“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t”—John Piper
I recall when I first came across the above quote, which was long before picking up this book. Like many of John Piper’s lines, it’s striking. And it’s quite fitting to open up this remarkable book on Missions with such an unpopular idea.
But why start a book on Missions by affirming that Missions is not the goal of the church? Isn’t that something like shooting yourself in the foot? Would that not be detracting from what the book should be advancing?
Well, the reason becomes clearer as one moves on. The church today drowns in activity. The phenomenon described as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ has many believers and churches as loyal adherents. And it results in a very different orientation towards ministry and the Christian life. It minimizes the dangers of wealth, it ignores the biblical call to a wartime lifestyle, and pays little attention to the Scriptural teaching on the necessity of suffering in the lives of believers (see p. 19).
Writing from what has the ‘Global South’, this is quite obvious to me. A theology which focuses the Christian’s attention on God’s gifts rather than on God himself can never foster genuine worship. As such, this system cannot promote a genuine understanding of Missions. This dominant ‘Christianity’ turns God and religion (faith, prayer, worship, bible study, fellowship, evangelism, etc) into means to an end. And that end is a comfortable, healthy, happy, stress-free existence on earth now. God’s glory is hardly the goal. And as Piper reminds us:
“If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served, and God will not be duly honored.” (p.36)
The health of a church is often assessed by how many programmes it holds week in and week out, the outreaches or projects it launches, and its ‘impact’ on the community or society. And one’s vibrancy as a believer also judged by the part one plays in all these. Without a God-magnifying mindset, which is at the root of true worship, all would amount to vanity. We must return to what matters.
It is possible to have well-structured, efficient, and stirring worship services without truly worshipping. This is the reality around me and many others. And much the same could applies to Missions. Unlike evangelism, Missions seeks to take the gospel to places or peoples who lack significant gospel witness amidst them. But even in this sphere, as the author notes on p.37: “It is possible to be distracted from God in trying to serve God.” When we forget that ‘worship ‘ or even Missions is ultimately about getting humanity to delight in God in Christ, we will get into all sorts of meaningless activity.
We were made for God, to glorify him by enjoying and delighting in him. The classic Westminster Shorter Catechism captures this truth succinctly:
Question: What is the Chief end of Man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Creation has a goal. God displays his glory in all that he has made, and his creatures are to exalt and celebrate him (Psalm 19:1; Psalm 37:4; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 2:10). As the author also notes, ‘God’s aim in creation is to put himself on display…To make himself known as glorious’ (p.229). Sin, however, ruined this fellowship. While we were created to magnify God’s glory, ‘the biblical vision of man without grace is that he suppresses this truth and by nature finds more joy in his own glory than he does in God’s’.(p.47) But through Christ’s redemption, God seeks to restore humanity to this true purpose. And that is what Missions aims to restore in every nation under heaven.
Thus Piper notes again:
“Missions is for the glory of Christ. Its goal is to reestablish the supremacy of Christ among the peoples of the world…The goal of Christ’s mission and ours is that God might be glorified by the nations as they experience his mercy.” (p.220)
Without Christ, the nations of the earth are lost. And as the nations repent of their idolatries and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour and King, God is glorified. So Missions enriches the nations while exalting God. The Spirit draws us to become ‘white-hot worshippers’, while seeking to enlist others in that mighty throng shouting:
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
We pursue this in hope, confident that we will see the nations bow their knees in adoration. Scripture assures of this (see Psalm 45:17; 86:9; Isaiah 60:3). So while we labour in prayer (Acts 4:29), and endure all kinds of suffering (Matthew 10:25; 1 Peter 3:17), the grace of God will sustain us so we are not discouraged. God will indeed prevail and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) will be fulfilled.
The book summons us to a radical lifestyle. We are called to be genuine, death-defying, suffering-despising, prayer-inspired worshippers. And we long to see this replicated throughout the nations of the earth. For the God we worship is not a local deity but the God of all the earth.
We are thus to be world Christians. This is “someone who is so gripped by the glory of God and the glory of his global purpose that he chooses to align himself with God’s mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory as the waters cover the sea.” (p.264) Whether we go ourselves or support others, we must faithfully do so with a clear awareness that it is the glory of Christ we seek to proclaim. There is no other alternative, if we desire that the nations flourish. For, as John Piper often reminds us, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.