The Heart of Paul’s Mission Methodology

When you look at the missionary practices of the apostle Paul he seems to be all over the place. He receives support and he refuses support, he circumcises his converts and he abominates the idea of circumcising his converts, he lives like he’s under the law and he lives like it doesn’t exist, he eats certain foods and abstains from certain foods.

And there are many other tensions in his missionary service. It appears at times that his methodology is haphazard and inconsistent. The diversity of his approach warns us against building strategies on one facet of his missionary service. The driving force in his methodology is the gospel. His mantra was: I do all things for the purpose of the gospel (1 Cor 9:23).

His burning passion was to see the gospel advanced to all the nations. This drove his every decision. What is most beneficial for the movement of the gospel? Because every context was different and because he faced diverse circumstances, the answer to this question always varied. The reason he received support at certain times and not others is because refraining and receiving in these various scenarios furthered the gospel.

The reason he circumcised Timothy and not Titus was for the advance and protection of the gospel. The reason he becomes all things to all men, which inevitably changes the way he engages different people, is for the sake of the gospel.

There is a lot of freedom in how we go about building strategy and mission methodology. If we keep the gospel at the center of it all our methods will inevitably be very fluid. We will be more sensitive to our context and more willing to shift and move according the circumstances in front of us.

The number one problem with every mission methodology is that it is built off one portion of Scripture and it fails to take the rest into consideration. It is paradigm driven rather than principle driven. We get locked into a certain methodology that appears to be bearing fruit and we then believe it is the only or the most effective way to reach people.

This principle of “all things for the gospel” liberates us from the slavery of missionary methods and enables us to engage people in fresh ways. There is much to draw from in Scripture regarding various strategies for going about mission. At the heart of them all is the principle of gospel advancement.

But if we would be well rounded we need to sit at the table with all the various missionary voices. We must not restrict ourselves to Paul. We must sit down at the table with Jesus, Peter, Timothy, Titus, Epaphras, James, Silas, Stephen, Phillip, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquilla, Silvanus, and Barnabas among others.

We need to hear the perspective of married couples as they have engaged mission. We need the voice of the single man. We need the voice of the church planter, encourager, preacher, evangelist, and apprentice. Each of these missionaries will give us a fresh perspective.

We may utilize the various strategies implemented by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Barnabas at various times in our ministry. As we are driven by the gospel, we will find that fluidity between the various methods is most appropriate rather than rigidity and dogmatism. If we weave all our methodological thinking through the gospel we will be just fine. We will be free and equipped to do what is best in any given context.

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Early Christian Writing on the Lord’s Supper

In the previous post I shared a portion of the Didache on the theme of baptism. In this post, we turn to the Didache to see what it says about the Lord’s Supper.

Now  about  the  thanksgiving,  give  thanks  this  way: First,  about  the  cup:  “We  thank  you,  our  Father,  for  the  holy  vine  of  your  boy  David   which  you  made  known  to  us  through  your  boy  Jesus.  Glory  be  to  you  for  the  age.

Now  about  the  broken  loaf:  “We  thank  you,  our  Father,  for  the  life  and  the  knowledge   that  you  made  known  to  us  through  your  boy  Jesus.  Glory  be  to  you  for  the  age.  Just  as   this  broken  loaf  was  scattered  on  top  of  the  hills  and  as  it  was  gathered  together  and   became  one,  in  the  same  way  let  your  assembly  be  gathered  together  from  the  remotest   parts  of  the  land  into  your  kingdom.  “For  yours  is  the  glory  and  the  power  through   Anointed  Jesus  for  the  age.”  Now  no  one  should  either  eat  or  drink  from  your   thanksgiving  meal,  but  those  who  have  been  baptized  into  the  Lord’s  name.  For  about  this   also  the  Lord  said,  “Do  not  give  what  is  holy  to  the  dogs.”

Now  after  you  have  been  filled,  give  thanks  this  way:  “We  thank  you,  holy  Father,  for   your  holy  name,  which  you  made  to  live  in  our  hearts,  and  for  the  knowledge  and  trust   and  immortality  which  you  made  known  to  us  through  Jesus  your  boy.  Glory  be  to  you   for  the  age. Almighty  master,  it  was  you  who  created  all  for  the  sake  of  your  name.  You  gave  both   food  and  drink  to  people  for  enjoyment,  so  that  they  might  give  thanks  to  you.  But  to  us   you  have  freely  given  spiritual  food  and  drink  and  eternal  life  through  your  boy.  Before   all  things,  we  are  thankful  to  you  that  you  are  powerful.  Glory  be  to  you  for  the  age. O  Lord,  remember  your  assembly,  remember  to  rescue  it  from  every  evil  and  to  make  it   complete  in  your  love,  and  to  gather  it  from  the  four  winds  into  your  kingdom  which  you   prepared  for  it-­-­it,  which  has  been  made  holy.  For  yours  is  the  power  and  the  glory  for  the age.”

This early writing is packed with interesting material on this ordinance. Here are a few things that grabbed my attention. First, the ordinance is described as “the thanksgiving” and as a “meal.” This places the Lord’s Supper in the context of gratitude and fellowship. This is an early argument for understanding the appropriate setting of the ordinance as a meal. Second, the language used to describe Jesus is unique. He is called “your boy” multiple times. This language paints a picture of intimate sonship. Third, the Didache refers to the cup as the “holy vine of your boy David.” This seems to draw on the OT background of the everlasting covenant with the Davidic King. This is a unique Old Testament background for understanding the Lord’s Supper.

The fourth observation can be summarized as the missiological impulse of the ordinance in the Didache. The text says, “Just  as   this  broken  loaf  was  scattered  on  top  of  the  hills  and  as  it  was  gathered  together  and   became  one,  in  the  same  way  let  your  assembly  be  gathered  together  from  the  remotest   parts  of  the  land  into  your  kingdom.” There has been much discussion about the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and the general conclusion has been that it is primarily for the edification of the church. This early document pushes the concern of the ordinance outward to the nations as well. Fifth, the Didache’s application of Matthew 7:6 to the ordinance is unique: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.” This was a way of fencing the table. The document also makes clear that baptism is the appropriate precursor to the table.

Any thoughts on this early document’s take on the Lord’s Supper?

Compelling Compassion

I have been meditating on the selection and appointment of the twelve disciples. Right now I am focusing on Matthews presentation of this important event. I have been thinking about the context surrounding the passage where Jesus calls out the twelve and sends them forth to cast out demons, heal, and preach (Matt 10:1-4). This event is recorded in both Mark and Luke but both of these authors place it in a different context. In Matthew’s gospel the context helps us understand some important truths about the motivation and purpose of this mission.

If you read the preceding context of the appointment narrative you will find Jesus is in the fray of ministry. He just raised a little girl from the dead, healed a woman with severe menstrual bleeding, given sight to blind men, and restored a mute mans voice (Matt 9:18-34). From town to town he is bombarded with the needs of the sick, oppressed, possessed, and broken. As he looks out upon the needy crowds he feels a deep sense of compassion (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) for them. He sees them as harassed and helpless sheep because they lacked a shepherd (Ez 34). Moved by his compassion he instructs his disciples about the needs of the harvest and calls upon them to pray. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:37-38).

After this piece of instruction the narrative moves directly into the selection and appointment of the twelve disciples. This event is set squarely in the context of the great needs of the world, the untouched harvest field, the compassion of Christ, and prayer. We must understand the appointment of these twelve men as an expression of Christ’s compassion for the harassed and helpless. We must see that the selection of the twelve and their appointment is directly tied to the massive harvest field with its great lack of workers. We must also recognize that the disciples appointment is the result of prayer. Not the prayers of Christ or others but their own prayers. They are praying to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers and before they know it they are the ones sent.

The context following the event fleshes out the manner in which the disciples are to fulfill their task. Jesus trains these new harvesters in God’s field on how to harvest and what they should expect as they labor in the field. The instruction is thorough and sobering. His instruction is a field manual of sorts. If you looked at the table of contents you would find these topics: destination, housing, money, resources, preaching, healing, length of stay, discerning when to leave, persecution, conversions, and rewards (Matt 10:5-42). Jesus selects, appoints, and equips those whom he sends forth to work in his harvest. It is important to note also that the image of the harvest is exchanged for the metaphor of the slaughter house. His twelve are being sent as sheep into the midst of wolves. The result of this situation goes without saying. The compassionate mission of, with, and for Christ is inherently costly. How could it be any other way—it’s the mission of the Christ who is moving inexorably toward a cross.

The striking thing about this brief discussion on the mission of Christ and the sending of the twelve is the compelling power of compassion. There are many proper motivations for engaging a lost and hurting world and here we see that compassion is an important one. Compassion drove Christ to his cross and it compelled him to send his followers to the nations. The sent ones among all peoples are a tangible expression of the compassion of God.