The last of the eight marks of the “true church” according to Mark Driscoll is that the “church is committed to Jesus’ mission”—and you think, well, that’s a no-brainer. Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Proclaim the good news that Jesus died for our sins. Baptize people. Incorporate them into churches under “qualified leadership”. Teach them how to think, live and give Christianly. That’s the mission of Jesus. Isn’t it?
No, it wasn’t. Not according to the Gospels, at least. The mission of Jesus, I would suggest was—not is—roughly as follows:
- to proclaim to Israel that the kingdom of God was at hand—that is, God was about to intervene decisively, within the coming decades, to judge and restore his people under a new King;
- to denounce the leadership of Israel for their failure to understand the mess they were in or grasp what God was doing;
- to bear witness to the power of the coming intervention of God through such miraculous actions as exorcism and the healing of the sick;
- to demonstrate the possibility of the forgiveness of Israel’s sins by embracing the marginalized and unclean;
- to gather and train a group of disciples who would i) continue the prophetic task of proclaiming the kingdom of God to Israel, empowered by the Spirit, right up to the end of the age of Second Temple Judaism; and ii) form the nucleus of the renewed people of God, under new management;
- to pioneer a narrow way of suffering and vindication by which Israel would be “saved” from the final destruction of a war against Rome.
In short, the mission of Jesus was to ensure that Israel not only survived the impending crisis of the wrath of God against his rebellious people but came out of that crisis radically restructured, under a very different covenant.
Is that the mission of the church today? No, of course it’s not. Not unless we think we are in some sort of time warp, forever reliving the story of Acts, like an extended Groundhog Day, never getting to the Jewish Revolt and the savage Roman response. Most of us, surely, can appreciate the fact that the world has moved on. God judged his people by the hand of the Romans as Jesus said he would. Jewish-Gentile communities of eschatological transformation went on to challenge the hegemony of paganism in Europe and the Near East, until every knee bowed and every tongue confessed Jesus as Lord. Christendom came and went. Modern evangelicalism came and reduced the great narrative of God’s people down to a personal spiritual transaction, and we are now trying to repair the damage.
The mission of the church today is to be the people that we were originally called to be in Abraham—a people devoted to the creator God, a just and obedient people which embodies in the world, in its whole corporate existence, imperfectly and with humility, the blessedness and goodness of being created. Mission is only ever the prophetic, priestly and life-giving outworking of that calling to be new creation. We could call it the mission of Abraham. Or perhaps the mission of God. But not the mission of Jesus.