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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Confessional and/or versus Missional

There is a an attempt to divide and place in opposition two important parts of the church, that of confessing the faith and that of carrying out the faith or bearing witness of one’s faith. Statements are made that a person or church, cannot be both. Statements are made that a person or church is either spending all its time defending the faith that it espouses or they are out sharing that faith. The following is a somewhat biased attempt to understand what is behind this accusation, if this accusation is true, and what is the relationship between one’s confession and one’s bearing witness of their faith.
 
First, let us look at what it means to be a “missional church”. What is the “missional church” as defined by those in the “missional church”? A short internet search of the term “missional” brings the following definitions (with a bit of comment). The online encyclopedia/dictionary defines the missional church as: a church that “attempts to take Christ to ’the lost’ and its members are personally engaged in reaching their communities with the message of Jesus Christ” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missional_living). This statement is a laudable statement, and although I would use other more appropriate Biblical terms, this definition is one that is quite true.
 
The magazine, Christianity Today says the following: “Among the commonly cited deficiencies of Christendom are the Reformational marks of the church. Allegedly, concern for true preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments leads to an unhealthy focus on the church’s internal life. With the ministry of Word and sacrament de-centered for a vague notion of ‘mission,’ strange forms of experimentation can result” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/16.56.html) (Emphasis added). According to this author, the very means of grace, the very means that God has of giving us the gifts He has to give, is a “deficiency” and “leads to an unhealthy focus on the church’s internal life.”
 
From the Missional Manifesto we read:“Missional represents a significant shift in the way we understand the church. As the people of a missionary God, we are entrusted to participate in the world the same way He does—by committing to be His ambassadors” (http://www.missionalmanifesto.net/). The difficulty of this statement is that we cannot participate in this world as God does. God participated in flesh as Jesus giving His life for ours. We participate in this world as priests, living lives of faith, always being ready to give an answer for our hope in Jesus alone.
 
And finally, also from the Missional Manifesto we read:“Through the grace of God, when a person repents of their sin, confesses the Messiah as Lord, and believes in His resurrection, they gain what the Bible defines as new and eternal life” (http://www.missionalmanifesto.net/). Although this statement is listed as Gospel, we can see the confusion of Law and Gospel making the Gospel into a new Law, i.e., “when a person . . .” is Law, not Gospel. It is Jesus who earned forgiveness for us on the cross and who gives us that forgiveness, as well as all His gifts, through the very means He has given us, the means of grace.
 
Now, let us look at what it means to be confessional. Again, doing an internet search to be fair, from the online encyclopedia/dictionary we read: “Confessionalism, in a religious (and particularly Christian) sense, is a belief in the importance of full and unambiguous assent to the whole of a religious teaching. Confessionalists believe that differing interpretations or understandings, especially those in direct opposition to a held teaching, cannot be accommodated within a church communion” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessionalism_(religion)). A confessional is one who confesses, without deviation, an orthodoxy of faith.
 
Another entry from the online encyclopedia/dictionary we read: “Confessional Lutheran is a name used by Lutheran Christians to designate themselves as those who accept the doctrines taught in the Book of Concord of 1580 (the Lutheran ‘confessional’ documents) in their entirety as completely faithful (quia) to the teachings of the Bible. While most Lutheran denominations find the basis of their faith in the Book of Concord, ‘Confessional Lutherans’ maintain that faithfulness to it requires attention to how that faith is actually being preached, taught, and put into practice. Confessional Lutherans believe that this is a vital part of their identity as Lutherans” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confessional_Lutheran). A confessional Lutheran is one who believes that one’s confession is orthodox only as it is confessed, taught, and practiced, with an emphasis on practice in faithfulness. In other words, for one to be a confessional Lutheran one must actually practice what one preaches and believes.
    Perhaps we should look at what Scripture says concerning being confessional and/or being missional. One example might be God’s command to the Children of Israel when they entered the promised land. God did not tell them to be missional but to be confessional. God did not tell them to share the message of salvation but to wipe out the heathen people in the land. Certainly we understand this as God’s divine judgement against those in the land.
 
But what about Elijah and the prophets of Baal? God did not have Elijah create a house of prayer with the prophets of Baal. No, He had Elijah challenge them to an altar contest. Elijah even made fun of them and laughed at them. And finally, God had the prophets of Baal killed as well.
 
Why all this killing of the heathen and Baal worshipers? Because God knew what would happen if the confession of His name and Word were compromised by those outside the faith. And we see throughout the Old Testament what happened when the Children of Israel compromised their confession of faith.
 
But what about the New Testament? In the Gospel of John we have the account of Jesus speaking hard words so that some took offense and left Him (John 6:51-69). Jesus was not concerned about being relevant, nor offensive, rather He was interested in keeping His Word faithful and true. In the Gospel of Matthew we have God’s Great Commission as it is called. Although that is the topic of another article, let us just say that rather than being a great commission, the words of Jesus are the great giving of authority and God’s promise to always be with His people. Although we are encouraged to bear witness of our faith through our daily vocations as priests in the priesthood of all believers, again another article, there is no real statement from God in Holy Scripture as a command being missional. There are many passages which speak of confessing sound doctrine. The following is a partial listing: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” Romans 16:17 (ESV). “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” 1 Timothy 6:3-4b (ESV). “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” Titus 1:9 (ESV). “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” Titus 2:1 (ESV) .
 
Although Scripture shows quite clearly that God is more interested in a true confession of doctrine, it never puts doctrine and practice, or as we speak in this article, confession and missional in opposition. Scripture speaks clearly of the importance of pure doctrine for the purpose of giving a true witness of faith, a true missional emphasis. Martin Luther, C.F.W. Walther, Alvin Barry all understood this and spoke of the importance making sure our doctrine is pure so that we might bear witness of that doctrine, of getting the message straight and getting the message out.
 
But, let us get back to the question, “Can a person be confessional without being missional?” The accusation is that if a person is spending all their time guarding the message, then the message is simply kept out of reach of others. The fallacy of this accusation is the very fact that as a person studies, learns, and learns to defend what they have learned, they cannot help but want to tell others of what they have learned. Remember as a child in first grade, learning to read, you wanted to show everyone you could read.
 
Can a person be missional without being confessional? Here again the suggestion is that for the church to survive we must get the message out. But how can one share what one does not have or how can one share that about which they know nothing. In other words, unless I know what I am sharing, what do I have to share?
 
My conclusion is that a person cannot be confessional without being missional because being missional simply flows out of being confessional. On the other hand, a person can be missional according to their own definition of being missional without being confessional; however, as we have seen, without a confession to be missional about this lack of a confession simply means they truly are neither confessional nor missional.

1 comment:

  1. I think that there is an "order" of being confessional and missional, both. The being confessional must come *first*. You need a solid message to confess in God's mission. Often, though, I see this turned backwards. You gotta get the people out there! Do they know the faith? Are they actually prepared/ready to give answer for the hope they have?

    I think the SMPP alternative route for the Office of the Ministry is a prime example of this "getting priorities backwards". Without the biblical languages or even a class on Christian doctrine, these "Pastors" are ordained and put to work, even as their education continues. It's as though "getting them out there" into the mission is more important than their understanding of that mission.

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