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29 November 2019

God’s Mission, the Messianic Kingdom, and the Calling of the Church

Synopsis:

Responding to Song Tsai’s reflections on Bavinck in “One Kingdom Theology as a Paradigm for Gospel Ministry”, Michael Widmer examines some of the writings of Bavinck and presents a wider investigation into the nature and purposes of God’s mission and how this relates to his kingdom and the commissioning of the church.

Michael Widmer
Michael Widmer

Michael is from Switzerland. Together with his wife Haruhi, he has been working in Japan with OMF International since 2005. They have a daughter, who has just started university in Tokyo. For the past 11 years Michael has served as lecturer of Old Testament at the Hokkaido Bible Institute. He is the author of Moses, God, and the Dynamics of Intercessory Prayer (Mohr Siebeck, 2004) and Standing in the Breach: An Old Testament Theology and Spirituality of Intercessory Prayer (Eisenbrauns, 2015). Currently he is working on a biblical theology of mediatorship.

This essay started as a response to Song Tsai’s paper, “One Kingdom Theology as a Paradigm for Gospel Ministry: A Commendation of the Thoughts of J. H. Bavinck,” and evolved into a wider investigation into the nature and purposes of God’s mission and how this relates to his kingdom and the commissioning of the church.[1] My explorations are done in loose interaction with Song’s paper from which I have adopted and slightly adapted the structure:

  1. God’s Mission and the Messianic Kingdom
  2. God’s Means of Accomplishing the Mission: God’s Revelation
  3. The Agents and Scope of Mission
  4. The Dynamics between the Calling of the Church and the Threefold Office of Christ and some Implications for OMF

First, I will comment on these from a biblical theological perspective. In the final section, I will attempt to relate my findings to OMF’s mission statement, especially with regard to “sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in all its fullness.” Moreover, I seek to participate in the ongoing debate on the relationship between evangelism and social action in the mission of God. The issue of how kerygmatic and compassionate ministry relate to each other has been discussed for decades among biblical scholars and missiologists. A number of recent publications and discussions, however, show that this remains a live debate today.[2] To put it crudely, there are churches that look to the Gospels for guidance as to what the mission of the church ought to be. They find Jesus announcing the coming of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and attending to the poor (e.g. Luke 4:18–19). Then, there are those churches that look to Paul and his letters, where the focus seems to have shifted from the announcement of the kingdom to the proclamation of a gospel of forgiveness of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Rom 5:1–11; 1 Cor 15:1–4). Bultmann famously described the phenomenon as: “The proclaimer (of the kingdom) has become the proclaimed (of the church).”[3]

Herman Bavinck seeks to respond to this divide between those who advocate a social gospel and those who exclusively engage in evangelism in the narrow sense of the term. He does this by promoting an integral approach. Bavinck argues that social action ought to be understood as a manifestation of preaching (or of the gospel). He writes that if social actions are “motivated by the proper love and compassion,” then they “become preaching.”[4]

In seeking to grasp the nature and purpose of biblical mission, Bavinck rightly points to the importance of understanding the concept and complexity of the kingdom of God.[5] Song writes:

The Christocentrically-oriented conception of the coming of the kingdom of God as developed by Bavinck forms the most important biblical-theological criterion for missionary approach, or in his words: Mission takes place in the service of the coming of God’s kingdom “and in that immense work of God we are his hands.”[6]

Modern scholarship agrees that “the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus.”[7] Moreover, it is largely agreed that, as Waltke writes, “the ultimate theological truth that unifies the whole of Scripture is the irruption of the merciful King’s rule to his glory.”[8]

In the following pages, I shall argue that it is God’s mission fully to re-establish his kingdom among his people and the nations, as well as to restore creation to his original intent. In order to accomplish this mission, God called and commissioned “mission agents” such as Abraham, Moses, Israel, the prophets, his Son, his Spirit, and now his church. Among these, the sending of his Son is central, as Jesus came as the culmination and fulfillment, not only of the sending of God’s prophets (Heb 1:1–2; 3:1), but also of Israel’s priestly and sacrificial system (Heb 7–10) and the Davidic monarchy (Heb 1:3; 4:16). First, let’s take a brief look at the nature of God’s kingdom and how this relates to God’s mission.

1.    God’s mission and the messianic kingdom

Starting with Genesis 1, Bavinck points out that God’s sovereign rule encompasses the whole of creation.[9] As part of the kingdom scheme, God appointed humans as his “royal-image-bearers” to rule (רָדָה) over all living creatures and to subdue creation (Gen 1:26–28). When the divine King established order and finished his work of creation, God looked at everything that he had made and judged it to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). Genesis 3, however, records how the kingdom-shalom was ruptured by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Yet, in spite of human rebellion against the Creator-King, God did not abandon his commitment to sinful humanity and his creation (Gen 3:21; 9:9–11).

Following the opening chapters of Genesis, the Bible tells the story of how God set out on his mission to restore his kingdom, humanity, and creation to their original purpose. What was God’s original purpose? Beale perceptively writes:

The penultimate goal of the Creator was to make creation a liveable place for humans in order that they would achieve the grand aim of glorifying him.… (cf. Isaiah 45:18). God’s ultimate goal in creation was to magnify his glory throughout the earth by means of his faithful image-bearers inhabiting the world in obedience to the divine mandate.[10]

How does God set out to achieve this goal? Through a long, slow, and fragile process of restoration.[11] It started with the election of an elderly, infertile couple who were called to become a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:3; 18:22–33). The principal goal of God’s promise to Abraham, as Bauckham discerns, is “that blessing will overcome the curse. It does so when the seed of Abraham, the Messiah, becomes ‘a curse for us … so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles’ (Gal 3:13–14).”[12]

More than 400 years after Abraham, God redeemed a weak and enslaved people who were called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, a light to the nations (Exod 19:6; cf. Gen 15:13–14). In due course, God advanced his purposes through the youngest of Jessie’s sons, with the aim to provide an earthly manifestation of his righteous heavenly reign. Psalm 72 (ascribed to Solomon) is an implicit plea to God to establish a holistic shalom that encompasses the people of God, the nations, and creation through his messianic king (cf. Ps 72:3, 16–17).

1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor. …

11 May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service. …

16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
may they pronounce him happy…

19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.

After several centuries of largely rebellious and sinful monarchs, the messianic hope in a righteous king grew stronger (Pss 2; 89; Isa 9:1–7; 11:1–5; Zech 9:9). In the fullness of time, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey at Passover. It was the time when Israel was remembering God’s victory over Pharaoh and expressed a hope in the Lord’s redemption for his people from God’s enemies. By riding on a donkey (as David and Solomon had), Jesus was implicitly saying two things. Firstly, that he was the expected Messiah and, secondly, that he was fulfilling the Exodus story of God establishing his kingdom against the idolatrous “pharaohs” of the world. The Gospels essentially tell the story of how God has and is achieving this victory through the cross and resurrection of his Son. Before we take a closer look at Jesus’ messianic mission, we should briefly consider its eschatological fulfillment, when God’s sovereign rule is finally realized, creation restored, and all nations worship before the heavenly throne and the Lamb (Rev 7:9–12; 21–22). Keeping the end vision in mind, Piper’s famous dictum about the ultimate purpose of mission comes to mind: “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”[13]

The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem by James Tissot. Opaque watercolor over graphite
on gray wove paper, 22.5 x 17.6 cm. From Brooklyn Museum, https://www.brooklynmuseum.
org/opencollection/objects/454 (accessed 13 October 2019).

This condensed overview of God’s mission to reestablish his reign makes it evident that God’s kingdom has three dimensions. It is universal (encompassing creation and all nations), it is particular (based upon election and covenant), and it has an eschatological dimension. It is evident that God’s kingship is not fully realized. Chaos continues (Ps 74; Isa 27:1), the nations rage against God, his anointed one, and Israel (cf. Pss 2; 44; 89), and even God’s own people rebel against the divine rule (1 Kgs 18; Ps 55:12–15). This gave rise to the hope that one day—“the Day of the Lord”—God will come to judge and fully establish his kingship on earth by putting everything right (Pss 96; 98). So when Jesus came and announced: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15), he was claiming that all the Old Testament hopes were about to be fulfilled (Luke 4:18–19). Both Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom and its historical reality make it evident that there is still a future dimension to God’s ultimate rule (Matt 6:10; Rom 3:9–20, 7:21–25). The messianic kingdom is both here and not yet fully established and fulfilled.[14] Thus Ladd memorably describes the theological situation as follows: “While God is King, he must also become King.”[15] Until the consummation of time, the church lives in this “now and not yet” tension (Rom 8:18–39).

So what does this brief overview teach us about the nature and purpose of God’s mission and his kingdom? It shows that God set out to restore his kingdom in all its dimensions and that he does it “by the way of the least” (i.e. Abraham, Israel, David, the Suffering Servant, a crucified Messiah, and a group of weak disciples).[16] Moreover, we can see that God works from the particular to the universal (from Abraham to the nations, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth),[17] and his work is not yet complete (Phil 2:1–11). God’s mission often involves hardship. All this is powerfully attested by the suffering of the prophets, the death of the Messiah, and the persecuted church.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the people rightly recognized him as the expected Messiah (Luke 19:28–38). However, they had a distorted understanding of God’s Anointed One and his reign. Nobody could see that God was establishing his reign through a suffering and dying Messiah (Matt 16:21–23; Mark 10:45). Even to the disciples, the vindicated Jesus had to teach from the entire Scriptures that

the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46–48)

The resurrected Lord says to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). John Stott comments:

In both these sentences Jesus did more than draw a vague parallel between his mission and ours. Deliberately and precisely he made his mission the model of ours … Therefore our understanding of the church’s mission must be deduced from our understanding of the Son’s.[18]

The risen Christ commissions his followers to carry on his mission from Jerusalem to all the nations in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).[19] In the final part of this essay, I shall argue that understanding the nature of and applying the dynamics of Jesus’ messianic mission will help us to maintain a balanced view of kerygmatic and social approaches to ministry. First, however, I would like to unpack another essential aspect of God’s mission: revelation. Only with the revelatory help of Father God could Simon Peter discern and confess that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16–17). Only when Jesus opened the spiritual eyes of the disciples could they recognize him as the risen Messiah. Only when Jesus opened to them the Scriptures did their hearts burn within them (Luke 24:30–32).

2. God’s means of accomplishing the mission: God’s revelation

Karl Barth has probably argued more than anybody in modern times that fallen humanity cannot know God unless the initiative comes from God himself.[20] According to Bavinck, God does this in two ways, namely through general and special revelation. These are two well established categories in biblical studies, but the Dutch missiologist uses them in distinctive ways. Usually, general revelation is understood as God revealing himself through nature (Ps 19), (salvation-) history (Exod 7–15; Ps 106), wisdom (Pss 90, 119), goodness/ethics (Ps 111), aesthetics (Gen 1:31; Exod 35:30–36:3; 1 Kgs 10:4–9), and providence (Ps 104; Matt 5:43–44).[21] On the basis of general revelation, Paul reckons that the nations have no excuse for not knowing God through his creation (Rom 1:18–20). The apostle does not say that general revelation imparts salvific knowledge about God. Yet, Paul affirms that the entire creation through its beauty, design, and usefulness bears witness to God’s nature. Bavinck, quite possibly influenced by Barth (“Nein!” to natural theology), however, warns that if

we wish to use the expression “general revelation” we must not do so in the sense that one can logically conclude God’s existence from it. … When the Bible speaks of general revelation … it has a much more personal nature. It is the divine concern for men collectively and individually. God’s deity and eternal power are evident; they do not let go of him, even though man does his best to escape them. [22]

Bavinck illustrates and supports his understanding of general revelation through a number of specific Bible passages.[23] He summarizes that general revelation reveals the character of God and Christ, while special revelation reveals the nature of redemption that we have in Jesus.

Based on the time-honored understanding of general revelation (as outlined above), Bavinck’s perception is helpful, but seems to be too narrow. Of course, when God reveals himself through nature, history, aesthetics, etc., humans can discern aspects of God’s nature, but these witnesses do not necessarily have the personal focus as Bavinck ascribes to general revelation. Packer helpfully clarifies:

From the natural order it is evident that a mighty and majestic Creator is there.… General revelation is so called because everyone receives it, just by virtue of being alive in God’s world.… God actively discloses these aspects of himself to all human beings, so that in every case failure to thank and serve the Creator in righteousness is sin against knowledge … God’s universal revelation of his power, praiseworthiness, and moral claim is the basis of Paul’s indictment of the whole human race as sinful and guilty before God for failing to serve Him as we should (Rom 1:18–3:19).[24]

It seems to me that Bavinck’s understanding of general revelation comes close to what has traditionally been called specific revelation, such as God’s appearance to Moses or to Israel on Mount Sinai. Specific revelation is often associated with the prophets, who have access to the divine council (Num 12:6–8; Jer 23:18) and then are sent to speak into specific situations on behalf of God. Based on revelatory visions and their own prayerful reflections on the covenant, the prophets proclaim God’s character and his redemptive and punitive ways to the people and could intercede accordingly (Amos 7–9; cf. Gen 18:11–33).[25]

God’s revelation always serves the knowledge of God and often also the understanding of his redemptive purposes. For example, the Exodus, one of the greatest revelatory acts in Israel’s history, served (primarily) the purpose of demonstrating to Egypt and the nations “that there is no one like YHWH in all the earth” (Exod 9:14, 29; Isa 45:5–7). God’s ongoing revelation to Israel, even after tragic acts of apostasy and idolatry (cf. Gen 3; Exod 32; Num 13, etc.), is a clear sign of divine grace and commitment to his people (Exod. 34:8–9). When God reveals his will through the prophets, it often serves to call Israel back to the covenant faith (1 Sam 12; 1 Kgs 18), and thus ultimately serves the restoration of humanity to God’s original creation design.[26] In other words, revelation is essentially redemptive.

Revelation, however, requires a human response in order to fulfill its purpose. After God initially revealed himself to Abraham, to Moses, to Israel on Sinai, to the prophets, and to Paul, they all needed to respond in trust and obedience to the calling in order to understand God’s deeper salvific plan. The Old Testament prophets were empowered by the Spirit of God to speak on behalf of God. This was the same Spirit who was poured out on the day of Pentecost to lead the church into all the truth, and convict the world of sin with regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8–13). The Holy Spirit reveals the nature of God’s salvation and empowers the church for God’s mission (Luke 24:47–49; Acts 1:8).[27] This makes the Triune God the prime missionary. It is equally clear that God chooses to work with and through his Spirit-enabled people (Matt 28:18–20; Luke 24:48–49; John 20:21–23).

This brings us to the human agents of God’s mission and thus to two of our central inquiries, namely, the scope of the church’s mission work and the relation between evangelism and social service.

3. The agent and scope of God’s mission

From the beginning to the end, Scripture witnesses that “God is on a mission, and we, in that wonderful phrase of Paul, are ‘co-workers with God’” (1 Cor 3:9).[28] Just as God has commissioned Israel and the prophets, so the Father sent the Son, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit, and finally the Triune God is sending the church to continue his mission.

Returning once again to the early chapters of Genesis, it is clear that God’s mission for his people is much broader than evangelism. We have already referred to Genesis 1:26–28 where God creates Adam and Eve in his royal image and commissions them to rule over creation. It is sometimes missed though that the first two chapters of the Bible qualify God’s kingdom rule through priestly categories. Genesis 1–2 presents God not only as Creator and King (who subdues, forms, and orders), but in many ways also as the archetypal heavenly Priest, who separates (בדל) darkness from light, day and night, water and land,[29] who blesses (Gen 1:22, 29), and sanctifies the seventh day (Gen 2:3). Solomon built the temple in seven years (1 Kgs 6:38), while God built his “cosmic temple” in seven days.[30] When Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle, God revealed to him the heavenly sanctuary as a model (pattern) to copy (Exod 25:9, 40; Heb 8:5). The parallels between God’s cosmic sanctuary and Israel’s earthly sanctuary become further evident by the juxtaposition of the language of Moses and God after they finished their “sanctuaries.” “Moses saw all the work” which the people “did” in constructing the tabernacle; “and Moses completed the work” and “blessed” the people for their labors” (Exod 39:43; 40:33). When God finished his creation, he “saw everything that he had made, … God finished the work that he had done, and … blessed the seventh day … (Gen 1:31; 2:1–3). There is good reason to argue that the building of the tabernacle was intentionally portrayed in the image of the world’s creation.[31] On the seventh day, God completed his creation and moved into the cosmic tabernacle (cf. Ps 132:7–8, 13–14). According Hebrews, the risen Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary as our High Priest to appear before God on our behalf (Heb 7:25, 9:24–28).

Given this wider framework, it is interesting, for our purposes, that God not only commissions humans to govern (subdue and have dominion) over all animals and creation (Gen 1:28), but also commands them to serve and keep the garden sanctuary (עבד and שׁמר, Gen 2:15). “To serve and to keep” are exactly the same Hebrew words used later when Moses commissions the Levites for their priestly service in the tabernacle (Num 3:7–8; 18:7).[32] So already in Genesis 1–2 emerges a picture of God—the archetypal King and High Priest—creating humanity in his royal-priestly image (Gen 1:26), commissioning them to govern, to serve, and to protect the sanctity of the garden temple.

The royal and priestly nature of God’s people and their work is confirmed in Exodus 19 when God reveals to Moses the deeper purpose behind the Exodus. Why did God redeem Israel from Egypt? Not only to deliver them from slavery, but primarily to make himself known, not least through his people. “Let my people go so that they can serve me (Exod 7:16; 8:1) as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6). God called his people out of idolatry to be distinct from other nations (i.e. holy). As a people set apart for God, they ought to mediate between a holy God and an unclean and idolatrous world.

Although God intended this “high-calling” for Israel as a people, already after the Golden Calf apostasy, the priestly role was transferred to the Levites only (Exod 32:28). Nevertheless, God blessed Israel so that his saving ways might be known among all the nations (Ps 67:1–2). Israel is called to be YHWH’s witness (Isa 43:11; 44:6–8), to bring forth justice and light to the nations (Isa 42:1, 6). Israel, however, has not fulfilled its mission. Isaiah speaks of a blind and deaf people (Isa 42:18–20). Hence, God commissioned another servant to restore Israel so that they can be the intended royal priesthood (Isa 49:1–7; 52:13–54:17; 61:6). The sacrificial death of the “Suffering Servant” (as a guilt offering, cf. Isa 53:10) prepared the way for Jesus to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Through his substitutionary death (Rom 4:25), God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13–14; Gal 3:13–14; Rev 1:5–6). The Exodus theme is taken further by Peter when he describes how God’s original plan for Israel reaches its fulfillment in the church: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:4–10; cf. Exod 19:4; Rom 15:16)

Peter develops further the imagery surrounding the new priesthood by saying that the church is called to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:5). What do these spiritual sacrifices entail? They may vary, but proclaiming the one who brought them from darkness to light, is an essential aspect of the church’s mission (1 Pet 2:9). Moreover, in line with the Old Testament, the priestly church is not to conform to this world but to conduct themselves honorably among the Gentiles as a testimony for God (1 Pet 2:11–12; cf. Rom 12:1–2). It also includes offering sacrifices of praise to God and doing good and sharing one’s possession (Heb 13:15–16). The letter to the Hebrews particularly underlines the teaching that the royal-priestly church is to serve under Christ’s heavenly High Priesthood.

Once again, the end time vision of Revelation discloses that, thanks to the atoning work of the Lamb of God on the cross, believers are redeemed from their sins and restored to their original royal priestly role before God (Rev 1:5–6; 5:10; Gen 1:28; 2:15).

Conclusion

God’s mission has at least three dimensions: (1) it is word-based: proclaiming and teaching the good news about the Messiah and his kingdom as a response to the reality of human sin; (2) it is compassionate: a response to the holistic needs of humanity; and (3) it embraces the whole of creation.[33]

God’s mission is evangelistic

Although God is the one who reveals himself and reconciles to himself all things “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20), it is also the Triune God who commissions his people to cooperate with him in making himself and his reign known (1 Pet 2:9) and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations (Luke 24:48; cf. Isa 43:10). The gospel of the kingdom is that God, in and through his Messiah, has won the major battle against Satan, sin, and death, yet the war is not yet completely over (Heb 7:25).[34]

With Bavinck, Song reminds those who engage primarily in kerygmatic ministry that God’s kingdom needs to be authenticated by character and good deeds. As we have noted, Israel was called to be a holy people. Peter applies this commandment to the church by insisting that we should “live such good lives among the nations that they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet 2:12). In other words, we should shine as a light to the nations. There is no mission without proper biblical ethics.[35]

God’s mission demonstrates compassionate service

Flowing from God’s mercy and grace (Exod 34:6–7), and embodied in Jesus’ life and ministry (John 1:14), the church is called to compassionate service. Words and deeds belong together. Just as Jesus’ words interpreted his deeds and his deeds embodied his words, so should evangelism be a partner of social services.[36] Jesus did not only announce the good news of the kingdom; he performed visible signs of the kingdom. If people did not believe his words, Jesus said that they should believe him “because of the works themselves” (John 14:11). Or as Wright argues, since the world is in a holistic mess due to the fall, God’s mission must equally be holistic.[37] Holistic mission from a biblical theological perspective includes the care and eventually transformation and renewing of creation. This is “in a manner analogous to the resurrection of his Son.” The new creation is the “habitation for the resurrection bodies of his redeemed people.”[38]

Mission embraces the whole of creation

The earth and all in it belongs to the Lord (Exod 19:5; Ps 24). From Genesis 1–2 it is clear that God created humanity in his royal, priestly image and commissioned them to govern, to serve, and to protect the sanctity of the garden temple. The church is called to responsible stewardship of God’s creation.[39]

Having briefly summarized the three fundamental aspects of God’s mission, I’d like to finish by exploring how these three characteristics relate to each other, to Jesus’ messianic mission, and to OMF’s mission statement and values.

4. The dynamics between the calling of the church and the threefold office of Christ and some implications for OMF

According to Packer, one of Calvin’s greatest contributions to Christian thought was that the New Testament writers expounded Jesus’ mediatorship in terms of the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king as found in the Old Testament.[40] Moreover, the Genevan reformer was convinced that these three major offices inform the church about its calling.[41] Having seen how the threefold office is actually rooted in the Triune God himself and is thus reflected in his reign and mission, I would like to suggest that the three offices stand in an inseparable, mutually enriching, and correcting relation to each other when we think of the character and mission of the church.

The priestly role of the church, as seen above, has manifold senses and include protecting, maintaining, and contextualizing the teaching and sacraments of the church (e.g. 2 Chr 15:3; Neh 8:9). Interceding—particularly praying for and mediating God’s blessings for the church and the world—is also an abiding priestly responsibility. Moreover, the calling to be a “holy people” has particular relevance for missionaries. Consider OMF’s value: “Depending on God for holy living.” That is, we need to display distinct lives in our cultural and religious contexts (Ezek 22:26). Keeping and protecting the “garden sanctuary” comes as an order to look after the “heart sanctuary,” and has implications for creation care. Creation care is an important part the church’s “priestly mission” (Gen 2:15).

The prophetic role of the church includes making God’s redemptive work known—through preaching and evangelism, and expositing Scripture (Eph 4:11–13). A “prophetic”, kerygmatic ministry includes both encouragement and warning. The “prophetic church” is called to assess its own “spiritual health” based on Scripture, and if necessary to speak self-critically to its “priestly” contingent (e.g. Moses vs. Aaron, Exod 32; Amos vs. Amaziah, Amos 7).[42] The prophetic warning goes hand in hand with interceding for God’s grace and mercy in Christ (OMF value: constantly evaluating our vision).[43] Although the prophetic church has a calling to be a “sentinel” to its own people (i.e. upholding truth and holiness, Ezek 3:16–21; 33:1–9), collectively it also has a responsibility to speak into secular society, especially with regard to injustice and corruption (Amos 1–2). The people of God who are faithful to their prophetic calling will most likely invite criticism, suffering, and even persecution in the name of Christ (Matt 5:10–11). One could perhaps surmise that, on the one hand, without the prophetic voice, the priestly service of God’s people might encourage rice-Christians, spiritual lethargy, or syncretism. On the other hand, if the church sees its calling predominately in (prophetic) preaching, evangelism, and teaching, it is in danger of losing touch with its (host) culture, becoming legalistic, hypocritical, and possibly even fanatical (Luke 18:11). This is in line with OMF’s value: “We practice incarnational ministry.”

The “royal role” of God’s people includes the assurance that we are part of God’s royal household (“you are a royal priesthood”). The “royal calling” expresses itself through servant leadership that understands itself to be under the authority of Christ and his law (Deut 17:18–20; Eph 5:22–24; Phil 2:1–11). As Psalm 72 helpfully draws a vision of the messianic kingdom, the church is called to protect and provide for the vulnerable in its midst. This coincides with OMF’s value of sharing resources. Moreover, following the creation mandate, the people of God are called to look after (rule) creation as responsible stewards of God’s world (Gen 1:26–28; Ps 24). Again, if the royal role of the church’s mission is not kept in check by the prophetic contingent (e.g. Samuel vs. Saul; Elijah vs. Ahab), church leaders will be in danger of exploiting their leadership roles, be tempted to over-emphasize the victorious aspect of Christianity, and forget that Christ’s followers are called to take up their crosses and serve each other.

Depending on gifting and context, the emphasis of this threefold “messianic” calling might vary slightly, but ideally the threefold office ought to be balanced in any group of Christians. Every mature follower of Christ should aspire to a balanced threefold spirituality and ministry. If these three roles are not balanced, the church runs the risk of distorting messianic kingdom dynamics and thus the nature of God’s holistic mission.

God’s mission flows from the nature of the Triune God, and the missional calling of the church is intrinsically related to the threefold office of Christ and his messianic kingdom. Keeping the biblical tension between the priestly, prophetic, and royal aspects of God’s calling is, to my mind, a suggestive way of talking about integrated mission and resolves to a large degree the uneasy relationship between evangelism and social action.

[1] Both Song Tsai’s paper and this response were originally delivered at OMF’s Mission Research Consultation in June 2019.

[2] For example, St. Paul’s Cathedral, “The Kingdom of God with the Rt Rev Dr Tom Wright,” 21 Oct 2015. Video, 1:28:48, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLiy-WlS9mA. Song’s paper “One Kingdom Theology” refers to a number of recent publications. Moreover, OMF has addressed this issue in “The Church in Mission and the World,” Mission Round Table 13, no. 3 (2018), https://omf.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MRT-13.3-Sep-Dec-2018-The-Church-in-Mission-and-the-World.pdf (accessed 8 Oct 2019).

[3] Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 1 (London: SCM Press, 1965), 33. See also David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 1–15.

[4] J. Herman Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1960), 113.

[5] J. Herman Bavinck, Between the Beginning and the End: A Radical Kingdom Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 27.

[6] John Bolt, James D. Pratt and Paul J. Visser (eds.), The J. H. Bavinck Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 75. See Song’s paper p. 4.

[7] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Guildford: Lutterworth, 1979), 57.

[8] Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 61. See also Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament vol. 2 (London: SCM, 1985).

[9] Bavinck, Between the Beginning and the End, 29.

[10] Gregory K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 82. See also Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 39–47.

[11] One of Bavinck’s strengths is that he views missiology on a grand scale. He evaluates missiology in the light of God’s work that stretches over generations. Bavinck presents a holistic view of cultures coming under the Lordship of Christ. See The J. H. Bavinck Reader, 362–3.

[12] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 34–5.

[13] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), 11.

[14] This is usually referred to as “inaugurated eschatology.”

[15] Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 61.

[16] This is further confirmed in the Sermon on the Mount which tells that God is building his kingdom through the needy, the humble, and those who are persecuted for righteousness (Matt 5:3–12).

[17] See Bauckham, The Bible and Mission, 27–49.

[18] John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, IVP Classics (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 37–8.

[19] See Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), for a masterful exposition of this grand theme.

[20] Karl Barth, Die Kirchliche Dogmatik: Die Lehre vom Worte Gottes 1.1 (TVZ, 1932), 238–41. In my study, Moses, God, and the Dynamics of Intercessory Prayer (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 9–14, I try to show how Barth’s “revelatory theology” has influenced a number of prominent Old Testament scholars.

[21] See Jean-Georges Gantenbein, “The Good News in a World of Aesthetics,” Mission Round Table 14, no. 2 (2019): 11–17, https://omf.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/MRT-14.2-May-Aug-2019-Sharing-the-Good-News-of-Jesus-Christ-in-all-its-Fullness.pdf (accessed 8 October 2019).

[22] J. Herman Bavinck, The Church Between Temple and Mosque: A Study of the Relationship Between the Christian Faith and Other Religions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 124. I am indebted to Song Tsai for this reference.

[23] For example: Job 33:14–18; John 1:4–5, 9; Acts 14:15–17; 17:26–27; Rom 1:19–32.

[24] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1993), 9–10.

[25] I explore the process from God revealing himself to the prophets to the actual delivering of a prophetic speech in my book Standing in the Breach (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015), 498–502.

[26] God sometimes makes revelation dependent on prayer (cf. 1 Kgs. 18:37; Isa. 37:17–20).

[27] Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 7–21, 39–45.

[28] Wright, The Mission of God, 531–2.

[29] To separate and distinguish (בדל) between holy and common, between clean and unclean is a priestly activity (Lev 10:10; 20:24–25). See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2014), 18–19.

[30] Beale, The Temple, 29–121, John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 71–6.

[31] Beale, The Temple, 61, following M. Fishbane, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979), 12.

[32] T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 123–5, Beale, The Temple, 81–3.

[33] Wright, The Mission of God, 416. The Anglican Church helpfully divides Mission into five marks, saying that the mission of the church is the mission of Christ: (1) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; (2) To teach, baptise and nurture new believers; (3) To respond to human need by loving service; (4) To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation; (5) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth. Anglican Consultative Council, “Marks of Mission,” https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/marks-of-mission.aspx (accessed 8 October 2019).

[34] To use Oscar Cullmann’s image, Das Gebet im Neuen Testament (Tubingen: Siebeck, 1994), 177–82.

[35] Wright, The Mission of God, 369–92.

[36] Stott, Christian Mission, 42.

[37] See Wright, The Mission of God, 429–41.

[38] Wright, The Mission of God, 416.

[39] Chris Wright gives a helpful overview of what this might concretely involve. Wright, The Mission of God, 417–20.

[40] Packer, Concise Theology, 131–3.

[41] The so called Munus Triplex (threefold office) also provides the basic structure of Barth’s Christology in his Church Dogmatics. The Heidelberg Catechism interprets the title “Christ” in terms of the threefold office:
Q. Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”? Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be: i) our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance; ii) our only high priest who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father; iii) and our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.

[42] Atsuyoshi Fujiwara, “A Theology of Japan: Prophetic and Priestly Theology of the Believers’ Church,” in A Theology of Japan: Origins and Task in the Age of Globalization (Saitama: Seigakuin University Press, 2005), 103–115, helpfully explores the dynamics between prophet and priest and takes it as a guideline for “healthy” contextualization.

[43] For a discussion on the logic of the twofold role of the prophet, see my study, Moses, God, and the Dynamics of Intercessory Prayer, 80–6.