Participating in Mission with Jesus

I recently had the pleasure to present a seminar on Trinitarian Theology to a group of pastors and ministry leaders gathered in Nashville, TN.  I've given this seminar several times to similar audiences with similar results: many expressions of joy, hope and even surprise; together with various questions.

It is a great blessing and privilege to see people grow in their understanding of the life and the love that is theirs in union with the Father, Son and Spirit. A question that usually comes up is this: If all humanity is adopted already into God's family through the union of all humanity with Jesus, then why is there the need for Christian mission? The mission most have in mind is what has come to be known as the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus in all the world, and then to baptize and teach those disciples.

An understanding of Trinitarian Theology does not nullify this mission - quite the contrary, it establishes it. But perhaps it is established in ways and through means that challenge us to rethink our categories and some of our methodologies.

I've been informed in my thinking on this important topic by Karl Barth's essay in the short book, "The Call to Discipleship."  Following are a few selected quotes. What you'll see is the imperative for believers to obey Jesus call to follow him. We do so by participating in ministry with Jesus according to the particulars of his call to us. Those particulars vary widely, but are always expressive of certain patterns of Jesus' loving and living within our world.
"Follow me" is the substance of the call in the power of which Jesus makes people his saints...It takes place in a definite form and direction...a vision that stimulates those to whom it is given to a definite action. The call issued by Jesus is a call to discipleship (p. 1)....It has the form of a command of Jesus directed to them. It means the coming of grace... that... [requires] that they do something, i.e., follow Jesus. Jesus is seeking people to serve him" (p. 7)...The only possible content of this command is that this or that specific person to whom it is given should come to, and follow, and be with, the one who gives it (p.13)....
There is no discipleship that does not consist in the act of the obedience of this faith in God and therefore in [Jesus]... Everything depends upon the fact that Jesus himself is there and lives and calls people to himself (p. 15)...
It is a matter of doing that which is proposed to us by Jesus. It may be great or it may be small...but it's performance is laid upon us, not by ourselves, but by the one who has called us to himself, who has willed and chosen us as his own. And we are to perform it in the act of that obedience which cannot be separated from faith in him (p. 25)...
Obedience to [this call] means an inward liberation from everything in which we might otherwise put out trust...We are do that which is explicitly commanded. But do we have to do it? No, for that would be a legalistic interpretation of the command  (pp.28-29)...
The discipleship of Jesus [is] exercised in self-denial (p. 36)...[which provides release from] all gods which are first set up by humans...interposing themselves between God and them, and between them and others...In their place stands for us the Conqueror Jesus, the one Mediator between God and humanity, and between one person and another...If we are his disciples we are freed by him from their rule (pp. 38-39)....
It is a denial of the call to discipleship if [we] evade the achievement of acts and attitudes in which even externally and visibly [we] break free from these attachments [to false gods of the world] (p. 40)...[These acts and attitudes proceed along] certain prominent lines...which the concrete commanding of Jesus, with its demand for concrete obedience, always moved in relation to individuals (p.48)...[These lines] cannot be reduced to a normative technical rule (p. 51)...To come to Jesus is to take a yoke upon oneself like a gallant ox (Matt 11:29).  All this can hardly be formulated, let alone practiced, as a general rule...(p. 53-54)....
The call of Jesus will be along the lines of the [historic] encounter [in Jesus' earthly ministry] between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world...But this does not mean that the living Son of Man is confined as it were to the sequence of his previous encounters, or that his commanding moves only in the circle of his previous commanding and the obedience it received. It is not for us simply to reproduce those pictures [of Jesus' past encounters and callings] (pp. 68-69)...[The call will always be] along the lines indicated in the New Testament, corresponding to, and attesting, the irruption of the kingdom of God. In other words, we shall always have to do with a form of the free activity Paul described in the imperative: "Do not be conformed to this world" (Rom 12:2)...We have to hear [Jesus'] voice as he speaks to us, calling us in the particular situation of obedience determined by his Word. It is not enough, then, merely to copy in our activity the outlines of that in which these men [historically] had to obey his demands...We might try to copy everything that Jesus demanded and that these people did, and yet completely fail to be disciples, because we do not do it, as they did, at his particular call and command to us (pp. 69-70).


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