Mission Possible

Mission Possible

The things that are impossible with men are possible with God.

Luke 18:27

The original Mission Impossible was a popular cold war era spy show. I always enjoyed watching the opening scene which usually included one of the stars getting a secret, anonymous phone call or locating a top secret mini- cassette recording (high tech in those days) with instructions on how to defeat the bad guys. The message always outlined an extremely dangerous mission which started out with, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it …” I was always on edge watching the spy team perform the impossible task. But they always succeeded. Of course, they had to or that would be the end of the series.

Speaking of mission, I have a pet peeve about mission statements for churches. I know a mission or vision statement is an important way to clarify a church’s sense of calling, and many churches have benefited from succinct statements of what God has called them to do. I guess what bothers me is that the idea of creating a mission statement for churches has emerged only in the last twenty-five years or so and actually comes from the business world. Some seminaries have adopted it as a “must do” for all churches and pastors. How did the church get along for two thousand years without mission statements? The problem is these church-designed statements often do no more than re-state the obvious.

Over the years I’ve read things on church bulletins like, “We are called to know Christ and make Him known.” What church isn’t? Or, “Loving God, loving His people, loving the world.” That really narrows it down. These things seem to come in threes by the way; for instance, “Open hearts, open hands, open minds.” That could mean almost anything you want it to. How about this one? “A home to the faithful, a resource to the community, a witness to the world.” Wait a minute, that’s’ ours!

I’ve even known some churches go to the trouble of clarifying their mission only to collapse within a year because the more essential biblical principles of holiness, forgiveness, preservation of unity, or doctrinal purity were ignored. Contrary to the beliefs of some, a mission statement is not a cure-all. My point is, the Bible gives us plenty of things to do without trying to boil them down into nice little sound bites.

Despite all the negatives about brief statements on church life, they’re not all bad. So, in contradiction of everything I’ve said so far, I’d like to explore one of these that is important to us. Staunton Grace Covenant is intended to be a contemporary expression of the historic Christian faith. This means that we respect the work of the Holy Spirit manifested throughout the church’s 2,000 year existence. We understand that God has worked through different church communions and confessions in marvelous ways through the centuries. The experience, the historic doctrines, and the Creeds of the church throughout its history are of great value to us today. God has had His people in every age who have loved Him and obediently served Him. Their knowledge and experience is our gain. We are safe staying in touch with the experience and faith of our forebears. It is appropriate to recite their creeds, sing many of their hymns, and embrace their traditions where appropriate. To do so is simply a recognition of God’s sovereign activity in His church through the centuries. It is not “selling out” to tradition, it is recognizing God’s work in history.

That we are a contemporary expression of the historic Christian faith also means that there are boundaries to our beliefs and practices. It is not “anything goes.” We ask ourselves, what does the Bible teach on this matter and how has the church historically understood the Bible’s teaching? To hold this posture means we are orthodox in the best sense of the word. It also protects us from fads and gimmicks which could appeal to our carnal nature but may be of no value in aiding our spiritual growth.

We adhere to a biblical faith which affirms the teachings of historic orthodoxy regarding Christ, the Trinity, salvation, and many other things. We also believe that many traditions and cultural forms of worship need to be adapted to the contemporary age and culture. For us that means the use of technology such as PowerPoint or video as well as drama, or a contemporary music style. Style and form are the outward dress, clothing the internal reality of a heart devoted to Christ. Good form with a bad heart profits nothing. A good heart with bad cultural forms wins very few. A contemporary expression of the beauty and power of the historic Christian faith is an effective proclamation of Christ’s Lordship to our generation.

Referring to liturgies and style of worship, the Reformer, John Calvin put it this way:

[B]ecause things of this nature are not necessary to salvation, and, for the edification of the Church, [they] should be accommodated to the varying circumstances of each age and nation. It will be proper, as the interest of the church may require, to change and abrogate the old, as well as to introduce new forms. I confess, indeed, that we are not to innovate rashly or incessantly, or for trivial causes. Charity is the best judge of what tends to hurt or edify: if we allow her to be our guide, all things will be safe.

Institutes of the Christian Religion IV, x, 30

Becoming a contemporary expression of the historic Christian faith is more important than you may think. Books like the best-selling The DaVinci Code, published a few years back, prey upon this generation’s profound ignorance of the genuine traditions and beliefs of our faith. They try to replace orthodox Christianity with another historic faith and thus another Jesus. Paul warned us about accepting the teachings of another Jesus and another gospel (II Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:8-9).

As we rely on God’s Spirit and Word, we will experience his truth and presence. Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will guide His church into all truth, and we will be united with fellow believers in our own and other ages, showing that we are one as Jesus prayed in John 17. He promised in the beginning that His people would enjoy His presence to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:21). Let us celebrate what He has done in previous times, and let us rejoice in a present work of grace today. “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7-8). In so doing we will truly be a contemporary expression of the historic Christian faith. Now there’s a mission we can get excited about.