Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 6)

One overarching theme in the book of Acts is that the mission of the church is directed by the Holy Spirit. The church cannot fully set its own direction, because she doesn’t grasp the totality of God’s plan. Christ is concerned about reaching lost people. But he is also concerned about recreating his Bride, making her beautiful and fit for the world to come. Because we don’t yet envision the people and community that God intends for us be, we don’t know how to achieve that goal. The Spirit can lead us where we need to go, places of which we are not yet aware. When the purpose of a church reverts to expansion — keeping the ministry exactly as it is, only making it bigger — it is a sign that God’s plan is being thwarted and the Spirit is being ignored.

Sending missionaries is a laudable goal. But a church cannot measure its success, or its degree of obedience to God, solely by the number of missionaries it sends. If we say, “Our mission is to send missionaries,” then we are merely running in circles. We need to clarify what the missionaries are supposed to do. If we say that the missionaries are supposed to make disciples, and those disciples are supposed to make more disciples, then we are again running in circles. The church cannot exist only to replicate itself.

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Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 5)

In the last article of this series, I introduced the strange and novel idea of missionaries being evangelized by their converts. The Bible’s prototypical example appears in Acts chapter 10 in the encounter between Peter and the centurion Cornelius. That story, which is sometimes titled “The Conversion of Cornelius,” could also be called “The Conversion of Peter.”

Here I am using the terms “evangelized” and “conversion” in a broad sense. Peter was not receiving the gospel for the first time. He already was a genuine Christian in a personal relationship with Christ. But through his encounter with Cornelius, his character and faith were transformed again as he came to a new and deeper awareness of the gospel.

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Reading, Discussing, Writing

Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. — Francis Bacon

Bacon adds that if a man writes little, he needs to be really smart, and if he reads little, he will need to “have much cunning to seem to know (that) which he does not.”

Does “knowledge puffs up” mean that we should not increase in knowledge?

Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). As a result, some Christians think that we should focus on love rather than on knowledge. But in context, this verse does not mean, suggest, or imply that a Christian should not increase in knowledge. This verse should definitely not become an excuse for not increasing in knowledge. Knowledge is needed if we are to be good stewards of God’s world. On the contrary, increasing in knowledge should deeply humble us to realize at least these three things:

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A Question from Ray

Dear friends: Today a comment arrived from one of our readers. It was originally addressed to Joshua Yoon in response to this:


Because of its length and scope, we have decided to run it as an article. Take a look and see if you can offer him any advice. Thanks!

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Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 4)

Donald A. McGavran (1897-1990) was born in India as a son and grandson of American missionaries. He served as a missionary in India for thirty years, then returned to the United States and in 1965 became the first dean of Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission. McGavran is known as the founder of the Church Growth movement. His scholarly yet practical writings on the subject are interesting and provocative. Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, cites McGavran as one of his biggest influences. The Church Growth movement has many supporters and critics. I have some opinions about this movement, but I will not discuss them here. This is a purpose-driven article. My purpose in bringing up Donald McGavran is to talk about his observations of 20th century mission agencies in India.

McGavran noticed that some agencies were successful at making converts, but others were stagnant and barely growing. He set out to discover why. After careful observation, he found that the stagnant agencies exhibited some common features. He called their strategy a “mission station” approach. A mission station resembled a North American or European church. Western values and customs were on display, giving the church a decidedly non-Indian look and feel. Converts of these missionaries had powerful conversion experiences, but the converts were few and far between. In The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, missiologist Lesslie Newbigin explains why (p. 122):

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Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 3)

From the perspective of the early Christians at the Jerusalem Council, it is understandable that many of them would think that Gentiles should be circumcised before being admitted to the Church. If we erase from our Bibles everything after Acts chapter 14, the scriptural case for circumcision becomes very strong. Here are some arguments in favor of circumcision.

First, circumcision of males was the definitive sign of being counted among God’s people. Hebrews who refused to be circumcised were no longer Hebrew (Gen 17:4). And throughout the Old Testament, the term “uncircumcised” is used as a synonym for ungodly (see, for example, 1Sa 17:16). Uncircumcised men could not enter the temple, nor could they eat the Passover (Ex 12:48). The Passover depicts salvation and deliverance. The fact that the Passover lamb – a powerful symbol of the crucified Jesus – could not be eaten by uncircumcised men suggests that circumcision may still be applicable under the New Covenant.

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Switching to the NIV 2011

This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. For hundreds of years after its publication, it was the standard English version of the Bible. Will there ever be another standard English translation of the Bible again? I don’t think so. Most churches pick the translation they feel most comfortable with, and church members eventually use that same translation if they didn’t already.

So what do we do when a Bible translation is significantly revised as in the case of the NIV? Should we upgrade or remain with the tried and true translation? Should we consider a newer and different translation altogether such as the ESV? Knowing that there is no perfect translation, should we all learn Hebrew and Greek?

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Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 2)

It happened about two decades — only half a generation — after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Church was facing an identity crisis that threatened to tear the body apart. Some were claiming that God was leading them in an unprecedented and radically new direction. Others were saying that it could not be, because that direction violated the clear, absolute commands of the Bible. Tensions had been flaring for several years. The conflict exploded about 50 A.D., and the top leaders of the Church gathered in Jerusalem to weigh the arguments and render a decision.

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The Difficulties of Genesis 1 (Part 2 of 2)

In my previous article, I tried to show why the first chapter of the Bible is an exceedingly difficult passage for Bible students. The complexity of this chapter is reflected in the vast diversity of interpretations. One could write volumes on how Christians have dealt with Genesis 1 over the course of church history. Here I would like to give you four interpretations by well known preachers of our time. Three of these four men are active pastors ministering to great churches. I am particularly interested in how church pastors deal with the difficulties of Genesis 1, because my concern is not only about the theological debates but also about their practical implications for the church.

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Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 1)

Here is a statement that you might endorse: “The Bible is the authoritative word of God. Refusing to obey God’s word in the Bible is an act of disobedience against God.”

Personally, I believe that statement. And I’ll venture to guess that you do as well.

But now consider this one: “The Holy Spirit is fully God. Refusing to follow the leading of the Spirit is an act of disobedience against God.”

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