I have been trying to put the two terms together in my head for a while. In my Church circles, there has been a heavy emphasis on God’s covenant with parents and their children. I figure if you are going to go in on covenantal thinking, you may as well go all in. After all, covenantal thinking can be found across the pages of Scripture. But then, missional thinking is found all over the pages of Scripture. And if we are going to go in on missional thinking, we may as well go all in. The question is: can we go all in on both?
I need to establish definitions first. By covenantal thinking, I am referring to the emphasis in Christian theology on the covenants of Scripture, particularly God’s covenant with parents and their children. Acts 2:39 would be a go-to passage: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” By missional thinking, I am referring to the emphasis in Christian theology on God’s mission to the world, the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, that goes out to all those who do not yet know or do not believe the message that the good news of release from sins is found in Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:19 and the emphasis on going, would be the go-to passage: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
I grew up in a family and church that emphasized the promises and obligations of the covenant, built on a call to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. I also grew up in a family that was also actively involved in the mission of the Church. For as long as I can remember, my Dad has been a missionary first in the city of New York and then in the city of Toronto. When I was 12, he planted a church, and it continues to grow today. The vast majority of people in my community of churches might refer to this church as a mission church. They are right. Of course, in my experience, it was/is as much of a mission church as a covenantal church. Not only did the leadership at this church plant seek to obey the command to “go”, but also the command to “disciple”, and also the command to baptize and to extend the promises of baptism to the children of believers.
As a case study I would consider the practice of catechesis in my body of churches. I would argue that the practice of catechesis is foundational for the preservation of the Church of Jesus Christ. For those who are unaware of Reformed traditions, catechesis is the practice of teaching young people the Bible and Christian doctrine. Catechism involves the teaching and the memory of a catechism, a brief and succinct summary of the Christian faith. But I would also argue that the practice of catechesis is also foundational for the gathering of the Church of Jesus Christ. If we look at the practice of catechesis in the early Church, one of its primary goals was to bring a new convert from the point of interest in the faith towards baptism. Again, covenantal and missional are not far apart.
If you read Matt. 28:18-20, you will find both the covenantal and missional aspect tied up in it. The command is to go, to make disciples, and to baptize. But the command is also to teach, to carve out arrows that will shoot straight and fast as the mission of God advances further into the world. If you read Acts 2:38-39, you will find both the covenantal and missional aspect tied up in it. The call of the gospel as the mission of God to this world is announced, is to repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ in order that their sins might be forgiven and that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The call of the gospel as the covenant promises of God are promoted from generation to generation is: the promise is to you and to your children.
In his letter to the Church in Rome, Paul announces that he is not ashamed of the gospel. This good news is that the righteousness of God is on full display. And the good news is that both the promotion of covenant and mission in the Church is directed firmly towards faith in Jesus Christ. This is all leading towards the day when we will see a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the Lamb, singing of their salvation (Rev. 7:9). Much more could be said, but my thought is still developing on how to speak of the covenantal and missional nature of the Church. Of course, remember that covenant children are one of God’s primary means to promote the good news of Jesus Christ to the world: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Ps. 8:2).