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A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 3

Goodman begins Part 3 by saying that he “never intended to delve deeply into a discussion of cessationism.” Yet, Goodman says of cessationists that they make “theological leaps” to arrive at their conclusions and that those conclusions are “a non sequitur.” If he did not intend to delve deeply into a discussion on cessationism, why does he have the right to make these kinds of pronouncements?

Goodman then goes on to quote Spurgeon. It is a great quote, so I will include it in its entirety.

“Many persons have been converted by some striking saying of the preacher. But why was it the preacher uttered that saying? Simply because he was led thereunto by the Holy Spirit. Rest assured, beloved, that when any part of the sermon is blessed to your heart, the minister said it because he was ordered to say it by his Master. I might preach today a sermon which I preached on Friday, and which was useful then, and there might be no good whatever come from it now, because it might not be the sermon which the Holy Ghost would have delivered today” (Spurgeon).

Goodman asks, “Are the ‘Spirit-led’ words Spurgeon referred to here ‘extra biblical revelation?’” The words to which Spurgeon referred were extra-biblical if the Holy Spirit told him something that is not contained in the Bible. I do not believe that is what Spurgeon means here though. He is referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit who takes the words of the gospel, which are contained in Scripture, and uses them to pierce the heart of a man. Spurgeon could preach the same sermon on two different days and have two completely different results depending on whether or not the Spirit was using the words preached to pierce the hearts of the listeners. However, that does not mean that the Spirit is providing any new information to anyone.

Goodman then asks, “How can the translation of human speech into soul-piercing conviction to repentance be considered anything other than work of the Holy Spirit (mystical, secret, or otherwise)?” It can’t be considered anything other than the work of the Holy Spirit. Who said that it could be? I certainly never made that claim. I believe that this is one of the main ministries of the Holy Spirit. However, that does not mean that he tells specific missionaries to go to specific places and say specific things to specific people.

Goodman then asks a series of questions, which I will answer.

“I’m fascinated with this line of thinking. If, for the cessationist, seeking the Spirit’s guidance in mission amounts to a seance, what else also falls into this category? Should we ask for wisdom, or is that ‘secret knowledge?’”

I never said that anything amounted to séance, though I would be okay with applying that term to numerous mystical practices. Whether or not it should be applied to “seeking the Spirit’s wisdom” depends on what is meant by “seeking the Sprit’s wisdom.” If it means making wise and mature decisions about obeying the commands of Scripture, then I would say that it does not amount to séance. If it means engaging in a religious practice (such as prayer or fasting) and waiting for God to tell a specific person to go to a specific place and to do a specific thing, then I would say that it does amount to séance. We should most certainly ask for wisdom, but such wisdom is not secret knowledge. Secret knowledge is private or special information that the Holy Spirit tells to one person and not to another. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the application of the knowledge that is already contained in the Bible.

“What about conviction? If the Spirit convicts me of spending too much time with my campanology club, is that ‘extra-biblical revelation?’”

Biblical conviction is not extra-biblical revelation because the sin of which the person is convicted is already contained in the Bible. If I steal from my neighbor and the Spirit convicts me, I am convicted that what the Bible says is true. The Spirit most certainly convicts of sin, and the sins of which he convicts are contained in the Bible. The Spirit will never convict anyone of spending too much time at his campanology club because spending any certain amount of time at a campanology club is not a biblical sin. It may be that a man is refusing to work and provide for his family and is instead spending time at his campanology club and that the Spirit may convict him that he needs to leave the campanology club and go get a job to provide for his family, but the sin of which he is convicted is the sin of refusing to work and provide for his family. The Spirit will not convict him of merely spending too much time at his campanology club. If the Spirit were to convict someone of such a “sin,” it would then be extra-biblical revelation because the Spirit would be informing the person that there is a sin that is not listed in the Bible. This is the very definition of extra-biblical revelation.

“Of course we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture. But according to whose understanding and interpretation of Scripture?”

I would encourage Goodman to conduct his ministry based upon his or at least his church’s interpretation of Scripture. If a person believes the Bible teaches a particular doctrine, he should live his life according to that particular doctrine. The problem is when this person starts requiring other people to live their lives in accordance with the particular doctrine that he believes the Bible teaches. This is called tyranny. There is a wide array of opinions within Christianity regarding non-essential doctrines, and no one has the right to force his opinion on anyone else. So, each person should live his life in accordance with the way he interprets Scripture, and he should do so with a clear conscience.

Next, Goodman says that he is not sure that God has a “specific will” for our lives. Apparently, Goodman does not think that God telling specific people that he wants them to go to specific places and say specific things to specific people is a “specific will.” If it is not a “specific will” when God reveals to a specific person what he wants or wills that specific person to do, then what is it?

Goodman then asks, “God hasn’t left us alone in His mission; why would we act as though He had?” Again, I have to ask, who is claiming that God has left us alone? I never made this claim. I don’t know anyone who has made this claim. Maybe Goodman is responding to someone else who said something that I don’t know about.

Lastly, Goodman deliberately points out a list of things that he deliberately avoids pointing out. He says, “I’ve deliberately avoided pointing out how few cessationists you’ll find on the international mission field. I’ve been careful not to refer to anecdotal evidence of the Spirit’s guidance in mission. I’ve intentionally ignored the many stories of those missionaries who were providentially given specific words, led into a particular village, or out of harm’s way.” Now that he has deliberately pointed out all the things that he has deliberately not pointed out, let me respond to these things that he both deliberately points out and deliberately does not point out.

First, it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of modern missionaries are mystics. Of the hundred or so missionaries I know, three of them are not mystics. But so what? Two hundred years ago, the vast majority of missionaries were cessationists. Does this mean that cessationism was right then but is now wrong? Of course not. The number of cessationist missionaries in the world has no impact whatsoever on the validity of the cessationist position.

Second, just because Goodman and lots of other people have some kind of spiritual experience in which the Spirit leads them in mission does not mean that everyone else has to seek the same experience. If the Spirit never guides me the way Goodman and others are guided, what am I supposed to do? Should I just sit in my room and wait for God to tell me to get up and go somewhere? How long should I wait? How do I know that I should be waiting in my room and not in my kitchen or on a mountain or in some other location? Until the Spirit leads me in the way Goodman and others are led, nothing I do would be considered Spirit-led. In this state, is it a sin for me to do anything? If not, is it a sin for me to do some things, such as approach missions using wisdom and logic? If it is a sin to do this, how do I know that it is a sin to do this? If it is not a sin to do this, then why should I not be permitted to do it?

Third, I think it is great that people are taken out of harm’s way or end up in a specific village. Good for them. But what do we make of the people who don’t receive such specific words and who aren’t led in such ways? Are they not qualified for missionary service? Are they less Christian? Or do they simply hold a different but still legitimate opinion regarding the way in which the Holy Spirit ministers to his people? This, to me, is the question of the day. Everything I have written during this process has been in defense of cessationists. I believe they have the right to hold their position and to conduct their ministry accordingly. I do not believe that anyone has to accept Goodman’s doctrine of guidance and his approach to missions. Goodman is free to do what he wants, but so is everyone else.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this process. I hope it has been as beneficial for everyone else as it has been for me. Again, if I have missed anything that anyone thinks I should have addressed, let me know so that I can address it either in the comment section or in another article.

A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 2

Roughly three months ago, I wrote an article criticizing the portrayal of cessationism by Ernest Goodman in his article, “The Spirit Incognito.” Goodman has written a three-part response to my article, which can be found at “Missions Misunderstood.” This is my response to Part 2.

Concerning the qualification and sending of missionaries, I have argued that men who desire to go and who are biblically qualified should be sent. There is no need for God to tell a particular church to send a particular person. In contrast, Goodman says that “our criteria for sending is not only some checklist of qualities and qualifications, but also a spiritual unity of the sending church.” I do not exactly know how to respond to this statement because I do not know what Goodman means by “a spiritual unity of the sending church.” What I do know is that Goodman believes this spiritual unity “is reached through prayer (and sometimes fasting), as the Spirit of God brings the opinions of the pastors in line with Christ” (If that is not mysticism, I don’t know what is). From this, I deduce that spiritual unity exists when the opinions of the pastors of a particular church are aligned. Goodman refers to Acts 13:2 as the precedent for this doctrine; but in that verse, the Holy Spirit speaks audibly and says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (NASB). There is nothing recorded in this passage about the opinions of the pastors being brought in line with Christ. I do not know of any biblical precedent for such a doctrine. If there is one, I would like someone to point it out to me. In the meantime, I do not see any biblical reason why a qualified person should not be sent based solely upon his qualifications.

Goodman then asks a series of questions, which I will answer.

“What are the criteria for ‘missionary?’ Where do these come from?”

The criteria for a missionary are identical to the criteria for an elder. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, the office of elder within the Christian Church had four main functions. Elders acted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (I consider pastor and teacher to be the same function). Some elders performed one function. Others performed more. My point, though, is that an evangelist is an elder who focuses his time and energy on the proclamation of the gospel to non-Christians. This is also the job of the missionary. Therefore, I consider the missionary role to be a sub-set of the evangelist role. “Missionary” is simply a descriptive term used to describe the evangelist who is sent across some kind of border to proclaim the gospel to a particular group of people. Since the missionary is an evangelist and because the evangelist is an elder, the missionary must therefore be an elder, and the qualifications for an elder are spelled out very clearly in Scripture.

“What if the candidate is qualified, yet doesn’t want to go?”

No one should be forced to travel somewhere he does not want to travel. Why would we ever send someone out as a missionary who doesn’t want to go?

“What if he’s both qualified and willing to be sent, but he is needed in his local church?”

The only instance in which a particular elder is needed in his local church is if he is the only elder in that local church. For him to abandon his flock would be a sinful desertion of his responsibilities. He would not have the right to send himself out as a missionary. If he wants to serve as a missionary, he must first appoint at least one other elder in his place. At that point he is no longer needed in his local church, and he is free to go out as a missionary.

“Why should we ‘pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:38) if God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people?”

Who said that God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people? I never said that. I have never heard anyone else say that. In my book The Great Enterprise from a Reformed Perspective, I devote a whole chapter to the calling and sending of the missionary and describe exactly how God calls and sets apart his missionaries. So, to be clear, God is very active in calling and sending missionaries. However, that does not have to mean that the Holy Spirit is telling particular pastors of particular churches to send particular missionaries to particular places.

Goodman then goes on to say that he is not as trustful in human wisdom as I seem to be. I do not know why Goodman thinks I am trusting in human wisdom. I have certainly never advocated that anyone trust in human wisdom. On the contrary, I believe Scripture exhorts us to use godly wisdom, wisdom that applies the commands of Scripture to our lives. Solomon’s judicial decision between the two women who came to him with the dispute over the baby is a good example of this. The Bible made clear that stealing a baby was a crime. Solomon then used wisdom and logic to devise a way in which to differentiate between the perpetrator and the victim. The Holy Spirit did not tell Solomon who the real mother was. He used his brain to figure it out. Is there any reason why we should not do the same thing today in the context of missions?

Goodman then asks these questions, “You can’t reach out in every direction at once. With which tribe, language, or nation will you begin? How does a church determine where to allocate resources and where to pass up perfectly good opportunities?” The answer is quite simple. God’s people only have to do what Scripture demands that they do, and they are free to do anything Scripture does not forbid. Therefore, God’s people have the freedom to answer these questions any number of ways.

Goodman also asks, “When is the work in a particular place finished?” Missionary work in a particular place is finished when one of two things happens, when a church is planted or when the missionary determines that he should not continue to throw pearls before swine and shakes the dust off his feet and leaves. The follow up question most certainly is, “When/how does the missionary determine that he should not continue to throw pearls before swine and shake the dust off his feet and leave?” This is a more complicated question over which there is some legitimate disagreement. Suffice to say for now that there are ways in which the missionary can make this determination without the Holy Spirit specially telling him that he should leave a particular place.

Goodman again makes the claim that some people “believe that God no longer interacts with His people in real-time.” Who believes this? God interacts with his people every day. Just because God does not speak audibly to me does not mean that he does not interact with me.

Lastly, Goodman explains some of the various ways a person can share the gospel. I agree with him. There are lots of ways to verbally proclaim the message of the gospel. This was my very point to begin with. All of these ways are legitimate ways to proclaim the message of the gospel. Missionaries are free to pick and choose from them. Missionaries have brains. They can decide which way they think is best for the time and place. There is not one right way of doing it. There are lots of right ways to do it. We do not need the Holy Spirit to tell us which right way to use. God just wants us to use one of them.

While Goodman goes on arguing that the Holy Spirit has to specifically tell us what to say to who, he says this, “How you present the gospel is a huge factor in how it’s received . . . Fortunately, the eternal destiny of the nations does not depend on my speaking ability.” Does this not seem like a contradiction to anyone else? What he says and the way he says it is a huge factor regarding whether or not the gospel is received, but whether or not the gospel is received does not depend on what he says. Maybe I have misunderstood what he is trying to say. If so, maybe he or someone else can correct me.

Stay tuned for my response to Part 3; and again, if I have missed something that you think I should have addressed, let me know so that I can address it either in the comment section or in the next article.

A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 1

Roughly three months ago, I wrote an article criticizing the portrayal of cessationism by Ernest Goodman in his article, “The Spirit Incognito.” Goodman has written a three-part response to my article, which can be found at “Missions Misunderstood.” This is my response to Part 1. Before I begin, though, I would like to thank Goodman for engaging in this discussion. Willingness to talk about these things in a thoughtful and mature way is a rare quality these days. My hope is that he and I and all of our readers will be edified through the process, even if no one’s opinion is altered.

The first thing Goodman and I disagree on is the definition of the sufficiency of Scripture. Goodman writes, “I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that it is the complete revelation of God for mankind.” This statement is true. The Bible does give us the complete revelation of God for mankind. However, the Bible gives us more than information about who God is. The Bible also tells us what God wants from us. Therefore, I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith AND practice. A more historical definition would be something like, “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration of God, are the all-sufficient and only rule of faith and practice.” This is a more precise definition than what Goodman uses. The Scriptures are all-sufficient for every matter pertaining to salvation and obedient, godly living. The Bible does not only tell us who God is, it tells us how we have to live. In other words, it tells us how to be obedient. It tells us what we must actually do, and it tells us everything that we must actually do. This is the historical understanding of Sola Scriptura.

Goodman argues that the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures to us. I agree. The Holy Spirit most certainly engages in the ministry of illumination. The act of reading words written in the Bible is not all that must be done. We must realize “the reality and relevance of those activities of the triune God to which Scripture testifies. The work of the Spirit in imparting this [realization] is called ‘illumination,’ or enlightening. It is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text as heard and read, and as explained by teachers and writers” (Packer). Illumination takes place when I read in the Bible that I must love my wife as Christ loved the church AND when the Holy Spirit gives me the capacity to understand this command and to then actually do what the Bible tells me to do. The Holy Spirit has enabled me to obey what the Bible says, but he has not actually told me anything. If the Holy Spirit were to tell me to love my wife by doing the dishes after dinner, this would be extra-biblical revelation, and it would mean that the Scriptures are not all-sufficient for all matters of practice.

Goodman says that revelation is exclusively about God and that illumination is exclusively about us. If this were true, then Simeon did not receive revelation when the Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah (Luke 2:25–26). What he received was illumination, but what was the Holy Spirit illuminating? The Holy Spirit provided new information to Simeon about what he would experience in his life. He was not illuminating something for Simeon. He was providing information to Simeon, and this providing of information is the very definition of revelation.

Goodman says that “the Spirit doesn’t give us some new, secret revelation.” If this is what Goodman really believes, then it is safe to assume that the Spirit has never said anything to Goodman that is not written down in the Bible. For instance, the Spirit never told him to move to Western Europe as a missionary and has never told him to speak with a particular person. The Spirit has never told him where to live or where to work or on what he should spend his money. The Spirit has never told him that he should pray a specific thing for a specific person. The Spirit has never told him that he should teach from a particular passage on a particular Sunday morning. If this were the case, then Goodman and I would be in agreement. However, I have to conclude that Goodman has actually heard the Spirit say these kinds of things to him. I conclude this because Goodman asks “how would one ever come to interpret Matthew 28:19-20 as motivation to move to Northern India” if the Spirit is silent today? The clear implication is that the Spirit tells specific people to specifically move to Northern India. Since the Bible does not tell specific people to move to a specific place in India, it is necessarily extra-biblical revelation when the Spirit tells a specific person to move to a specific place in India.

There is an answer to Goodman’s question. Matthew 28:19 says that the Church is to make disciples of all nations. Since Northern India is part of “all nations,” it is a perfectly acceptable and obedient act for a minister of God’s Church to move to Northern India and make disciples. There is no further information required other than what is already written.

Goodman argues that without the Holy Spirit actively telling people where to go and what to do, the Church is left with an anthropological approach to missions. He says the problem, though, is that “this approach to mission is not demonstrated anywhere in Scripture.” It may be true that the apostles were not anthropologists, but surely they took a logical approach to missions. I wonder if Goodman could tell me why Philip went to Samaria in Acts 8:5, why the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria in Acts 8:14, why Saul (soon to be Paul) came to Jerusalem after leaving Damascus in Acts 9, why Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Acts 14:13, why Paul returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch in Acts 14:21, why Paul left Athens and went to Corinth in Acts 18:1, or why Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years reasoning in the school of Tyrannus in Acts 19:9? There are probably hundreds of biblical examples of people using logic in order to decide where to go and what to do. A logical approach to not only missions but all of life is clearly demonstrated in Scripture.

Lastly, Goodman says that he “can’t help but think that it’s due to a certain amount of Modernism that [we have] adopted, one that values human logic, effort, and scholarship over the Lord’s leadership,” that has caused us to approach missions the way we do, the way that relies solely on the information that is written in the Bible. I have to reject Goodman’s claim. It is not Modernism that causes us to rely solely on the information recorded in the Bible. Rather, it is our belief that Scripture is all-sufficient for all matters of life and godliness that causes us to rely solely on the information recorded in the Bible. Indeed, this is how Jesus exercises his leadership over us. If obeying what is written in the Bible is not a demonstration of submission to the leadership of Christ, then what exactly does Goodman believe God’s people must do in order to demonstrate submission to the leadership of Christ?

Stay tuned for my response to Part 2. If there is anything I have missed that Goodman or any of our readers think I need to address, let me know. I will do my best to address it either in the comment section or in the next article.

Response From Ernest Goodman, Part 3

The following is an article written by Ernest Goodman that was originally published on “Missions, Misunderstood.” We have republished the article here in order to foster discussion regarding cessationism and missiology.

 

This is the third part of my response to Jason Bolt, who wrote that I am confused about cessationism and mission. For previous posts, see: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 1Part 2.

The opportunity to clarify what one has already said is precious indeed. If you’ve ever played back a conversation in your mind, thinking of all that youshould have said, you understand what I mean. My hope here is to clarify so that we may have a productive conversation.

In my original post, I never intended to delve deeply into a discussion of cessationism; my point was that for those who don’t believe God “speaks” today, it makes sense that they would adopt a pragmatic anthropological approach to mission. It seemed to Pastor Bolt that I was confused about the doctrine of cessationism. This very well may be the case; as much as I’ve studied these things, I still have a lot to learn.

Goodman disagrees with himself. All along, he has been arguing that we have to receive special and specific revelation from the Holy Spirit. Now, he has changed his tune and says that we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture.

This reminds me of one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. I’m guessing Pastor Bolt may not be a fan of Spurgeon, but I love the way he approached the topic of the Holy Spirit:

“Many persons have been converted by some striking saying of the preacher. But why was it the preacher uttered that saying? Simply because he was led thereunto by the Holy Spirit. Rest assured, beloved, that when any part of the sermon is blessed to your heart, the minister said it because he was ordered to say it by his Master. I might preach to-day a sermon which I preached on Friday, and which was useful then, and there might be no good whatever come from it now, because it might not be the sermon which the Holy Ghost would have delivered to-day.”  –C. Spurgeon

Are the “Spirit-led” words Spurgeon referred to here “extra biblical revelation?” How can the translation of human speech into soul-piercing conviction to repentance be considered anything other than work of the Holy Spirit (mystical, secret, or otherwise)?

I’m fascinated with this line of thinking. If, for the cessationist, seeking the Spirit’s guidance in mission amounts to a seance, what else also falls into this category? Should we ask for wisdom, or is that “secret knowledge?” What about conviction? If the Spirit convicts me of spending too much time with my campanology club, is that “extra-biblical revelation?” Of course we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture. But according to whose understanding and interpretation of Scripture?

Throughout the article, Goodman answers the question of whether or not God has a secret will for believers with a resounding “yes.” Yet, in the end, he specifically answers this question by saying, “I don’t know.” If he really does not know, then why did he write the article?

The term “specific will” is a theological one that I’m not sure I support; that God has mapped out every step of our lives, and that one wrong step makes every subsequent step sin. Yet every example of a missionary we have in the scriptures was guided by the Spirit. So what seems like a contradiction here is really just me trying to be clear: the Spirit illuminates scriptural commissions to us, and we respond accordingly. We don’t blindly float from feeling to feeling, but neither do we lean entirely on our own understanding. God hasn’t left us alone in His mission; why would we act as though He had?

In this series of posts, I’ve deliberately avoided pointing out how few cessationists you’ll find on the international mission field. I’ve been careful not to refer to anecdotal evidence of the Spirit’s guidance in mission. I’ve intentionally ignored the many stories of those missionaries who were providentially given specific words, led into a particular village, or out of harm’s way. I will point out, however, that God’s direct, personal involvement in His mission is consistent with what we read in scripture. It is God who sends His church on His mission, and he uses His Spirit to stir the hearts of his servants to action.

Response From Ernest Goodman, Part 2

The following is an article written by Ernest Goodman that was originally published on “Missions, Misunderstood.” We have republished the article here in order to foster discussion regarding cessationism and missiology.

 

This is the second part of my response to Jason Bolt, who wrote that I am confused about cessationism and mission. For Part 1, see: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 1

However, he immediately contradicts himself by saying, “Even if someone meets all the criteria for service, we cannot assume it is good to send him out.” Let me get this strait. The calling is secretly and mystically received by an individual, and then the calling is affirmed by the local church. However, the local church does not send the person based upon whether or not he meets all the criteria. Exactly what, then, is the role of the local church? Goodman does not say. What is clear is that Goodman believes the local church should send missionaries based upon something other than what is written in the pages of the Bible.

That’s me, a walking contradiction.

My point here is that our criteria for sending is not only some checklist of qualities and qualifications, but also a spiritual unity of the sending church. This is reached through prayer (and sometimes fasting), as the Spirit of God brings the opinions of the pastors in line with Christ (who is the head of the church). Paul and Barnabas weren’t sent out simply because they were good missionary candidates, they were sent because the Spirit “set them apart” and showed that to the church as they worshipped.

If a person meets all the criteria and wants to go, the local church should send him. It’s that simple. We don’t need mystic revelation to reach these wise and good conclusions.

What are the criteria for “missionary?” Where do these come from? What is the candidate is qualified, yet doesn’t want to go? What if he’s both qualified and willing to be sent, but he is needed in his local church? Why should we “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38) if God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people?

Scripture very clearly tells us that the mission of the Church is to teach all the nations to obey what Christ has commanded.

It sounds like Pastor Bolt is equating “the mission of the church” to the “Great Commission.” I’d encourage him to read more of the Bible (and not just the classic “sending” passages) in light of the Sending. In his book, The Mission Of God’s People, C. Wright points out that if the Great Commission is the totality of the church’s motivation for mission, why isn’t it mentioned again in the New Testament? I’m not saying that it isn’t a very succinct and central commissioning of God’s people on His mission, but the mission of the church is founded on more than one passage of scripture. We know from the whole counsel of Scripture that we serve a God who has always sent His people. With that in mind, the mission of God’s people is to obey Him in His mission to glorify Himself through the redemption of His creation.

Using statistics and ethnography to figure out where those nations are located is wise and good. Why do we need the Holy Spirit to secretly tell us to minister among a certain people when God has already told us to minister among all people?

I’m a little less trustful of human wisdom than the Pastor seems to be. Human wisdom was reflected in the number of men Gideon brought to battle before God reduced their numbers from 32,000 to 300 (Judges 7). Human wisdom values efficiency and effectiveness, neither of which are necessarily Kingdom values. We’ve all seen as much damage done by “It just makes sense” as by “God told me to.”

God has indeed told us to make disciples of all nations. Not to nitpick, but a single ministry to “all people” is not possible. You can’t reach out in every direction at once. With which tribe, language, or nation will you begin? How does a church determine where to allocate resources and where to pass up perfectly good opportunities? When is the work in a particular place finished? Like Paul, we rely on the Spirit to show us where to engage.

As I’ve explained here on the blog before, equating the biblical terminology “nations” to the modernistic concept of “ethnolinguistic people groups” is a relatively new thing. It makes perfect sense to define mission from this anthropological perspective if you believe that God no longer interacts with His people in real-time.

Evangelism: Goodman argues that the evangelist is supposed to say different things to different people and that the only way he can know what to say to specific people is for the Holy Spirit to mystically and secretly tell him what to say to specific people.

The great thing about the gospel is that you can communicate it in any number of ways. When He was questioned, Jesus would sometimes answer plainly, sometimes with a story or a question. Paul did the same, quoting local poets and citing cultural traditions in his presentations of the gospel. Some preach it from a pulpit, others share it one-on-one. Some start with our hope in Christ, others begin with “all have sinned.” How you present the gospel is a huge factor in how it’s received. The work of the missionary is to translate the universal, unchanging Good News into dynamic, ever-changing, sinful culture. This work is never finished (this side of heaven), and it takes a certain amount of skill to do well.

Fortunately, the eternal destiny of the nations does not depend on my speaking ability. I’m sure Pastor Bolt is pretty skilled at interpersonal communication, but I sometimes struggle. I depend on God to speak through me– to use the inadequate words of an inadequate man to communicate a universal, divine Truth.

However, orthodox Christianity teaches that the evangelist is to proclaim the gospel. He is to proclaim the gospel to man, woman, Jew, Greek, slave, and freeman alike. The Bible very clearly reveals what the gospel is, so there is no reason for the evangelist to seek extra-biblical guidance as to what to say to any specific person.

Which clear biblical presentation is Pastor Bolt referring to here? 1 Corinthians 15:1-8? John 3:16? Romans 3:23? There isn’t one single way to communicate that God sent His Son to die in place of sinful, undeserving people and rose again to the glory of the Father. This is why we ask God to give us the words (mystically or otherwise) that will clearly communicate the message to our audience.

Hopefully, all of this is beneficial to our readers.

Response From Ernest Goodman, Part 1

The following is an article written by Ernest Goodman that was originally published on Missions, Misunderstood. We have republished the article here in order to foster discussion regarding cessationism and missiology.

I recently mentioned a blogger who has called me “confused” about cessationism and missiology. Jason Bolt, elder at Truth Reformed Bible Church in Golden, Colorado, is the author of that post, and he’s graciously offered to engage with me in a bit of dialog about the matter. Here is the first part of my response:

Goodman argues that Reformed missionaries take some “theological leaps” in order to arrive at their view of the sufficiency of Scripture.

I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that it is the complete revelation of God for mankind. I also believe, however, that God does not leave us to our own devices in the interpretation of Scripture. Rather, He has given us the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the scriptures to us.

He then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit orchestrates mission efforts by secretly and mystically communicating to individual missionaries.

Of course, I didn’t actually write “secretly” or “mystically,” that’s Pastor Bolt’s commentary on my position. God’s will is plain for all to read (where the scripture is available to them). It’s the understanding and application of that will that requires the intervention of the Spirit. As I mentioned in my post, this doesn’t happen “secretly,” but in the context of the local church. The church is the context for interpreting God’s Word and discerning how to respond in obedience.

Revelation is information about God. Illumination is about us; God shows us how to respond to His truth. It is why we pray for wisdom (which is also not ”extra-biblical revelation”). Pastor Bolt may find this to be “mystical,” but the Bible refers to it as spiritual (Romans 8:2-6).

“No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:11b-13)

The Spirit doesn’t give us some new, secret revelation. He guides us in our understanding of what God has already said. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he heard he will speak.” (John 16:13)

Left to our ourselves, our sinful minds misunderstand and misinterpret the Scriptures. We twist and distort the truth at our convenience and we naturally “exchange the truth about God for a lie.” This is why Paul greets the Ephesian church by praying that ”the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17-18)

With Goodman’s insistence on seeking the revelation of God’s secret will outside of the Bible, he rejects the sufficiency of Scripture in practice. If he believed the Scripture to be sufficient, there would be no need for him to seek God’s secret will outside of the Bible.

And so we come to the question of mission. If we conclude that the Spirit of God is silent today, how would one ever come to interpret Matthew 28:19-20 as motivation to move to Northern India? Based solely on a human reading of scripture, how does a church determine where to focus their efforts in mission? How does a church come to prioritize one need over another unless God helps them interpret “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you”? This is why Paul reminds the Roman church that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

The point of my original post was to explore why some of my favorite reformed theologians continue to promote an anthropological view of mission. If they believe that the Spirit does not communicate to His people today, it makes sense that they would approach mission as a list of names to be checked off of a list. The problem is that this approach to mission is not demonstrated anywhere in Scripture.

Perhaps Pastor Bolt may be able to help me understand. But in the meantime, I can’t help but think that it’s due to a certain amount of Modernism that they’ve adopted; one that values human logic, effort, and scholarship over the the Lord’s leadership.

Should We Be Afraid?

I read a number of other blogs on a semi-regular basis in order to keep my finger on the pulse of the evangelical psyche. There are lots of great blogs out there, lots of blogs whose authors should be excommunicated for their heresy, and lots with everything in between. From time to time, I comment on a blog that I find interesting or intriguing. I recently struck up a discussion with a blog writer who made what I thought were grandiose claims about the application of a particular doctrine. What transpired during this discussion is completely baffling to me.

Both I and this other blog writer profess to be Christians as well as minsters within the kingdom of God. I thought this would serve as a strong foundation for us to have a robust yet edifying discussion about his application of the particular doctrine. So, I started posting comments on his blog and asking him questions. None of my comments were approved for public viewing, so I contacted him by email and asked if there was a reason why my comments had not been approved. He responded very kindly and said that he does not have the opportunity to approve comments everyday but that he had seen my comments and would approve them once he had the time to answer my questions. I responded and told him to take as much time as he needed.

While I waited, I kept reading his blog and commenting here and there. None of my comments were approved, so I just figured he was really busy. After six weeks and five days passed, I emailed him again asking if he was going to be able to approve my comments and if he was still willing to conduct a discussion. This is what I received in response:

“I approve comments with questions once I’m able to write a response. I enjoy the discussion. Unfortunately yours are just too much for my time and are not intended for discussion, but for proving a point that I find to be incredibly off base. I don’t have the time to invest in an email conversation that will not go anywhere. I’ve read your blog posts. They’re exhausting. As are your comments. I would encourage you to move on and find a better use of your time. I’d also encourage you to find ways to care for the marginalized and orphaned. Perhaps some of your ‘biblical’ arguments against doing so would change significantly. This is my last communication with you.”

Why is it that people think they can make such outrageous and offensive claims, even if they are covered in a thin veneer of platitudes? Maybe he thinks I did not notice his insulting language and that he will never be held accountable for what he says. Well, I did notice, and he will ultimately have to give an account for what he has said. If you think his words aren’t too bad, allow me to unpack them for you.

I will go ahead and accept as truth his statement that he enjoys the discussion even though all of his actions indicate that he enjoys avoiding discussion. The next sentence, though, is where things start to get interesting. He says that my comments are not intended for discussion but for proving a point that he thinks is way off base. How does he know what my intentions are? Does he have some mystical gift of discernment that allows him to look into my soul (though a computer screen) and see my intentions? If so, that is either really amazing or really scary. By saying that my intention is not to conduct a discussion, he calls me a liar. I have been telling him that I would like to have a discussion, but he has accused me of lying and concealing the fact that I just have an axe to grind.

He next says that he does not have time to invest in an email conversation that will go nowhere. I am not sure where he wants conversations to go, but isn’t there value in having a discussion regardless of where the participants arrive at the end? Apparently, he is only willing to talk to people who will go where he wants them to go; and, somehow, he knows that I am not one of those people. Therefore, I am not worth his time.

He has read my blog posts (a reference to this blog) and the comments I have made on his blog, and they are apparently exhausting. I don’t know what that means. Maybe my language is so poor that it tires him to read my writing. Maybe what I write is not interesting, so I bore him nearly to death. Maybe it is exhausting for someone of superior intellect, such as himself, to read the elementary writing of a normal person, such as myself. I don’t know.

He then encourages me to find ways to care for the marginalized and orphaned. I have never met this man in my life, yet he knows for whom I do and do not care. Not only is he intellectually superior to me, he is also morally superior to me. I would take some time to tell him about the ways in which I do care for people in this world, but he would probably just accuse me of lying to him again.

His next comment is highly offensive. He refers to my “biblical” arguments. In other words, he accuses me of trying to couch un-biblical arguments in biblical language so that people will think that my arguments are biblical. Does he provide any evidence for this claim? Of course not, but why should he? His intellectual and moral superiority apparently exempt him from having to provide evidence when he accuses a brother in Christ of being un-biblical.

His last statement is the most baffling to me, “This is my last communication with you.” In other words, “I am never speaking to you again.” How is it that someone can treat a fellow brother in Christ this way and see absolutely nothing wrong with it? Where in the Bible does it say, “If you ever come across a fellow Christian who asks you questions, you should never speak to that brother again”? There is only one instance in the Bible when Christians are instructed to treat someone this way. In Matthew 18, Jesus instructs us to shun a brother who refuses to repent after his sin has been confronted, exposed, and proven. This guy has decided that he has the right to privately try me of an un-named sin and act as the prosecutor and the judge and then issue his unilateral verdict and treat me accordingly.

Why do Christians behave like this? I doubt I will ever understand it. We are supposed to be different than the world, different in a positive way. Yet, we treat each other as if we were mortal enemies who won’t spend eternity together in the kingdom. Maybe that’s just it. Maybe that’s the explanation. Maybe some of us are actually enemies who won’t spend eternity together. If so, it would be in the best interest of all of us to stop for a moment and consider whether our behavior towards each other is consistent with God’s instructions in the Bible. If our behavior is consistent with the commands of the Bible, we should be comforted and accept ill-treatment with joy. If our behavior is not consistent with the commands of the Bible, we should be afraid . . . very afraid.

An Alternative To Adoption

I wrote an article earlier this week in the literary genre known as “Tongue & Cheek.” If you read it, I hope you caught the sarcasm. I was offering a brief critique of Jason Johnson’s doctrine of adoption. His position is that God adopted his people and that his people should, therefore, adopt orphans. Using the same flawed logic, I proposed that we marry all sorts of sordid women and try to make them beautiful because Christ marries the Church and purifies her and that we dig up old bones and put new cloths on them because God will raise us from the dead and clothe us in glory. Of course, my two propositions are ridiculous; but they are no more ridiculous than Johnson’s doctrine of adoption, which was my entire point.

Today, I would like to offer something more than just a critique. I would like to offer an alternative position to the one held by Johnson. Johnson’s claim is that God’s people should be adopting orphans because the very act of adopting an orphan is a demonstration of the gospel. This means that, in Johnson’s view, adopting orphans is not ultimately about adopting orphans. Adopting orphans is ultimately about demonstrating the gospel. So, his doctrine of adoption is not so much a doctrine of adoption as it is a doctrine of gospel demonstration that happens to include adoption. Therefore, the alternative I will provide is not an alternative doctrine of adoption but rather an alternative doctrine of gospel demonstration or presentation or proclamation.

Suppose we live in a world in which everyone treats everyone else unlawfully and has broken some law that requires they be executed by the king. Since everyone awaits the death penalty, they all spend their entire lives trying to escape the coming judgment. One day, the king has you brought to the castle. To your surprise, your head remains attached to your body; and you hear this from the king, “Son, I have derived an alternative means of justice. You will not be executed, and neither will the others in your village.” He lets you go free, and you are left with the decision of what to do with this information.

Assuming you want to tell the others in your village the good news, which of the two following options do you think would most clearly and effectively communicate the good news?

1) From this day forward, you decide that you will forgive all of your neighbors when they treat you unjustly. When the little boy across the way kicks down your fence, you invite him in for milk and cookies. When your neighbor steals your wheat, you bake him a loaf of bread. You hold nothing against anyone. This will be a physical demonstration of the good news that no one in the village will be executed by the king.

2) You decide to tell everyone in your village that the king has derived an alternative means of justice and that none of them will be executed.

Now, which of these two options do you think communicates the good news most clearly and effectively?

Suppose a man has spent the past 20 years building a beautiful home in the woods for his wife. If he wants to show her everything he has done for her, do you think it would be more effective to draw her a picture or to take her to the house?

The same thing is true with the gospel. If God has done something truly amazing on behalf of his people, why would we want to merely draw them a picture of what he has done? Adoption can be used as a picture of the gospel, but why would we want the picture when we have the real thing? Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The good news that God has secured the salvation of his people through the demonstration of both his perfect justice and grace on the cross is God’s power to cause a person to be born again and to put his faith in Jesus Christ and to repent from his sins. The message of the gospel contains the power to bring about conversion.

Faith does not come about by seeing inadequate physical demonstrations of some of the spiritual truths contained in the gospel. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), hearing the verbal proclamation of what Christ has done on behalf of his people. No one has been converted to Christ because some Christian family somewhere adopted an orphan. All conversions to Christ happen, without exception, because of the verbal proclamation of the gospel.

So, my alternative to Johnson’s position is this: In God’s adoption of the saints, they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom, into his family. They are raised from spiritual death and given eternal life. They escape judgment and are given the all-satisfying joy of beholding their creator in all of his glory and of obeying his commandments. Therefore, the mission of the Church is to declare, with words, that in God’s adoption of the saints, they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom, into his family. They are raised from spiritual death and given eternal life. They escape judgment and are given the all-satisfying joy of beholding their creator in all of his glory and of obeying his commandments.

The mission of the church is not to encourage Christians to adopt orphans into their families. God is in the business of redeeming his people and delivering them into his kingdom. We should make God’s business our business, but it does not follow that we should be in the business of finding orphans and delivering them into our families. Rather, the Church should be in the business of proclaiming the redemption of God’s people and their deliverance into his family.

God has been kind enough to give us everything we need for life and godliness in the pages of the Bible. Everything needed to bring salvation and maturity is contained in the pages of a book that we too often ignore. I propose that instead of coercing God’s people into using their lives to draw pictures of the gospel by adopting orphans, the leaders in the Church teach God’s word and demand that people obey God’s commandments.

Doing the Gospel

I came across an interesting blog the other day, which you can find here. Jason Johnson is Chief Church Engagement Officer for The Arrow Foundation – an organization committed to equipping, resourcing and mobilizing the Church towards foster care and adoption around the country. His blog revolves around the central theme of adoption/foster care and their demonstration of the gospel. Most of his articles reach the same conclusion from a slightly different starting point. That conclusion is that adopting orphans is one of the ways the Church ought to demonstrate the gospel.

While telling the story of how he stood in a court room and testified that a little girl should be taken from the dangerous home of her parents (kingdom of darkness) and transferred to his home of love and safety (kingdom of light), he says the following, “The Gospel compels, albeit demands, that we be willing to stand for what Jesus stood for by standing where Jesus would stand. This is the only explanation for me being in that courtroom that day.” He draws an analogy between the adoption of God’s people and the adoption of orphans. While we were yet sinners and dead in our transgressions, Christ testified on our behalf and claimed us as his own. We were taken from the kingdom of darkness and brought into God’s kingdom, into his family. This is the heart of the gospel; and, according to Johnson, the Church should demonstrate the gospel by doing for orphans what God has done for us.

I was blown away when read this. I had one of those “ah hah” moments. I finally saw something that had been staring me in the face for years. While reading through Johnson’s articles, it dawned on me that adoption is not the only way to demonstrate the truths of the gospel. If Johnson’s method of interpretation is sound, then it should apply universally. In other words, if we should be adopting orphans because God adopted us, then we should also do for those around us all the other things that God does for us. Obviously I am not talking about dying for people’s sins. Only Christ can do that. However, I believe there are two things we can do that, when combined with adoption, will fully demonstrate the whole of the gospel.

Johnson is right to start things off with adoption. This is the first phase in the process. Before time began, before we could testify for ourselves, Christ stood in the gap on our behalf and chose to die for our sins and transfer us to his kingdom through adoption. However, there is more to the gospel. Scripture tells us that Christ loves and cherishes those whom he has adopted. While we are children of God, we are also cherished by Christ as his beloved bride. According to Ephesians 5:25­–27, Christ gave himself up for his bride, the Church, in order to cleanse her and sanctify her and to ultimately present to himself the people of his Church as a pure and spotless bride. He does not just adopt us. He also marries us and sanctifies us and makes us beautiful. Therefore, the gospel compels, albeit demands, that we be willing to stand for what Jesus stood for by doing what Jesus would do. The men of the Church ought to marry all sorts of sordid women and cherish them as their own. As a physical demonstration of spiritual truths, the men of the Church should ensure that their women have designer cloths and professional makeup. Wives should be made to look stunningly beautiful. I won’t go so far as to say that all men must get married; but those who do get married must have as their primary goal the physical beautification of their wives, and those men who do not marry must support those who do. The Church is not called to simply state doctrinal truths. We must live them out in our lives. We must demonstrate these truths with our actions. Men must marry sordid women and make them beautiful.

The other action that I believe the Church should take might be a bit more controversial, but I think it is necessary in order to tell the whole gospel with our actions. God has adopted us, so we should adopt orphans. Christ has taken us as his bride in order to purify and sanctify us, so we should take sordid women as wives and make them beautiful. One promise for which we still wait is our resurrection from the dead. God will raise us to everlasting life and clothe us with the righteousness of Christ. As a demonstration of this aspect of the gospel, we should do something for dead people. I am just thinking out loud here, but maybe we should dig up some old bones and put new cloths on them. This would signify both the resurrection and God’s people being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The gospel compels, albeit demands, that we be willing to stand for what Jesus stood for by doing what Jesus will do. For the sake of the gospel, we must do something for dead people. We, the people of the Church, should empty graves and ensure that the dead are brought forth and given new cloths.

The gospel is not something we can merely proclaim. We have to do the gospel. My ideas, based upon Johnson’s method of biblical interpretation, will demonstrate the whole gospel to the world so that they can see it. The Church is called to adopt orphans, marry lots of sordid women, and dig up graves. This is the only way that the world will come to see the glory of the gospel.

If you take issue with any one of these propositions, then I urge you to reconsider the biblical and logical basis for all three of them, including the first one.

Words Worthy of Utterance by Every True Believer

Title: God, Be Merciful To Me

Composer: Richard Readhead (1853)

God, be merciful to me,
On Thy grace I rest my plea;
Plenteous in compassion Thou,
Blot out my transgressions now;
Wash me, make me pure within,
Cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

My transgressions I confess,
Grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against Thy grace
And provoked Thee to Thy face;
I confess Thy judgment just,
Speechless, I Thy mercy trust.

I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.

Broken, humbled to the dust
By Thy wrath and judgment just,
Let my contrite heart rejoice
And in gladness hear Thy voice;
From my sins O hide Thy face,
Blot them out in boundless grace.

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from Thee,
Let Thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.

Sinners then shall learn from me
And return, O God, to Thee;
Savior, all my guilt remove,
And my tongue shall sing Thy love;
Touch my silent lips, O Lord,
And my mouth shall praise accord.

http://www.hymnary.org/text/god_be_merciful_to_me_on_thy_grace/fulltexts