The Theology of Missions

The Theology of Missions

A Short Paper submitted to Dr. Keith Eitel
In Partial fulfillment of the course requirements of ICST 500

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Sean E. Harris

Lynchburg, Virginia
February 7, 2010

Table of Contents

The Who
Global Outreach
Until His Second Coming
The Task of the Mission

The tremendous variety of different Christian churches on the planet has impacted nearly every aspect of theology including how churches do missions and how they express or articulate their theology of missions. How the church selects and supports missionaries, who they consider a missionary, what their missionaries preach and focus upon all vary significantly based on their understanding of the purpose of missions and missionaries, and, unfortunately, years of traditions and layers of ecclesiastical baggage. Perhaps the single most important question that must be answered in defining a theology of missions is, “What is the mission of the church?” Determining this is difficult because churches often have “contradictory and competing agendas making the picture less than clear.”[1] A mission statement normally answers the questions who, where, when, what/how and why (the intent). The purpose of this paper is to answer these questions in an articulation of the theology of missions from a biblical perspective.

The Who

The “who” of the mission is the body of Christ manifested in thousands upon thousands of local assemblies of disciples of Christ in varying sizes, cultures, languages and traditions. Two thousand years ago, in the city of Jerusalem, King Jesus spoke directly to His followers and gave them a clear mission statement—the “great commission” (see Mt 28:19-20, Mk 16:15, Lk 24:46-49, Jn 20:21, Acts 1:8). The idea of God giving humans responsibility to accomplish tasks began in the Garden of Eden with what has been called the cultural mandate.[2] The great commission is not a replacement for the cultural mandate. It is an additional mission statement for all who have been born-again. All are included in the “who” of the mission statement—no one is excluded (Jn 3). Thus, the first tenant of any theology of missions is that the entire church has a responsibility to be involved in missions. According to Stuart Weber, the mission provides “the central purpose for all believers.”[3] Therefore all believers should be challenged to participate in global missions either as one who is sent or one who holds the rope of one sent.[4] William Carey believed all could pray, plan and give.[5]

Global Outreach

The next question that must be addressed is the “where” of the mission. Is there a geographical or cultural limit to the mission statement? Jesus articulated a very global mission. He said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” and “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Mk 16:15, Acts 1:8 ESV). The church must be passionate about reaching unreached people groups most especially by providing them the Word of God in their own language. The “where” affects what must be done because, as Patrick Johnstone accurately writes, “it is almost impossible to conceive of a strong church within a people that has none of the Bible translated in their own language.”[6]

In “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate,” Johannes Verkuyl makes the strongest case that from the beginning, the God of Abraham has always been concerned with all nations. He writes, “God chose Israel in preparation for the complete unwrapping and disclosure of His universal intentions.”[7] John Piper builds a strong case that the numerous references to “the earth” and “the nations” in Psalms 67, 96, and 97 require the “where” of the mission to be the entire planet.[8] The theological implication of texts that indicate God loves the world and Christ died for the sins of the world all indicate the global extent of the mission (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 2:2). God loves and Christ died for those in the most remote regions of the world; therefore, the mission is not complete until all the people groups of the world have the Word of God in their language and true churches are established in every city, town and village in the world. Johnston states, “Our aim should be at minimum a church for every people.”[9]

Until His Second Coming

The when of the mission began in the Garden of Eden when God promised that the seed of Eve would defeat the offspring of the serpent (Satan) with a head injury (G 3:15). According to T. Desmond Alexander this promise,
Has been labeled the “Protoevangelium,” the first announcement of the gospel. This interpretation requires that the serpent be viewed as more than a mere snake, something which the narrative itself implies, given the serpent's ability to speak and the vile things he says. While the present chapter does not explicitly identify the serpent with Satan, such an identification is a legitimate inference and is clearly what the apostle John has in view in Rev. 12:9 and 20:2. The motif of the offspring of the woman is picked up in Gen. 4:25 with the birth of Seth; subsequently, the rest of Genesis traces a single line of Seth's descendants, observing that it will eventually produce a king through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.[10]

At this point, the gospel has not been preached to all the world; and all the nations have not been blessed by the King’s presence on the earth, so the mission continues until the King returns as promised (Jn 14:3). Missions must be as much a priority today as it was when Paul was preaching the gospel and planting churches (Ro 15:20).

The Task of the Mission

Of great importance is the clear identification and articulation of the “what” of the mission. Roy Zuck describes Israel’s missionary task well. He writes:
The theology of the Old Testament finds focus in great measure in the nation Israel, the covenant people of Yahweh, whom He elected, redeemed, and commissioned to serve Him among the nations of the earth. As a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:46), it was Israel’s task to model the dominion of God over His creation and to mediate His saving grace to fallen and alienated humanity [emphasis mine].[11]

Zuck describes both the cultural mandate and something very similar to the great commission as Israel’s God-ordained task. In so much as “Israel failed in this task and thus was scattered among the nations” (Dt 4:27, Am 9:9), God sent His Son.[12] Jesus, the Son of Man, came to accomplish the task in accordance with the Father’s will (Jn 6:40). He, as the greatest missionary, describes His task in Luke 19:10; Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. John communicates that Jesus did the will of the Father to glorify the Father (Jn 13:31, 17:1). Jesus said, “I glorified you on earth having accomplished the work you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4 ESV). Missionaries glorify God through the conversion and discipleship of those who are not worshipping the one true God. Piper is correct—“missions exist because worship doesn’t.”[13]

King David understood that Israel was to declare the glory of God among the nations (1 Chr 16:24, Ps 96:3). Throughout Old Testament Israel, prophets were given the mission of calling people to destroy idols, repent and worship the One True God. Jonah is an example of an Old Testament missionary. Spencer writes, “[Jonah] as a prophet is sent outside the boundaries of Israel; he is a foreign missionary—the first foreign missionary after Elijah, who was sent among the PhÅ“nicians. The field is Nineveh.[14]

From the Lord Jesus, Paul received his task as the leading missionary to the Gentiles for the church. Arthur Glasser references the instructions found in Galatians 1:16 and Acts 26:28 as the scriptures that communicate his missionary’s task of preaching.[15] Paul communicated that faith comes by hearing the Word of God; therefore, Paul was committed to preaching the gospel (Ro 10:17). He believed the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Ro 1:16). Task number one of the missionary and the “primary what” of the church’s mission must be the preaching of the gospel. K.P. Yohannan, founder of the Gospel for Asia and author of more 200 books on missions, identifies the preaching of the gospel as the number one task of any missionary.[16] In the Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes, Manser Martin agrees with Yohannan indicating that the “principal task of those sent by God is to take the good news of the gospel to those who have not heard it, and so to be a means through which others come to faith.”[17]

In so much as Christ has mandated that those who follow Him through the second birth be discipled, the primary task has supporting tasks that contribute to the magnification of God’s glory on the earth. Yohannan outlines the second and third subsequent tasks of “baptize” and “teach and disciple” with a plethora of Bible verses including Matthew 28:19-20 which emphasize both of these tasks. [18] Local Christ-exalting, gospel-centered indigenous churches must be planted to disciple converts and provide a central location for the worship of the One True God and the other functions of the church as described in Acts 2.

A study of Paul’s methodology provides the model for the missionary. Paul preached, discipled, planted churches, mentored the leaders and turned the church over to an indigenous pastor(s) who carried the work forward.[19] Glasser writes: “[Paul] felt that only through the deliberate multiplication of vast numbers of new congregations would it be possible to evangelize his generation.”[20] Of note is the fact that Paul was not distracted by social work. To what degree each missionary team must involve itself in social gospel tasks cannot be clearly defined with a line in the sand, but it should be sufficient to state in a missiology thesis that these tasks must compliment the preaching of the gospel and discipleship. It was Christ who said “what should it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul” (Mark 8:36). When a missionary spends more time providing clean drinking water than preaching about the living water, he or she is missing the mark (Jn 7:38). Yet, the God of the Bible has a heart for the poor; therefore, God’s missionary cannot ignore the poor he is trying to reach and still claim to be God’s representative (Ex 23:10-12).[21]

It is simply not sufficient to state “preach the gospel” in a missiology thesis. For 2000 years of church history, there have been those who have preached a “different” or “another” gospel (2 Cor 11:4, Gal 1:6, ESV). The only gospel that is sufficient to open blind eyes is the one that accurately communicates the person and work of Christ and the necessity of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). Missionaries of the 21st century must be reminded that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30, ESV). Moreover, the gospel must emphasize salvation by faith through grace as a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). A hybrid of faith and works does not glorify God’s great love, grace and plan of redemption (Ro 5:8), and is therefore not in keeping with the overall theme of God glorifying Himself as the great missionary God. In The Fundamentals, Robert Speer wrote, “We cannot think of God, I say it reverently, without thinking of Him as a missionary God. Unless we are prepared to accept a God whose character carries with it the missionary obligation and idea, we must do without any real God at all.”[22] A gospel that does not emphasize “salvation is of the Lord” needs to be adjusted until the true gospel is preached (Jon 2:9 ESV).

The great purpose of all missionary activities must be to increase the number of people who live lives which are glorifying to God as followers of Christ. The tasks of preaching the gospel, discipling and baptizing converts, and planting churches are the responsibility of everyone. These tasks require numerous supporting activities of which all believers can directly or indirectly be a part of in their Jerusalem and to the uttermost part of the world. Christ gave this mission to the embryonic church just after His resurrection, and it must continue until He returns. The end state is the existence of Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, biblically-sound, indigenous churches, who worship and disciple with the Word of God in their own language throughout every people group (all nations) in fulfillment to the covenant God established with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. It was Christ who promised that the “gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Mt 24:14).


Alexander, T. Desmond “Genesis Notes,” ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Corwin, Gary R. Gary B. McGee, and A. Scott Moreau, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.

George, Timothy. Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey. Birmingham: Christian History Institute, 1998.

Glasser, Arthur F. “The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 4th Edition, ed. Ralph Winters and Steven C. Hawthorne 149-154. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Johnstone, Patrick. “Covering the Globe,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 4th Edition, ed. Ralph Winters and Steven C. Hawthorne 551. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Manser, Martin H. Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999.

Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987.

Piper, John. “Let the Nations Be Glad,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 4th Edition, ed. Ralph Winters and Steven C. Hawthorne 64. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Speer, Robert. “Foreign Missions or World-wide Evangelism” in The Fundamentals: The Famous Sourcebook of Foundational Biblical Truths Vol 3. edited R.A. Torrey, Public Domain.

Spence-Jones, H. D. M. The Pulpit Commentary: Jonah. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004.

Verkuyl, Johannes. “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Missions Mandate,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 4th Edition, ed. Ralph Winters and Steven C. Hawthorne 62. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Weber, Stuart K. Matthew Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993.

Winter, Ralph D. and StevenHawthorne, Steven C., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th edition, Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Yohanna, K.P. Come, Let’s Reach the World. Carrolton, TX: GFA Books, 2004.

Zuck, Roy B. A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.

[1] Gary R. Corwin, Gary B. McGee, and A. Scott Moreau, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009) 71.
[2] Ibid., 26.
[3] Stuart K. Weber, Matthew Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000) 482.
[4] Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Birmingham: Christian History Institute, 1998) 73-74.
[5] Ibid., 63-64.
[6] Patrick Johnstone, “Covering the Globe,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement 4th Edition, ed. Ralph Winters and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009) 551.
[7] Johannes Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Missions Mandate,” Perspectives, 42.
[8] John Piper, “Let the Nations Be Glad,” Perspectives, 64.
[9] Johnstone, Ibid.
[10] T. Desmond Alexander, “Genesis Notes,” ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Crossway Bibles, 2008) 56.
[11] Roy B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991) 202–203.
[12] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987) 750.
[13] Piper, Ibid., 69.
[14] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary: Jonah (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004) 24.
[15] Arthur F. Glasser, “The Apostle Paul and the Missionary Task,” Ibid.,149.
[16] K.P. Yohannan, Come, Let’s Reach the World (Carrolton, TX: GFA Books, 2004) 101.
[17] Martin H. Manser, Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes. The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999) n.p..
[18] K.P. Yohannan, 101.
[19] Glasser, Ibid.,150.
[20] Ibid., 151.
[21] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993) Lev. 25.
[22] Robert Speer, “Foreign Missions or World-wide Evangelism” in The Fundamentals: The Famous Sourcebook of Foundational Biblical Truths Vol 3. ed. R.A. Torrey (Public Domain) 230.

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