(Before you read Part 3, please be sure and read Part 1 and Part 2 to get the full picture of what I believe and why I am writing this series.)
The Cambridge Dictionary online defines the term “mission creep” as the gradual addition of new tasks or activities to a project so that the original purpose or idea begins to be lost. Is it possible that the Church has succumbed to something like this?
Hopefully you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series (last chance to do it now if you didn’t….). If you did then you know that I am writing from a position of full support for the existence of national Israel. Furthermore, I have seen with my own eyes the beauty of a practicing Jew fully embracing Jesus as Messiah at the church I lead. I have had conversations with a local rabbi about the similarities and differences of our faiths. I outright reject any ideology that would lead to hatred of Jewish people. I love them and I pray for them.
I was troubled by the story I shared concerning Chuck Pierce presenting a mantle to Glenn Beck, who to my knowledge still self-identifies as a Mormon. I have already addressed that incident in more detail in another post, so I want to pick up where I left off with the questions I asked in that post.
What is the scriptural mission of the church? Is it to defend Israel? Or is it to make disciples of Jesus Christ of ALL nations?
Our mission is clearly outlined for us in the last words that Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension. First in Matthew:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV11)
This is expressed in different words but with the same idea in Acts:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NIV11)
From reading these passages it seems apparent to me that the Church taken as a whole has one responsibility – be faithful witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit in all the world with the goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ among all people groups and all generations.
The idea of defending Israel comes primarily from this passage in Genesis:
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3 NIV11)
These words were spoken to the Jewish patriarch Abraham, and while there are certainly other supporting Scriptures used along with this one, this is the one that I see quoted the most often.
We should pay attention to this verse and verses like it, as we should the entire Bible. In all the history of mankind we have to acknowledge that God used Abraham and his descendants to be bearers of the covenant of salvation. Eventually Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, and Savior of the world – Himself a descendant of Abraham – came to fulfill the promise that “all people of the earth will be blessed” through Abraham.
But as seriously as we should take this, and guard against anti-Semitism in any form, it does not define our mission as the Church. Jesus did that for us in the words you read above. And as part of that mission we must love Israeli people. And Muslim people. And Buddhist people. And Hindu people. And Mormon people. And black people, and white people, and red people, and yellow people, and gay people, and…, and…..We do this because it was our Father’s love for the whole world that moved Him to save us. (see Jn 3.16) That love must continue to animate our mission.
What does it say of us that we would “mantle” someone who embraces a theology/ideology that is commonly accepted as outside of orthodox Christianity and simply explain it away based on the fact that said person shares our love and passion for national Israel? And how does this correspond with the first question?
I can only express an opinion on this one, an opinion that is based on my observations only. I think that when we “mantle” someone whose theology/ideology is outside of what is accepted as basic Christian orthodoxy then what we have done is taken the focus off of Jesus and put it onto something else. As my friend Steve Nelson would say, “Jesus is the Subject.” Not politics. And, in this case, not Israel. But that is not what is reflected in this episode. What I see reflected in this episode is the idea that “it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus and about the gospel as long as you stand with us in our support of Israel.”
Since this is such a volatile issue (one for which I have taken much heat) let me be clear – I am not criticizing support for Israel. I think that conversation is more nuanced than what many people are willing to admit. And I will refrain from reflecting on possible distinctions between loving “Israelis” and loving the political structure known as the nation-state of Israel, at least for now. Let’s just leave this at “loving Israel” for now. All of that being said, I think we can, and we must, find a way to carry out our love for Israel (Israelis) all the while keeping our focus on Jesus as the Hope for all the World.
Jesus – not unconditional support for Israel – should be our primary focus. Certainly in all areas of social concern, Christians can and should be able to cooperatively work with those that we don’t necessarily agree with from an ideological or even theological standpoint. I’m not suggesting we isolate ourselves. But working cooperatively with people who do not agree with our most basic beliefs is far different from inviting them onto our stages and presenting them with a mantle that indicates they have a divine anointing on their lives. That, brothers and sisters, is WAY above our pay grade.
I know and have heard the story of the pagan king Cyrus that God used to help the Israelites in the OT. That is why I agree with the idea of our cooperating on certain issues with those that are outside of our belief systems. But it was obvious that Cyrus was not a Jew. There is much more confusion today about the Mormon faith juxtaposed with Christianity. The beliefs are different, but not everyone in our churches (I’m speaking as a pastor, remember) can discern that difference. Furthermore, as I have already stated, we are dealing with an increasingly pluralistic society that downplays the need for good doctrine and theology. In particular the Christian claim that “Jesus is the only way to be saved” is under fire philosophically.
This brings me back to “mission creep.” I am concerned that many in the Church are in danger of losing our original mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ. These kinds of episodes in our churches cause confusion. The same kind of confusion that may have emerged when the Billy Graham association modified their website to remove references to Mormonism as a cult when Mitt Romney was running for President.
And before I am accused of focusing only on one issue, I have the same problem in what I see emerging in the church as a trend toward compassion for the LGBT community (which I think is helpful) without a call for transformation into Christlikeness (which is very unbiblical and thus unhelpful). That is only one more example of possible “mission creep.”
My appeal to my brothers and sisters in the faith is to follow the leading of the Spirit and fulfill your purpose for your generation. If that purpose is to show compassion to a particular people group, or to work in the political arena in some way, or to be a voice for justice and righteousness on a great media platform then I say “Godspeed!” But you and I must NEVER forget that our primary purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Theology matters. We can never be unclear in the signals that we send about who we are no matter the cost (and I am convinced there will eventually be a cost). And as we mix and mingle with others in a pluralistic society we must never lose our first identity and vocation as faithful followers of Jesus Christ participating, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in God’s mission to save the world.