The rediscovery of Missio Dei, has been described by some as one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century. The Latin Missio Deimeans “the mission of God” or “the missionary God” and has at its heart the idea that we, the church, are part of a big story beginning in the heart of God. God is at work redeeming his world and this work culminated through the obedience of Jesus to death and resurrection. It continues today through the sending of the Spirit and the commissioning of the church to work with God in that mission.
On Sundays at Hobart Baptist we are currently working our way through the book of Acts, Luke’s story of the beginnings of the church. Luke’s story had two parts. In part one, the Gospel of Luke, he tells the story of Jesus’ personal and public ministry on earth. Now in part two, the book of Acts, he describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry from heaven, exercised by the Holy Spirit through his people the church.
As we work our way through Acts we will see again and again how God is at work through the church helping the church fulfil God’s mission. We see, surprisingly, how the early church did not have a ‘missions program’, the reason being is that it was the missions program. The church did not produce missional activities because the missionary God was at work and the church were those activities. In other words, the church did not define mission, the mission of God defined the church.
We see, surprisingly, how the early church did not have a ‘missions program’, the reason being is that it was the missions program.
Acts reinforces what the whole Bible records, that the mission of God is the centrepiece of history and demonstrates what it looks like when the church is commissioned to help God with that mission. It highlights that we are the missional people of God.
Every one of us, whether individually or corporately, are on a mission, but it is not our mission. This mission emanates from the heart of God. It is not an add-on to other church activities, it is the very reason for our existence. Everything else is we do is peripheral.
We are God’s missional community called into existence to be the outworking of the missional heart of God. We have been given the Spirit to equip us as we join God in the mission to renew the world with the gospel. My prayer is that we will be inspired by our series in Acts:
That it will give us insights into the missional heart of God
That we will find ourselves more and more aware of what God is doing in the lives of those around us.
And that we will be a church ready to be used by God however and whatever that might mean.
I believe to be one of the most important themes in the Book of Acts is the sovereignty of God.
While some read Acts as if it is a manual for church life or church growth, (although there are things to learn about these) closer inspection reveals this is not Luke’s purpose in writing the story of the early church. Luke does not set out to describe how the early Christians got things right and in doing so forced God to act, rather, he tells the story of broken, flawed and fallen saints, just like you and me, through whom God worked in spite of their human failures. And even when they do appear to get things right, God often carries out his purposes in new, different and unexpected ways.
Luke begins exploring this theme right at the beginning in Acts 1. Here, 120 followers of Jesus look for a replacement for Judas, who is now dead. Although Matthias is chosen, Luke never mentions him again in his writings. It is Saul, introduced in Acts 8 and converted in Acts 9; who then undergoes a name change to Paul in Acts 13; who ultimately fulfils the task of apostle and is the driving force behind the gospel’s acceptance by Gentiles. The man-made-made choice in Acts 1, is overturned by God in Acts 13.
Similarly Stephen and Philip, two of those chosen in Acts 6 to be deacons to care for widows, become more effective evangelists than the apostles they were appointed to assist. And then, despite the fact that Jesus told his disciples they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and right across the world (Acts 1:8), it is not their initiative but the persecution described in Acts 8 following the death of Stephen, that finally gets them out of Jerusalem. They took no initiative at all, but God used persecution to get them moving.
Obviously there isn’t the space to explore all the examples of human failings in Acts, but these few serve to illustrate that Luke does not give us a formula that we can follow to get the results we desire. There is no simple pattern outlined that we are to follow that will ensure a church grows – just as there is no pattern to follow ensuring we receive the power of the Spirit as happened at Pentecost.
One of the primary purposes of the Book of Acts is to show the story of God at work. Luke starts his account before the birth of the church and follows its growth through persecution until it reaches the capital of the known world, Rome. Throughout the story Paul illustrates how God acts the way he wants, when he wants, and no one can thwart his purposes. Then even when the church appears to get it right, God retains the right to do it his own way.
Working through the Book of Acts, the reader comes back again and again to this theme of the sovereignty of God. There are no formulas, no patterns, no manuals, just a loving God, at work in his world, drawing people to himself. Can you think of times in your life when, despite your own poor efforts, God turned up anyway? If so, Id love to hear about them!
Stephen L Baxter
Last week at Hobart Baptist I began a series of sermons to work through the Book of Acts. I expect that as we read through Luke’s account of the early days of the church, we will be struck by the sense of momentum and adventure.
Those early days saw the emergence of communities of faith that were unique in the world because of their mutual accountability and generosity. People were drawn to God through an amazing mixture of radical community, miracles, and Holy Spirit-empowered living and witness. The result was a church that grew at an exponential rate. But it was not all easy. The adventure was full of moments of great challenge and crisis. There were imprisonments and conflicts, persecution and even premature death. In a strange way these all added to the sense of wonder and adventure.
The impression you get reading Acts is that Jesus is building his church and the people are playing ‘catch up’. Time and time again God pops up and takes the initiative and everyone has to readjust to the new thing that his happening. Just like a surfer who sits on his surfboard waiting for a wave, Acts is like a story about a wave generated by the Holy Spirit which the followers of Jesus struggle to catch. It is the story of God on the move and his people going along for the ride. Perhaps you could also work your way through the book of Acts over the next few weeks?
If you do, it is my prayer that God will help you to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in your church community today; and then having perceived what he is doing we will have the courage to “catch the wave” and continuing being part of God’s great adventure. I’d love to have your thoughts as you read it through! How does your ‘surfing’ go?
Stephen L Baxter