Moore College has always had a global feel. The first principal travelled out from England in 1856. We have taught subjects in cross-cultural mission since at least the 1970s. Our Department of Mission commenced in 1997 and our Centre for Global Mission was launched in 2016. Many of the current faculty have done advanced research overseas. We remain at heart the theological college for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, but for many decades we have also been much more and our vision embraces the entire world.
Much of our involvement in overseas missions has been in response to requests for help from church leaders and other Christian workers in places without the wonderful gospel resources we have here in Sydney. For many years our correspondence course, the PTC, has been used to help provide training for evangelists and church workers in majority world settings. We continue to resource young theological colleges in Africa, Asia and South America in their efforts to equip labourers for their part of the Lord’s harvest field. There are many more requests than we are able to meet, but our Centre for Global Mission has provided innovative ways of extending our reach in various parts of the world.
Why is theological education so important for those engaged in overseas mission? Let me suggest three reasons. Unsurprisingly, they are similar to the reasons why theological education is so important for long-term ministry of the word and prayer in any context.
- The gospel message needs to be clearly communicated to people who, whatever their location, culture or ethnicity, are lost without Jesus.
We know that the proclamation of the gospel is the powerful means by which God saves men and women from sin and all its consequences (Rom 1:16–17). Like the apostles, we have been entrusted with the gospel (1 Thess 2:4) and work alongside others in the gospel (1 Thess 3:2). The gospel is the gospel concerning God’s Son, promised beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, the glorious one who came to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21). The gospel message of sins forgiven, freedom from condemnation and new life for all who are in Christ, comes to us in the context of the whole of the Bible—from the promise amid the curse in the beginning, against the backdrop of God’s creative activity that brings all things into existence, to the promise at the end of Jesus’ return to bring in a new heaven and new earth. It is a gospel full of consequence for every area of life lived now in between Jesus’ first coming and his return. It is an announcement of extraordinary grace which carries with it a summons to faith and repentance (Mark 1:15). The wonder of what God has done in Jesus can never be exhausted and it is of monumental significance for every human being.
All of this means that getting the gospel right—understanding what God has made known about himself, his great eternal plan to save men and women and have a people for himself in Christ’s kingdom, what this means for us now and what it means to live as disciples of Jesus awaiting his return—is crucially important. Clearly communicating that gospel across cultures requires a deep understanding of the gospel, of what lies at its core, and of why that message is unalterable and indispensable, relevant to both Jew and Gentile, in fact to every human being on the planet. The gospel needs to shape our understanding of God, the decisions we make, the relationships we inhabit, the words we use, and the way we behave. A theological education that involves a deep immersion in the word of God and serious reflection on the nature of the gospel, letting it shape our convictions and character as well as our message, is a vital element in preparation for word ministry, whatever its context. Why theological education for overseas mission? The first reason lies in the importance of the gospel itself and the need for every person on earth to hear the gospel and see it lived out by its messengers (Matt 24:14).
- To communicate the gospel effectively is more than just a matter of understanding the gospel, it requires an understanding of the people we are trying to reach and their context from the perspective of the gospel.
Underlying the bewildering variety of cultures and contexts in which we might exercise a ministry of the word and prayer are common truths about the nature of human life and the impact of human sin. The gospel gives us a perspective on those in front of us as precious in God’s sight and yet lost and facing judgment. It reminds us that distortions at the level of our thinking and of our behaviour are consequences of sin. We can delight in the cultural diversity we experience in the world while not falling into the trap of thinking every element of it is benign. We must be able to weigh cultural commitments and cultural expressions—especially our own!—in the light of the gospel.
Ministry is always ministry to people, and people always inhabit a context. The gospel message is heard within that context. We are not at liberty at all to change the message. It must be the gospel of God that we are sharing. With the apostle Paul we must be emphatic that there is only one gospel (Gal 1:6–9). But we are also not at liberty to ignore the particular challenges and roadblocks to hearing that message and understanding it in the context in which we serve. That is a tricky business. Too often in history we have ended up with either a gospel compromise (some blend of the culture and the gospel which ends up distorting the gospel) or a gospel that is inaccessible (because little attention has been given to who it is we are seeking to reach and how they understand the words we say). Why theological education for overseas mission? Because understanding those we want to reach with the gospel is first and foremost a theological activity.
- The gospel mission is always under challenge and the most urgent presenting challenges shift from one generation to the next.
A ministry of the word of God and prayer is hard work. It is not for the fainthearted. The Bible often uses an analogy with shepherding to describe the work of ministry (1 Pet 5:1–2). Shepherds nourish the sheep by feeding them. They also protect the sheep by guarding them against those who would harm them and helping them to avoid obstacles along the path. But to recognise a challenge (whether a wolf or an obstacle) requires knowledge, discernment and—if you are going to stand up to the challenge—courage. It also requires humility and compassion rather than a high-handed sense of superiority or pugnaciousness. Self-awareness is important if you are really going to be focussed on the needs of the people you are serving and not simply defending your own sense of being right.
The challenges may be different both across time and across cultures. Simply preparing to address today’s challenges or the challenges of your current context is not enough (but still important). We need to learn how to distinguish between what is central and what is peripheral, what is an article of faith and what is a matter of adiaphora (indifference or unimportance). Careful thought about the connection between biblical ideas, the consequences of biblical ideas, and the proportions of biblical ideas is needed. Then we can look at this new idea, or strategy, or cultural shift and weigh it properly against the word of God. Why theological education for overseas mission? Because we need to be prepared to engage and answer the challenges of tomorrow and not just today.
There are a myriad of other reasons why getting the best theological education available is important for overseas mission, but here are my top three: the gospel itself, the people we are trying to reach with the gospel, and facing every new challenge to the gospel. I hope you find this issue of Moore Matters helpful in thinking further about global mission, which remains one of the great passions of our College.