“A missionary is one who is ‘sent,’ especially one who is sent across boundaries–which makes God the original missionary, crossing every human boundary imaginable in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Mission originates in God, not in a church committee. The missio dei is God’s sending of God’s own self into creation, making God both the sender and the one who is sent. A church that fails to respond to the Holy Spirit’s boundary-crossing impulse, that fails to share the love of Jesus Christ–God’s own self in the world–is unthinkable. As the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner observed, ‘The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.'” (p64)
This missional reality is what makes a church a church. It is also what helps us continue to be formed into the likeness of Christ (who was sent to a particular time and place but also in a particular way–“as a person whose love for humanity was of such proportions that he chose to share human suffering in order to overcome it with God’s death shattering power.” (p64) Jesus said “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In the same way. Just like God, the original missionary, we are sent into the world to be the body of Christ, to carry out God’s mission of love. When we think of our faith in this way, we can’t be Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, because MTD doesn’t require anything other than to be nice, and the god of MTD certainly doesn’t require anything in return–he’s just nice and handy in a pinch. MTD is about our personal fulfillment, our own happiness, and this kind of discipleship that participates in God’s mission in the world is about self-giving love and the power of weakness.
How do we get here? Well, it starts by plunging ourselves into our God-story. Our God is a god of stories, so there’s plenty of room to enter the narrative. We have a particular tale to tell, and the story of God’s interaction with creation, the story of the faith community’s journey closer and farther away from God and from each other, the story of life overcoming death, the story of love that is so much more powerful than anything else in the universe–this is the story we are a part of, and therefore a story we ought to know. Just as we each have a part in our family stories (and we tell those family stories over and over again!), we have a part in God’s story. But it’s hard to be a part of a story you don’t know.
It’s also hard to continue God’s story if we see God as a “source of fuel rather than of awe.” The god of MTD is there to fill you up…the God of the Christian tradition is there to call you to a new way of life. We cannot harness the power of God for our personal use or fulfillment, instead God is trying to work through us to fulfill a much bigger story–the story of the kingdom of God, founded on justice and peace and love and grace. When this God is at the center–rather than ourselves at the center–we find that we have a different perspective, a different view of the world, and a different view of our own actions. When we are part of something bigger than ourselves, our actions are part of a bigger story that affects the kingdom of God, that affects the world in which we live, that affects not just us but all of creation. It is significant to be a part of this story–and it’s a worldview that helps us keep God at the center and that keeps us focused on “thy will be done” rather than “my will be done.”
We don’t like to think of God requiring anything, though God’s expectations are clearly throughout the Bible. “What does the Lord require of you–to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” “Come, follow me.” “go, sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me.” “Blessed are the poor, the meek, the mourning.” “when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” “The fruit of the Spirit (aka the way of life we see in those who keep God at the center) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control.”
These are high standards. God knows we fall short (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, says Paul in his letter to the Romans), but God also is love. Just like a diet or an exercise plan or a 12 step program, one failure doesn’t mean jumping off the track. It means continuing to try, getting a little better each time. God doesn’t ask for perfection, God asks for holiness, for following, for keeping God at the center, for living good news, for building the kingdom…and God gives the gifts needed to do those things. To use a tired cliche, God does not call the equipped, God equips the called. And throughout Scripture we see God calling the unlikeliest of characters, people who were flawed and who failed and who protested, but who were used for the kingdom in amazing ways.
Will we be a part of this story?