When Luke records in Acts 2:47 that "the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved," the "number" in view was not an ambiguous reference. The fulfilling of the Great Commission means adding to the church, the body of Christ, the great number of saints, the people of God whom the Lord has redeemed for himself. How were they added? By what means did the Lord save his people day by day? The preaching of the Word of Christ.
In this issue we turn to examine the importance of the church in relation to the Great Commission. We make reference to the "Embassy of Grace" from which the Lord's ambassadors are sent forth to declare the treaty of the Great King. The connection to make is that the church is the place where one hears the Word preached and receives baptism and instruction in all the things Jesus taught. The church also sends ambassadors, namely, ordained servants to fan out to the ends of the earth planting churches far and wide as outposts of God's mercy, forgiveness, and hope in any and all wilderness lands, from Minneapolis to Mozambique.
We cannot make too much of the embassy motif. Editor-in-Chief Michael Horton assures us that when we encounter terms such as "ambassador," "herald," and "minister" we are brought into a world of international diplomacy in which churches truly are embassies in a foreign land.
The church exists because of Christ's ministry and the work of the Spirit, not because of its ministers or the pious faith of its members. There are, however, "offices" that God ordained for the work of the ministry that he gave for the sake of the Word. Lutheran minister Brent McGuire reflects upon Ephesians 4, "And He Gave Gifts to Men," and helps us understand the blessing of the public proclamation of the gospel by God's messenger in a pastoral office.
One of the crucial distinctions that attentive readers will note throughout this issue, either stated directly or implied, is between the special office of Word and Sacrament ministers and the general office of all believers as witnesses to Christ. Minister of Exile Presbyterian Church Jason Stellman reminds us of the difference, that while all believers are called to faithfully glorify God in their earthly callings or secular vocations it is nonetheless not incumbent upon all believers to fulfill the Great Commission beyond the general call of the Bible to be ready to give an answer for the hope they have in the gospel. The larger task of Christian mission is, once again, for those who like Paul are "separated to the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1).
To reinforce a number of these points, we print a fascinating interview with Edmund Clowney about the corporate nature of the church that includes a remarkable redemptive-historical summary of the calling and gathering of the people of God from Genesis to Revelation. In more recent history of the people of God, of course, there are many heroes and villains in the modern missionary movement. We look at one of each with articles by Marie Notcheva and D. G. Hart. Hart reminds us of the perennial relevance of the Presbyterian controversies of the 1930s and '40s, especially in relation to missions and the social gospel. Similarly, Susan Erikson introduces us to Robert Raikes, who was credited with inventing Sunday school, almost entirely for the purpose of social activism. This movement intentionally and explicitly sought to undermine and replace catechetical instruction and family worship with generic self-help morality aiming to produce productive members of polite society. Erikson takes a constructive approach in conclusion, outlining three models for family worship and catechism today. Finally, Craig Parton laments the loss of apologetics in contemporary times, and Shane Lems summarizes the very best we may learn from the writings of well-known missionary Lesslie Newbigin.
We refer to Romans 10 throughout this issue, and for good reason. Implied in this passage is the crucial link between the Great Commission and the public proclamation of the gospel by ministers who are specially appointed and sent for this task. "For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved....How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?...And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'"
Ryan Glomsrud (D.Phil., University of Oxford) is Executive Editor for Modern Reformation and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at Harvard University. He earned his M.A. in Historical Theology from Westminster Seminary California and B.A. from Wheaton College, Illinois.
Issue: "Embassy of Grace" May/June 2011 Vol. 20 No. 3 Page number(s): 3
You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. We do not allow reposting an article in its entirety on the Internet. We request that you link to this article from your website. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Modern Reformation (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: This article originally appeared in the [insert current issue date] edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit www.modernreformation.org or call (800) 890-7556. All rights reserved.