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Michael Schellman

Box 7211
NT112/Moritz
Spring 2006

Pauline Theology of Mission Lifestyle

If we attempt to look to Acts and the Pauline epistles for a model of missional lifestyle, we are

immediately confronted by a mysterious lack of encouragement, command, or instruction directing the

churches toward the propagation of their faith; as Bowers observes, Paul who at every turn is himself so

preoccupied with active mission to the gentiles fails ever to indicate clearly an independent responsibility

in such a mission for his churches.1 To those who see evangelistic and missional activity as essential for the

continuing life and health of the Church, this absence presents somewhat of a problem; how is the

Kingdom’s advance to manifest outside of the Apostle himself in his churches and in our day? In an

attempt to answer this question, this paper examines Acts and the writings of Paul in order to discover

Paul’s theology of missional lifestyle.

Hurdles to Cross

In coming to understand a Pauline theology of missional lifestyle, two hurdles arise which must be

crossed if we are to make any progress. The first is the unique nature of Paul’s call and mission, and the

second comes from Paul’s depiction of the churches themselves.

The narrative sequence in Acts 9:1ff, tells of the unique nature of Paul’s calling. On the road to

Damascus, Saul (a Pharisee at the time), sees a bright light and hears the voice of the Lord calling to him.

Gilliland notes that the pattern of repetition of his name “Saul, Saul” when the Lord calls to him, parallels

other significant Old Testament call narratives where God chooses someone in a special way (Gen. 22:11;

Exod. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:10).2 It is also notable that in each of these instances God is about to do some great

work with his people. The call of Abraham sees the founding of God’s people, the call to Moses sees the

liberation of God’s people, and call to Samuel sees the ushering in of the Monarchy. What will the

significance of Paul’s ministry be? Just a few verses later, the Lord tells Ananias to go to Saul for “he is a

chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts

1
Bowers, Paul, Church and Mission in Paul: JSNT 44. 1991p 90
2
Gilliland, Dean S. Pauline Theology & Mission Practice. (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1983) p 83
9:15). The account of this special calling is confirmed in Paul’s own words several times in his epistles, for

instance in Galatians 1:11-23 where Paul states that he was called by no human, but by God himself.

Bowers erroneously equates the highly unique nature of Paul’s calling with an exclusive call to mission

activity stating that Paul’s understanding the missionary calling is deeply rooted in the Old Testament

concept of individuals set aside by God for a special task.3

What exactly makes Paul’s experience unique? Is it that he is called to be a missionary or

something more significant? If what Bowers says is true, very few people are called to the active spread of

the Gospel. If on the other hand there is something else about Paul’s ministry that is exclusive, then we

need not see the particularity of Paul’s calling to be a sign of the exclusive nature of his ministry. To this

end, O’Brien, points out from Galatians 1:11-17 that Paul understood his specific ministry to have to do

with the restoration of Israel. First, Paul defines his ministry in terms of God’s promise made to Abraham –

being fulfilled as Gentiles are brought into a living relationship with him through the Gospel (Gal 3:8).

Second Paul expresses his missionary work “to proclaim God’s Son among the Gentiles,” (1:16) in

language that suggests he is continuing the salvation historical work of the Servant figure of Isaiah 40-55. 4

Therefore to borrow a concept from Aristotle, the substance of Paul’s mission is the restoration of Israel,

the accidence is his missionary activity.

A second hurdle to cross is Paul’s depiction of the churches themselves. As nearly all of Paul’s

instruction is directed toward churches, it is from what he intends for them that we can most readily

discover what he intends for us. Yet, as it was stated in the beginning this paper, there is this mysterious

lack of direction from Paul on this matter. Bowers concludes that the churches per se, are not intended to

be centers of mission activity, that they are the goal rather than a means of Paul’s mission activity. He

likens church’s “mission” to that of Israel in the Old Testament, effected not by active outreach, but by

living the life of God’s true people before the nations.5 The metaphors Paul uses to describe the church are

all internally oriented and have no aspect that faces outward toward the world. Bowers also notes that in

those instances where growth is mentioned, it pertains to spiritual development as in the body imagery of

Eph. 4:16 and not to numbers, in the two instances where it pertains to numbers the “body” imagery of

3
Bowers, Paul, Church and Mission in Paul: JSNT 44. 1991p 108
4
O’Brien, P.T. Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul, p 12
5
Bowers, Paul p 109
Colossians 2:19. and the “building” imagery of Eph. 2:19-22, Christ is the agent of growth (2:13-18) – or

Paul(3:1-13).6 Therefore it would seem that the church’s have a separate mission from that of Paul, namely

the edification and nurture of believers.

Banks states that, in these early letters of Paul the term ecclesia consistently refers to actual

gatherings of Christians as such, or to Christians in a local area conceived or defined as a regular

assembling community. 7 If the word ecclesia is therefore, more descriptive of an event than an ongoing

reality, the inward focus of Paul’s metaphors begins to make more sense, because it describes what happens

inside the gathering of the faithful. If their focus was to turn to some outward purpose, – the word ecclesia

would no longer apply, because they would have to cease performing the action which defines them. This

does not preclude mission activity; it simply means that believers are not an ecclesia while they are doing

it. Individual agents are free to go many places that formal bodies cannot. As dynamic relational gatherings

they can be extremely small, wherever two or more are gathered (Matt. 18:20), and they can spring up

anywhere – even in the household of Caesar himself (Phil. 4:22). It is not difficult to see how such a group

would eventually filter its way through the Empire.

Having surmounted the obstacles in our path, what can be said about Paul’s Theology of Missional

Lifestyle? It is my intention to demonstrate that Paul understands mission, to be the work of the Spirit, and

that we as believers are caught up in that work according to the various gifts that God grants through the

Holy Spirit. These gifts emerge or are revealed within the context of the gathered community ecclesia, and

are put to service in various ministries. One of which being evangelism. The advance of the Kingdom of

God therefore occurs on multiple fronts, evangelism and mission being just one area of service in the

kingdoms advance.

Mission - The Spirit’s Work

Roland Allen missionary to China in the early 20th century hypothesized that the reason behind the

lack of directive material in Paul’s letters had to do with the fact that Paul saw no need to encourage people

to do what they were already doing naturally, what he called the Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. By

Spontaneous Expansion, Allen meant the expansion which follows the un-exhorted and unorganized

6
ibid p 96-97
7
Banks, Robert. Paul’s Idea of Community. (Hendrickson: Massachusetts, 1994) p 35
activity of individual members of the Church.8 He cites two powerful urges that compel people to share

their faith, the natural longing for fellowship with others like themselves, and the compelling urge of the

Holy Spirit to save human beings.9 Allen’s hypothesis seems highly plausible when you consider that the

Spirit was always far ahead of the Apostles. Just days after the sermon at Pentecost the gospel was making

its way out into the rest of the Roman Empire (Acts 2 ff). Even Paul in all his ambition discovered an

existing church in Rome before his arrival.

O’Brien notes that Paul frequently speaks of the Gospel as a force or agency which is able to

accomplish something, and which has a purpose toward which it moves.10 Take for instance, the language

in Colossians 1:5a-6, “the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly

bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and

understood the grace of God in truth” and also in 2 Corinthians 10:14 “for our gospel did not come to

you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction -”. In both these

passages Paul emphasizes the action of the Word portraying a power wholly independent of human agency.

Paul understands that while he is an agent of the Gospel, the Gospel is by no means dependant upon him it

is and does move above and beyond his efforts. From this understanding flows the confidence which

allows him to say, even when imprisoned, that the Gospel is not imprisoned (2:Tim 2:9).

Furthermore, Paul expects the work of the Spirit in his churches to produce gifts and ministries

that will serve the advance of the kingdom. This is why he never directs believers to go out and evangelize

their neighbors. Gifts and ministries come from God, and cannot be required of every person. This is the

same principal upon which Paul instructs the Corinthians about the members need for one another (1 Cor.

12:14-18). Paul saw all manifestations of Gifts as necessary and allowed the Spirit to distribute them as he

saw fit.

8
Allen, Roland. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1962) p 7

9
Allen, Roland p 9
10
O’Brien, P.T., Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis
(Baker: Grand Rapids, 1995) p 113
Naturally, the Spirit would raise up some people who would be gifted evangelists, or have gifts

that Paul found useful in his missionary journeys. Schnabel indicates that many of Paul’s “coworkers”

came to travel with Paul from these newly formed churches.11

Advance on Multiple Fronts

The fact that Paul never directly commands or exhorts his churches to engage in mission work, for

some would seem to undermine the commonly held belief that the churches were to be centers of

missionary activity. This all depends on how one looks at it. While the churches did not engage in mission

activity as churches, many if not most of the members had a part in the missionary effort. Church’s were

training and recruitment centers, raising up mature believers in the Lord. They were homes and families

for traveling missionaries. And they were a network that allowed information to spread throughout the

Christian community across the Roman Empire. They were also the means of monetary support for

missionaries and evangelists.

Paul’s Authority

As a final note of interest I would like to discuss Paul’s view of authority. For all that Paul says

about the cooperative nature of his work, Banks (and others), find it hard to conceive that Paul’s coworkers

were much more than his personal assistants. Many of the people Paul addresses as “coworkers” or by one

of the many other designations were not necessarily coworkers in the sense that they directly worked with

Paul, or even came from his churches. Schnabel lists 17 different designations for coworkers, 38 of whom

are named specifically, yet only some can be identified specifically with Paul’s mission work.12 Yet

Schnabel assumes that they must have come into his employ at some point, else why would he call them

fellow workers.

Why must we assume that names in every such instance refer to recruits of Paul’s? It is quite

possible, even likely, that persons may have been named who had ministries quite apart from Paul’s and

were not under his direct authority. Paul’s mention could simply be an expression of his comradery with

active ministers with whom he had a passing acquaintance. The common loyalty to and dependence upon

the one Lord establishes the unity of all ministries and ministers who serve the people of God.13

11
Schnabel, Eckhard J. Early Christian Mission, vol. 2; Paul and the Early Church. (Baker: Downers
Grove, 2004) p 1443
12
ibid, p 1425-1427.
13
Schnabel, p 1480
Bank’s states that there are only two examples where Paul is not treated as the Authority; Acts

15:36-41 where Barnabas refuses comply with Paul’s insistence that they leave Mark behind, and 1 Cor

16:12, Where Apollos declines to go to Corinth at Paul’s request. The first instance he attributes to

Barnabas being the senior member of the team (commissioned by Antioch). The second he attributes to

Apollos having his own ministry, and not falling under Paul’s authority. Is this the same Paul of

1 Corinthians 1:24 who does not Lord it over their faith? It is equally likely that those who traveled with

Paul did so because they wanted to, because they loved and believed in him, and were free to come and go

as they pleased.

You never see Paul “pull rank” on anybody. Though he occasionally made appeal to the special

nature of his calling, he did not see this as the credential of his ministry. Where he does appeal to his

Apostleship, or to his suffering he does so with those who are being deceived by the credentials of others.

But he always does it tongue in cheek in order to undermine the whole concept (eg 2 Cor 11:16 ff). Paul

actually considers his credentials to be the people comprising the churches which he founded

(1 Corinthians 9:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:1-3). He also considers his ministry to be validated by the

integrity of his message (Gal. 1:6-8 and 2 Cor. 11:4-12:13). Paul sets his standard well within the reach of

those who have the gifting – to aspire to. He shows great encouragement when others are emboldened to

proclaim the Gospel, even if they consider themselves his rivals (Philippians 1:12-18).

Summary

I have argued that Paul understands mission, to be the work of the Spirit, and that we as believers

participate in that work according to the various gifts that God grants through the Holy Spirit. These gifts

are discovered within the context of the Ecclesia – the gathering of the faithful for mutual edification and

support. The church itself does not engage in missionary work (at least as the church was understood in the

1st century) because ecclesia refers more to the periodic gathering of believers than it does to a fixed body

to which one belongs. The decentralized and fluid nature of the gathering allows it to spread rapidly and

gain entry where an organized body would not. Paul feels no need to direct believers to exercise particular

gifts or ministries, because each one is given as the Spirit sees fit. These gifts emerge within the context of

the gathered community ecclesia, and are put to service in various ways. Paul likewise does not direct the

ministries of individual believers, even those who join him on his journeys. The Spirit works
independently in every believer. Unity comes therefore, not from a strong “top down” management, but

from unification to the One Lord. For these reasons, Paul’s theology of mission lifestyle is, relational and

familial, rather than organizational and authoritarian. It is a movement headed by Jesus Christ, lead

through the Holy Spirit, and executed by brothers and sisters whose bond us their unity in Christ.

Word Count: 2510

Bibliography
Allen, Roland. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1962).
I gravitate strongly toward Allen’s “Spontaneous Expansion” model which was designed
precisely to explain the 1st century phenomenon; though his concept of the church as centers of
mission activity may need adjustment.

Banks, Robert. Paul’s Idea of Community. (Hendrickson: Massachusetts, 1994).


Banks’ Ecclesiology was useful in orienting the question of the church’s relation to mission to
Paul’s first century context. Bank’s view of the Apostles authority struck me as somewhat
inconsistent.

Bowers, Paul. “Church and Mission in Paul”, JSNT 44 (1991), pp89-111.


Bowers’ critique of the use of Pauline material to support missiology provided a useful
counterpoint for the writing of this paper. His thorough examination deserves consideration by
anyone seeking to do missiology from a biblical perspective.

Gilliland, Dean S. Pauline Theology & Mission Practice. (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1983).
Gilliland’s book is a very interesting and detailed examination of Paul and his Missiology.
Given the “hurdles” of Bowers’ critique, however I could not justify direct application of them
as models for his churches or for us. I did one of his arguments for the unique nature of Paul’s
Call.

O’Brien, P.T., Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis
(Baker: Grand Rapids, 1995).
O’Brien’s book is a very helpful response to Bowers. His insight into Paul’s use of Old
Testament Material was particularly helpful in getting past Bowers appeal to Paul’s unique and
exclusive status.

Schnabel, Eckhard J. Early Christian Misison, vol. 2; Paul and the Early Church. (Baker: Downers
Grove, 2004).
Schnabel’s voluminous work was a mine of research which would prove invaluable on several
technical points, as I found it to be for his research on Paul’s “coworkers”. I was less satisfied
with his conclusion on this matter and would caution against deferring to his well researched
conclusions automatically.