The Physics of the Missio Dei (P2A)
Newton’s Second Law of Motion Applied to the Missio Dei
Law 2 (simplified): Force = Mass x Acceleration
When we speak of the church as a spiritual “force” we mean to borrow from the physical world in hopes of deducing principles and perspective for the modern church. Newton, a Christian, loved to study God’s World. He tested his hypothesis about what force really is by laying out an equation: Force = Mass x Acceleration. It is one thing to see a giant boulder just sitting there (mass). It is not a threat after all. But once someone pushes it down a hill (acceleration) it becomes dangerously impactful (force). A bullet is incredibly small, only a few grams of mass, but add acceleration and it generates enough force to kill.
In comparison, some churches, like the boulder, have been sitting around for a long time to the chagrin of their pastors and leaders, yet, if the Spirit can add the velocity needed, that same church could become a powerhouse for the Gospel. Likewise, other pastors are overly concerned with the lack of attendance on a Sunday morning and low levels of commitment, yet, they do not see that if the Spirit provides the momentum, they need very few in the chamber in order to create an explosive force for the Gospel too.
Pressing the analogy further (something you may come to disdain in these essays!) mass and size are no the same thing. Some things are very dense, but small (e.g. steel ball bearing), others can be much larger but lighter (e.g. a balloon). The church at Ephesus was doctrinally the strongest church in the New Testament, but over time it seems it gave way to a cold corpse orthodoxy and they lost their lighthearted love for one another (Rev. 2:7; Sam Storms is likely right on the interpretation of “first” here). On the other hand, the church of Thyatira was too light in doctrinal matters and therefore blown every which direction by the wind of false teaching and sexual immortality (2:20-25). The size of a church is of little concern, the mass, the substance of the character of Christ in its people, that matters most.
Or, as D.L. Moody once said,
“If we make a full surrender, God will give us something better than we have ever known before. We will get a new vision of Jesus Christ, and will thank God not only in this life but in the life to come. May God help each and every one of us to make a full and complete and unconditional surrender to God, fully and wholly, now and forever” (D.L. Moody Collection, Secrets of Heaven).
The Mass & Acceleration of The Missio Dei (Old Testament)
A cursory reading of the New Testament might lead someone to conclude that only the New Testament, Spirit filled, Jesus driven church has any real force behind it. But for thousands of years prior God was on the move gathering and amassing a people for His own possession.
It should be noted that mass and weight are also not the same thing. Mass is how much matter an object has, weight is a measurement of gravitational forces on that object. Go to the Moon and your mass does not change (i.e. you have the same number of molecules), but your weight does. A teaspoon of the mass of a dying star (called a neutron star) is so dense that it would weigh over 1 billion tons; approaching the weight of Mt. Everest! So, mass is the gathering of matter in one place. Mass is fundamental to an object whereas weight is relative. The missio deiin the Old Testament is likewise fundamental to the story line and its mass impacts the canonical fabric of spiritual truth.
God gathered Adam & Eve to one small garden in one geographic region (Eden) of Earth, but commissioned them for something far greater than their single dot on the globe, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…and have dominion…over every living thing that moves on the earth”(Gen. 1:28, ESV). They began in the garden, but they were never meant to staythere forever. From the beginning God’s mission included a more expansive and ambitious plan.
Of course, we know they failed, but God’s mission is reiterated thousands of years later to Abraham– “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (22:17-18; 12:2).
Once again, God gathered a people from Abraham, then repeated His promise to Isaac (Gen. 26:2-4) and again to Jacob that all the families of the earth would be blessed through their lineage (Genesis 28:13-14). Indeed, Jacob became the originator of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel (10 from him, 2 from Joseph) and God then promised to gather them to one location, the Promised Land, where they would shine forth: “I will make you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”(Is. 49:6; of Israel, then applied to Jesus (Luke 2:32; Jn 8:12; Acts 26:23), then to the church in Acts 13:47-49).
This became a central issue after the 70-year exile when Israelite men were divorcing their Hebrew wives and marrying foreign idolatrous women in their stead. Malachi reminds Judah that Yahweh was a covenant witness “between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have broken faith…” (2:14). This is the famous (and difficult to translate) verse, where God says, “I hate divorce”(well, at least in the KJV/NAS but not NIV/ESV). But why does God hate this practice? Malachi answers, “And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring”(2:15; emphasis mine). Israel’s actions are out of step with God’s original de novoplan and therefore must be condemned and corrected.
Yet, some scholars contend that God’s plan for Israel was just to gather mass in one location (what some missiologist have termed “centripetal force” as that which pulls inward) rather than to accelerate outwards (what they call “centrifugal force” as that which is pulled away), as Christopher Wright observes, “Israel was not mandated by God to send missionaries to the nations” (Wright 2006: 24). Therefore, the role of Israel in the Old Testament is to participate in God’s centripetal mission (towards Jerusalem) and the Church in the New Testament joins God in His centrifugal mission (to the nations). But the distinctions are too clean cut and in need of some balance.
God does promise in the OT to,“send survivors to the nations…to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations”(Is. 66:19). Yet these missionaries do not just go out, they also return back home to their center and bring the fruit of their labor with them, “and they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD…to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD…” (v 20).
Too often these promises are interpreted as merely eschatological hopes (Is. 2:2-4) with the caution “that we must be much more reserved in speaking of the missionary message of the Old Testament” (Blauw 1962: 17). Yet these ideas are not as far off as some suspect. Solomon is consciously aware of the foreigner during his prayer of blessing for the Temple in 1 Kings 8:
41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm),when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name (emphasis mine).
Kaiser calls Israel’s role in God’s mission in the Old Testament “passive witnessing” (p. 9), but it is much more than that. The more people who gather and the more who are sent and return, the greater the mass that is centralized in God’s holy city producing what we might call a spiritual-gravitational force in Zion designed to act as a beacon to call people to Yahweh, the one true God.
This is where understanding Einstein’s correction of Newton is important. Gravity does not “pull” us, rather, the mass of the Sun is so great that it warps the fabric of space-time sending all the planets hurtling towards it in a circular motion. The standard visual to explain this is to imagine rolling marbles in a clockwise motion over a trampoline, what happens? They scatter every which direction. Now place a bowling ball in the middle of the trampoline and repeat the experiment, what happens now? The marbles circle around the bowling ball. They appear to be attracted to the bowling ball, but not because of any “pull” upon the marbles per se (there is no magnetic force acting here after all), simply because the effect of the mass of the bowling ball is so great that other objects in its vicinity accelerate towards it. In other words, God chose the Promised Land strategically to centralize the mass of His glory there, at the crossroads of the ancient world in order to accelerate the nations towards Him. This should hardly be described as passive! “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations”(Ps 67:1-2; though admittedly God is the active agent here not Israel so Wright 2006: 503).