The missional conversation is as old as the Scripture. But it’s more contemporary articulation, which has blossomed in recent years through the voices of people like Ed Stetzer, Reggie McNeal, Hugh Halter, Neil Cole, and my pal, Alan Hirsch, is traced back to and largely credited to Lesslie Newbigin.
As Christianity in North America was experiencing a move away from the the dominant influence it had over society, as traditional and mainline churches where experiencing rapid decline, Newbigin was one of the first voices to recognize this shift to a post-Christian, neo-pagan, pluralistic missional field that America was becoming.
As the church growth movement, which would become what is now called attractional, was taking off and offering a much need reformation of methodology of how we do church, Newbegin went beyond methodology to meaning, more particularly, ecclesiology. As our culture changes at an exponential rate, we are in a constant and intense need to study and explore the nature of the church. This is the reason we’ve hosted the AND conference, retrained our staff and congregation, and taken two years to form and articulate a new vision (which makes my heart beat hard!).
In 1974, Newbigin, after 40 years of missionary engagement in India (oh yeah, check out Share the Well), returned to the West and began to dream about what it would be for the church in the West to take on a missionary position. For those with their minds in the gutter, I’m not talking about “s” word either. ;) He said, “The church could be neither the starting point nor the goal of mission.” It’s a simple, but profound shift. As it has famously been said, “The church doesn’t have a mission. A mission has a church.” Missio Dei creates missiones ecclesiae.
The Mission is derived from the very nature and heartbeat of God. Here’s how Newbigin intersects that truth with the challenging doctrine of election.
No one can say why it is that one was chosen and another not, why it is that here the word came “not only in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost” (1 Thess. 1:5), while there the same word carried no regenerating power. The answer to that question is known only to God. But if we cannot know for what reason one was chosen, we can most certain know for what purpose he was chosen: he was chosen in order to be a fruit-bearing branch in the one true vine (John 15:16), a witness through whom others might be saved. He is chosen in order that through him God’s saving purpose may reach to others, and they too be reconciled to God in and through His reconciled and reconciling people…
And we can also see that wherever the missionary character of the doctrine of election is forgotten; wherever it is forgotten that we are chosen in order to be sent; wherever the minds of believers are concerned more to probe backwards from their election into the reasons for it in the secret counsel of God than to press forward from their election to the purpose of it, which is that they should be Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses to the ends of the earth; wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world; then God’s people have betrayed their trust.”
Lesslie Newbigin, Household of Faith