Lessons from The
Missions in Acts and Implementations in 21th century Context
Nam Son (OMF)
Missionary efforts have been a primary interest
among Christians ever since the spread of Korean protestant churches. Soon
after the ordination of pastors, the Korean Presbyterian Church sent the
first missionary to Jeju Island in 1907. At its initial stages of development
in 1950s, churches of Korea continued to send missionary support overseas,
including China and Thailand, to name a few.
However, major Korean mission movement can be said
to have begun in the late 1980s. It is indisputable that the number of Korean
missionaries went through an rapid growth in volume in the past 25 years;
recording over twenty thousand missionaries introducing the Gospel to over
200 countries, which began from a meager hundreds of missionaries.
The Korean church and its members emphasize that a
critical factor for the momentum of Korean mission lies in the sustaining grace
of God in terms of material blessings within the nation’s
Christian community. This is clearly revealed in the consistent endeavor and
solid support of Korean churches for sending out thousands of short-terms
overseas year after year.
However, strong doubts have been raised by many,
the mission model the Korean churches intend to follow has been verified both
biblically and historically, as well as whether its adaptability for the two third world countries.
2. Two Thesis
Majority of mission models around the world is adapted
from Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas of Antioch Church embark on what is known
as the first missionary journey. However, looking deeper into the book of Acts,
it is evident that mission work actually started earlier from previous chapter.
For example, Stephen’s
martyrdom in Chapter 7 led to the scattering of the disciples
and the spread of the Gospel making way for the grass-root missions as being recorded at Acts Chapters
19 to 20.
intention for Chapters 13 to 28 of Acts is most likely to provide details of Paul and Barnabas’
team and the episodes that occurred during their
With that said, the mission model adapted by Korean
churches for the last two centuries appears to be an emulation of the western
mission model dating back to Paul and Barnabas. For the past three
of International organizations as well as various indigenous organizations
founded in Korea, have
been mimicking the mission
model of western churches and western mission organizations.
This article examines the mission movement started
by the scattering of the disciples in Acts chapters 8 to 12 and
proposes to recover the spirit of grassroots missions with the objectives to
adopt it as the ministry model for the Korean church. Furthermore, this article surveys the social
context of the evangelism in the book of Acts and puts forth various types of
ministry relevant and appropriate for the 21st century.
Missions Movement of Acts
During the span of over 100 years of spreading the
Gospel, the Korean church’s
perception and evaluation of mission ministry have been simply based on its
number of missionaries. Likewise, Korea’s
recognition as the “world’s
second largest missionary-sending country”
is probably based on its number of missionaries sent
overseas. Additionally, the title of a ‘missionary’
also implies the ‘Career
entails the full support system of the sending church, mission organization,
and individual supporters. These support groups are considered as prerequisites
in the makings of the ‘legitimate’
is based on Acts 13 where it frames the context of Antioch Church and the
missionary send-off of Paul and Barnabas. Recognized as the
inception of first overseas mission, Acts 13 is sanctioned as the standard
mission model by the larger consensus. However, the act of blindly accepting
the mission model in Acts 13 casts a serious doubt on the fundamental principle
of missions. Because it is
very likely that the mission models which we used to know during the last 200
years were thought to be the models of Paul and Barnabas.
In recent years, the concept of modern day mission
has grown increasingly diverse and complex. Its magnified scope is difficult to
contain in any number of sophisticated words. Digging deeper into the essential
meaning of missions then, one eventually reaches to the undeniable conclusion
is the act of witnessing Christ cross-culturally.”
Examining Acts 13 in this major premise, it becomes
clear that the mission movement began from previous chapters.
1. A New
Perspective on the Scattered People
propose a new angle in perceiving the timeline of the Christian mission
movement in the Gospel. Getting to the bottom-line, Acts 8 deserves our
missiological attention based on the events of Stephen’s
martyrdom resulting in the persecution and scattering of Christians to Samaria
These people groups are mentioned twice in passages below
as ‘scattered people’
originating from Jerusalem.
Acts 8:1 “...the
Acts 11:19 “Now
those who have been scattered by persecution…”
Here, we see that the disciples in Jerusalem ended
up being scattered due to the stoning of Stephen. Although it is unclear
whether the two verses are speaking of identical individuals, one indisputable
fact is that they broke off from the same group. Hence begins the intriguing
juxtaposition of the missionary journey found in these two passages and the
difference in their respective targets for evangelism.
Looking into the first journey, Acts 8:5 focuses on
Philip, one out of seven deacons, from the group of scattered people.
Verses 5 through 12 records that Philip preached the Gospel to the people of
Proclaiming the word of Christ to those already familiar with concept of
Messiah, like the Samaritans, was received as culturally appropriate.
On the other hand, Acts 11:20 illustrates that the
shared the good news about the Lord Jesus to the Hellenists (Greek-speaking
non-Jews) in Antioch.
The Greek word "kyrios" means “Lord”
at times denoting “gods” in
religious usage. By championing the use of Greek vernacular, it was possible
for the apostles to effectively deliver the word of God in foreign
cultures. In this respect, it could be said they were cross-cultural people who
clearly carried out evangelistic missions.
It is conjecturable they were appropriate to carry
out the cross-cultural ministry since most of them had Jewish diaspora background. In
Acts 2, there was clear evidence indicating those who returned to Jerusalem to
observe the day of Pentecost were among the people who received the word and
scattered. They might have thorough understanding on other
cultures and had been proficient in other languages, as well as confident in evangelizing
other diaspora. In fact, it could be viewed as the Stephen's martyrdom in
chapter 7 might had been initiated from the Synagogue, where Cilician Jews
attended. Therefore, speculating the presence of Saul, who is from Tarsus,
Cilicia, is only natural.
They were austere counterpoint to the twelve disciples, men of
Galilee, who followed Jesus from the beginning. In the book of Acts, Jesus' disciples
are addressed twice as men of Galilee in chapter 1 and 2. That implies that they were not so much prepared for
cross-cultural ministry. What then defines the
reason behind the postponement of the missions movement until it was carried
out by the scattered people, as recorded in chapter 8 and 11? This might have been the limit the
Jerusalem church had on her missionary ministry.
The twelve disciples of Jesus who came from
Galilee and settled down at Jerusalem still found it innately difficult to be
exposed to other cultures. Accordingly, the Lord prepared to spread the Gospel
to the gentiles through a new group: Jewish diaspora. Other convincing
evidence that the Jerusalem church recognized her limitation could be found in
chapter 8 and 11
In chapter 8 verse 14, upon hearing the news of the
Samaritan church established, the Jerusalem church sent off Peter and John.
This is readily comprehensible, considering the distance between Samaria and
Jewish cultures. The other
hand, as being noted in chapter 11 verse 22, when the news of gentile
believers in Antioch
reached the Jerusalem church, they sent off Barnabas instead of Peter and John.
According to Acts 4 verse 36,
he was a Cyrus-born Jewish
Peter's visit to Cornelius' house, which recorded in entire verses of
chapter 10 and chapter 11 verse 1 through 18, is a quick illustration that
depicts how the Jerusalem church viewed the gentiles. Peter was not sure that he was to enter a house of the
gentile. So God chose Cornelius to invite Peter to his house rather to asker
Peter to visit Cornelius.
After the sent off, Barnabas’s testimony of
accounting the grace of God at Antioch was nothing to be amazed about. The
wording of the report may have been different if it were Peter and John went to
Moreover, when the new ministry needs arose, he
could have put a request for an additional worker from his sending church in
Jerusalem. However, he rather brought Saul, another Jewish diaspora from Tarsus,
and partnered with him in ministry of Antioch.
The Gospel, which originated from Galilee, seemed
passed on to the next runner in Jerusalem, however, such was not the only
illustrated in chapter 11. This continued to be demonstrated as in Aquila and
Priscilla's case as recorded
in chapter 18; deacon Philip, who continued to live
as an evangelist in Caesarea, as found in chapter 20; Nahshon in chapter 21 who
remained as a long time disciple; and other brothers who came to the three
taverns to greet Paul in Rome in chapter 28.
2. The Uniqueness
of Apostle Paul's Mission
It is worth noting Acts 9:15 again to confirm the
significant difference between Apostle Paul's missionary ministry and that of
the scattered people. When Paul lost his eyesight at Damascus, God commanded
Ananias to lay his hand on Paul. He foretold the tasks that Paul would carry out in the
future, "to carry my name before the gentiles and their kings and before
the people of Israel."
It is clearly evident that these three listed groups
lack uniformity. The mentioning of the Jews and the gentiles pertain to
ethnicity, whereas the kings refer to the people in high status. Subsequent to
Paul’s capture in Acts 22, he was to stand before governors and tetrarchs, eventually before the
Caesar in Rome as
a prisoner; testifying Christ as he explains the reason for his imprisonment
and appeal to Caesar.
In Act 19:21, Apostle Paul spoke of his planned
journey to Rome via Jerusalem, however, it was clear the purpose of the journey
was not to testify the Gospel. He made his intention clear in the book of
Romans. Accounting the fact that the believers in Rome welcomed
Paul at Foro Appio and Tre-Taverne, this
indicates the Gospel had already been spread, and the community of believers
was established in prior to Paul’s arrival.
When Paul's statement, "I would not be building
on someone else's foundation," is taken at a literal sense, it makes the
argument more compelling that the reason for Paul's visit to Rome was not
intended for evangelism and missions.
The grassroots missions done by the
scattered people and the missionary movement initiated by Paul and Barnabas (P-B), which
we have looked at previously, come in the light of major difference when you
observe the following table below.