfully unorthodox. What is Edwards saying?
Missional Church is Not Enough
If Edwards is correct, the full expression of God’s glory can only be completed through the history of redemption. The history of redemption cannot be completed until “the end has come,” and the end will not come until “the gospel of the kingdom has been preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matt 24:14). God’s infinite glory, then, is expanded in finite expressions of the gospel in the many “nations” of the world. The church must advance. His glory hangs on thousands of expressions of the gospel through the church in space and time .
However, the church also retreats. Passion for mission wanes. Even with the resurgence of missional ecclesiology, we fail to share the gospel in our own cultures. Add to that: 80% of deployed missionaries are sent to areas already evangelized. Roughly 30% of the globe is unevangelized and untargeted by “missional” churches. 1.6 billion people have not heard the gospel in 38 different nations, representing 13,000 unreached people groups. This is a gospel issue, because this is a glory issue.
The Missional Church is not enough because when the focus of the Church is mission, we are destined to retreat, tire out, and fail. What then are we to do? Surrender and blend into our cultures with the hope of missional memory loss?
Completing the Glory of God
We need a greater, more captivating motivation. Imagine motivation for mission more certain than our oscillating passion for the advance of the gospel. If there is a motivation greater than mission, then there is hope.
There is hope. If the history of redemption will not come to a close until God’s glory has been completed, then the assurance of mission starts and ends, not with the church, but with God’s commitment to his own glorious expansion. It follows that to be increasingly motivated for mission is to be increasingly captivated by the God of expanding glory and beauty. Missional church is not enough. What we need is captivation with God’s glory, and with a God who is relentless in showing his glory to his people throughout history. This glory is complete. The challenge is to stand in awe, not merely of the missional task, but also of the God of mission. From this place of awe the mission of the church will advance and God’s glory will be completed.
- Kenneth Latourette, A History of Christianity, Vol. I (Peabody: Prince Press, 2003)
- David Barrett & Todd Johnson, World Christian Trends: Global Diagram 34 (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2001).
- Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, in Ethical Writings, vol.8 of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale Press, 1989)
- Gerald R. McDermott in "What If Paul Had Been from China?" in Max Stackhouse, ed. No Other Gods Before Me? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001)