Missional Programing

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.


“Missional” has become a buzzword, also many define it in a variety of fashions, you will have the term used numerous times by many people but still not quite sure what is meant. Benjamin T. Conner reiterates this by declaring, “The word “missional” is becoming ubiquitous. There is really no shared notion about what missional theology is—to this point there has been no substantive crosscurrent of conversation about the parameters and shape of missional theology.”[1]

 From appearances missional appears to be related to the terms missionary or missions which is interconnected with the Greek words ἀπόστολος (apostolos) and ἀποστέλλω (apostelló). Denoting an individual that is sent forth or an envoy or missionary that is invested with authority by their master, in other words an apostle.[2]

The tendency to subdivide points complicates matters, excessive theological terminology and subdivisions are unnecessary. There is no genuine distinction between “missional”, “missions” and evangelism except for minor nuances. The 16th century Anabaptists did not bother with all those extraneous categories. To them everything was summed up in the Great Commission and obedience to the one that issued it. Christians was to function as ambassadors of the king carrying the gospel to the world outside of the Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

The Anabaptists did not see evangelism, preaching and missionary work as existing as differing vocations some for clergy and some for laity. The Magisterial Reformers taught that the great Commission solely applied to the first century Ekklesia. In the festschrift honoring the lifetime work of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary entitled The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity we find the following. Regarding the Magisterial Reformers, they “had little theology of missions. Some of them had no theology of missions for the church. In stark contrast, the Anabaptists give evidence that the most quoted Scripture in all Anabaptist writings is the Great Commission.[3]

While this work accurately depicts the state of affairs at that period in history it portrays an inaccurate assessment in many respects of how the Anabaptists interpreted the Matthean passage.

The Anabaptists did not just believe in the purpose of the Great Commission, but they determined to follow the exact order of the Great Commission—first going; then, having gone, “making disciples”; then “baptizing” only those who choose to be disciples; and finally, “teaching them” to live in obedience to Christ. For the Anabaptists, these four phrases of the Great Commission, in this specific order, establish both a strategy and a structure for the church, both a purpose and a process for the church, both the objective of the church and order for churches.[4]

The above quote establishes the Anabaptist viewpoint well but there is one inaccurate aspect of their position. As established in the article prior to this one, the proto-Anabaptists held to an Erasmian interpretation of the passage. Thus, the “teaching” facet would follow “first going; then, having gone”.

It is during this area time of that programing is supposed to take place. The foundation for being missional is established during the learning, unlearning and relearning phase i.e. the instruction. In the first century, great efforts were sought in order to convey to those interested proper Christian understanding of things (Cf. Luke 1:4). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states that catechesis (religious instruction) “originated very early as the teaching given to converts before baptism and developed into the formalized catechumenate”.[5] Later catechisms become the mainstay regarding the proper education of baptismal candidates.

During the 16th century, the Swiss Anabaptist Balthasar Hübmaier felt compelled to write a catechism because he recognized its importance.[6] While this was not normative, it is evident that the Anabaptists regardless of the group had their summary of doctrine, which they taught their baptismal candidates. Therefore, it is possible to establish programs to inculcate an attitude toward being missional.

Aspects of  the catechesis not only taught biblical teachings but it also taught the idea of community, solidarity and seeking out the best for the whole will striving towards a specific goal. The community was the Gemeinde-Ekklesia, which were members of the Kingdom and those on the outside were portions of the World.

While this is accurate, the Ekklesia does not subsist as a group of believers that are content with their Kingdom fellowship and comprehension of scripture. Despite the fact that they do maintain a view of the Ekklesia as a sacred space, that is the Christian Gemeinden are outposts of the Kingdom thus no part of the World they do not isolate themselves from the World. They are supposed to proclaim universally a divine invitation for others to become citizens of the Kingdom. 

Even though those on the outside are citizens of the World, they should be viewed as neighbors. Members of the Gemeinde should seek the welfare of their neighbors as taught by their king. This level of compassion for their fellow human beings will propel new affiliates to proclaim the gospel which is the Kingdom resulting in those taking up the kingdom invitation through putting faith it its appointed king (Jesus Christ), living as citizens now and inviting others to become citizens. This is the core of the Great Commission and the key to instilling a missional spirit.

[1] Benjamin T. Conner, Practicing Witness: a Missional Vision of Christian Practices (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 11.

[2] R. Zarwulugbo Liberty, “The Missionary and His Message,” in Growing Missionaries Biblically: a Fresh Look at Missions in an African Context (iUniverse, 2012), 84-88.

[3] Rick Warren, “The Anabaptists and the Great Commission: The Effect of the Radical Reformers on Church Planting,” in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, Restoring New Testament Christianity: Essays in Honor of Paige Patterson (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 85-86.

[4] Ibid., 86.

[5] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 211.

[6] See: Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Christian Catechism,” in Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism, ed. and trans. H Wayne Pipkin and John Howard Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 339-65.


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