We have a problem. The words, “missions,” and, “missionary,” are not in the Bible, but there is a two-thousand-year history of disciples doing this thing that we now call missions, and we call them missionaries.
I believe the best way to answer this is to look at my favorite book, and the one that has most changed my life; the book of Acts. The book is 28 chapters long and the outline for the book is given to us at the beginning, on the eighth verse. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus told his apostles, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Could this have been meant just for his apostles? Maybe, but I think not.
Most evangelical disciples believe that this prophecy/command wasn’t given just to those that heard the statement, but to all of us, after all, twelve apostles couldn’t reach “the ends of the earth,” since the western hemisphere hadn’t been discovered.
Here are the four points of the outline:
- The Holy Spirit comes.
- Witnesses to Jerusalem
- Witnesses to Judea and Samaria
- Witnesses to the ends of the earth
Then, Luke, the brilliant author of Acts, unfolds the story.
By the way, Luke was a doctor!
Points 1 and 2—H.S. and Jerusalem: In the second chapter, the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles, they preached to a crowd in Jerusalem, and 3000 people were saved. Then, still in Jerusalem, they continued to spread the gospel and the number of disciples grew to 5000.
Point 3—Judea and Samaria: Because of persecution, disciples, “were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. . . Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1, 4) We are told stories of Phillip in Samaria, and then Phillip in Judea. We are also told stories of Peter healing and preaching in Judea and Samaria.
Point 4—the ends of the earth: Next, apostles named Paul and Barnabas are sent off by the Holy Spirit into Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). They were so successful that Luke wrote, “and the gospel spread through the entire region.” (Acts 13:49)
On subsequent missionary journeys Paul visited the new churches in Asia Minor, but continued to advance the gospel further and further into un-evangelized territory. He summed up his strategy in this way: “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. . . But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain.” (Romans 15:19-24)
Main points—The words, missions, and missionary, are not explicitly defined in the New Testament but are made clear by:
- Seeing the prophecy/command of Jesus progress through the four-point outline of the book of Acts.
- Seeing examples of newly established churches multiplying, without the presence of missionaries, so that the gospel spreads throughout entire regions.
- Paul’s testimony that, once churches have proven themselves to be healthy through the power of the HS, there is no more work to be done there and it is time to move on to another group who have never heard the good news (Spain).
So what?—If you don’t know where the basket is, you will never score a goal. It is the same way if we, the church, don’t accurately know what the mission is.
I truly enjoy reading your posts. Your main point number 3 is interesting. How does one know the church has exhibited the signs of the Holy Spirit and it is time to “move on” to other places to share the gospel? I agree totally that we are too often feeding the souls of people who already know Jesus and that there is a lost and dying world that needs to know Him. It seems like a lot of the American church could face Jesus thinking they know Him but Jesus will tell them they do not know Him. The signs of having the Holy Spirit to me are shown by the fruits that a follower of Jesus produces in addition to their characteristics being Christ like, love above all. So, my heart is for ALL to come to know Jesus and sometimes that also means making sure I check in with the Holy Spirits discernment on those that say they do, that think they do that may not. Only God knows their heart, but God will let His people know which way to go as far as sharing the gospel. Just some thoughts… I can’t articulate a good question out of it. You are one that I look up to as a Spiritual leader as are several of your family members. I love the work you all do for Jesus and enjoy praying for you and getting to serve sometimes with you. Be blessed and loved…
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Thanks for your kind words, Jamie. In answer to your question, here is how I see it in the book of Acts, and how we have seen it in our missionary career. First, missionaries preach the gospel among an unreached people group. Some people repent and put their faith in Jesus. At this point, according to the Bible, they are saved and receive the Holy Spirit. When a missionary sees the power of the Holy Spirit move in this way, it proves, in their mind, that the church is being established by God. This is what I meant by point number three and I now see that I rushed through without explaining it well.
True disciples have the Holy Spirit inside and, as you said, their behavior starts to change, primarily in that they have a heart of forgiveness and love. Disciples also want to gather with others to talk about their life in Jesus and to pray. This is the beginning of the church.
As these churches formed, Paul helped them choose leadership (it is possible that Paul directly appointed elders) and taught about the Lord’s supper, how to collect money for the poor and for missions, and things like that.
There was no New Testament and the Greek converts didn’t have Old Testaments (remember that these had to be copied by hand and were very expensive). I point this out to emphasize that, as a missionary, Paul did not consider it his work to teach the church everything that he knew about Jesus, or everything in the Old Testament. His work was done once a healthy church was established. He put his trust in the Holy Spirit, inside the disciples, to work through the disciples to spread the gospel in that region.
Thanks for clarifying! I really like your main point. Also really resonate with this extra info you added in responding to Jamie’s comment. Really thankful for this blog and how it has pushed me to reevaluate some things I think and provided awesome things to discuss with close Christian community.
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A sevenfold amen to that!
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