Community and the Great Commission

In “Hebrews and the Mission of the Earliest Church” (pp. 327-45 in New Testament Theology in Light of the Church’s Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall. Cascade: Eugene, 2011), Jon C. Laansma argues that world mission is the “‘elephant in the room’ of Hebrews’s discourse” (330). He proposes that part of the wane in the audience of the Epistle is their lack of concern for world mission (330). I summarize Laansma’s storying of Hebrews to run something like this: (a) the community engaged in bold public and verbal witness, (b) because of this witness the community has suffered in a variety of ways, with the result that (c) some have responded to this suffering by disengaging from bold, verbal, public witness. “Without the author’s commenting in any direct way on that mission it is the raison d’être of the discourse” (332, italics original).

Laansma believes that the story of Hebrews is set within the broadest scope: cosmology, the macro spatial domain of both heaven and earth (336). Humanity’s plight is bound up with the renewal of the cosmos and the extensive frame of God’s mission. The community is called to faithfulness in this context: “Faithfulness, in other words, is not merely an abstract virtue, but is itself meaningful only within an assumed story that revolves around God’s reclamation and cleansing of his creation, his works. Faithfulness, therefore, is not about securing one’s own (actually, for Hebrews, the community’s) salvation by hanging on till the end, but about doing that precisely through adopting the same missiological aims that are at the heart of the gospel” (337-38, italics original). Παρρησία (boldness) thus functions horizontally and vertically (339).

In Laansma’s view, the spatial ἐξέρχομαι (to go out), referring to the community going out to identify with Jesus’ suffering outside the camp (Heb. 13:13), and προσέρχομαι (to go to, draw near) surfacing throughout the Epistle as the Author urges the community to approach God (Heb. 4:16; 7:25; 10:22; 11:6; 12:18, 22) are a single act of worship (341, italics original). “To put it bluntly, the sacred space of the divine throne—that which we are to ‘approach’ for mercy and grace—is not a ‘safe enclave’ in the midst of a violent and evil world but precisely the place of slaughter and sacrifice, of suffering redemptively with Christ. Even in the summons to ‘approach the divine throne’ with concern is not merely with personal comfort (on the verticle) but at the same time with a life of faithful obedience (on the horizontal)” (341).

“In short, the cultic imagery of Hebrews’ argument finally serves a comsmically universal vision of salvation that has swept up the people of God and, in its exhortations, carries them forward as active participants in that great drama” (341).

Laansma’s observations cohere Hebrews’ community exhortations with the ‘Great Commission’ exhortations so prominent throughout the New Testament (but on the surface absent in Hebrews). If he is right then the audience in view engages in community maintence as a means to an end outside of itself. Concern for one another stimulates and re-enforces the public witness of each one.