SENT WITH A MESSAGE – a gospel-centered focus
The third commission of Jesus can remind us that the focus of the mission’s message is gospel-centered. Luke 24:46 says:
“He said to them, ‘This is what is written. The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.'”
Gospel centrality is important to clarify and define the mission. But sometimes, theological phrases become clichés and lose their meaning. As theological terms are used in more contexts than originally intended, their meaning erodes over time. Before you know it, the semantic range is so vast that the term becomes ineffective. But it must not become so with “gospel-centered.” The church needs to retain it in our missions vocabulary because repentance and forgiveness of sins proclaimed in his name to all nations clarifies the mission of God.
The center of the gospel is the message of repentance. Ultimately the gospel is about a bloody cross and an empty tomb. Christians ought to “live sent” as ambassadors for Christ as they announce the bloody cross and empty tomb to all who will listen. We are sent to the nations with a message–and that message is one of repentance and forgiveness of sins as this commission of Jesus clearly points.
Do you ever go somewhere and forget why you went in the first place? I have a wonderful wife, Donna, and three beautiful daughters that I love so much. Recently I went upstairs, walked to my oldest daughter’s room, and knocked on the door. “Come in,” she said. I knew I came up there for a reason, but somewhere between the first floor and the second floor I forgot. So like a good father I just said, “I just want to tell you I love you.”
It’s easy to live sent and forget why you’re sent. We would be naïve at best and reckless at worst not to expect that many of us, even pastors reading this book, will fail to proclaim a clear gospel. You might say, “What a terrible thing to say.” But we are no smarter and no better than the saints who went before us, those saints who faced the same pitfalls. And those traps snaired them.
Throughout church history, we have been distracted by peripheral issues in ministry, when the gospel and its proclamation should and must be our focus. That also unites us in a gospel cause.
Diverse methodology in ministry is acceptable as long as gospel proclamation is clear. It doesn’t matter so much if the congregation sings Isaac Watts or Israel Houghten. It doesn’t matter so much if congregants wear suits or sandals, or whether they attend a house church or a mega church. It does matter, however, if they miss this message of repentance necessary for reconciliation. A focus on gospel-centered mission helps the church move beyond stylistic differences. A faithful, biblical church that proclaims the gospel will look different in Singapore than it does in Senegal, different in Seattle, Washington than it does in Selma, Alabama.
Now, this is hard for theologically minded people. Let me illustrate with an unexpected occurrence happening in the “young, restless, Reformed” movement. Right now, it appears that African-American, theologically Reformed rap is popular. I didn’t see that coming. Were any of you expecting that particular style of music to become generally accepted in the movement? Many are surprised because it is often the theologically minded people who want to point out those other approaches as wrong and worldly. They will speak of their “grave concerns.” Have you heard that phrase? It is repeated time and time again throughout the blogosphere and in sermon regarding the methodologies of varying churches.
Then there’s Lecrae. The reality is that, twenty to thirty years ago, many of the churches and the fellowships that we are a part of were preaching against the very kind of music (see “methodology”) Lecrae is doing. But because of the clarity of the gospel proclamation, approaches that were condemned then are affirmed now. What can this teach us? I want to encourage you to have a discerning but generous methodological view within in a theological context because you’re driven by the mission and more concerned about the gospel’s proclamation.
You say, “Well, I was into that nations thing. I think it’s great that they do that over there. But we don’t have to contextualize over here.” Really? God uses different kinds of churches to accomplish his agenda. God used the megachurch to reach Korea and the house church to reach China. There are marks of a church that should and must be true in every culture. But when the gospel is being preached then churches on mission will look different depending on where God has sent them. Hold your models loosely and your gospel firmly, focusing on biblical marks. Gospel repentance and mission causes us to be gracious and loving as the gospel spreads. Gospel-centrality also causes churches to become indigenous or rooted in their own culture as they remain focused on God’s answer for man’s need for repentance and our gracious God’s saving grace.
Obviously, there is much more that could be said about specific methods. As you proclaim the gospel and a church across your city does the same, it suddenly becomes apparent that you do so with differing ministries in your congregations. As God places us in unique contexts, we will lead unique ministries. It can be distracting and paralyzing, if one decides to be the methodology mafia. Engage your city with the gospel and celebrate those who do so as well.
One other issue that can distract from the message is that good deeds and gospel have been relatively pitted against each other. You simply cannot read the Scriptures and not be moved in word and in deed. You can’t read the Scriptures and not care for the poor. But you should not be so naive as to read history and see that those who emphasize serving the poor have often deemphasized the gospel. It is a horrible thing to say … unless you read history. But I believe this passage helps us to do gospel demonstration and gospel proclamation.
The message is that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations–it helps us to engage cultures. It helps us to serve the hurting. The church scattered cannot help but care for the hurting. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that. We need more engagement, not less engagement with the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the hurting. Jesus’ ministry is linked to serving the hurting and demonstrating that to us.
In Luke 4, Jesus announces and inaugurates his public ministry, speaking about the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the hurting. In other places he tells us to do the same, calling those who do sheep and those who don’t goats. Strong words. But the same Jesus who spoke the words of Luke 4:18-19 also said in Luke 19:10, “I came to seek and save the lost.”
It is this message that he’s given us to so clearly proclaim. We can and must do justice. But it is not complete if we don’t preach Jesus, and we can’t preach Jesus and not care about justice. We need to live sent to the nations with a clear message.