According to post-modern standards 'missions' is humanitarian aid. According to modern church standards 'missions' is giving money on Sunday morning at church. According to modern fundamentalist standards 'missions' is presenting the Gospel in a foreign country. They are all wrong, and right. Although missions involves primarily the spreading of the Gospel, a missionary should also care about the living conditions, disease, poverty, and a host of other humanitarian causes. And one way of doing missions is by giving to missions. But something has been lost in all this activity. It will be my attempt to bring the focus back to the Gospel and the responsibility of the Church in missions. Allow me to submit some simple definitions.
Missions: The work of spreading the Gospel of God to all peoples everywhere.
Mission: Where this work takes place.
Missionary: One who spreads the Gospel of God.
We now turn to a Biblical understanding of missions.
Determining the Biblical Office of a 'Missionary'
Biblically speaking, "What is a Missionary?" For this we turn first to the classic text on missions and the words of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mat 28:18-20)
Missions, if we take these verse to teach about missionary efforts, is primarily about spreading the Lordship of Christ. All authority is given to Christ and therefore we are to make followers of Christ out of the nations. This comes through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus' substitutionary death and bodily resurrection. So a missionary is one who makes 'followers' of Christ.
Secondarily, missions is about organizing local churches. When Christ tells the disciples to baptize believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He is calling for a union with Himself and other believers. In baptism we are buried with Him in death and raised again with Him in newness of life.
Thirdly, missions is about teaching new followers of Christ to observe all things He has commanded. All authority is given to Christ and therefore, He is Lord. He is to be recognized as Lord within the community of believers. It is His rule that we follow and not man's.
A second text we encounter in recovering a Biblical office of 'Missionary', is found in the book of Acts.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Act 1:8)
In these words we find where a missionary is to serve. The Apostles were to preach in Jerusalem (where they were), Judea and Samaria (surrounding areas), and to the ends of the earth, (everywhere else). We find in these verses a mandate for missionary work in our homes, with our neighbors, across the street, in the community, city, county, state, region, country, continent, hemisphere, and in all the earth.
One last text we will see actually lets us know what the Biblical office of 'Missionary' is by giving an example.
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. (Act 21:8)
We remember who Philip was. In Acts 8:26-40 we find this account of Philip;
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Philip is described and known as an evangelist. According to our definition of a missionary, the office of evangelist seems to fit the bill. Philip traveled and preached the Gospel in order to spread the fame of Christ as Lord. Paul, in the letter to the Ephesian Christians, tells them that evangelists are a gift from God working to bring us all under the headship of Christ.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:11-16)
This is contrary to a modern view of 'Evangelists', isn't it? Evangelist in our mind means, "Preacher who preaches the same five sermons every week at different churches." But the term Evangelist should bring to our minds the office of Evangelist and the work of a Missionary.
Further, the Apostle Paul tells Timothy that he should be doing the work of an Evangelist, in addition to his Pastoral duties.
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2Ti 4:5)
These are sobering words that will be the focus of the next Monday Missions post, 'Demonstrating Christ's Sufferings'. In short, Timothy is to complete his ministry through the work of evangelism through suffering. But for today we get a glimpse that no one is exempt from 'doing the work of an evangelist'. The Apostles themselves were 'Evangelists'.
Who is a Missionary? Everyone. What are the qualifications of a Missionary? Salvation and a mouth. We are all ambassadors for Christ spreading the fame of our King.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
And yet there is a proper office of Missionary. The qualifications for this ministry are the same as any other preacher of the Gospel. Obviously, a Pastor cannot go to the ends of the earth, but his mission work is in his church. For going to the ends of the Earth, there must be a Philip or a Paul, who will leave the comforts of home and sacrifice his possessions, lands, money, family, and his own life to bring the Glorious Gospel of the Happy God to all peoples for their gladness and the glory of Christ's kingdom.