Missions in the Bible
As we turn now to the New Testament we approach it with new eyes. We have by now seen that the whole Old Testament (from Genesis 12 through Malachi) is the record of a nation called to be a missionary nation, yet wavering in disbelief and disobedience. We saw how we need to shake ourselves loose from the concept of a "hibernating mandate" for the Old Testament that is, the belief that the mandate God gave to Israel He never intended them to fulfill before the coming of Christ. Giving up this view makes the New Testament suddenly much clearer. However, giving up this view is not easy. Let me give an example of one of our readers as he struggles with this.
I was just now reading (rather tardily) the "Missions in the Bible" page from the May issue of Mission Frontiers and was somewhat disturbed. First of all, I should say that there were many good insights in it and it did a good job of spotlighting the missionary concerns of God in the Wisdom books. However, Mrs. Winter seemed disappointed that such concerns did not occur more often in those books. She complained that Job, Solomon and Ecclesiastes were caught up in their personal or national concerns.
I think we need to remember that the books of the Bible are not just reflections of their times and the concerns of their culture but also are reflections of what God wanted to say to his people at a given point in time. If God had desired a greater missionary emphasis in the words He inspired, He jolly well would have put it in.
I hope you will find my comments to be beneficial, If I misinterpreted the article, I would welcome correction. Please don't feel it is necessary to reply.
T.C., Culver City
Dear T. C.
I could have written your letter myself a couple of years ago, because until that time I had tended to look at the Bible as basically a compilation of inspired writings put together for our immediate blessing.
Now, however, in this series of lessons I feel I am expressing a much better grasp of what God is trying to say to us in His word. Let me illustrate it as though we are not talking about the life of a nation but about the life of an individual. Let's
suppose that a person who has been called to "be a blessing to all the nations of the earth" really did not live out his life very effectively in that call and was not only not reaching out to people all over the world to be a blessing to them but was not even effectively reaching out to people close at hand. And, worse still, he was overcome with anxiety about his own safety, security, and salvation and was totally preoccupied with simply fighting battles of selfishness rather than generosity, battles of greed versus love, battles of morality and hedonism versus obedience and sacrifice.
Now if God were going to compose an inspired account of this person's calling and response, it would be necessary for God to describe things accurately which we believe the Bible does as it describes the obedience and disobedience of the nation Israel. Thus the account of this individual would have to be a rather discouraging account of wavering disbelief and disobedience, just as the Bible is as it talks about a nation. Obviously God does not intend for us as we read the Bible today to find out new methods of falling away from Him, but neither does He intend for us to fall back to the level at which Israel was as it was absorbed in fighting all those little battles.
It seems to me that Luke 24:47 clearly indicates that those who rightly handle the Old Testament scriptures should be able to perceive a mandate for mission that was resident therein. They should be able also to perceive the basic record of disobedience across the centuries which the Old Testament describes just as we today, on looking back, can see the pervasive disobedience on the part of most Christians both in the New Testament and since in regard to Christ's last and greatest command. The mere fact that the Pauline epistles are in the main occupied with the kindergarten problems of his hearers surely does not nullify the fact that the Great Commission still stood as the overarching major campaign within which all of those people should have surely been operating. Paul himself, of course, was operating within that commission. He constantly reiterated that his concern was to go where Christ was not named, and he distinguished his ministry as being to the uncircumcised while Peter's was to the circumcised. As I see it now, I am a bit shocked by the fact that Peter, who stood there when the Great Commission was given, would be later classifiable as a person whose ministry was mainly to his own people.
I think we should also be shocked by the level of vision of the disciples after the resurrection in Acts I. Here they are still very childishly preoccupied with receiving power when Jesus should come into his kingdom, and they ask Him about the timing for that event. Jesus turns to them with infinite patience and says, "Look, you will receive power only when you allow the Holy Spirit to make you into His witnesses to the ends of the earth." After Pentecost Peter, in his sermon in the temple, clearly voiced this commission (Acts 3:25) and yet as a matter of actual fact, except for his ministry to Cornelius, we have no record that Peter was very actively involved in that commission to go beyond Judea, and even less is there a record that the other disciples went to the Gentiles.
You can see this is a very different view from what I used to have, and it isn't a common view at all. Yet in a sense it is the view that Jesus had as He looked back at the Old Testament tradition (Luke 24:47) and pointed out that the story was pretty consistently one of stoning the prophets. In saying this, is He implying that God wasn't interested in the nations? But Jonah is proof that He was.
But, you say, if God had wanted the people to respond to the prophets he "jolly well could have put that in." But how could God put something in that wasn't there? The fact that the Bible records the incriminating fact that the people did not respond to the prophets is proof of Biblical inspiration. It is also true that the people did not respond to the Great Commission as we find it recorded in Genesis 12:1 3. And the Bible again tells it like it is. The Bible in your words "tells reflections of what God wanted to say to his people at a given point in time." This is absolutely true. But the Bible doesn't just tell about those who obeyed; with equally divine inspiration it faithfully portrays what the children of Israel said back to God in return, even when grossly disobedient. Thus the Bible reflects very accurately not only God's words to His people, but the words of His people in response to their God. What I am saying is not a low view of inspiration. I am certainly interested in your own groping with this point since I shared it for some years myself. Please feel free to reply to this.