The Church and Missions – Nations
We should never forget that the western church, black and white are by default gentiles. If the early church never crossed their borders and own cultural comfort we would never have received the gospel.
Studying the Luke-Acts perspective on missions provides us with a very important and biblical framework for missions that should be part of our objectives and value system as the church that He builds. Ultimately I do not believe that the local church should have a mission program separate or outside of its daily activities and focus as a church as a whole. Missions and being missionaries are the fundamental reason for being church. (Luk 4:16-21) For example: Reaching the youth/elderly/poor in our community is also a form of missions. Missions should not only be restricted to reaching foreign people groups afar. This is one of the primary principles taught in Luke and Acts; Moving from the core outward to the ends of the Earth.
When Jesus stood up among the people of His hometown in the synagogue and said: “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” He was stating the course and mandate of His ministry. Luke is the only author of the gospels who is Greek, writing to a second generation church made of Jew and Gentile, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. Matthew mainly writes his gospel for a Jewish audience; while Luke had a much broader audience in mind.
In the time of Luke the church was made up of a very large number of gentiles but also a great number of Jews. He thus had to appeal to both. Luke has an exceptional positive attitude towards the Jewish people, their religion and culture. Jesus does criticize the Pharisees but not as severely as what the Matthew’s account reveal. Luke omits words like “hypocrites and blind guides”. He omits the passage from Mark 7:1-20 which deals with the deception of the Pharisee’s focus on outward rituals without dealing with the defilement of the heart. Luke relates at least three instances where Jesus was invited by Pharisees for a meal. He does not apply the parable of the evil tenants directly to the chief priest and Pharisees as Matthew does although suggesting it. (Luk 20:9-19) In his Passion narrative he is the only gospel writer to include the words of Jesus: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”. He omits the words “his blood be on us and on our children”.
He writes his two volume work in the Hebriazed Greek of the Septuagint, also mainly used in synagogues of the Jewish diaspora. He is trying to reach both the Jewish and Gentile communities of his time. He also does not deny Israel its proper place as the womb of the Christian church, mentioning the early prophesies over Jesus the expectation of the salvation of Israel. (Luk 1:54; 68; 2:25, 30, 32, 38) The Church Luke envisages includes the restored/saved Israel and the redeemed Gentile. The Jew has to repent of rejecting and killing their Saviour, and the Gentile of serving worthless idols. There is no proof in Luke or Acts of the Christian church replacing Israel, yet both have to become converted; the one from dead religion and the other of its idols.
On the other hand he is trying very clearly to challenge the Jews to look beyond the salvation of ‘only’ Israel, to God’s desire to save the world. Luke’s account of Jesus’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah is unique in comparison with the other gospel writers who do not include the reason why the Pharisees and listeners became so suddenly offended at Jesus’s words; that after first admiring his gracious words, the next moment they try to kill Him. (Luke 4:28-30) This passage forms the bases of the whole Lukan paradigm of Mission and Salvation. He is the only writer to also include the verse from Isaiah 58:6 between Isaiah 61:1 and 2. “Let the oppressed go free” Because throughout his Gospel; he appeal to the rich to share with the poor. The rich and the poor both need salvation, the one from putting their trust in their riches (Luke 8:14) and the other of putting their trust in man. (Luke 9:59-61)
The reason why these people became so angry? Jesus started with the expectation that was in all of them; the salvation and redemption of Israel and the vengeance of God on their oppressors is to be fulfilled! But He stopped short of reading the complete passage from Isaiah. Instead of granting vengeance He rather made an appeal to notice God’s desire to save their enemies and have compassion on them by mentioning Elijah who was sent to a Gentile widow, and Elisha healing a pagan Ruler Naaman. (Luke 4:26-27) This became Jesus’s theme and number one rule of understanding and living in HIS kingdom; love your enemies! Bless those who curse you. (Luke 6:27-36)
This is why Luke makes an attempt to lay this emphasis throughout his gospel; God is seeking the salvation of the Samaritans and Gentiles too. When James and John wanted to call God’s fire of judgement on a Samaritan town who did not receive them Jesus rebuke them. “You do not know of what spirit you are of” (Luke 9:51-56) He addressed this point very clearly with telling Jesus’s story of the good Samaritan. The church of the day did not help the person in need, but the Samaritan did. He is therefore challenging their narrow idea of “who is my neighbour”. To the Jews, their neighbour was ONLY Jew, children of Abraham! Jesus taught that our neighbour is whoever comes our way, whether Jew or gentile, that needs help and assistance. This was a huge offence to the Jews who despised the way and faith of the Samaritans as false and opposite to their own. In many ways in the same way as what Christians view Moslems today. I include the following information of exactly who the Samaritans were, to proof this comparison.
The origin of the Samaritans
Strictly speaking, a Samaritan would be an inhabitant of the city of Samaria; but the term was applied to all the people of the kingdom of Israel. After the captivity of Israel, B.C. 721, and in our Lord’s time, the name was applied to a peculiar people whose origin was in this wise: At the final captivity of Israel by Shalmaneser, we may conclude that the cities of Samaria were not merely partially but wholly depopulated of their inhabitants in B.C. 721, and that they remained in this desolated state until, in the words of 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava (Ivah, 2 Kings 18:34), and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” Thus the new Samaritans were Assyrians by birth or subjugation. These strangers, whom we will now assume to have been placed in “the cities of Samaria” by Esar-haddon, were of course idolaters, and worshipped a strange medley of divinities. God’s displeasure was kindled, and they were annoyed by beasts of prey, which had probably increased to a great extent before their entrance upon the land. On their explaining their miserable condition to the king of Assyria, he despatched one of the captive priests to teach them “how they should fear the Lord.” The priest came accordingly, and henceforth, in the language of the sacred historian they “feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.” 2 Kings 17:41. A gap occurs in their history until Judah has returned from captivity. They then desire to be allowed to participate in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem; but on being refused, the Samaritans throw off the mask, and become open enemies, frustrate the operations of the Jews through the reigns of two Persian kings, and are only effectually silenced in the reign of Darius Hystaspes, B.C. 519. The feud thus unhappily begun grew year by year more inveterate. Matters at length came to a climax. About B.C. 409, a certain Manasseh, a man of priestly lineage, on being expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage, obtained permission from the Persian king of his day, Darius Nothus, to build a temple on Mount Gerizim for the Samaritans, with whom he had found refuge. The animosity of the Samaritans became more intense than ever. They are said to have done everything in their power to annoy the Jews. Their own temple on Gerizim they considered to be much superior to that at Jerusalem. There they sacrificed a passover. Toward the mountain, even after the temple on it had fallen, wherever they were they directed their worship. To their copy of the law they arrogated an antiquity and authority greater than attached to any copy in the possession of the Jews. The law (i.e., the five books of Moses) was their sole code; for they rejected every other book in the Jewish canon. The Jews, on the other hand, were not more conciliatory in their treatment of the Samaritans. Certain other Jewish renegades had from time to time taken refuge with the Samaritans; hence by degrees the Samaritans claimed to partake of Jewish blood, especially if doing so happened to suit their interest. Very far were the Jews from admitting this claim to consanguinity on the part of these people.
The parallels are obvious. The samaritans were a mixed breed and the jews looked down on them. We as a church should be aware that we do not fall in the same trap as the Pharisees did. The NT church is never exclusive, hod want to see all men be saved. (John 12:32; 1 Tim 2:4) The way to salvation is exclusively Jesus, and Jesus alone. The Spirit of God fell on all flesh, at the day of Penticost. (Acts 2:17)
Luke furthermore adds the story of the healing of the ten lepers again unique to Luke. The one who came back and thanked Jesus was off course a Samaritan. (Luke 17:11-19) In Acts Samaria is included in the list of those to receive salvation. (Acts 1:8; 8:1, 5; 9:31; 15:3) Thus making it very clear to the church of his day, and today, Jesus came for the religious outcasts too!
Salvation in Luke and Acts are thus seen to include the whole world. Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Whether you are a heathen (Galilean) or born in Jerusalem, Everyone needs to repent and be saved. (Luke 13:1-5) Instead of announcing wrath on the perpetrators, he calls everyone to repentance.
Jesus started in Galilee (Luk 4:14-9:50), then on route to Jerusalem (Luk 9:51-19:40), and concluded with the final events in Jerusalem (Luk 19:41-24:53). The early church started in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then to the end of the Earth. This focus describes a certain methodology and balance between missions at home and missions abroad. The efforts of the one are not at the cost of the other, but rather to support the other. There is also a certain movement and growth starting at home, expanding naturally further and further to the ends of the earth.
THE REAL PROBLEM WITH MISSIONS
We preach to them but not include them into our family. We have millions of people getting saved, but very view discipled. Crusade Evangelists lay this task before the local church’s door. The local church seems to fail miserably at this task, which can be thrown back at the Evangelist’s type of message and gospel preached. In terms of our biblical understanding thus far, it is very clear that God’s idea for making disciples is making families.
According to the most recent census in South Africa 81.7% of the people in South Africa are Christians. We are the fifth nation in the world to legalise homosexual marriages. We have legalised abortion and are in the process of legalizing prostitution. How is this possible in a country with so many Christians?
The most Christianized nations are in Africa. But often these nations are the poorest, with the highest numbers of HIV AIDS, human right abuses and corruption. Basic services like sanitation, clean water and sufficient food sources are desperately lacking. Nigeria has a population of 149 million people, of which 45.3% are Christian, 95.3% of this number of Christian visits a church at least once a month, 78.8% believes the church has the answer to their problems, 98.2% finds consolation and support in the local church. The church is thus seemingly very successful in this Nation, but Nigeria is 157th on the world ranking of most developed countries. We have been highly successful in making converts, but is failing to disciple the people in the principals and values of Kingdom living.
The fact that we go in, and out is the problems. We preach and leave, not willing to lay down our lives for a community, to become fathers and older brothers that will lead them out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9) The true heart of the apostolic is thus to be fathers to the churches. (Gal 4:19; 1 Cor 4:15; ). The context of the true church is also set, within the context of family. How can you take care of His church, when your own family is ruins? (1 Tim 3:5) Church history is full of stories where leaders forsake their own families, and it lead to all kinds of error and misconduct.
Jesus started His earthly ministry with these words; “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” His family has come to earth, wanting us to become part. (Mat 4:17)