Missions: By Tradition or Conviction?

Seeing What Simeon Saw

by J. R. Cuevas

There are many activities that constitute the life of the local church. Take a look at your church calendar and it is likely filled with events. Take a look at your church budget and it will be filled with expenses and various line items. Yet, we all know that we only have so many hours in the day and only so much money in the bank. A local church—no matter how much it may be thriving and flourishing—has limited time and limited resources. Each year, every local church must decide how to steward its time and money.

Tradition or Conviction?
Each year, your church must decide on a calendar of events—both the regular and the occasional. What time is the service going to be every Sunday? Are we going to have Sunday School classes and mid-week Bible studies? Will there be a Thanksgiving potluck and Christmas party? Is the campus going to be used for Awana or Vacation Bible School this year? Are fellowship meals going to take place on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis? And each year, the church must also decide on how to steward its money—it must decide on a budget.

Over the years in my role as a pastor, I’ve been part of making decisions on how to allocate the church’s funds, and it is not always easy. People don’t always agree on how the church’s money should be spent. When it comes to both the calendar and the budget of the church, every leadership team—with the input of the people—must distinguish between which endeavors are conducted out of mere tradition and which ones are pursued out of conviction.

By tradition, I mean those activities of the church that are part of the church life by custom rather than a clear biblical teaching. In such cases, whether a tradition continues to be a part of the calendar or budget is not a hill to die on, and it remains up to the discretion of the leadership of the church to maintain or eliminate such activities. 

Activities that originate from conviction are different. By conviction, I mean those endeavors that are a part of the church’s life because the Bible says they must be a part of the church life. Whether such undertakings continue to be a part of the calendar or budget is indeed a hill to die on. These activities must remain in the budget and on the calendar, not because “it’s always been done that way,” but because God has commanded it to be so in his Word.

And one of those endeavors is missions.

The majority of local churches that I’ve been a part of are, in some way, invested in missions work. Some churches engage in missions by deploying long-term missionaries or send out short-term missions teams to different places in the world (both local and international). Some engage in missions by contributing financially to different missions organizations or missionary families. I’m glad that churches do this. But the question always arises: are they going to keep doing it, or will the coming year be the year that their missions involvement ceases? What determines the outcome? It all comes down to whether a church sees the missions endeavor as a good tradition or a biblical conviction. Only if the church has the proper conviction about missions will the church properly engage in missions. A church that sees missions as a good tradition is at risk of ceasing missionary engagement or support when money gets tight or when time becomes constrained.

So, if a local church is going to support missionaries the right way, and support the right missionaries or missions institutions, the church must have a biblical conviction about missions. And the church’s conviction about missions is rooted in a right conviction about Christ—why he came and who he came for. The call to send missionaries or support missions work around the world is rooted in the church’s view of Jesus Christ. How a church sees Jesus shapes how the church engages in missionary work.

Seeing What Simeon Saw for the Sake of Missions
We must see Jesus Christ for who he really is and who he came for. And if we’re not sure if we’re seeing him correctly, then take a look at Luke 2:29-32 and see what Simeon saw.

Simeon is somewhat of an obscure figure in biblical history. Outside of a few passages in Luke, the Bible says nothing about him. He was not a man esteemed by society—at least, the Bible never says so. He was a man who lived the entirety of his life as a Jew under Roman rule and oppression. By the time Jesus was born, he was a man close to death. But he was a man who saw Jesus correctly. And the reason why his interaction with the infant Jesus is recorded in the Scriptures is because it is the way we all need to see Jesus. Simeon’s response to Jesus explains the work of missions.

The church’s first engagement in missionary work is described in the book of Acts. But the book of Acts is connected to the book of Luke: while Acts is a description of the church’s missionary work, the book of Luke explains where it all came from. When Simeon the prophet saw the infant Jesus and took him into his arms, he saw the very reality that would set the precedent and tone for all missions work. When Simeon saw Jesus, he was convinced of two truths, and these two truths must compel the church’s missionary endeavors.

First, when Simeon saw Jesus, he was convinced that Jesus was the Christ who came to save people from their sins and from eternal judgment. He says in verse 30-31: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” Despite the hardships that he may have experienced, peace filled Simeon’s heart when he saw the infant Jesus. He told God that he was now ready to die. Why? Because, upon looking this eight-day-old baby, he realized that God had sent this Jesus into the world to accomplish salvation.

Through his knowledge of the Scriptures, Simeon was convinced that Jesus had come, not to fix people’s financial problems or Israel’s political issues, but to save sinners. He knew that humanity was in a dire state. He knew that humanity was dead in the sight of God, but that this Jesus alone had come to offer salvation. Only when we are truly convicted that Christ came to save people will we engage in missions in a way that accords with God’s will. Missions work is not about mere philanthropy. Missions are not something that we do to support our friends to show them that we love them (though we might). We send and support missionaries because we know that people around the world are dying and presently at risk of eternal punishment and that Jesus Christ came to seek and save them. Why do we support missionaries? Because we know that the message they proclaim and the ministry they bear reveals Christ, and such a revelation can save people.

Second, when Simeon saw Jesus, he was convinced that Jesus was the Christ who came for all people, not just Jews. He says in verse 32: “A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” Not only did Christ come to save, but he came for all. Remember that Simeon was a Jewish man living under Roman oppression. Many in his day were awaiting a Messiah that would free Israel from Roman rule. There was a growing anti-Gentile sentiment in Israel during that time, propagated by the Pharisees and other religious elites. The last thing many in the Jewish community thought about during the day was Gentile salvation.

But when Simeon saw Jesus, he knew that Jesus came for all peoples of all nations and ethnicities. He knew that the baby he was holding would suffer and die for the sins, not just of believing Jews, but for all people from every tribe and tongue. He knew that Jesus came not just for Israel, but that he came for the Gentiles. Over the last 2000 years, God has fulfilled the promise that Simeon saw so clearly. God always had a plan to bring salvation through Christ to the ends of the earth. Why should a church support missionaries around the world? Why should a church send missionaries all over the globe? Because the truth that Simeon knew is what we must know as well: that Jesus came for all of the very people to whom those missionaries are sent. It’s as simple as this. Whether the church brings the gospel to the ends of the earth is not an option; it is a mandate rooted in the very purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Let the church engage in missions, therefore, not out of tradition, but out of conviction. Let the church be convinced that Christ came to save. Let the church be convinced that Christ came to all. Will your church’s missions endeavors this year reflect that you see Christ the way Simeon did?

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