Rethinking Church & Mission

When our son Lincoln was five years old, he loved to play catch with any ball he could get his hands on. So we did what any red-blooded American family would, we signed our son up for t-ball. This was actually the first time we had ever officially put Lincoln on an organized sports team, and as his father I was pretty excited.

I had grand visions of Lincoln stepping up to the plate and knocking the ball clear over the fence on his first swing. And I could just envision little Linc playing the outfield and catching a pop fly ball, which would leave all the other parents in awe of my sons athletic prowess. However, the reality of his first game didn’t quite play out how I had imagined.

Our team was first up to bat, and it was time for Lincoln to step up to the plate. Lincoln was so excited about playing baseball. The umpire placed the ball on the tee, and gave Linc his bat. Lincoln drew back the bat so far behind his shoulders that it looked like he was preparing to knock the ball into orbit. And then he swung the bat extremely low. So low in fact that he hit the dirt on the ground instead of the ball.

Lincoln hit the ground, the tee, and eventually he tapped the ball. And when I say tapped, I mean that I believe the ball decided to fall off of the tee because it felt sorry for him. My little man ran as hard as he could….toward second base. “Run to first base!” I yelled. But Lincoln wasn’t even familiar with the terms of the game, nor did he really care. He just wanted to have fun.

Next Lincoln took to the outfield to play center field. A little boy on the opposing team hit the ball and it was coming right towards Lincoln. I looked over to center field expecting to see Lincoln crouched and ready to grab the ball. But what I saw instead was Lincoln rolling around in the grass, paying no mind to the duties of his position.

Lincoln didn’t care about learning the rules of the game. Being just a little boy as he was, all he cared about was having the experience of playing ball, and telling people he was a baseball player. He just wanted to have fun. And believe me, he had a blast.

Now consider for a moment that Lincoln continued to play baseball as the years went by. And eventually he decides to try out for a professional baseball team. He walks on the field for try outs and jogs to center field to practice catching fly balls. The coach hits the ball to center field, but Lincoln is not prepared to catch it. Instead, he is rolling around in the grass on his back in a world of his own.

What would happen? Well I can assure you that aside from the coach being livid, Lincoln would not make the team. You see when he played t-ball, the kids were not playing to win. In fact, the coaches didn’t even keep score. It was fine (and expected) if the kids rolled in the dirt or miss the ball, because it was more about the kids having fun than actually winning.

However, pro sports teams are competitive. They have a goal and a mission. In professional sports, it’s not view as game as it is an imperative to win. And in pro sports, no one is allowed to play the game if they have not been rightly trained and prepared to contribute to the end goal of beating the opposing team. No one would be allowed to play just so they can have an experience. It is a privilege to play pro sports, and only those who have prepared reach that level.

With anything that we take seriously in life, be it sports, a career, military service or otherwise, only those who have been properly trained and are prepared to be effective are allowed to participate.

However, when it comes to missions within the church, it has become common place to let the unprepared go. Mission trips have become viewed not as a life or death objective to preach the Word to people who do not know Christ, but as quaint little Christian vacations. Mission trips are increasingly seen as a chance for people to have some kind of religious experience.

Unfortunately a great majority of missions that we see today center around going to an underprivileged part of the world, spending a few days feeding the natives, teaching them catchy songs and playing Christian games, and spending at least one day sight-seeing or touring the country side.

Many people who sign up to go on these mission trips are not trained in evangelism. They do not know how to explain the attributes of God. They cannot tell the natives about repentance or justification. And they’ve not been trained in using the Law of God to prick the hearts of men to expose their sin, which in turn should lead to telling them why they so desperately need a savior.

The serious, life and death implications of Christian missions is viewed by many churches as little more than a Christian experience. Mission is not a game, nor is it to be promoted as a fun little get away for the church.

I have heard it said that taking untrained people on mission trips can deepen their faith and even lead to their salvation. And I say in rebuttal that their faith may be deepened and they may indeed find salvation, but it would be in spite of them going on the mission trip, not because of it.

I suppose that if you placed a man on a professional baseball team that had never played the game before, he might deepen his knowledge of the game and even be given a jersey. But he would be useless in the game when it mattered. Or in like manner, if you sent an untrained man into war he may pick up a few maneuvers from the soldiers, but he will be little help in the battle.

The purpose of the local church is to preach the Word of God, raising up disciples of Christ and equipping them for mission. The proper use of the mission field is not to evangelize people in the church or get church members saved. Missionaries are soldiers sent into a foreign land with one purpose; to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christian missions are not primarily doing humanitarian deeds or playing games with children. These may accompany mission, but these are not mission. The main purpose of Christian mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its entirety. The church is given by God to equip the saints and prepare them to live life on mission, be it nationally or internationally.

If a person has not first been utterly floored by a high view of God’s Holiness, as well as devastatingly broken by a right view of the sinful depravity of their own sins, they have no business even contemplating missions. More than that, if they do not have a right view of God and a correct biblical view of man, then it is impossible for them to have the proper motivations to go and be a useful servant on mission.

Serving on Christian mission must be preceded by three things. A right view of God. A right view of man. And a regenerated soul. Isaiah chapter 6 exemplifies this blueprint for us.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah 6:1-3.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord. In his lifetime he had the great honor of serving as an advisor to four earthly kings. No doubt Isaiah was known as a religious man, and was seen as one who was respectable. In the year that king Uzziah died, the nation was cast into despair due to his passing. The nation of Judah had prospered tremendously under Uzziah during his reign. King Uzziah died of an extreme case of leprosy. And although Uzziah was not a moral man, he was well liked among the people and was loved by many.

In this same year, Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord. The prophet wrote of his vision that the train of His robe filled the temple. This is a reference to the full Sovereignty of God which permeates all areas of life. Isaiah saw the angelic seraphim, who themselves could not bear to look upon the glory of God lest they be consumed by it. And around the throne they cried ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’

No other attribute of God is thrice emphasised in scripture. No where in the Bible is it written that God is love, love, love. Or that the Lord is merciful, merciful, merciful. Rather, the emphasis is placed on His great Holiness. Holy means to be separate from. In a world that loves to worship common image of God that is their “homeboy” or their best pal, the scriptures give quite a different description. God is not at all like us. He is ‘separate, separate, separate‘ from all that is under creation. God is Holy. And we are not.

Isaiah caught a glimpse of God. And immediately His Holiness was undeniable. R.C. Sproul once said that if Holiness was not the first attribute that popped into our minds when we think of God, then we are committing idolatry.

After gazing upon the Holiness of God, what was the reaction of Isaiah? Did he begin to sing a chorus of ‘Jesus is a Friend of Mine’? Did he throw on a trite t-shirt with Jesus winking an eye and giving a thumbs up? When a man has truly seen God as being Holy, it is impossible, even nauseating to even consider thinking of the Lord in such trivial ways.  No, Isaiah’s reaction to seeing God as Holy was quite different from much of what is seen in contemporary pop culture when it comes to Christ.

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:4-5.

John Calvin said that man cannot truly know himself unless he first knows who God is. Without a right view of God, man is prone to compare himself to the measuring stick of other sinful men around him. And in doing this, he will falsely begin to think himself to be righteous and good. He will see himself as deserving of Heaven. But when we measure ourselves by the standard of a perfect and Holy God, even the most self-righteous of us will experience fear and trembling. This was the case with Isaiah.

Again, Isaiah was a prophet. Isaiah was most likely known as the church guy around town. He was seen as a very moral person. He may have even considered himself to be a righteous man when compared to others. But when Isaiah was placed up against the measure of the perfect Holiness of God, he was shattered.

‘Woe is me’, cried Isaiah. He considered himself lost and unclean. Why? Because he had gained a right view of the Lord. And in contrast, his right view of God led to a right view of man. He saw himself for what he truly was. A desperately depraved and sinful man who did not deserve to stand in the presence of God.

Notice in Isaiah’s vision, he was not holding hands with Jesus and skipping down the streets of Heaven as many writers of popular Christian books have written false accounts. Nor was he filled with a sense of peace in being close to God as others have written. In the presence of God and in light of his Holiness, Isaiah was terrified.

We see this same terror exemplified from the disciples of Christ in the Gospel of Mark.

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:37-41.

When we truly realize the extent of the Holiness of God, it leads us to see that if He is good, then we are not. We have broken every law and standard of this Holy being, and as a result all of mankind deserves separation from God eternally. In fact, if God were to show mercy to no one and send the whole human race to Hell, He would still be Just, loving, Holy and Righteous. Because He is Holy and He sets the standard, not us.

Isaiah was devastated when he saw a vision of the Lord. A right view of God’s Holy nature led to a right view of man’s utter depravity and divine sentence of eternal destruction. Isaiah was experiencing a state of hopelessness in the presence of such a majestic being such as God. He professed to be undone, which is to be as one who is literally coming apart at the seams.

But after the Lord had given Isaiah a right view of Himself, and a right view of mankind, He cleansed Isaiah of his hopeless state, and gave him reason to lift his head.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:6-7.

It’s been said many times that in order to understand the good news of the Gospel, it is pertinent that we first understand the bad news our own depravity. If man cannot look upon himself and see that he is tragically separated from God by way of His sins, and experience a hopeless fear as a result, then he will never be able to appreciate the atonement that Christ provides to those who will repent and believe upon Him.

In Isaiah’s vision, one of the seraphim flew to him with a burning coal from the altar of God. And with it he touched Isaiah’s mouth and said, “Your guilt has been taken away and your sins atoned for.” This symbolism of this portion of the vision needs little explanation as it is self-evident in what it is saying.

This is a picture of regeneration. This is a glimpse of God atoning for the sins of the penitent sinner. For the man who will come before the Lord, humbly and broken over his sins and in awe of God, he will be lifted high and cleansed of all former transgressions. In the new covenant, it is the blood of Christ that covers our ugly past and atones for our sins, justifying us in the presence of our Holy God.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:4-6.

What sort of love is this, that God would substitute Himself and die for the sins of man and imput to His righteousness to cosmic criminals like us? It is a love that humbles man. And it is a love that spawns joyful devotion to such a King that would save us from His wrath. Such was the reaction of Isaiah after his sins had been atoned for in the vision.

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8.

After Isaiah was given a right view of God, he saw the depravity of his own soul, and had his sins atoned for, then and only then was he able to gaze upon the Lord with joy! And a heart for mission was the result of these right views. When the Lord rhetorically asked, “Whom shall I send”, Isaiah was not reluctant in volunteering. Nor was his motivation for mission to have a nice Christian experience.

Isaiah had seen the glory of God. Isaiah had now known the fear of the Lord. And Isaiah saw the desperate plight of sinful man without the atonement of God. Isaiah’s idea of mission centered around proclamation. He had seen the true God, and now Isaiah wanted others to see Him too. Isaiah responded without hesitation, “Here I am, send me!”

Missions is not an easy excuse for a Christian vacation or an opportunity to have an experience. Nor is a mission trip a place to take someone who is immature in their faith or altogether lost. Christian missions are serious ventures for believers who are mature in their faith. They have, as Isaiah, come to know God as Holy. They have been broken over their sins. And they have come to faith in Christ through believing in Him for salvation and repenting of sins. And as a result, they have a burden to preach the Gospel to the lost.

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