Pauline Missiology. A Study in Romans
Murdo A MacLeod


Pauline Missiology: A Study in Romans Murdo A MacLeod was the director of Christian Witness to Israel from 1976—1991. He served also as President of the Lausanne Consultation of Jewish Evangelism Mr MacLeod and lectured on the subject of the Church and Israel in many countries including Hong Kong where this address was delivered. He was a Minister of the Free Church of Scotland and served as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1984. In his letter to the church in Rome the apostle Paul states with unique clarity the content of the Gospel and concludes with an exhortation that it is to be proclaimed to all nations for the obedience of faith (16:25-27). The missionary task of the Church is not something that lies at the periphery of its duty. It lies at the heart of its existence. Jesus must be made known to all nations. The apostle is most emphatic. This is at the command of the eternal God. The necessary corollary is that the neglect of such a mandate manifests a peculiarly arrogant defiance of God. Equally, any programme that God may have given must he heeded in the proclamation of the Gospel. No theological abstractions can justify the radical step of altering such an order in the absence of a clear mandate from Him. The need for a balance in our missionary strategy in accord with the biblical data is of vital importance for the whole question of world mission. It is a matter of supreme importance for the advance of the Kingdom of God in a world that “lies under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It is true that “the battle is the Lord's” (1 Samuel 17:47). It is equally true that the campaign must be conducted as the Captain of the Lord's host directs. In this, as in other respects, it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the letter to the Romans in the corpus of Paul's letters. It is generally agreed to be the most crucial for the understanding of his theology. It is equally important for a biblical missiology. It is in some respects pivotal to the New Testament. The apostle is concerned that at the very heart of the Roman Empire, to which all roads led and from whence went travellers to every corner of the world, there should be a clear and precise understanding of the central truths of the Gospel and its place within the unity of revealed truth. This letter has well been described as the most important ever written. Little consideration, however, seems to he given to the balance within the letter. Paul is writing to the church in the capital of the Roman Empire dealing with the fundamental structure of the faith and the basic principles that underlie the Gospel, yet he devotes a considerable part of his letter to an extensive treatment of one particular subject. This letter follows the pattern of several of his letters. A doctrinal basis is followed by a practical application. The interesting thing here is that the apostle devotes three long chapters (9-1 1), almost a quarter of the doctrinal section, to the one subject of Israel, its election and unbelief. Of course, the underlying reason for this is to vindicate the faithfulness of God. But it is important to notice the particular context in which this is done. Discussion of the election and unbelief of Israel is not limited to these chapters but pervades much of the earlier part of the letter also. In the keynote passage at the beginning of the epistle, the subject is introduced (1:16); in the second and third chapters it is central to the apostle's argument (2:17ff; 3:1ff); in chapter 4 the relationship of the Church and Israel is ever present in the development of the apostle's discussion of the place of the law and the centrality of faith in the life of the progenitor of Israel (4:13-15) and in the central chapters, (6-8) the law as given to Moses underlies the glorious affirmations of the believers' liberty and victory in Christ (6:15-18). Attention must be paid to the emphases of Scripture over against the subjective emphases that so frequently determine much modern Christian thinking. It is only by observing such emphases that that objectivity can be maintained. For example, the Old Testament concentrates extensively on the historical settings of Israel's experiences of God. Whatever else may be said of our faith, it is rooted in history. The New Testament begins with the incarnation of Jesus Christ rooted in history, pinpointing the date and joining it to a particular event in secular history (Luke 2:1-3; Matthew 1:1-7; 2:1). The Apostles' Creed similarly confesses that Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. Questions of historical antecedents and the historical nature of our faith may be rightly assessed as of fundamental importance because of the emphasis that is laid on them by Scripture. It is a kind of spurious spirituality that depreciates history and denies the validity of these foundations and historical structures and claims instead to focus on the truths enunciated. The Word of God will have none of such spirituality. Our faith is rooted in history. The conclusions the apostle arrives at in chapters 9-11 of Romans are the climax of the historical perspective that has governed the teaching of the Word of God from its very outset — that the salvation of Israel and the salvation of the world are intimately related and will ultimately reach their consummation together. The proportion of space devoted to any particular subject in Scripture is an indication of its relative importance. Many examples could be cited. Suffice it to mention that most commentators recognise the importance given to the Lord's death in relation to other parts of the gospels, by the proportion of space given to it.1 When we look at Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he encapsulates the Gospel, it is right that we pay close attention to the relative emphasis accorded to each of the particular subjects that he takes up. No student of Romans would overlook the first few chapters in which Paul dwells at length on the depravity of man and the universality of guilt. Nor would the chapters dealing extensively with the doctrine of justification by faith receive any less careful treatment. Each subject will be dealt with in a way that reflects its relative importance in the fabric of Paul's overall theology. No credible student of Romans could act otherwise. However, comparatively little attention is paid in the thinking of the Church to the central theme of Paul's gospel which underlies the whole of the letter to the Romans. Paul devotes more attention to the theme of Israel's election and disobedience than to any other in the course of this letter. If we are to be true to his emphasis and to the biblical balance we ought not to neglect this doctrine which loomed so large in the apostolic perspective. We claim to be the children of the Reformation. We claim to bring everything to the test of the word of God. “Sola scriptura” was the great central thrust of the Reformation. “To the law and to the testimony. If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). We must correct our present imbalance and fashion our theology according to the biblical balance of truth. “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda”. The Reformation was not God's last word. We thank God for the Reformers. We thank God for the children of the Reformers, the Puritans. We often pay lip service to the words of John Robinson, the Puritan leader of the Pilgrim Fathers, who reminded us that God has “much light yet to break forth from His Word”. But are we not reluctant to seek the new light God may wish to bring from His Word because we fear that it may force us to rethink many long cherished assumptions. It is imperative that we bring the subject of the mission to the Jews to the test of Scripture. It is an important aspect of any truly biblical missiology. We may argue that evangelical missiologists are aware of that obligation and apply biblical principles to the manifold questions that arise in the cultural, racial, psychological and geographical problems of Gospel work. That is not the point I am making. I insist that the Pauline perspective of missions in Romans is given little consideration, particularly in the relative place of Jewish missions in the overall missiological task This letter is not usually thought of as an important missionary document, but that is essentially what it is.2 It important to focus close attention on this perspective on Jewish missions in the totality of the Church's mission for at least two reasons. The first is a very practical one. The Church has been in the world for nearly two thousand years. We have been, in some way or other, seeking to fulfil the mandate that was given to us by Jesus Christ, to make disciples of all nations. At this point, almost two thousand years after the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, the world is growing less and less Christian. The number of believers is indeed greater than ever but the relative number of believers in the world's population is decreasing every day. The population explosion is happening where Christ is not known. We must acknowledge that we have failed and are failing in this task of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. Each time I travel to the East I become depressed. In those great cities of India, Thailand and Malaysia as I go out into the streets, sometimes travelling all day, I never meet one who gives the slightest indication of entertaining faith in Jesus Christ. My experience is common to Christian travellers in most of the world. No one claims omniscience but the total impact is of gross and total darkness. We have failed, and that failure is due partly, although not totally to the second reason for our need to balance our missiology according to the proportion of the biblical emphasis. The second reason for such a study is simply that the Church has not taken seriously God's programme of evangelisation. The salvation of Israel has been isolated from the salvation of the world yet this inter-relationship is extensively elaborated in many parts of Scripture. The Old Testament has much to say on it. A catena of passages could be drawn up (e.g. Psalm 67). Indeed the relationship is there already in the blessing pronounced on Abraham (Genesis 12:1-2). Some object that this is tantamount to ignoring the change which has taken place with the coming of the dispensation of the Spirit. In response, it is interesting to note that Paul was not writing before the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, nor before Pentecost, but after these epoch-dividing events. His letters do not relate alone to the church in Rome and for the situation that existed in the first century. It is as relevant now as it was then. If the apostle had made these emphases exclusively for the emerging Church which was at that time arising from the ashes of a destroyed theocracy, we would expect this to be clear from the letter itself. But what Paul was laying down in this central New Testament document is never indicated as having a local relevance only. On the contrary, it is of permanent and universal validity. The glorious doxology with which the apostle concludes his exposition of Israel's place in the purpose of God arises specifically from his contemplation of God's wisdom and grace in the intertwining of the salvation of Israel and that of the world (11:33-36). At the beginning of his letter Paul used the expression “to the Jew first and also to the Greek&” (1:16). This does not only have reference to the order in which the Gospel was to be proclaimed in the apostle's time; in the second chapter of his letter Paul refers to the day of judgement and indicates that this priority exists even at the day of judgement. Without clear authority from God we have no right to revise the apostle's inspired prescription for the evangelisation of the world. “God did not reject His people, whom he foreknew” (11:2). “I am an Israelite myself” (11:1), not “was an Israelite”. Bishop Handley C.G. Moule, surprisingly in view of his appreciation of Paul's argument, says of Paul and Israel, which he had once led, and now had left.3 When did Paul leave Israel? “I am an Israelite”. There is neither Jew not gentile, but this does not mean to say that genetic or national distinctions have ceased, any more than that the sexual distinctions have been erased because there is now neither male nor female in Christ. God has not cast away His people. Paul's attitude to Israel was perfectly in keeping with the Old Testament teaching in which he had been brought up. He had been taught from his youth that Israel had its place in God's purpose of grace to the end of time. Jeremiah 31 and 33 are examples of this. In the former, the subject is the New Covenant. In the latter, it is the Righteous Branch of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the parallelism that is used in both cases in the asseveration that God makes of the certainty of His purposes. Israel will remain “as long as the sun and moon” (31:36). Such also, he says, is the basis of our assurance concerning the reign of David's greater Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (33:25,26). We must beware of seeking to be wiser than what is written and, by sophisticated argument, seek to escape the perspicuity of the Word of God. That is not an option for those whose faith is grounded upon the revelation of God and His purposes. It is of the utmost urgency that the Church of Christ brings its mission programme, tactics and strategy to the test of the Word of God. The Church's mission to the gentiles and to Israel are not relatively important or unimportant. The teeming millions of the world are our urgent calling. How are they to be reached? Never, so long as we continue to neglect what God has commanded. 1John Stott says, “This final self-sacrifice was his [Jesus'] 'last hour', for which he had come into the world. And the four evangelists, who bear witness to him in the Gospels, show that they understand this by the disproportionate amount of space which they give to the story of his last few days on earth, his death and resurrection.” (The Cross of Christ. IVP Leicester, 1986. p.32). 2C.E.B. Cranfield, in his magisterial commentary on Romans, says, “He [Paul] had now been preaching the gospel of Christ for about twenty years and may well have been conscious of having reached a certain maturity of experience, reflection and understanding, which made the time ripe for him to attempt, with God's help, such an orderly presentation of the gospel... affording guidance for the Church's missionary endeavours.” (Romans, A Shorter Commentary. T & T Clark, Edinburgh 1985) emphasis mine. 3 H.C.G. Moule, Romans. The Expositors Bible. Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1902; p. 245.


   
Privacy Policy / Terms of Use / Site Map Copyright 2008 - CWI.org.au - Christian Witness to Israel - www.cwi.org.au. @ All Rights Reserved.