A Far Greater Song: Imagining a Global Network at Westminster

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20)

One Global Mission

Christ’s words to his disciples at the end of Matthew stand firmly upon an ancient and deep revelational bedrock. First promised in seed form in Gen. 12:3c (the protoevangelium, the first mention of the gospel), the word, given to Abram 4000 years ago (“. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” [Genesis 12:3c]), ensures that God would establish a kingdom consisting of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” (Rev. 7:9)

       Previously centered within the old covenant people of Israel, teaching people the word of Christ has become an international mandate by the cosmic authority invested in the resurrected King. In his resurrection from the dead the prior parameters, pointers, and practices of the old covenant came to an end, since he fulfilled the law (Rom. 10:4) and embodied the “yes” of all the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20).

       In what we now commonly call the Great Commission, Jesus Christ commanded his apostles and the disciples of subsequent generations to a great and privileged task, one far greater than we could even imagine: call all nations to follow Christ and instruct them to do all our Savior and King commanded. At the end of history, people from every corner of the globe will, with one voice, bellow praise to the reigning Lamb!

       This ancient yet enduringly new commission delivers tremendous urgency for our Christ-centered kingdom work today. As good neighbors and responsible stewards of our lives in this world, the people of God should care deeply about creation, the economy, health care, and politics. We should celebrate beautiful art, well-written literature, delicious cuisine, excellent education, and advances in technology. But none of those vital responsibilities, however passionately we may feel about them or even how effectively we attend to them, are the mission of the Church. Of course, we fail to carry out divine mission rightly when we fail to exude consideration, compassion, and care—indeed, the people of God have a divine mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31)—but kindness is no more the mission of the Church than friendliness is the mission of the chef de cuisine at a five-star restaurant. Just ask his boss.

       Scripture uniformly insists the mission of the Church advances by the proclamation and instruction of the Word of God, that Word which is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Leaving out any wiggle room, Christ reinforced this word-centered, disciple-making mission following his resurrection. The church’s one global mission with one vital message draws upon Christ’s authority as King and its effectiveness draws upon his unlimited power and ubiquitous presence.

       Accordingly, and exactly as promised to Abraham, the Church’s mission sprawls to the boundaries of Christ’s Kingship—the whole world. And this mission cannot fail. Why? Because the King and Lord of all is, by his Spirit, “with you always, to the end of the age.” In step with the apostles to whom Jesus gave the Great Commission and his outpoured Spirit, the Church goes about disciple making in the authority, power, and presence of our King. By his Word and Spirit, his mission is unstoppable; “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

Psalm 67: Divine Favor and Global Mission

An Astonishing Request

       One of the highest peaks on the Old Testament mission map is Psalm 67. The psalm opens with an astonishing, seemingly preposterous, prayer: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us” (v. 1). Who among us would dare ask the holy God of the universe for blessing? Think about it. As Scripture tells it, human history drones with horrific discord, what we might call antiphonal antipathy. God acts and speaks with patience, and his people, with a perverse giddiness, respond in ingratitude, making a mockery of the holy kindness of God. And so, it goes on and on. How then would such a prayer for God’s smile ever be appropriate? It seems unthinkable, even irreverent. But, with fresh eyes, consider this bold prayer at the gateway of Psalm 67 once again. This prayer actually comes with divine imprimatur. In Numbers 6: 22–26, the holy God of heaven delivered the Aaronic blessing—words given explicitly by the covenant LORD to his people:

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’”

       Note how Psalm 67:1 echoes Numbers 6. Almighty God gave his people this prayer. He told his people to approach the throne of grace boldly and to expect grace from the throne. Precisely because it rehearses God’s words to his people and not our own instincts, this psalm is blessedly right to pray absurdly, to beg for blessing. We never pray better than when we pray God’s Word back to him. Who can fathom such grace? Each syllable of the prayer should take our breath away.

The Generosity of Grace

       Not only is the God to whom we pray a gracious God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, he delights to forgive sin and to cleanse his people from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). But there is even more, much more. This bold prayer for blessing also turns to a bold prayer for global mission, in which his blessing aligns his people’s heart with his heart, and he turns us from self-interest to divine mission: that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:2–3)

       Coupling the international scope of the Abrahamic promise (Gen. 12:1–3) with the Aaronic prayer for blessing we read above, the psalmist identifies the recipients of God’s grace as channels, not reservoirs. Our hearts are not to be stagnant ponds where grace pools, only to stagnate. Rather, we who drink of Living Water are vessels for pouring out, not merely sponges for soaking. It was this zeal for proclaiming Christ’s gift to others that Luther adapted in his hymn, “May God Bestow on Us His Grace.”

May God bestow on us His grace,

With blessings rich provide us;

And may the brightness of His face

To life eternal guide us,

That we His saving health may know,

His gracious will and pleasure,

And also to the nations show

Christ’s riches without measure

And unto God convert them.

       Gospel truths deliver certainty and invoke song. They are the words of life to the nations, the words of grace and of justice, of kindness and of equity. These words of divine blessing are to come from us to the nations. The sweet truths unite us in glorious song.

Global Mission unto Global Song

       Chiastic in structure, Psalm 67 ascends to its summit in verse 4 with reference to history’s climactic destiny—“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” God is not just powerful. Oh, he is indeed that. Angels shout with astonishment at his creation of all things from nothing (Job 38:7). But having now borne witness to the mercy of God in saving sinners, the angelic hosts marvel at something more jaw-dropping than creation (Eph. 3:10). They bear witness to his “saving power” (v. 2)—a power exercised with perfect equity and grace-filled efficacy. In his holiness, he creates a holy people out of a despicable people. In his mighty grace, he transforms rebels into righteous sons.

“Our hearts are not to be stagnant ponds where grace pools, only to stagnate. Rather, we who drink of Living Water are vessels for pouring out, not merely sponges for soaking.”

       How he accomplishes this evades comprehension even as it evokes song. Isaiah 55:8–9 reminds us God’s thoughts and ways differ entirely from ours, in particular with regard to his abundant forgiveness (Isa. 55:7). His judgment passes over us because he subjects his own righteous Son to our judgment. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous [the Just for the unjust], that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18).

       This Son of God, born of woman and born under the curse of the law (Gal. 4:4) is the Son of God raised in power according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4) “who is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1). This Son exercises perfect judgment of the nations. He judges with equity. This Son has become the righteous Judge, who as the psalmist puts it, “judge[s] the nations with equity and guides the nations upon earth” unto his own righteousness. In Christ, “righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). The nations glad and singing for joy? Imagine that!

       God navigating the tangled web of human hearts and human evil in a manner whereby he judges all peoples impeccably? Imagine that! But we won’t have only to imagine. Because of the excellency of Christ and his work, we will join the international chorus, singing with voices like angels. So precious and poignant is this song, the psalmist bookends this cosmic chorus in verses 3 and 5: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” Indeed, we will. And if you sing off key now, be assured that at that climactic day in history when the nations are gathered before the throne of the Lamb, your lungs filled with holy air and your heart perfectly pitched to gospel grace, your voice will sound forth Pavarotti-like. United with the redeemed from among the nations, we will heartily bellow lyrics of divine acclaim and “sing for joy.”

The Certainty of Singing

       Having petitioned the Lord in prayer in verses 1–5, the psalm ends with an assertion of confidence (vv. 6–7): “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” Confident in the efficacy of God’s power and the certainty of his Word, graciously aligned with his expressed will and mission, the people of God sing a glorious song of holy praise. In the final verse of this holy hymn, we sing not with petition for divine favor, but as those in full possession of it. We sing with joyful confidence in the Lord who shall bless us and shall bless all those from the nations who fear him. He has spoken. He has promised. He has delivered. He is our saving God, and we are his sanctified and singing people.

“Gospel truths deliver certainty and invoke song. They are the words of life to the nations, the words of grace and of justice, of kindness and of equity. ”

       Psalm 67 and Matthew 28:18–20 thus attest to the faithfulness of God in history, who in his Son accomplished the salvation purposed from before the foundation of the world and promised through the prophets. Jesus’ resurrection and associated commission mark the fulfillment of divine purpose on earth: assembling the chorus of nations, who will sing with one voice the praise of the Triune God, in whose name they have been called and by whose mighty grace have been saved. The One who judges the nations with equity leads the children of God in song (Heb. 2:11).

A Far Greater Vision

       It is that prayer, sung through the ages, from Abraham to David, from Luther to our forebearers at Old Princeton,[1] that we sing at Westminster Theological Seminary and train our students to sing. The nations need to know why to sing, how to sing, and what to sing. It is for such proclamation that Westminster Theological Seminary exists—to train our students to proclaim this Christ of Scripture, the Just One who is the Justifier of the wicked, the King who dwells on the throne of grace and judges the nations with equity. Since 1929 God has brought students to us from many nations and sent thousands of graduates to over 60 countries worldwide, where they proclaim Christ to the nations and bear witness to God’s work in saving sinners and filling their hearts with song. And it is with a heart to see this mission not only continue but flourish that Westminster has chosen to pursue key initiatives to boldly pursue a global network of ministry for Christ’s kingdom.

“at that climactic day in history when the nations are gathered before the throne of the Lamb, your lungs filled with holy air and your heart perfectly pitched to gospel grace, your voice will sound forth Pavarotti-like.”

       With you, we are asking God to do something still far greater. Communications, travel, and educational technology swing open new doors to train leaders in the treasures of God’s Word so they can proclaim the Christ of Scripture to the nations. Almost without exception, the greatest need in the global Church is leaders who are trained well in Scripture; leaders who can present Christ and proclaim his Word faithfully.

With those needs in view, I invite you to pray for four far greater global mission prayers for Westminster.

        Korea. In recent years, God has enabled us, under the strong leadership of Rev. Hukmin Kwon, to launch Korean-language programs: the Doctor of Ministry and Master of Arts in Theological Studies. The effects of this work stir the heart and spark praise. Please pray with us that the Lord will sustain and grow these programs for the Korean-speaking church and Korean missionaries around the world!

       Latin America. With the growth of the gospel in Latin America, we are asking the Lord to provide resources whereby we can launch Spanish language programs. Numerous Spanish-speaking partners wait as we prayerfully seek funding to move this initiative forward.

        Black Shield. We are asking Lord to provide support for our Black Shield initiative—whereby we deliver theological training in other languages spoken by people in the underground, persecuted church around the world. By God’s kindness, we have launched one Black Shield program so far, in which we have begun training more than 100 underground church leaders!

        Asking Different Questions. A lot, maybe even most seminary students, will consider the mission field at some point, but often in terms of, “Perhaps I should consider the mission field.” But that approach fails to harmonize with the global ambitions of Psalm 67, the words of the Great Commission, and the goal of the global chorus of saints gathered to praise our God. Imagine instead if every student at Westminster asked, “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?” Recalibrating these questions could be transformational for the church. Would you pray that our students, who are themselves disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, find their hearts attuned to the right questions?

       Westminster Theological Seminary believes the word of God. We believe, at the deepest level of conviction, that what the whole world needs the glorious gospel it unveils. Christ has given himself to us and compelled us with his song of redemption. In keeping with our Savior’s heart, we long for the nations to know Christ and to join in singing his praise.

       Pray with us that the King of the universe would be pleased to use Westminster in far greater ways to train servants of Christ to make singers of the nations, who will proclaim with all the people of God throughout history, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9)

Bibliography

[1] See David B. Calhoun, “The Last Command: Princeton Theological Seminary and Missions (1812–1862),” PhD diss.,(Princeton Theological Seminary, 1983).

Rev. Dr. David B. Garner is Academic Dean, Vice President of Global Ministries, and Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

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