Jesus said the church is the light of the world and a city on a hill (Matt 5:14).
While this certainly involves individual disciples following Christ in their own context, Jesus had in mind an organism, a unified Body, and a Kingdom collective—a gathered people on mission together—representatives in every city and culture. This is God’s eternal purpose through Christ and his church.
The Missio Dei (mission of God) is about God’s missionary heart for all people revealed throughout the OT (e.g. Jonah), embodied perfectly by Jesus in the Gospels, and carried out through the local church beginning with the book of Acts. Jesus then is the hope of the world, and the church is the vehicle which corporately manifests this hope while on mission to her neighbors.
For better or for worse, the church is the messenger of the gospel.
An increasing number of Christians are waking up to the fact that Western individualism and our egocentric living today is an enemy to this vision of Jesus. I’m convinced that behind this cultural current is the work of the devil who seeks to put distance between God and humanity, between the divine and each other. This is fitting with a NT perspective of spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12).
Did you know that the name diablos (devil) comes from the root which means “to scatter” abroad? Think about that for a moment.
If we’re always scattered, we’re not gathering in any way that allows the church to be a formidable force for the Kingdom where we live.
It’s always been through the gathering that the Missio Dei is lived out. Yes, the church is “sent out” to her neighbors, but always for the purpose of mission and gathering again. We gather and go with a purpose.
We gather with the church and are then sent out for the sake of the Missio Dei. Gather… sent out. Gather… sent out. Jesus sends out his disciples so that they would then return and share their experiences in the world (Lk 10:1-17).
This gathering of the church is where we grow as disciples, where we are energized in our worship together, and where we learn to regularly and faithfully sabbath. As Walter Brueggemann says, sabbath is our way of resisting the powers in a world that desires to have us as slaves.
When there is more scattering than gathering, local churches can forget building any missional momentum.
We often hear Jesus’ prayer “Father, make them one as we are one” (Jn 17:20-23) in response to church disagreements. It is definitely useful in the face of our differences. However, I’m hearing Jesus say something else.
“Father, don’t let the enemy scatter my people and make them slaves again to Egypt. May they know the power of being together like the missional God.”
In John 17, Jesus is pouring out his heart to the Father. He knows that the only way God’s mission will be carried out is for the church to resist the scattering forces of the enemy, to know the power of unity and work to protect it.
This prayer comes from Jesus, the Son sent by the Father, who then sends his Spirit to us that we might enjoy the missional unity of the Triune God. This God is three persons working in unison together for the sake of mission, to invite all people to share in the unifying force of God’s loving community.
I believe the greatest threat to the Missio Dei, within Western society and culture, are the demonic forces that scatter. These forces scatter our minds, our families, and our churches. They push us away from gathering and mission.
If our local churches wish to survive this threat to the Missio Dei, we must resist the principalities and powers that force us to capitulate to the constant separation, division, and scattering of God’s people that regularly comes through politics, in-fighting, and living lives so busy that we’ve become nothing more than sophisticated slaves in Pharaoh’s matrix.
We must not continue to fuel the way of empire and this spirituality of distraction. It’s time to resist the liturgical forces of the imperial order and the calendar of Caesar that too often rule our lives, keeping us from deepening relationships in the church and furthering the Missio Dei.
I’m confident that Jesus will fully establish his Kingdom at some point in the future. He said it would happen (Matt 16:18), so I believe it. In the meantime, we must decide if we will join the revolution and contribute to the building of God, or collude with empire and forfeit our inheritance.
Viva La Revolution!
D.D. Flowers, 2015.
This post was expanded into a full article at ChristianWeek.org