Missional Living and Dying: A Lesson from 4 Chaplains

Words take on different meanings over time, so much so that many don’t have a connotation, but rather several connotations. This is particularly true, if not even more true, in the context of modern evangelicalism. Think of terms regarding worship. What does “contemporary” really mean anymore? It could mean old hymns with guitar, it could mean old hymns re-worked with new tunes (and guitar), it could mean hymns with electric guitar, it could mean no hymns but only recent songs, it could mean no hymns but songs which were once recent, it could mean smoke machines and crazy lights (or is that “relevant” because I’m honestly confused?). The same goes with the word “missional.” Some people look upon it with suspicion while others embrace it without discernment. Instead of thinking up a new word (I still can’t use the word “Christ-follower” but you should feel free if you want), I’ll do my best to describe what I think of when I use the word “missional.”

In fact I’ve tried to define it before. And I did a fine job, but then again, since I’m the one defining it, what’s that worth but the paper it’s written on? And I wrote it Microsoft Word. So not too much to you.

Still, here’s what I mean, at least in part, when I say that I desire for myself, my family, and local congregation to live missionally: Outward facing mindset where one is willing to sacrifice self, self-comforts, preferences, and conveniences, without sacrificing the truth, for the sake of those yet to believe. 

This isn’t exhaustive by any means, but I think living missionally should not include less than this. 

I personally like definitions. I love well crafted sentences, and nifty looking models; I have a particular fondness for Triangles (thanks to John Frame).  But sentences describing what ministry should look like don’t do too much for me-or for anyone-when they stay just sentences and models. Examples and illustrations are much more powerful, shaping, and practical. That’s why I try to use them often in sermons, for they flesh out definitions and propositional truth. 

If you want to know what I think it looks like to live missionally, we need to look no further than the example of several chaplains back in WWII. Do yourself a favor and check out the whole article here.

With the Dorchester rapidly taking on water, there were not enough life jackets readily available for every man on the ship. So, when the life jackets ran out, the four chaplains removed their own, and handed them to soldiers who didn’t have them.…..

Those four chaplains, men of different faiths but believing in the same God, their arms linked, standing on the deck together in prayer.

They had willingly given up their futures, their lives, to try to help the men who had been placed by the Army in their care.

The U.S. Army War College has in its records a narrative of what happened that night. One of the men who survived the sinking of the Dorchester, a Navy officer named John J. Mahoney, is quoted as recalling that before heading for the lifeboats, he hurried in the direction of his quarters.

Rabbi Goode, seeing him, asked where he was going. Mahoney said he had forgotten his gloves, and wanted to retrieve them before being dropped into the cold sea.

Rabbi Goode said that Mahoney should not waste fleeting time, and offered Mahoney his own gloves.When Mahoney said he couldn’t deprive Rabbi Goode of his gloves, the rabbi said it was all right, he had two pairs.

Only later, according to military historians, did Mahoney realize that of course, Rabbi Goode was not carrying an extra pair of gloves. He had already decided that he was going down with the ship.

According to the Army War College account, another survivor of the Dorchester, John Ladd, said of the four chaplains’ selfless act: “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

Three out of four chaplains were professing Christians and one was Jewish, but isn’t this practically what it looks like to live missionally? Those chaplains were confident of their own eternal destiny and because of that, they were freed to lovingly sacrifice their comfort, preferences, even their lives for those yet to believe. I am not qualified to speak of the theology of the three, and I’m not sure that the writer of this article is. But assuming one bases his/her entire salvation upon the finished work of Jesus, and therefore doesn’t sacrifice the truth, isn’t this the epitome of missional living? Or rather missional dying?

I imagine the four recipients of those precious life vests would be quick to live more missionally after being rescued. How much more so should the Christian, who is the unworthy recipient of an even more meaningful death-for-life trade?

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