The Mission of God’s People (12)
Chapter 12, People Who Send and are Sent, is a rich exposition of the “sending” motif in Scripture. While there are some matters for deeper reflection that I will mention later, I can hardly avoid noting some of the very helpful features of this chapter:
First, beginning with the Old Testament prophets, moving to the Spirit’s role in sending people in the Old and New Testaments, and grounding his thought in the Trinitarian sending between the Father, Son, and Spirit and God’s people, Wright illustrates how the sending motif is vital to Scripture’s own theology of mission.
Secondly, by examining some less regularly studied passages (3 John in particular), Wright exemplifies the dynamics between sending churches and those sent, demonstrating that in the New Testament, both saw themselves as integrally involved in God’s mission to the world.
Analysis of Acts 6
As I’ve repeatedly noted as I’ve worked through The Mission of God’s People, while Wright often provides rich analysis of biblical passages–particularly Old Testament ones–leading to a healthy, full-orbed picture of God’s people. Nonetheless, I’ve also noted that he often doesn’t seem to identify a distinction in the church’s institutional role, in the primary role of the church, nor in the distinction between the role of ministers in Christ’s church in distinction from the other members of God’s people. While he certainly does not provide a complete explanation of these points, he does offer some illumining thoughts in chapter 12 on how Acts 6 relates to some of these questions.
In discussing Acts 6–in which the apostles’ instruct the people to choose diakonoi / servants to minister to the material needs of the congregation, so that they can focus on the ministry of the word and prayer–Wright makes a few comments about its application to the mission of God’s people:
The apostles’ point was simply that distribution of food to the needy was not what they, the Twelve, had been primarily called and sent to do (even if it had been part of their training with Jesus). It must be done, however, and it must be done by the people selected and appointed for that ministry.
So it is a distortion of this text to use it to suggest that the preaching of the Word has primacy and priority for the church as a whole in its mission, as over against all forms of social or compassionate service for the needy. Luke is careful to distinguish “the Twelve” from “all the disciples” in verse 2, and to record that they said, “it would not be right for us“, which means that they were talking about the fundamental ministry priority for themselves as Christ’s commissioned apostles, not what was an overriding priority for the whole body of disciples. (214)
Essentially, Wright is arguing that this text does not argue for a priority of proclamation for the church as institution, but rather simply for those who were commissioned as apostles. To see the opposite perspective on this passage, see this post from Kevin DeYoung, in which he quotes Martyn Lloyd Jones regarding the mission of the church. He argues the perspective which Wright describes as a “distortion.” The question then, though, is twofold: (1) Is Wright’s interpretation correct? (2) Does this then have further implications for the mission of the church in general? Does the apostolic priority of the ministry of the word and prayer transfer itself to the role of pastors and elders today?
I can’t provide answers to these questions now, but it’s helpful that Wright approaches these questions directly at this point. The questions are worth thinking through, for indeed, the needs of the world are endless, and if the institutional church and her officers attempt to provide for all of them, surely only burnout can result. Wright’s careful approach to this individual text is helpful, whether or not one agrees with all of the applications he draws from it.