"Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention a special sending out of seventy (-two) disciples by Jesus (Luke 10:1). The number of disciples is uncertain; the manuscript evidence is divided between reading ‘seventy’ and ‘seventy-two.’ The MT (Masoretic Text) numbers seventy nations, but the LXX (Septuagint) has seventy-two nations (Luke is following LXX?). The significance of the number has been traced to the number of the Sanhedrin or the number of elders in Israel (Exodus 24:1), but the most likely explanation is that Jesus is here reflecting on Genesis 10 with its listing of the seventy known nations of the then known world. Taken in this way, the number signifies that Jesus is sending his representatives into all the known nations of their day. The world he created he must also redeem."
—Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, p.348.
You may have noticed that our newsletters and our Berlin page feature a bear on two legs with his tongue sticking out. If you’re wondering why, it’s because the bear is on the official coat of arms and flag of Berlin.
Here’s the city’s flag.
This became the flag of the whole city after German reunification in 1990.
And here’s the coat of arms.
Scholars aren’t exactly sure how the bear emblem came about though. Numerous theories abound but none have been proven. Some think the bear was chosen in homage to Albrecht the Bear, founder of the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1157.
Because the origin of the name Berlin is itself uncertain, another possibility is that the emblem of the bear is a pun on the city’s name (Bär meaning Bear). Little bear, or Bärlein, bears (pun intended!) a close resemblance to Berlin, thus the little bear emblem. I’m not sure if this theory holds much water with linguists.
A third possibility is that Berlin’s name and the the bear emblem are unrelated developments. Eva Spirova has written a great article entitled The Bear-the symbol of Berlin. She writes,
Berlin was settled by Slavs so the prefix “Ber” may have nothing to do with German. There is however an old-Slavic word “berli” that describes a rigid net submerged in the water to catch swarms of fish. It could be that the first settlers built plenty of berlis in the [River] Spree, and that they themselves became known to others as the “Berline,” thus spawning the name Berlin.
Whatever the history, we like the bear and will continue using him as our official mascot.
"The movement among evangelicals to revitalize urban areas with the Gospel will be successful to the extent that evangelicals themselves are enchanted by the God of that gospel and the world he has given us to both steward and enjoy."
—Jake Meador, from a blog post entitled Why Urban Christians Need Wendell Berry.
My hope is that this blog helps catalyze the following vision: every believer a missionary resulting in a Holy Spirit directed spontaneous expansion of the Church. I’ve heard it said in response to this vision that if everybody is a missionary then nobody is a missionary. The words of the late missiologist J. Herbert Kane summarize this objection.
The Chinese have a proverb: If two men feed a horse, it will lose weight; if two men keep a boat, it will soon leak. What is everybody’s job is nobody’s job. If every Christian is a missionary, missionary work is bound to suffer. It is correct to say that every Christian is, or should be, a witness. It is not correct to say that every Christian is a missionary.
When missiologists make statements like this they are wanting to preserve the important task of carrying the gospel across cultural boundaries to those who owe no allegiance to Christ. If missions is defined as everything the Church does, what’s lost is the notion of going somewhere to minister cross-culturally. Without crossing cultural boundaries, everybody’s job becomes nobody’s job and true missionary work suffers. I get that. I understand the reasoning. And I agree-for the most part.
Not everyone is able to pack up their family, move overseas, and cross significant cultural and linguistic boundaries for the sake of the gospel. By the way, missiologists call this E3 evangelism. So, yes, in this sense not everybody is a missionary. However, every believer is called to participate in the Great Commission through neighbor to neighbor missions. Missiologists call this E1 evangelism, if no significant cultural or linguistic boundaries are crossed.
It’s at this point that I would like to push back on the missiologist and widen the definition of a missionary. Just because the cultural distance traversed through E1 evangelism isn’t great doesn’t mean the boundaries crossed are insignificant. Often times the most daunting boundary to meaningful engagement with the gospel is, for example, the backyard fence separating neighbors. The person who prayerfully overcomes that boundary has done the work of a missionary; this is more than being a witness.
So, not every believer is a missionary in the E3 sense but everybody is a missionary in the E1 sense. Some believers will cross great boundaries to bring about meaningful engagement with the gospel. Others will cross smaller, less daunting boundaries. Both are missionaries because boundaries have been crossed. It’s with this nuance that I suggest the vision of every believer a missionary resulting in a Holy Spirit directed spontaneous expansion of the church.
Do the work of a missionary. What is everybody’s job is in fact everybody’s job. Cross those boundaries. Live sent!
"If you believe that a core identity of the Church is its “sent-ness” to the world, you will also believe learning to reach the world’s cities is a top priority for the leaders of the Church. The Church ignores the rapidly growing city to its detriment."
"It would be impossible to complete whatever portion of the Great Commission God has ordained for our generation without giving increasing priority to cities."
—This statement comes from Steve Moore of Missio Nexus. I think he’s right on. It’s estimated that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in urban centers. That’s 70% of 11 billion people. Yet Christians aren’t flowing to cities as quickly as the rest of the world. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the problem. Missions must increasingly become city focused in order to be faithful to the Great Commission.
Do you know what the strongest glue in the world is? It’s not Titebond or Rhino Glue or Gorilla Glue or even Krazy Glue. It’s not the gunk that helps the bacterium caulobacter crescentus stick to river rocks; even though scientists believe the bond created by this bacterium can withstand the stress “equal to the force felt by a quarter with more than three cars piled on top of it.” That’s a pretty strong bond, no doubt, but not the strongest.
Philippians 1:4-5 speaks of a lesser known but even more powerful glue than the gunk produced by Caulobacter crescentus. It’s the Krazy Glue of the gospel.
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
That word partnership is the word koinonia, or fellowship. Central to the New Testament understanding of Christian fellowship is the idea of collaborating or partnering or being bonded together with other believers for the purpose of advancing the gospel. Frequently, the bond that unites believers together is something less than advancing the gospel itself, and so many believers never get to the point of experiencing real and genuine Christian fellowship. And our joy suffers because of it. As my old seminary prof D.A. Carson put it,
Christian fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel or fellowship in the gospel, he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ—from the moment of their conversion, from the first day until now, Paul writes—rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel.
This “together let’s roll up our sleeves and advance the gospel” ethos is behind the ReachGlobal Berlin initiative, an initiative being built from the ground up on gospel-centered partnerships. Partnerships have a multiplying effect. We can do more together than we could ever do on our own. The Berlin initiative hopes to cultivate numerous partnerships for the sake of the gospel to bring gospel transformation to an entire city and region.
For those of you who read this blog and are a part of the EFCA like me, I’d like to speak to you personally for a second. One of our distinctives as a denomination is our autonomy. Name the last time there was a collaborative effort by autonomous Free Churches for the purpose of advancing the gospel in a large city or region? Any Free Church historians reading this? We say we believe in the biblical values of interdependence and cooperation. Help me out. When was the last time something like this happened in the EFCA tribe? As I see it, the Berlin initiative is a historically significant moment in the EFCA movement.
The strongest glue in the world is the supernatural glue of the gospel of Christ. Let’s do something krazy together, because the joy of our fellowship is at stake. Let’s eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Ephesians 4:3, and partner together to advance this gospel in Berlin.
In light of our pending transition to Berlin I’m trying to brush up on my German history, especially Germany’s ecclesiastical history. The paragraph below is from an entry in the Encyclopedia of Christianity (Eerdmans) entitled “Christianity in Germany.”
Such practical achievements (the material prosperity of the German State Church following reunification) must be offset by the undoubted fact of the diminution of the churches’ influence in the general population. As in other western European countries, the spread of secular humanism has led to widespread abandonment of church attendance, especially in the cities, such as Berlin, where the percentage of the population attending church services was already notably low 100 years ago. Debate continues as to the extent to which this crisis of belief was caused by rejection of traditional Christian orthodox doctrines, or how far it was the result of external factors, such as the repressive actions of both the Nazi and Communist dictatorships. It is notable, however, that the overthrow of these repressive systems did not lead to a re-Christianization of German society, despite vigorous efforts by church authorities to achieve that end. A more durable explanation for the churches’ striking decline in prestige and credibility must be seen in the political behavior of the churches themselves, such as their overenthusiastic endorsement of extreme German nationalism and their misuse of theology to justify German war aims. So too the readiness of some church leaders to give approval to both the Nazi and Communist systems has induced a sense of disillusionment among a more skeptical population.
This paragraph caught my attention for a number of reasons. First, secular humanism figured prominently in the decline of the German Church. I think it figures prominently in the potential decline of the church here in the States. Secular humanism simply means thinking and pursuing a way of life without reference to God or religion. Based upon what I’m learning, Berlin is the world’s epicenter for secular humanism. The need for the Gospel in Germany, and especially Berlin, is great. I believe faithful and effective ministry in Berlin can serve as an example for churches that are struggling to deal with the ever-strengthening grip of secular humanism here in the States.
Second, the spread of secular humanism matters. You should care about it. The spread of secular humanism matters in the sense that the destruction of the rain forest matters or the possible extinction of honey bees matters. In other words, its spread is a big deal. The words in the article, “widespread abandonment of church attendance,” should haunt us. If this decline happened in Germany, the fountainhead of the Reformation, it can happen here in the States. Germany is a generation or two ahead of us in terms of the full flowering of a secular humanist way of life. Pastors and churches here who are unwilling to face the onslaught of this relentless impending storm, will end up overseeing churches in rapid decline. A ‘sandbagging’ mentality, where churches hunker down hoping to ride out this storm, won’t survive to pass on the faith to the next generation.