Thursday 24 January 2013

"Missionalism": Beware of Hastily Accepting New Theological Language

Have you noticed that in recent years the word "missionalism" has entered into evangelical vocabulary? But, what does it mean? How does this movement stand at the bar of Scripture with its claims of "new ways" to do church? My answer may not be satisfactory, but it is indeed hard to give clear answers to some of these questions because the missional movement is exactly that. It is a movement, it is fluid, it is hard to "pin down" as it were. Different missional adherents say different things and it is not a single cohesive model for the church. This is not surprising though because once the notion is accepted that the New Testament does not teach us how to "do church" explicitly, then a myriad of "new ideas" will arise.

Our question to every theological claim must be to always ask the question posed in Romans 4:3: "For what does the Scripture say?". This is a healthy question and it must always be asked, now, continually, and always. It is the maxim of the reformation and indeed of the apostles. How many times did the Lord Jesus confront the false interpretations of Scripture and the Law with the words: "Have you not read ...?" ? (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; and 22:31). We must not accept every "wind of doctrine" but we must "test all things" (Ephesians 4:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

My main concern in writing this blogpost is to highlight two points regarding this emergent "missional movement". Firstly, it is to warn concerning the quick acceptance of "new theological language" by evangelicals and secondly to question the claim that the NT does not give an apostolic pattern that needs to be replicated.

1. Warning One: Against the Quick Acceptance of New Theological Language

The Cambridge University historian Quentin Skinner gives us all a timely reminder as he writes: "The surest sign that a group or society has entered into the self-conscious possession of a new concept is that a corresponding vocabulary will be developed, a vocabulary which can then be used to pick out and discuss the concept in question with consistency" (Quentin Skinner, "Visions of Politics: Volume 1 Regarding Method", Cambridge: CUP, 2010, p 160). If we accept Skinner's assessment then, the acceptance of new vocabulary is the sign of a "new concept". Therefore the acceptance of the new phrase "missionalism" is to knowingly or unknowingly accept "new theological concepts". Let us consciously question people in love, as to why we need "new concepts" when the Scripture is unchanging. What has changed? The Scripture has not changed, therefore it must be our understanding of Scripture that has moved in such a case.

2. Warning Two: The Claim that the NT Does not Give an Apostolic Pattern is False

The church throughout history have never believed that the Bible does not teach an apostolic pattern for the church. Indeed much of the historic debate has related around this crucial question. My own conviction is that the confessional presbyterian pattern most closely represents Scripture. However, my reading of the missional authors is that they claim that there is no fixed pattern for us to follow; in fact it must be evangelism that must drive the agenda. This claim was similarly adopted by all the big evangelists in the 20th Century, but is this what Scripture teaches?

My blog posts are intended to get people thinking, to stir people to critical analysis and to not accept things which have not been tested and evaluated thoroughly. Yes this is a demanding task but we dare not play around with the church or use the church to fulfil our individual dreams or visions, lest we wake up one day and find ourselves sitting somewhere that is not a true church, one that is not faithful to Christ Jesus.

"The Beloved Son ... is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:13, 18).

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