Home Pastors Pastor Blogs Monday is for Missiology: Division, Precision, and God's Mission

Monday is for Missiology: Division, Precision, and God's Mission

I recently discussed the mission of the church with a group of Reformed pastors– I will leave the location and the group out of the post, but it was not here in Brazil. The room was divided on the mission issue and a few were suspicious of my position. Those pastors who were suspicious had been influenced by the recent declarations on what the mission of the church is NOT–restricting the church’s mission to proclamation and disciple making. Those who voiced the restrictive view on the mission of the church were suspicious of anyone who says the mission includes serving the hurting.

Based on our conversations, at least some of the restrictivists assumed those who have a more expansive view of the church’s mission are either naïve or compromisers– they don’t read the Bible well, and they are not orthodox enough. They have divided over the issue– leading to division over the mission.

I get that Reformed folks (like Baptists) tend to easily divide over things. Yet, in this case, I believe this is what happens when we don’t clearly articulate what all sides are saying on an issue. We draw artificial doctrinal lines, and we don’t pay careful attention to what people affirm and deny.

There ARE people who compromise the gospel by embracing social justice to the exclusion of clear gospel proclamation, but because this debate has been handled as it has, friendly fire has created suspicion in the Reformed community on the issue. (This particular version of the debate is largely a Reformed conversation– with a few exceptions, evangelicals are debating prioritism and how it works, but some in the Reformed community have been debating restrictivism.)

Some Reformed people now are suspicious that those who think like The Gospel Coalition (that churches “must work for justice”) are naïve or compromisers (both of those words were used in the discussions I mentioned earlier). That saddens me… and prompted this blog post.

In short, we sow division within the body of Christ when we critique in such a way that those we disagree with on minor issues are perceived as having major doctrinal issues and are compromising the gospel. It breeds suspicion and creates disunity. Furthermore, we sow division when we do not fully understand the position of others–and ignore their calls of “foul” when their positions have been misrepresented.

Since this was a group of Reformed pastors, I suggested they look to the Gospel Coalition Theological Vision for Ministry–it’s hard to call D.A. Carson and Tim Keller naïve and compromising, yet in the statement they affirm, they do state that churches should “work for justice.” In the statement they use a strong and clear word–“must”–to describe a church’s responsibility to do works of mercy. (You might also find it interesting that more than one of those pastors did indeed think that Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian have lost their way on the issue.)

If you don’t agree with the way the mission of the church is articulated in the Gospel Coalition Theological Vision for Ministry, that’s fine. But, let’s be careful not to unintentionally sow division in the body of Christ by stating some people care about evangelism and others do not. There are real issues out there, but they are not settled when some take a restrictivist view and assume those who do not are just not reading the Bible very well.

I want people and pastors talking more, not less, about mission– I endorsed two more great books on the subject last week. And, there are good people who hold restrictivist views, and I value their ministries even when I disagree with their conclusion (while affirming their concerns). My hope is that in this discussion, views like the Gospel Coalition do not get unfairly labeled and lead to unhelpful division.

I hope that Tim Keller is right, and there is a growing convergence on the issue. But this experience made me wonder. This meeting made me think that, at least there, Tim was wrong– there was not convergence but there was suspicion. It reminded me of how careful we all must be, lest we sow unintentional division rather than gospel unity.

Tomorrow, Pastor Sergio Querioz and I will discuss the mission of the church, live on The Exchange from Brazil. We will discuss what he calls “an American problem” on the subject and then talk about how they view things here (as well as how others do in Central and South America). It will be worth your time. We will continue the conversation we started here in this two minute clip:

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is the Dean of Talbot School of Theology at Biola Univeristy and Scholar in Residence & Teaching Pastor at Mariners Church. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates; and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the Editor-in-Chief of Outreach Magazine, and regularly writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Dr. Stetzer is the host of "The Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast," and his national radio show, "Ed Stetzer Live," airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.