“The Believer’s Life as Mission”

“Paul generally does not urge his readers to proclaim the gospel to their neighbors, nor to go to the ends of the earth with the saving message of Christ. Rather, he urges them and commands them to live a life of holiness, to walk worthily of their calling, to demonstrate in loving and harmonious unity the new powers which have entered into the world in Christ, to demonstrate through victorious living the present victory of Christ over the powers of evil. It has been suggested that the reason why Paul does not urge his readers to a life of verbal witness is primarily because the early churches were not deficient in this respect. Though this is possible, it should be emphasized that what Paul is really doing in his letters is stressing the significance and importance of the believer’s life as mission.” – Edwin Roels, God’s Mission: The Epistle to the Ephesians in Mission Perspective (Franeker: T. Wever, 1962), 57, quoted in John Howard Yoder, Theology of Mission: A Believer’s Church Perspective, ed. Gayle Gerber Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014),  103.

2 thoughts on ““The Believer’s Life as Mission””

  1. Hi Rob,
    Thanks for this post. True, a life of holiness is a powerful witness to Christ and his present reign in the world. Without proclamation though, it may not be enough, especially in our day when faith has become more of a private matter. I sometimes imagine the final day, when people may come up to us and say, “you knew all along that we, too, have a share in the gift; yet you never told us.”

    1. Hi Marian,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you’ve rightly raised a couple of important issues.

      First, Christian witness must always consist of word and deed. The polemical character of the quote perhaps runs the risk of effacing this reality. Yoder employs the quotation from Roels in the context of discussing early 20th century understandings (which are still quite prominent in some circles) of missions and evangelism which seemed to separate the proclamation of the Gospel from the concrete community created by the proclamation of the Gospel. At this point, there seems to be some congruence between Yoder’s understanding and Lesslie Newbigin’s assertion that the local congregation is “the hermeneutic of the Gospel.” Interestingly, in the introduction to Yoder’s “Theology of Mission,” Wilbert Shenk includes remarks from Newbigin in which he comments that “John Yoder provided the most searching critique of my book [“The Household of God”] that I received from anyone” (16). In a forthcoming post, I’ll include an interesting analogy that Yoder uses to describe evangelistic preaching.

      Secondly, your observation about faith being understood as a private matter in our day is also apropos. The emphasis, in the quote, on the embodied witness is an attempt to overcome the private/public divide of modern societies. In other words, the Gospel is not a private affair, for the Gospel always creates a people and that people is the public or publicity of the Gospel. However, if the Roels’ quote is understood in individualistic terms it could certainly reinforce the private/public dichotomy (ie. – Christians withdraw to their realm of private holiness, while abandoning all truth claims at the feet of the relativism of our age.) This, indeed, would be highly problematic.

      Thanks for highlighting these concerns.

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