How should we approach the question of the mission of the NT church? Should we begin with the marching orders given to the disciples in the Great Commission of Matthew 28? In order to properly understand these marching orders we must begin far earlier in our understanding of the nature of the church and her mission. We must begin with the covenant foundations of the church found in the OT and specifically in God’s covenant with Abraham. Covenant is the way God establishes and maintains relationship with his people. It is a promise agreement that creates a bond of law and love, which is why we call marriages covenants.
Directly after God's judgement of the people at Babel (Gen. 11), the Lord introduces starts his rescue mission. The way he will redeem the nations he has just created is through his covenant with a man named Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3 the Lord calls Abraham and promises offspring and to make him into a great nation. He promises to bless him so that he will be a blessing. And he promises that in him "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (12:3). The word translated families refers to races, or major divisions of ethnic & national groups. The ethno-linguistic divisions created in Genesis 11 are here included in the great promise for Abraham and the soon to be nation of Israel.
Abraham received all of these incredible promises from the LORD, but when those seemed to not be fulfilled as Abraham remained childless, he doubted. The LORD came to him and confirmed his promise.
When will Abraham experience this wonderful promise? When will he look upon this great multitude of his children? In Revelation 7:9-10, John looks upon the throne of God and around the throne he sees this glorious picture:
What will be the conversation between the Lord and Abraham when this glorious end-times hope is achieved? Christopher Wright in his book The Mission of God, imagines it this way: “And God in the midst of the resounding praises, will turn to Abraham and say, ‘There you are. I kept my promise. Mission accomplished.” Nothing less than this image captures the scope of God’s covenant with Abraham and its position in the unfolding revelation of God’s covenant of grace.
It is important for our purposes in this series to notice that this promise of the full inclusion of the nations as the people of God comes at the very beginning of the creation of Israel. It is not plan B, but has been the very heartbeat of God's redemption from the moment he called Abraham to "Go" (12:1). And just as Paul views Abraham as foundational and the chief example for justification by faith (Romans 4), we should also see God's covenant with Abraham as foundational for God's mission as realized through the church. This is exactly what Paul says in Galatians 3, where he declares that the offspring of Abraham are those who have faith like Abraham. And that in the promise of Genesis 12:3, "the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed'" (Gal. 3:8). The radical interpretation of this promise to Abraham in the context of Galatians means that Gentiles are accepted as the covenant people not by becoming ethnically Jewish (through circumcision) but through faith in Christ. The people of God would be defined not by ethnic markers but by faith, as was the intention from the beginning.
All of this is crucially important as we begin to see that God's heart for the multiethnic church is not a new thing, but as old as his covenant with Abraham. The multiethnic or multicultural church is the fulfillment of these very promises to Abraham. This shows that there is a unity in the way that God works with his people throughout all of history. This unity is found in how God covenants himself to his people (namely through Christ) and in the people to whom God covenants himself (the whole world). However, both of these remain as promise, shadow and prophecy until the coming of Christ which brings fulfillment, reality and realization. In the next installment of our series we will look at the beginnings of this fulfillment in the great mission that Jesus gives his church.
The Great Commission within a covenant framework
The New Testament pattern of multiethnic local churches
The power of the gospel from Ephesians 2
Multicultural church planting in Muncie
Please join me in this journey.
Also, much of this work is indebted to so many people so I will try to highlight some resources each blog that have helped me along the way. And if you are interested in learning more, I have written two seminary papers that are attached that have full bibliographies.
This book has been immensely helpful in understanding the Abrahamic Covenant and God's mission in the world. It is a dense book but worth the investment.
This book is a short overview of God's redemptive story, hitting the highlights of how God saves his people.
This is a more in depth look of God's redemptive story with a special emphasis on God's covenant with his people. I have been greatly influenced by this great little book.
For those of you who want to dig more behind the scenes on this topic, I have attached two of my seminary papers that deal with the issue more in depth and include significant bibliographies. And if you want to chat about any of this, contact me please and lets get coffee and discuss (if you're blessed to live in the greatest city in the world, Muncie, IN).