The charge is sometimes made by those who are more in the emerging church mindset that apologetics/discernment ministries are not “missional” or do not embrace the new mission paradigm. I was reminded of this recently while reading an exchange between Rob Bowman, Paul Owen and John Morehead on STRAIGHT ANSWERS TO FOX’S 21 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE MORMON CHURCH (comments 25, 28&29). When asked what that accusation means or if one should request a description on how we would actually be doing things differently the accuser falls back to “You are just involved in Boundary Maintenance.” It rolls off the tongue like a swear word and may feel like a slap in the face. The effect is similar to when the media talks about a religious group they have disdain for and say they are “fundamentalist.” These terms serve as a way to slap back or silence questioners without actually being defined. After all who wants to be regarded as a knuckle dragging non-missional fundamentalist? Sounds like a very bad disease.
I did a media interview a while back and the reporter mentioned that the group in question was “fundamentalist.” I asked if that is bad and was assured that it was. I thought I might have a bit of fun and asked if it was bad because fundamentalism is bad or the fundamentals they believed in were bad. The reporter was a little confused at that point, having not thought this through, and after a bit of hesitation asserted, “Fundamentalism is bad.” I pressed it a bit further and asked if the reporter wanted their employer to be a fundamentalist in math as it pertains to their pay check or if they thought fundamental math should be adhered to? Or should drivers be required to understand and act on the fundamentals of traffic signals or just make it up as they go? As we talked they came to realize that in most areas of life they really did want those around them to be fundamentalists provided the fundamentals in each area was sound. We then had a good working definition to discuss the group in question. It wasn’t that they were fundamentalists that was the problem. It was the fundamentals they held to that was the problem.
We have the same difficulty with the accusation of boundary maintenance. Is boundary maintenance a bad thing? Shepherds are continually doing boundary maintenance in order to prevent sheep from straying. After all sheep are not bright and tend to graze, graze, graze and wander away from the flock. Perhaps they even fall in to a pit or down a ravine. Boundary maintenance also guards them from predators that would sneak in among and harm them. That seems to me to be a good thing for the sheep.
Do the Scriptures speak to the issue of boundary maintenance? The answer is an unequivocal yes! In Acts 20:28-31 we read of Paul charging the Ephesian Elders with the responsibility of boundary maintenance:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
They were to guard the boundaries from predators on the outside and inside in the same way they had observed Paul doing. To the young pastor Timothy the Apostle wrote:
As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine
The whole of 1 Timothy is written on this subject. Even Jesus was concerned about this and said:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
Boundary Maintenance is a good work and there is a fair amount of the Bible which mandates it. If that is all we were doing that would be God honoring and applying the biblical teachings in our individual and corporate ministry. However, many us are missionaries or ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). This is a high holy calling. An ambassador is a citizen of one nation who represents his or her nation in and to other nations. They are “missional” in helping those of other cultures understand the country that the ambassador is representing. The ambassador also instructs their constituency how to best communicate and not unduly offend those of this foreign nation. The ambassador also attempts to protect those of his or her nation who are traveling where he or she is serving. In other words, a good ambassador is by definition both a missionary and one who does boundary maintenance.
As I reflect on this I am honored to be able to serve with MCOI but also with the men and women of the member ministries of EMNR who model this so well. In a little over a month we will be gathering together in Kansas City, MO for the 2008 EMNR KANSAS CITY CONFERENCE ON BIBLICAL DISCERNMENT. This year’s theme is APOLOGETICS IN MISSIONS: THE LANGUAGE OF HOPE . We would love to have you join us