Holiness in Mission | Dr Chris Wigram

Holiness in Mission Banner.png21/08/2023, 03:48 21/08/2023, 03:48

The whole Bible resounds with the call for God’s people to be holy and in fact ‘without holiness no one shall see the Lord’. So how does this apply to the mobilisation of new workers?

Dr Chris Wigram was the International Director of European Christian Mission from 2008-2020.

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The urgency of this task must not diminish the need for holiness on the part of those who mobilise and in those being sent.

Mission depends on effective recruitment. Without new candidates, called to serve in a cross-cultural, or local environment, there will be little church planting, evangelism, Bible teaching, relief work or any of the plethora of ministries that God has creatively called his people to do. So those who work in recruiting and sending are important cogs in the mission wheel. 

However, the urgency of this task must not diminish the need for holiness on the part of those who mobilise and in those being sent. This important aspect of mission demands first and foremost our personal devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. We seek to be a people that live out biblical discipleship with a reverent fear for the Lord, and with lives of uncompromising purity and integrity.

How are we to highlight this challenge in our ministries of mobilisation? In Acts 10 we see holiness and mission coincide when Peter is called to go and meet Cornelius in Caesarea. Peter had a deeply ingrained awareness and understanding of God’s holiness. Steeped in the Old Testament with an understanding of the sacrificial system, he knew how dangerous it was to encounter God unprepared. He had a healthy fear of the Lord, recognising that God’s holiness is active, smouldering and brings threat. Peter is still grappling with the ramifications of the Lord Jesus’ atoning death and his fulfilment of the law, when he encounters Cornelius.

Cornelius is a gentile and a seeker. He is godly and pious and prays to the living God. His life shows the fear of the Lord. He is a local leader and is told by an angel that he has been heard by God and needs to send for Peter who is in Joppa. Why involve Peter? Why not give Cornelius the Holy Spirit at this point? God chooses to work with human partnerships in mission and both sides have things to learn. Mission is a two-way street. Those who participate in the mission of God give and receive at the same time. 

Meanwhile Peter is having a vision. His background meant that he was suspicious of anything that might make him unclean such as eating some of the food offered in the vision. However, he had also been with Jesus and had seen firsthand Jesus act in a way that did not conform to the traditional patterns of holiness. If Jesus is the image of God (Col 1:15) and if God is holy, Peter must rethink his concept of what it means to be holy. This is the task of the Christian; to reinterpret inherited concepts of God in the light of Christ. Peter wrestles with the issue just as Cornelius’ servants arrive. Peter has a dilemma. For Peter submitting to the voice which he recognises as the Lord places him in transgression of and alienation from that same Lord. Peter now must depend on God, not his background. God is free to speak and act as he wishes. The Holy Spirit has disturbed Peter’s peace. 


Michael Riddell says of this:

 ‘In terms of spiritual hermeneutics this is the equivalent of a small nuclear device’. 

Why did God not instruct Cornelius to go directly to Joppa? It would have saved time. Participating in the mission of God means leaving our own security to travel to where others are. This is the incarnation. Mission is always in the direction of the other and away from ourselves, and Peter, having avoided the implications of the final words of Jesus, is now called to cross cultural mission.  The fault line of holiness has moved beneath Peter. 

Peter goes to Caesarea. He listens before he speaks (v30-33) but when he speaks in v34 Peter shows what he has learned. He gives a masterful summary of the life of Christ and shows that it has influenced Peter. His ideas of holiness have changed. Gentiles are not unclean but receptive to God and God is wanting to know them. The missionary becomes a learner, one who discovers new truth and is converted again and again as he encounters new, demanding situations.  

The mission of the church produced new thinking as the gospel thundered into different cultures where it constantly encountered new situations that demanded revisions of holiness. There is a transition from the ingathering of nations expressed in the Old Testament to outward mission, highlighted by Stephen in Acts 7:47-51, which was accompanied by the preaching of the gospel after the early Christians were scattered from Jerusalem in Acts 8. 

Mission is always in the direction of the other and away from ourselves

Here is a double conversion. Peter repents of his racial prejudice and Cornelius, upright though he was, still needed to hear the gospel from Peter. Acts 10 revises previous concepts of holiness. 

Rebecca Manley Pippert writes:

‘We may think of God’s holiness as only in the heavens. But God sees holiness lived out on the roads and streets of our daily lives. We may think of God’s holiness as separation, but God sees his holiness lived out in our relationships. We may think of God’s holiness in his deity, but God sees holiness lived out in the way we treat people’.

Mission is the setting for new lessons on holiness. It marked a turning point in world mission when God directed the church to the world. A localised Jewish sectarian movement went global and hasn’t stopped since. 

Dr Chris Wigram has been in cross-cultural ministry since 1979.   He served with Operation Mobilisation in Europe and on the OM ships (Doulos & Logos), where he met his German-born wife Susanne, before undertaking theological studies at the London Bible College (now London School of Theology LST). He worked for 19 yrs with OMF International spending nine years teaching theology in the Philippines and developing internal training programmes. From 1999-2008 he served as the National Director of OMF International (UK). He was chair of the Board of Global Connections (2005-2008) and completed a PhD study in 2007 at the University of Utrecht on Hudson Taylor’s use of the Bible. He was the International Director of the European Christian Mission from 2008-2020. He and Susanne, who is a therapist, live in London, England. Chris has recently lectured on Global Christianity at LST. They have three adult children. 

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Pray for those who mobilise and those being sent, to continually grow in their personal devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to have lives of uncompromising purity and integrity. 

This article appears in ECM News Spring 2023

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