Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Apostle and the Missional Life

Reflections on Ephesians 1:1 from a missional perspective.

"Paul, an apostle ..."

Being that Ephesians is a crucial book for the missional conversation—as it is one of the most quoted books of the Bible in the missional literature—I thought I would immerse myself into this book for a while. While I'm doing this, I'll write weekly entries sharing my reflections.

Let's start with the opening words. I'm not going to get into authorship and all those questions. I'd rather focus on what we have from a canonical perspective. As my teacher Gordon Fee always said in the first lecture on an epistle, this greeting is a typical of the time. This is the way letters began, the authors name followed by a title or self description. If we took this pattern in the world today, someone from the accounting world for instance might write, "I'm John Doe, a certified public accountant with Ernst and Young." Of course we have letterhead that takes care of this function today.

Paul announced who he was and then he stated his authority, the reason why the reader should be listening to him. He was an "apostle" a sent one. Now some in the church use this term today—I think the argument about whether there are now apostles after the closing of the canon is not worth the ink —but if we want to understand how Paul used this title, we have to get beyond how we use it. Today when this title is given to a church leader, it is usually comes with a lot of power and authority. Paul's also came with authority, but  his authority was a bit different. This title was not about attaining special privilege so that he might be set apart from everyone else. In 2 Cor 11, Paul uses his suffering for the Gospel as his supporting proof of his apostleship. I wonder what it would look like if we talked about apostles more like that.

This has relevance for the call to be missional. We don't have a word in the Greek that directly corresponds with how we use this words mission, missions, missionary or missional. An apostle was a sent one and the Greek word for "send" is apostolein. For instance Jesus said, "He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind" (Luke 4:18). The oft quoted words of David Bosch apply here, "To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God's love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love" (Transforming Mission, 390).

If we look at 2 Cor 11 and Paul's words in Col 1:24 about how Paul rejoices in his suffering, if we consider the mission of Jesus and the life that he was sent to live, being apostolic is not about power, at least not the kind of power we most often think about when we talk about it. The authority of the apostleship of Paul is found in the fact that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. He is sent with the same suffering love that sent forth the Son from the Father. And today the Spirit is sent to work through us to be established a "sent people."

From this we can derive a few things:
  1. To be sent is an identity-shaping sending. This is not something that we do as a method. This is about the ontology of the church.
  2. Our identity is not about having power over others, but about being a people of agape love, the kind that calls us to sacrifice our lives for others.
  3. This is about being sent into the midst of life to embody a way of life. Paul carried the gospel into specific contexts and met people in their existential situations. He did not go and establish an institution and expect people to come to him.

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