A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 5: Spirit)
Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.
Christians acknowledge that Father, Son, and Spirit live in eternal and unbroken communion with one another. The unified nature of their fellowship lies not only in their shared attributes and perfections but also in the unified nature of their mission. The Triune God’s mission is equally the Father’s, the Son’s, and the Spirit’s mission. Though the persons of the Trinity may play different roles, they nonetheless are working as One.
The Scriptures make clear that the Spirit plays an active role in our mission: It is He who empowers us for mission (Acts 1:8) and He who gives us the words to say in time of need (Mt 10:17-20). It is he who convicts souls (Jn 16:8-11) and He who grows the church both in number (Acts 2:14-41) and in maturity (Eph 4:7-13).
It is probably fair to say that, in Baptist circles, the Spirit often is talked about only sporadically, with hesitancy, and even with apology. What does such an infrequently-discussed and mysterious doctrine have to do with such a concrete and practical discipline as missiology?
The Spirit Reveals
Throughout the ages, Christians have recognized that God reveals Himself through His Word by His Spirit. Indeed, the human writers of Scripture wrote as they were moved by the Spirit (2 Pet 1:21) so that Paul could make clear that all Scripture is theopneustos, or “God-breathed,” and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Scripture is the very breath of God. This teaching has manifold and serious implications for our missiology.
For example, there are entire people groups, consisting of millions, who are unable to access Holy Scripture. This means that Christian workers must (1) make every effort to communicate the Scriptures to them even though they are not able to read the Scriptures on their own; (2) equip those same oral learners to share the gospel and build the church even while they are unable to read the Scriptures; (3) pray for and support those who work in Bible translation; (4) pray for Bible translation movements just as we pray for church planting movements; and (5) pray for, and work toward, the development of literacy in these people groups. Why should we withhold from them the very words of God, the workmanship of the Spirit of God?
This also means that we must pray, work, and even fight to have the Scriptures translated accurately. In Muslim areas, some Bible translators have sought to remove necessary Christian language, such as “son of God,” from translations in an attempt not to offend Muslims. However, to do so is to remove a central biblical teaching and to neuter the gospel itself.
The Spirit convicts, teaches and illumines
Further it is the Spirit who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8-11), who teaches all things (Jn 14:26) and who opens the eyes of our hearts that we might understand (I Cor 2:12; Eph 1:17-19). With this in mind, we must not rely exclusively on such things as communication models or people-group profiles. Rather, our mission in any context should be undergirded by prayer. We should pray that the Spirit will enable us to interpret the Scriptures rightly and that He will bring understanding and conviction to those who are our audience.
The Spirit empowers, gives gifts, and enables fruit
In addition to his agency in teaching, conviction, and illumination, the Spirit empowers us to proclaim the Word (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Pet 1:12), to pray effectively (Rom 8:26), and to have power over the forces of evil (Mt 12:28; Acts 13:9-11). He also gives gifts to each person (1 Cor 12:11) and enables believers to bear fruit (Gal 5:22-23). This truth suggests that church planting is probably best done in teams, as the multiple members of a team use their spiritual gifts together, and bear fruit together one with another. The result is that those who are watching will see more clearly what Christ intends for his church. Another implication is that a new convert can immediately be considered a “new worker,” a part of the team, as he is surely already gifted by the Spirit and capable of bearing fruit. Immediately he can give testimony to Christ and edify the believers.
The Spirit restrains
The Spirit works providentially, restraining evil (2 Thess 2:6-7). After the Fall, sin entered the world and with devastating consequences. Man’s relationships with God, with others, with the created order, and even with himself were broken. Sin fractured the world at all levels. It is only by the restraining power of the Spirit that the world is not an utter horror. This is a grace that God has given to the entire world, a common grace that allows us to act and interact in family, workplace, and community. It is a grace that allows use our relational, rational, and creative capacities, even though they are damaged by sin and are bent toward idolatry.
Reliance upon the Spirit
Our great encouragement is this: God the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals, teaches, convicts, illumines, empowers, gives gifts and fruits, restrains, and provides. We go in His power and leave the results in His hands. It is he who quickens the hearts of those to whom we preach. We need not try to coerce or to manipulate.
We go in conscious reliance upon the Spirit; our mission is empowered by the Spirit of the living God. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).