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.
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.