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Pilgrim’s Process by Peter Sanlon

Pilgrim’s Process

By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon

As we travel to heaven we long to share the good news of Jesus’ death and victory with others. We pray for opportunities and seek to redeem the time.

The challenge to be bold, brave and open in testifying to the good news we treasure can make us feel a tension between the entrepreneurial drive of mission, and the regularity of church on the Lord’s day. Given this perceived tension, many abandon the Biblically mandated parts of Church worship — confession of sin, sacraments and so forth — to instead make Sunday more accessible and outreach focused to the non-believer. Traditional understandings of what ought to occur in church have, for many, little to do with mission and outreach. Indeed church is often thought to hinder and be set against outreach. People feel there are different kinds of people, different kinds of believer — some who feel pulled towards mission out there and others who are constrained by ministry inside the church. Is this tension a right thing to feel?

One of the parts of scripture that appears on first reading to most strongly argue for a view that mission and church are separated is that at the end of Matthew’s Gospel”

“Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

In these verses it seems as if Jesus is commanding a boundary transcending, entrepreneurial missional effort – which it is difficult to see having much of a relationship with church on the Lord’s Day. So these verses have been used to pressure people to move to other countries, give up careers, or feel guilty about loving their church family.

And yet — a closer reading of Jesus’ words suggests he did not intend his call to mission to make people feel bad about normal church. Church worship is not set against mission — as the mission is to be carried out by the church. And it is to be carried out via the humble, normal, Spirit filled means God grants the church; preaching and the sacraments. Jesus tells the apostles to engage in ‘teaching’ — a word most often used in regard to preaching among the church community. Jesus tells the apostles to ‘baptise’ — and by implication to make use of the other sacrament in discipling.

Far from leading people to give up on normal church, Jesus in Mat. 28 urges them to commit to church all the more, and realise the supernatural mission that develops there when people really believe all Jesus says.

Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: