Starting New Things – Starting with Theology
The Missio Dei, or in English, ‘The Mission of God’, must be our starting point for new things. It must be the starting point for any mission activity, or indeed any purposeful human activity. God is the initiator of all things. Fortunately, not only is the Missio Dei revealed by God’s character but it’s also clearly shown in the Bible.
The impetus for all kinds of ‘going out’, in the Biblical narrative, come from an understanding of God’s purposes and we see this over and over again. Abraham goes to a new land[i], Moses goes to Pharaoh[ii], Isaiah[iii] and Jeremiah[iv] go to their own people, Jonah goes to Nineveh[v], Paul goes to the Gentiles[vi] etc. They all go when they see God’s purpose revealed, they go on mission when they have theological insight.
This primacy of God’s initiative, revealing theological insight to motivate a human response, is everywhere in the narrative of the Bible. It can perhaps be most clearly seen in Acts.
In chapter 2 of Acts, the Holy Spirit comes on the disciples at Pentecost with a theological revelation, God’s presence is back, and all people everywhere can experience it. This revelation wasn’t new, in the sense that it had been prophesied by Joel, but it suddenly had new meaning in their experience. Previously, in the Old Testament, some of God’s people had experienced God’s Holy Spirit some of the time for specific tasks. Now they were able to be literally baptised in God’s presence[vii] and filled with God’s presence[viii], all people, everywhere.
This theological insight provokes mission, with 3000 baptised on the day and subsequently people being added to the number daily. By Acts 6, the fledgling church is becoming overwhelmed and needs to re-order itself by appointing deacons. Its mission has led to a need for some ecclesiology. We see a pattern of Theology -> Missiology -> Ecclesiology, a pattern repeated immediately.
In Acts 9-11, both Paul, and then Peter, receive a theological revelation that this Gospel is for all people, in other words the gentiles, the rest of humanity. This again inspires missional activity and by Acts 15, the early church once again has to do some thinking about its practices. So, some more ecclesiology takes place at the Council of Jerusalem. Theology -> Missiology -> Ecclesiology.
If the Biblical pattern is to look to theology first, then that’s where we must also start. The mission of the church is ultimately us playing our part in the Missio Dei. The Mission of God is initiated by God, for God’s purposes, and we have the privilege of joining in. It doesn’t start with what the church should do, it doesn’t start with reaching people, it starts with the purposes of God revealed in the Bible and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Encouragement: When we are thinking about the Missio Dei in our context, there is a wealth of information in the Bible about how God relates to people in mission, and a wealth of experience in our diocese of people living it out.
To think about: How does your church engage with the Missio Dei, in other words what’s driving your activity? Is it theology, missiology or ecclesiology?
[i] Genesis 12:1-3
[ii] Exodus 3:10
[iii] Isaiah 6:8
[iv] Jeremiah 1:7-10
[v] Jonah 3:3
[vi] Acts 9:15
[vii] Acts 19:1-6
[viii] Ephesians 5:18