Missional Ethic – Part 1

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June 4, 2013 by cbbeard

Sin management.  Checklists of rules.  Is this what we have reduced Christianity to in America?  Let’s say someone comes up to you and says “Hey, I just became a Christian today!  I have faith in Jesus and was just baptized…what do I do now?”  Judging by the example many of us set in the American church, we might say “Go to church, read your Bible, and pray.  Try to be nice to other people, and do your best to not sin.”  Sin management. Checklists of rules.  Biding our time until we receive our “heavenly reward.”

There has to be more to life than this.  I mean, if God intended on us to receive salvation just to wait on heaven, wouldn’t he have just changed things up to where as soon as we came up out of the baptismal waters that he would “beam us up” to heaven?  Surely God doesn’t leave us on this earth to give us a chance to either prove our sincerity or screw up.  So why are we here?  What are we to do “post-salvation” and “pre-heaven?”

Some would rightly point out that we have a purpose in the age between the advent of our salvation and the return of Christ.  We are to “make disciples” (Matthew 28) and “preach the gospel” (Mark 16) and that we are “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5).  Can we be honest, however, that average “Joe Congregant” is decent at the sin management and the rules, but not so great at “mission.”  And can I be honest in saying that outside the walls of the church, I’ve been HORRIBLE at mission, and I’m a preacher!

There are a bunch of reasons why this is true both for me and for the church as a collective body, but I think one of the main reasons is that we’ve misunderstood what being a Christian is all about.  Think of these two words from a Christian standpoint: ethics and mission.  I used to think that these two things were kind of like my house and my car; ethics was personal, and I would “keep up my house” by living right and clean.  To fulfill my mission, I would have to get into my car, leave my house and go do something.  Ethics was about who I am, mission was something to do.  But I had it all wrong.  Life is not supposed to consist of a proverbial house and a car, instead life is supposed to be a motorhome.  Instead of ethics and mission being two separate things, the two are inseparable and inform one another.    Instead of spending part of my life in my house (concerned with ethics) and part of my life in my car (concerned with mission) I am to spend all my life in the RV (combining ethics and mission into one).

By separating ethics and mission, we’ve missed the point altogether.   We’ve seen ethics as the end when God intended them to be a means to an end.  We’ve lost the vision of the purpose for how we live.  We’ve forgotten that even how God calls us to live has a purpose beyond our own well-being.

If Christians are to construct an ethical framework that is consistent with Scripture, mission and ethic must be merged to create a missional ethic[1].  Christ calls his followers beyond good lives by moral standards, and instead to live all aspects of life for the glory of God and his kingdom.  This is a significant paradigm shift for the church as it pursues the heart of God.  No longer can moral behavior alone qualify for a Christian ethic, but rather the heart and behavior of the Christian must be aligned with God’s purposes, that is, his mission.  Furthermore, even moral behavior as prescribed in Scripture finds purpose in mission.

In other words, we are always to be concerned with mission.  Mission is not just something we do, it is something that informs our identity.  We are not only missionaries when we “go” but rather “as we go”[2] Therefore, our life is the “motorhome of mission;” we are always going and how we live (ethics) always affects our primary life-purpose (mission).   We are to be fulfilling God’s mission at home, work, school, and as we play.  How we live is not only to keep us aligned with God’s will as we obey him, but is to also serve as a tool for God’s purposes as we join him in his mission.

So chew on this, and give me your thoughts in the comment section.  I propose that the only true Christian ethic is a “missional ethic” that finds mission at the center of our living.  And I propose that the inseparability of ethics and mission in Scripture will change the way we live as Christians in America.  In Part 2 of this post, I will show why I believe the only true Christian ethic is a missional ethic; but in the meantime, tell me your thoughts!


[1] I recently presented a paper on this topic for the Ecclesia and Ethics conference.  For a $10 donation, you can gain access to recordings of all of the sessions presented (a great deal!).  Click HERE to access the conference and register for access.

[2] A more appropriate translation of the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 is not “Go and make disciples,” but rather “As you go, make disciples.”  This changes everything in that we are always going! EDITORS NOTE: Please check out the comment from David Fish below for a compelling alternate view.

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6 thoughts on “Missional Ethic – Part 1

  1. David Fish says:

    Chris,
    I’m not sure how much Greek you have studied. Concerning your footnote #2, you are sadly wrong. What is in play in Matthew 28:19, with the participle πορευθέντες is what Seth Wilson (I think you visited his library once or twice) called the “coordinate circumstance” participle, and what Daniel Wallace calls “attendant circumstance.” I would point you to Wallace’s “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics” (pp. 640-645) for his excellent treatment of the phenomenon. This participial construction is found ALL OVER the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels.
    If you want to find an example of an “as you are going” participle, you can find it in Matthew 10:7, where Jesus is sending out the 12, and says, “As you are going, preach, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”

    I found a pretty good study that cites Wallace. You might be interested in it: http://goo.gl/7xL4X

    I’ve followed you over the years. I’m glad to have had the privilege of getting to know you during the short time that you were in Joplin. I also enjoyed your sister and your Dad. Many blessings on you and your ministry.

    By the way, I agree with the point or your essay. The Matthew 28:19 reference was a small thing. Taking πορευθέντες as imperatival (since attendant circumstance participles copy the grammatical mood of the finite verb) does not detract from your main point.

    Shalom!

    • cbbeard says:

      David,

      Great to hear from you! I always appreciate feedback/pushback, especially from a former professor of mine.

      Thank you for bringing up Wallace’s take, I think he makes a compelling argument. I also appreciate the link you provided; however I would suggest the difference between “as you go” and “go!” does not change the imperative nature of the passage, nor does it change the “Great Commission” to the “Great Suggestion.” I think we would probably agree with the end result of the verse regardless of the Greek nuance: Christ followers are commanded to be intentional about making disciples.

      Certainly I agree with Wallace in that the early believers needed a strong “push” to carry out God’s intended mission, particularly in the mission to the Gentiles, and I would also say that we as contemporary believers need a strong push as well. My concern is that we focus too much on the “go” and not enough on the “making disciples” in that we ignore the mission field in our own backyards.

      I’d love to hear your take on Part 2 of this post which will be published soon, and if you’d like the “full version” I could email you the paper I presented. I have become convinced of the inseparability of ethics and mission, and believe it has huge implications for our churches.

      I look back on the OT History class with great fondness! Perhaps we can reconnect this year at NACC? I pray things are well, and again, thank you so much for the comment and feedback!

      In His Grip,
      Chris

  2. Peggy says:

    “Mission is not just something we do, it is something that informs our identity.” I really like this. It solidifys what I am learning. I am so tired of “just doing church” and limiting Christianity to the few hours on Sunday. So this helps in understanding “how I do Christianity.”
    Thanks for your encouragement as I try to understand and change my life to follow God’s Will and be the missionary to bring disciples as I go about my daily life. New struggles = equals mucho growth! Looking forward to reading Part II

  3. […] lives are meant to be “motorhomes of mission.”  In Part 1 of this post, I proposed that we have often misunderstood the role that ethics and mission is to have in our […]

  4. […] Part 1 of this post, we laid the groundwork for the case of inseparability of ethics and mission.  In […]

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