Missions and Theology: A Match Made In Heaven

Those who are a part of Southeastern know that I am fond of making the following statements on a regular basis:

  • The greatest missionary who ever lived is also the greatest theologian who ever lived. His name is Jesus.
  • The greatest Christian missionary who ever lived is also the greatest Christian theologian who ever lived. His name was Paul.
  • Paul was a missionary on the field before he became a theologian with his pen.
  • You cannot be a good missionary without also being a good theologian.
  • You cannot be a good theologian without also having the heart and passion of a missionary.

Why do I regularly say these things? Because I believe it is imperative for us to see that the Bible weds missions and theology. They are divine companion’s, not dangerous enemies. They are supernatural complements that work with each other not against each other. One without the other is incomplete. One without the other is a biblical contradiction.

We clearly see the essential relationship that exists between missions and theology in the Great Commission given by our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20. It is easy to show this in a simple diagram:

Missions ? Go…all the nations.

Theology ? Make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Missions is inherently and of necessity theological. We go to the nations with the theological charge to “make disciples.” Further, we make disciples by “teaching” these disciples of King Jesus all that He has commanded. Theology informs our missions and missions is the natural outgrowth and response to our theology.

It is interesting and instructive to take the Great Commission and break it down theologically. Having never done this before, I was amazed at just how theological it is! Note with me the following, beginning with Matthew 28:18.

  • “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” — This is Christological affirming the deity and sovereignty of Jesus. Only God possesses all authority in both the earthly and heavenly realms!
  • “Go and make disciples of all nations.” — This is ecclesiological and soteriological. “Go to the nations” informs the mission of the church. We are not being the Church if we are not going to all the nations, reaching out to all the ethnes near and far. “Make disciples” informs our doctrine of salvation. We do not make converts. We make disciples. Now, conversion is the beginning of the salvation process, but it is not the end. Salvation has as its goal sanctification on the way to glorification. Making disciples highlights the sanctification component of salvation reminding us that our goal for every believer is transformation into Christlikeness. That is what it means to make disciples.
  • “Baptizing” — Baptism is ecclesiological. It is an ordinance of the church. It is also soteriological. Baptism is the public declaration and pledge of discipleship. It is therefore an important aspect of our sanctification as we begin the journey on the road to being “conformed to the image of the Son” (Rom. 8:28).
  • “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” — The Great Commission is Trinitarian! This doctrine is distinctly unique, setting Christianity apart from every other religion in the world. We worship only one God, but this one God exists and has revealed Himself as the three in one God. The deeply theological nature of this phrase is impossible to overemphasize. It touches on Theology proper (the doctrine of God), Christology, and Pneumatology.
  • “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” — This is soteriological and relates again to our sanctification. We grow as disciples as we grow in obedience to the totality of divine revelation. This will, of wonderful necessity, results in our cultivating and living out a Christian worldview way of thinking and acting. Boiled down to its bedrock basics, it means living out the two Great Commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). In this regard, it is also missiological, is it not?!
  • “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — This wonderful missiological promise is Christological and eschatological. The Christ who has “all authority” promises us his “always presence” as we go to the nations making disciples. And, it is eschatological because He who is with us now will be with us to the very end. Amazing isn’t it? The Great Commission is far more theological than I ever realized!

Southeastern is known as a Great Commission Seminary. That means we care deeply about missions and we care deeply about theology. That should surprise no one. After all, they are a match that was made in heaven.