One phrase I continually hear when it comes to being missional is that the goal of missional churches is to "join God in the work He is already engaging in the community..." or something to that affect (this is not a direct quote).
This phrase or idea (that I badly misquoted) has had me in deep thought because I am not sure it is biblical or that we can see examples of it in Scripture. In my study I have, in fact, seen quite the opposite. Let me explain.
Let's start with Acts 8:26ff:
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:The phrase spoken by missional proponents cannot be fulfilled unless a person of God is present thus making it a false statement or simply that it is an ambiguous and circular argument. I call it ambiguous because it becomes a question of God being present in the lives of those who don't know Jesus. I believe God is present in this world, but he has equally charged us through His Son Jesus to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) It cannot be that God is at work in the lives of the world absent faithful witnesses of Christ. That goes against everything we've been taught by God in His Word.
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth." [NIV]
The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. -- Acts 8:34-35 [NIV]The eunuch did not know what he was reading about because no one had ever explained the gospel to him.
Some might argue that God was already at work in the life of the eunuch since he went to Jerusalem to worship. However, since he was not a Jew and did not grow up hearing the stories of how God had rescued his people from Pharaoh and how the prophets proclaimed the coming Messiah. He only knew what he had read in the prophets but did not understand what it all meant. God worked in the world by sending Philip to proclaim the Gospel.
We bring the presence of God through sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Unless someone shares the Gospel, is God truly "already at work"? I would submit that God is at work in the world through us and if we're not willing to share, the world may not know what God's will for them is.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. --Acts 8:36-39 [NIV]Only at the sharing of the Gospel by Philip do we truly see God at work in the world. This goes for the saved and the unsaved. We must continually be reminded where our hope lies. We cannot assume God is "at work" if we're not willing to be at work ourselves in sharing His Word with everyone we come in contact with. When it comes to that, I agree with Robert Preus when he said, "The Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied."
I see two dangers in assuming God is "already at work" in the manner of the original phrase: 1.) We get ecumenical universalism. People who accept every and all doctrine without a Berean spirit or 2.) Complete atheism.
Our ultimate Mission (with a big "M" like Ryan Kelly referred to in his article) is to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of our sins. That is the best and most biblically faithful way we can join God in the work he is already doing in the world. When we share the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of the people who hear. If we are unwilling to share it, we have assumed they understand His Word and the possibility occurs that they might follow any and every kind of false doctrine that is out in the world. Some may even wonder why it matters to be a Christian since non-Christian organizations are able to accomplish the same kinds of things without Jesus. The difference is we know where our ultimate hope lies.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:14-16 [NIV]__