i think we might need a new word. the word mission has this stodgy military feel to it. as if to say, “i have a mission for you: go out and make people believe this is true”. although, this may not be the intention, since Luther the Church has adopted the idea that ‘missions’ is solely about colonializing whoever it comes into contact with. i think we need to revise our narratives. and we need to understand that christianity is part of a meta-narrative that has been going on before its own discovery. and when i use the term meta-narrative, i don’t mean to suggest the meta-narratives of the past which were directly connected with the bigger and stronger beating the smaller and weaker. i think that is a part of the narrative that needs to be scrapped. i would suggest that this new approach to narratives and rewriting them include rewriting the terminology we have been using. one reason being that the language has become a bit outdated and archaic in light of the generational gaps that are easily apparent by walking down the street, i would say that this new narrative has to be relevant to the world within which it lives. i would also add that another reason why we need to change how we see the world, christianity, evangelism and many other things within the faith is because it simply just doesn’t work anymore. think about this in terms of buying a car (a simple and crude example, i know, bear with me). if a car’s tires are becoming bald, we can buy new ones and it would be fine. but if a car’s engine begins to fail, which tends to most likely lead to smaller problems along with it (e.g., the fuse box breaks, a light goes out, the heating is on the fritz, and etc.) then the better thing to do is buy a new car, not rebuild the old one. this is what Luther was attempting to do, rebuild and reframe the old car. let me explain a bit more. i am not saying we need a new religion. i am saying we need a new perspective on what we believe and why we believe it. and some of this new perspective might need some spring cleaning, we might need to leave some things at the wayside and pick some others up and maybe even reintegrate some ancient ones. i think this is also what might need to happen with missions. i think we need a new car. we need a reframing of it all.
some scholars argue that jesus may have never said the words recorded in matthew 28:20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost….” now for the sake of this conversation, it is important to understand the context and all the possibilities of what might have and have not been said including this set of verses. A good resource on this, would be the Jesus Seminar.
When Jesus told the disciples to go and ‘teach’ all nations…at the root verb of teach (whether in hebrew or greek) is also the same word ‘to learn’. so maybe being evangelists is also about being evangelised. not merely ‘teaching’ people but also learning from them as well. too often many camps within the christian tradition get slated as arrogant know-it-alls because many people come from a place of so much assurance, it almost seems they helped write the bible. (as you will see from other posts, i think confidence/certainty can, at times, come off as arrogance when at the root of it all is a fear that if the confident one is wrong than all that they believe falls apart). i know that this is not the intention of those from the conservative camps, but unfortunately it tends to be received this way. peter rollins up in ireland has this creative group called Ikon and they have conversations with people and invite those who are from different faith traditions to join the conversation, why? to be evangelised. i think this is an important part to understanding what it means to go into all the world. also in the greek, the word for teach is the same word we might also use for didactic. which is a two-way conversation. for years and years evangelism was defined as a one-way shopping spree where we try to get as many customers to buy our product. maybe we need to be willing to embrace the reality that we might need to evangelised as well.
the word baptism doesn’t show up in aramaic or hebrew. i just talked with a jewish scholard who said that there is no languge of baptism in their belief system. the word baptism was added by the authors of the gospels to make sense of a jewish practice called mikvah. mikvah was a ritual purification before going into the temple. in the realm of disciples and rabbi’s it was also a public declaration of who you were following. this is why john responds with surprise when jesus asks him to baptise him. but also it is important to keep in mind as one website asserts, “Yeshua uses ‘interactive methodology’ to teach. Communion (from Pesach) uses symbolic foods, Mikvah uses a symbolic act of immersing oneself into water as a dynamic symbol. The symbol becomes meaningless if the act becomes more important that the meaning. Nonetheless the act has importance.” too many groups get into fights over whether people should or should not be baptised, when in the culture of jesus’ day it was more about the symbolism. baptism/mikvah was more about the change of identity in that person, and we see that the divine comes down in the form of a dove (doves were representative of the goddesses; but also used as an item to be sold by those in abject poverty)…these words in the gospel were essentially saying that Jesus was divine and was also equating himself with poverty, or maybe an advocate for them. symbols not befitting a revolutionary who was supposed to be overthrowing the Roman government. i think at the end of the day, baptism is a way of life, not how wet you get. it is more about immersing yourself in grace, peace, love, redemption and restorative thinking and living that transforms the contexts within which we live. once we start defining mikvah/baptism as a who’s in and who’s out we become part of the very system we are supposed to be against.
i think we need to reframe our thinking and revise our approaches on evangelism.
maybe more as a two-sided conversation rather than a tyrranical conversion process. maybe as a conversation that we too can walk away from changed and transformed, not just as teachers but learners too. jesus said these words to his followers after he resurrected. after he came back to life and gave them hope. before this all happened, most of them were defeated and distraught, and then he visits some of them and tells them that he believes they have what it takes to go and change the world. that the way you do it is by living out what you believe. and by resurrecting hope into lifeless situations. and to immerse each one you meet with love, grace, and redemption. and since he gave them hope, we too pass this hope on. this is evangelism; which i think a better word might be conversation or paradigm shift that happens through our lives. and its not something that needs to happen. the word ‘go’ tends to be something that gets mangled in the translation. in the greek it has many different meanings, in one place it has to do with a departing from this life, in another it is about transferance, and another one is to pursue the journey one has entered. or maybe ‘reality’ might be a better word. essentially what jesus is saying is keep participating in this reality you have become a part of and treat people as if they already a part of this reality. maybe when jesus invites us to baptise them, maybe what he is essentially saying is live such a symbolic life of grace, peace, forgiveness, healing and hope that it immerses those you come into contact with.
there is so much more than can be said here, so much more. but this is a work in progress. but i have come to the conclusion that we need something different. something for the now.