In his essay on Reformulating the Mission of the Church, Professor Reuteler states that “It is time for the church to contextualize its mission in the world, |he| suggest |a| new emphases for the church.”[1] The “new emphases” he has in mind is a redefining of the primordial mission of the early church. For many postmodern theologians, thinkers, and pastors, this means a “shift from emphasizing objective truth to communal experience…from doctrinal “orthodoxy” to “relevant” practices.”[2] Many like Reuteler believe the answer to a pluralistic, postmodern world is to dismantle the mission of the church and reconstruct it in order to make it more appealing to a progressive society. While this may seem appealing to a dying church; it is a fatal error. The church does not have the option of reformulating its mission. If the church fails to embrace the missiological narrative in the book of Acts, it will reject the prophetic power that is necessary to remain a dynamic force in the 21st Century.

Reconstruction Based on a False Narrative

            Postmodern reformulation is primarily based on the idea that “diverse kinds of faith and beliefs influence people living in |the|”[3] The pluralism of religious diversity leads the postmodernist to assert that “Christians, do not know all about God and no single religion exhausts all religious truth.”[4] Firstly, it is true that Christians do not know all about God, but Christians have never asserted to know all about God. The Apostle reminds us of our limited understanding of God when he says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9 ESV). What Biblical Christianity does assert is that there is only one God that can be known (Deut. 6:4). Secondly, postmodern thinkers error in assuming that the people living in the age of the apostles were a homogeneous group. Robert Gundry describes a New Testament world that was religiously diverse; emperors demanded worship, secret religions were prevalent, and Pagans merged their beliefs with other religions.[5] Reformulation of mission based on the idea that the church is incapable of fulfilling its apostolic mandate in a pluralistic world is to justify reformulation based on a false narrative.

Reformulation by the Numbers

            In an article published in the New York Times on July 12, 2012,  Ross Douthat writes, that, “Practically every denomination – Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian – that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance.”[6] The Episcopal plunge that Douthat is referring to is a -23% average decline in attendance between 2007 and 2017.[7] What could be the cause of such a dramatic decline in attendance? The answer is clear, reformulation of the apostolic mission has effectively disarmed the churches of their primordial power. In the quest to become progressive, they have become irrelevant. “Instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic, the…Church’s dying has proceeded apace.”[8] The reconstruction of the divine mission has virtually sealed the fate of the secularly sensitive church. The numbers bear witness that tampering with things divine has consequences; this is why the Apostle Paul refused to tamper with the Word of God (2 Cor. 4:2). 

Mission and Empowerment in Acts

The book of Acts is a historical snapshot of the church as it advanced through a myriad of social, cultural, and political challenges. Instead of succumbing to the many challenges it faced; the primordial church was able to engage and disrupt an increasingly ungodly society effectively. The church was such a dynamic force that it was accused of “|turning| the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Why was the primordial church so effective in a pluralistic society? It is clear, the mission of the church was realized through the supernatural power of the Holy Ghost. Prominent scholar Craig Keener states, “the central thrust of the Acts…narrative is empowerment for mission.”[9]

Could it be that the temptation to reimagine the mission of the church is due to the absence of spiritual power? The Bible does not present a mission that is in need of reconstruction for every new generation. Instead, every generation of disciples needs to be “endued with power” (Luke 24:49 KJV) to realize the divine mission. In fact, spiritual power is so central to the effectiveness of the mission that Jesus does not expect the newly founded church to be able to fulfill it without the assistance of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:8).

Mission and Culture in Acts

One of the emphases of the book of Acts is the relentless nature of the church to “impose its narrative”[10] on an ungodly culture. Notably it is the missiological nature of the early church that shapes it into a counter-cultural movement. Indeed the most common word used for church in the New Testament is ekklesia; which refers to a group of people called out of the world. [11] The primordial church was not interested in becoming part of a pluralistic community; instead they were intent on forming a new community. Moreover the new community would be comprised of transformed people who are empowered by the Holy Ghost. According to Keener, “God |created| a new community that transcended human boundaries. God empowered his people with the Spirit to cross over cultural barriers, to worship God, and to form one new, multicultural community of worshippers.”[12]

“It is a common assumption that in order to survive, churches must accommodate to the age when in fact, the opposite is true.”

Nancy Pearcy

Again, rather than capitulating to the cultural dynamic of its day, the primitive church imposed a new dynamic on the present culture. The new ecclesiastical community was “determined to obey what God was teaching no matter the social cost.[13] The church, not the world, gives birth to the necessary tension between the ekklesia and the cosmos. The spiritual tension between the church and world is necessary because it distinguishes the culture of the kingdom and culture of the world. Any endeavor to remove or reimagine this tension will subsequently remove the distinction that is necessary for the church to remain a counter-cultural bastion of hope and truth. According to noted author Nancy Pearcy the removal of this dynamic tension between the secular and the church is a “recipe for failure.”[14] She states, “It is a common assumption that in order to survive, churches must accommodate to the age when in fact, the opposite is true. In every historical period, the religious groups that grow most rapidly are those that set believers at odds with the surrounding culture. As a general principle, the higher a groups tension with mainstream society, the higher the growth rate.”[15]

Mission and Objective in Acts

Noticeably, many of the speeches in the book of Acts culminate with a call to repentance and baptism in both water and Spirit. When the crowd on the day of Pentecost heard Peter preaching, their response was, “what must we do” (Acts 2:37)? Peter commands them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and tells them that they would subsequently receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). The objective of the early church’s mission was a “true conversion |experience| that involved repentance and a commitment to a new Lord.”[16] The young church was not interested in accommodating different faiths in order to grow its membership. The first ekklesia viewed the adherents of other religions as sinners who needed the redemptive power of God. The objective of their mission was salvific; their primary concern was the imminent return of Christ. Undoubtedly the command to make disciples (Matt. 28;19) is based on the fact that the church would need men and women who could effectively convert sinners into saints. Thus the missiological aim of the early church was to rescue sinners from the kingdom of darkness and transfer them in the Kingdom of Jesus (Col. 1:13).

Call to Reformation Rather than Reformulation

The book Acts presents a church that effectively changed the spiritual landscape of the world. Why then do postmodern theologians insist on reformulating the mission of the church? On the one hand, it may be as Ajith Fernando describes it, they, liberals, “|view| Acts as a late second-century document that |contains| an idealized fictional account of the early church.”[17] On the other hand postmodernist have no patience for the claims of objective truth. As postmodernist see it, no one should convert anyone based on the idea that their truth is absolute.[18] If liberal movements insist on a missional approach that excludes the biblical missiology of the book of Acts they will continue their slide into irrelevance.

Postmodern Christians that are interested in expanding the kingdom of God would do well to observe the missional effectiveness of the fastest growing movement in Christianity. Pentecostals, especially those of the Oneness persuasion, are not interested in the reformulation of a book of Acts mission. Instead, Oneness Pentecostal’s have chosen to embrace and propagate the first mission of the church.[19] Although the Pentecostal community is quite diverse; its commitment to spiritual empowerment and a book of Acts mission has generated an unprecedented worldwide revival. “As a result |the notable liberal theologian| Harvey Cox…prefers to speak about the Pentecostal movement as the “unanticipated reappearance of primal spirituality in our time.”[20]


Without a doubt, the failure of the postmodern liberal church is not due to an out of date, out of touch primitive mission. The failure of the postmodern liberal church is due to its unwillingness to embrace and propagate the biblical mission of the early church. Sadly the liberal postmodern Christian movement serves as a warning to the dangers of rejecting and attempting to reformulate the church’s divine assignment. In their infatuation with progressivism, liberals have lost sight of the God-given formula for birthing revival. Interestingly, the very concerns which drive their ideology; equality, justice, and the redemption of the marginalized happen to be the very product of true Biblical revival. Craig Keener again reminds us that “The Spirit’s empowerment of the church is central…and inseparable for the church’s mission in the present age.”

[1] Reuteler, James T. “Reformulating the Mission of the Church.” Missiology 8, no.4 (October 1980): 414, accessed March 1, 2019,

[2] Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2000. 265.

[3] Yip, George. “The Contour of a Post-Postmodern Missiology.” Missiology 42, no. 4 (October 2014): 403, accessed March 1, 2019, doi:10.1177/0091829613512965

[4] Daneel, M. L., Charles Edward van Engen, and H. M. Vroom. Fullness of Life for all: Challenges for Mission in Early 21st Century. Vol. 22. New York;Amsterdam;: Rodopi, 2003. 77.

[5] Gundry, H. Robert. A Survey of the New Testament 5th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. 94.

[6] Douthat, Ross. “Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?” New York Times, July 12, 2012, accessed March 1, 2014,

[7] The Episcopal Church. “Membership and Average Sunday Attendance: Parochial Report” Research and Statistics, 2017,  accessed March 2, 2019,

[8] Douthat.

[9] Keener, S. Craig. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in the Light of Pentecost. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2016. 39.

[10] Robinson B. Anthony and Robert W. Wall. Called to be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006. 27.

[11] Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology: The Church, the Kingdom, and the Last Things. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. 17.

[12] Keener, Craig S. “Power of Pentecost: Luke’s Missiology in Acts 1-2.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 12, no. 1 (January 2009): 47–73, accessed March 2, 2019,

[13] Keener, S. Craig. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in the Light of Pentecost. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2016. 46.

[14] Pearcey, R. Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005. 261.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Keener, Craig S. “Power of Pentecost: Luke’s Missiology in Acts 1-2.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 12, no. 1 (January 2009): 47–73, accessed March 2, 2019,

[17] Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary Acts: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. 23.

[18] Ibid., 59.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.