The 'Church' Only Exists When She Exercises Her Missionary Charge.

This is a follow-up post, of sorts, to the article “Two Churches, One City, Almost No Common Ground in Mission – An Interactive Scenario.” That post and this one are designed to catalyze conversations with your missions committees, small groups, and church leaders about the ‘Missio Dei,’ the Latin Christian theological term that can be translated as the “mission of God,” or the “sending of God.”

John Flett summarizes how karl Barth understood the relationship between the church’s existence and its proclamation to the world:

missionarycharge“The apostolic community, ‘can never in any respect be an end in herself but, following the existence of the apostles, she exists only as she exercises the ministry of a herald.’ And so the community ‘does not exist before her commission and later acquire it. Nor does she exist apart from it, so there can be no question whether or not she might have to execute it. . . .’ Her essential direction is ‘outwards to mission, to the world, because she is not merely based upon the apostolate but is identical with it.’” ~ Flett, Witness of God, 265, quoting Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/ 1, 724; IV/ 3.2, 779; and II/ 2, 430.

How are we to understand ‘apostolic?’ Jürgen Moltmann describes it this way; “The historical church must be called ‘apostolic’ in a double sense: its gospel and its doctrine are founded on the testimony of the first apostles, the eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, and it exists in the carrying out of the apostolic proclamation, the missionary charge. The expression ‘apostolic’ therefore denotes both the church’s foundation and its commission.” ~ The Church in the Power of the Spirit p.358

If Flett is interpreting Barth correctly here, then I’d have to agree with Barth, but only with Moltmann’s understanding of ‘apostolic.’

If I had to explain all this so that anyone could understand it, then in my own words, I’d say it this way;

The Church, either in its local assemblies or universally are not to be ‘ends unto themselves.’ But, like the Apostles, and on which teachings the Church is founded, is not to be entrenched in, and seeking to sustain its ‘internal’ or ‘local’ ‘ministries’ alone. To plant a church with the ‘intention’ of doing mission ‘later’ is neither church planting or mission. To claim existence as a church without mission, is to be an imposter. And, I’ll take that one step further. To ‘be’ a church that puts the bulk of her resources, people, time, and energies into sustaining herself, as opposed to the outward commission and missionary charge to Make disciples of all nations, be witnesses to Jesus by word and deed, and foster the reconciliation of all things as much as we as humans are able, is to not be a gathering assembly or ‘church.’ A few questions;

1. Have I, in my interpretation of Flett, Barth, and Moltmann, taken things too far? How so?

2. If you agree with my summary, then what do you suppose is the solution for churches/local assemblies that find themselves in the situation described above? (More resources, people, time, and energy for ‘church’ than mission)

3. Do you reject any of the propositions above? Which? Why?

These thoughts come from a book I’m working on called “This kills Mission.” It will be available first in Spanish by September of this year. If you’re interested in helping to edit, contribute, or write a forward to the English version, then email me at

0 thoughts on “The 'Church' Only Exists When She Exercises Her Missionary Charge.

  1. David Kueker says:

    1. Have I, in my interpretation of Flett, Barth, and Moltmann, taken things too far? How so?

    I don’t think so. In all the upheavals of theology since the resurrection, ecclesiology has been largely unreformed. And is inadequate. The ideas of the Protestant Reformation need to be drawn together in a true ecclesiology which represents them – priesthood of all believers, etc.

    Another problem is the confusion over the definition of terms. Troeltsch helps here … you have the cultural church and or Jewish temple. Functioning within that church you have the ekklesia, which is a movement. The “called out ones” are not called out of an atheist, secular environment, they are called out of a religious environment. Troeltsch identified a 200 year or less cycle from movement (which he called a sect) to an institutional denomination (which he called a church). In time we naturally and inexorably move from Jesus to Constantine, from Wesley to the Methodist Church. .. and the twofold nature of the church is forgotten.

    So, to me the church has two elements in tension: the Jesus movement ekklesia vs the Temple religion. Without a doubt your comments about the ekklesia completely correct; it is the church that Jesus intended. But one is not the False Church and the other the true church. Nor did Jesus attempt to directly change the institutional temple … he called people out of it into an ekklesia. When the ekklesia begins to define itself as the church, it seems to me, it begins to morph from movement to institution.

    The origin of this “two winged” idea of the church is cell church missionary Bill Beckham’s The Second Reformation.

    2. If you agree with my summary, then what do you suppose is the solution for churches/local assemblies that find themselves in the situation described above? (More resources, people, time, and energy for ‘church’ than mission)

    My suggestion. .. be Ambidextrous. Encourage a movement within a church, and call people into genuine discipleship and genuine disciple making. Those who are ripe will come; the others will continue to maintain the temple because that’s who they are. Let them maintain the flower pot in which the movement flowers.

    3. Do you reject any of the propositions above? Which? Why?

    I don’t think I do. .. you’ve defined the ekklesia well.

    But when the ekklesia focuses on declaring itself as the true church, it has lost its focus on its mission. It needs to go forth and not turn back to focus on changing the institutional church to be missional. That’s an oxymoronic goal. Just my opinion. If the ekklesia will just continue to call people out, in time the leaven will leaven the whole lump.

  2. erinwilsonkw says:

    It seems to me that you have made a good attempt at interpreting Flett, Barth and Moltmann on Flett’s quote. But my feeling about that quote and subsequent interpretation is that it all sounds so institutional! It just did not sit right with my more organic view of the ekklesia.

    That is because I see the church, the ekklesia more as organic like a family. That quote/interpretation sounds more like a factory. Mission, mission, make disciples, more disciples! but does not take into account what makes healthy, reproductive disciples. And I am not saying that what the institutional church does in any way makes healthy reproductive disciples. If that were so, then there would be no need for our ministry.

    But what I am saying that making healthy disciples is an important part of the mission.

    Remember going to Lakeland as a civilian and the process you endured to become an airman? And that training didn’t end there. It continued throughout your military career to become more proficient at your mission.

    Or consider your family. As soon as your child was born you did not expect her to reproduce! No, it took years of growing up and maturing before she brought you grandchildren.

    I am not saying that evangelical mission comes only after a long discipleship program.

    What I am saying is that evangelical mission should happen as life happens and disciples organically “invade” the natural realm with the Kingdom supernatural. Evangelizing has been presenting intellectual arguments for following Christ. What if followers of Christ just did what Jesus said to do in Matthew 10:8, do the Kingdom stuff?

    People are looking for the supernatural. We read about it. We talk about it. But if we did it. Wouldn’t word get out like word got out about Jesus? Next thing you know someone is tearing a hole in your roof to get it.

    See what I mean.

    And it is not just about miracles and healing. What if people just made friends and loved on them?

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