Long ago I shamelessly pilferred the word “Reformissional” from Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 Network. The word seemed to encapsulate what I was about. The word is a hybrid of both Reformed and Missional, two parallel tracks that both decribe and shape my philosophy of ministry – and even, to a large degree, my philopsophy of life.
It was sometime later that it dawned on me that the word Reformation was also part of this equation. That, too, was an important discovery. By Reformation I am not just referring to a point in time and history, but also the goal of my mission and life. I long to see a new reformation take place in my church, my community, and across this nation. I long to see it spread throughout the world. I am in regular need of one in my own life.
Now, when I say such things, I understand that there are many who may become reasonably uncomfortable. It is easy to misunderstand my hope and intent, and perhaps conjure up mental images of a time when people lived under religious oppression. Afterall, many of our history books seem to suggest that this was the inevitable outcome resulting from the Reformation of the 16th Century. But what I have in mind should evoke no such horrid. (Besides, many of our history books are woefully in error about the Reformation, and especially the Puritan outgrowth of it. But that is a topic for some other day.)
What I have in mind, when I say I long for a new reformation, is that I desire to see our churches constantly reshaping themselves to become more in accord with what the Scripture says they ought be. And corresponding to that, that the lives of Believers would be shaped and formed more and more by Christ, and less and less by culture, or tradition, or by anything else. Rather than being oppressive, I belive that would be liberating.
In his book, Radical Reformission, Mark Driscoll shares some keen insights. I don’t embrace all of Driscoll’s views, but I did appreciate the book. In particular, I felt the Introduction offers some important ideas that could stand alone as a challenging essay for todays churches, church leaders, and Christians. For that reason, I am posting the following edited version of that Intro:
Since the mid-1990s, the conversation among young pastors has evolved from reaching Generation X, to ministering in a postmodern culture, to a more mature and profitable investigation of what a movement of missionaries would look like, missionaries sent not from America to another nation but from America to America. This “reformission” is a radical call to reform the church’s traditionally flawed view of missions as something carried out only in foreign lands and to focus instead on the urgent need in our own neighborhoods, which are filled with diverse cultures of Americans who desperately need the gospel of Jesus and life in his church. Most significant, they need a gospel and a church that are faithful both to the scriptural texts and to the cultural contexts of America. The timing of this reformission is critical. George Barna has said, “The first and most important statistic is that there are a lot of Americans who don’t go to church—and their numbers are increasing. The figure has jumped from just 21 percent of the population in 1991 to 33 percent today. In fact, if all the unchurched people in the U.S. were to establish their own country, they would form the eleventh most populated nation on the planet.”
What I am advocating is not an abandonment of missions across the globe but rather an emphasis on missions that begin across the street, like Jesus commanded (Acts 1:8).
Meanwhile, the churches in our neighborhoods may be more akin to museums memorializing a yesterday when God showed up in glory to transform people, than to the pivot points of a movement working to reform the culture of the present day. Reformission requires that we all learn the principles handed down to us from mentors who are seasoned cross-cultural missionary pioneers, such as Lesslie Newbigin, Hudson Taylor, and Roland Allen. These missionaries are most adept at helping us to cross from our church subcultures into the dominant cultures that surround us. Subsequently, at the heart of reformission are clear distinctions between the gospel, the culture, and the church.
First, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart of the Scriptures. To put it succinctly, Paul said that the gospel is of primary importance and consists of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to save sinners, in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-8).
Second, we have the various cultures in which people live their lives (for example, ancient Jews and Gentiles; modern, urban homosexual artists; modern, rural heterosexual farmers). Our lives shape, and are shaped by, the culture we live in, and the gospel must be fitted to (not altered for) particular people, times, and circumstances so that evangelism will be effective.
Third, we have the church, or the gathering of God’s people— which includes those who are not Christians (Matt. 13:24-30) — where people are built up in their faith and knitted together in loving community. They can then faithfully engage those in the culture with the gospel, while experiencing its transforming power in their own lives.
Reformission is a radical call for Christians and Christian churches to recommit to living and speaking the gospel, and to doing so regardless of the pressures to compromise the truth of the gospel or to conceal its power within the safety of the church. The goal of reformission is to continually unleash the gospel to do its work of reforming dominant cultures and church subcultures.
Reformission therefore begins with a simple return to Jesus, who by grace saves us and sends us into mission. Jesus has called us to (1) the gospel (loving our Lord), (2) the culture (loving our neighbor), and (3) the church (loving our brother). But one of the causes of our failure to fulfill our mission in the American church is that the various Christian traditions are faithful on only one or two of these counts. When we fail to love our Lord, neighbor, and brother simultaneously, we bury our mission in one of three holes: the parachurch, liberalism, or fundamentalism.
Gospel + Culture – Church = Parachurch
First, many Christians become so frustrated with the church that they try to bring the gospel into the culture without it. This is commonly referred to as the parachurch, which includes evangelistic ministries such as Young Life and Campus Crusade for Christ. The success of these ministries is due in large part to their involvement in culture and in loving people, whereas the church often functions as an irrelevant subculture. But the failure of such ministries is that they are often disconnected from the local church, connecting unchurched people to Jesus without connecting them to the rest of Jesus’ people. This can lead to theological immaturity. Once someone is saved, he or she is encouraged to do little more than get other people saved.
Also, since parachurch ministries are often age-specific, they lack the benefits of a church culture in which all generations are integrated to help people navigate the transitions of life. This further separates families from each other if mom, dad, and kids are each involved in disconnected life-stage ministries outside of their church, rather than in integrated ministries within it.
The parachurch tends to love the Lord and love its neighbors, but not to love its brothers.
Culture + Church – Gospel = Liberalism
Second, some churches are so concerned with being culturally relevant that, though they are deeply involved in the culture, they neglect the gospel. They convert people to the church and to good works, but not to Jesus. This is classic liberal Christianity, and it exists largely in the dying mainline churches. The success of these ministries lies in that they are involved in the social and political fabric of their culture, loving people and doing good works. Their failure is that they bring to the culture a false gospel of accommodation, rather than confrontation, by seeking to bless people as they are rather than calling them to a repentant faith that transforms them. Often the motive for this is timidity because, as Paul says, the gospel is foolish and a stumbling block to the unrepentant. Liberal Christians are happy to speak of institutional sin but are reticent to speak of personal sin because they will find themselves at odds with sinners in the culture.
Liberal Christians run the risk of loving their neighbors and their brothers at the expense of loving their Lord.
Church + Gospel – Culture = Fundamentalism
Third, some churches are more into their church and its traditions, buildings, and politics than the gospel. Though they know the gospel theologically, they rarely take it out of their church. This is classic fundamentalist Christianity, which flourishes most widely in more independent-minded, Bible-believing churches. The success of these churches lies in that they love the church and often love the people in the church. Their failure is that it is debatable whether they love Jesus and lost people in the culture as much as they love their own church. Pastors at these churches are prone to speak about the needs of the church, focusing on building up its people and keeping them from sinning. These churches exist to bring other Christians in, more than to send them out into the culture with the gospel. Over time, they can become so inwardly focused that the gospel is replaced with rules, legalism, and morality supported with mere proof texts from the Bible.
Fundamentalist Christians are commonly found to love their Lord and their brothers, but not their neighbors.
Reformission is a gathering of the best aspects of each of these types of Christianity: living in the tension of being Christians and churches who are culturally liberal yet theologically conservative and who are driven by the gospel of grace to love their Lord, brothers, and neighbors.