Monday, August 18, 2014

Peters: "The church and the individual missionary become bound"

Continuing to make my way through Peters' "A Biblical Theology of Mission", I'm struck by the (exegetical) strength of his argument for what he says is "the centrality of the church" in missions. Most poignant are his comments regarding the laying on of hands.

Laying on of hands in the Old Testament had a variety of applications. But almost all of the applications involved any one of three things: transference (usually of guilt - see the Day of Atonement goat - or authority - see Moses and Joshua), blessing, and sacrifice (including setting aside). When we get to the New Testament, all three of these concepts are bound up together in the laying on of hands.

This biblical theology of the laying on of hands sits behind George Peters' comments regarding the laying on of hands and the missionary:

"The biblical rite of laying on of hands is a symbol of deep spiritual and soteriological significance. In relation to ordination, it is an event of serious consequence to the church as well as to the recipient. In this relationship the ordinance points at least in two directions. On the one hand, it speaks of the priority and authority of the church as the mediating sending agency of God. It presents the church as the responsible missionary body assuming her position and place in missions under the authority of Christ.

On the other hand, the rite speaks of authentication, identification, and the creation of a representative by delegation. By this rite the church is publicly authenticating the call of God; she is constituting a rightful and responsible representative, and she is declaring her identification with the representative in his call and ministry. In the person of the ordained individual, the church by substitution goes forth into the ministry.

By the laying on of hands, the church and the individual missionary become bound in a bond of common purpose and mutual responsibility. It is thus not only a privilege and service; it is also the exercise of an authority and the acceptance of a tremendous responsibility. The identification of the church with the sent-forth representative is inclusive doctrinally, spiritually, physically and materially. It is the constituting of a rightful representative who will be able and who is responsible to function as a representative of the church."

The church, therefore, by the laying on of hands, declares herself ready to stand by and make such representation possible. This should include the prayers and the finances required for such a representative ministry."

Peters recognized the implications of what he was saying:

"It is my solid conviction that the proper exercise of this biblical principle by the churches would do more to boost the morale of our missionaries and the flow of missionary candidates than many other factors combined. Should our young people realize that not only does “my church go with me, but my church goes in my person, stands with me, prays with me, sacrifices with me, and underwrites my support,” the challenge would become inescapable. Here is the church’s real opportunity, responsibility and challenge to herself and to the young people. Laying on of hands is not a favor we extend, but a divine authority we exercise and a responsibility we assume. A church should think soberly before it performs the act." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, pp. 221-222