By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
Jerusalem to the Ends of the Earth
- In Acts 1, Jesus tells his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We have here the blueprint for the mission of every local church. It begins and has a right focus upon its immediate context, but such is the nature of the dynamic of the gospel that the mission thrust always pushes outwards. Thus the ‘mission field’ of every local church begins locally, but it ends at the furthest reaches of the globe, spreading out in ever wider concentric circles. It is not that each local church has a local mission field and that with enough churches eventually the whole world might be covered, but rather that every local church is called to have a heart for reaching the world for Christ.
Again, for evangelical Anglicans there is a danger we can divorce this call to far-reaching mission from our understanding of and commitment to the Church. In the history of the modern missionary movement over the last three to four-hundred years, there have been some wonderful and highly effective mission organisations. They have often begun because of the zeal and vision of an individual with a burning passion to reach a particular nation or region with the gospel. Tragically, they have often responded to Christ’s call to go and make disciples of all the nations despite, not because of, the Church. The great Baptist missionary to India, William Carey, often called the ‘father of modern missions’, asked at a minister’s meeting in Northampton, “Whether the command given to the apostles to “teach all nations,” was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent?'”
His question provoked the now infamous response from John Collett Ryland, “”Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine”.
Sadly, those words express a not uncommon attitude towards world mission – of either complete indifference, or complete inactivity, wrapped up in theological excuses. Thankfully, William Carey was not to be deterred, but is a striking example of someone with Christ-like zeal for the lost having to strike out on his own for the sake of the gospel, despite, not because of, the Church.
At times, the Church has seemed to be unable to cope with such indefatigable zeal and single-minded determination, and so ‘parachurch’ mission agencies and organisations have come into being. Thus, once again, mission has been divorced from the Church, whereas biblically, mission is the work of the Church. The consequence of such a divorce is that inevitably it leads to an approach to evangelism – seeking to win people for Christ – that lacks or is indifferent to ecclesiology. Undoubtedly, the fault for this most often lies with the Church rather than mission-minded zealous individuals. However, a far more healthy and biblical approach to world mission is that it is the Church’s mission to reach the world for Christ.
Thus Acts 1:8 ought to find natural expression for a local Anglican Church in a commitment to its immediate mission field, namely its parish, but moving every further outwards, a commitment to the Anglican deanery, diocese and national Church. That is, every local evangelical Anglican church ought to self-consciously be committed to the spread of the gospel and the renewal and revival of the Church, at every level.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, pages 110-111 by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles, 2017.