"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Approaches to mission

When I was at Vicar School, one of our first modules was that of Mission. It was one of the ones I most enjoyed. I am revisiting my understanding of mission and so, with some pleasure, it was to Stephen Spencer’s SCM Studyguide Christian Mission that I turned and I unashamedly summarise and plagiarise him here.

Stephen Spencer’s introduction identifies three traditional view of mission:

Mission as Social Action

Spencer begins by relating the story of Rosa Parks and setting it in the context of the American Civil Rights Movement. The gist of the argument is that the mission of the church is God’s mission and is about the coming of the Kingdom with its peace, justice and healing. The role of the church here is to assist this wider mission through its support of various liberation movements as Christians speak out for an end of poverty, injustice and oppression. In words attributed to Archbishop William Temple, the church of God is the only institution which exists to serve the needs of those who are not its members, so mission is about assisting with what God is doing in the world: mission is human development.

It is worth noting the contribution of the Roman Catholic Church here: Vatican II speaks of human progress in creating a more just social order in the modern world which can be through the secret moving of the Spirit in human beings.

However, there needs to be a vibrant church to do the assisting and the fact of that mission needs to be made public and identified. It also needs to be related to its various scriptural imperatives. If significant energies are not devoted to building up the church, how will it avoid losing itself in the struggles of the world?

Mission as Church Growth

The C of E report Mission Shaped Church looked extensively at different kinds of congregational church life and took great comfort in “Fresh Expressions of Church” which it saw as a sign of great creativity of the Spirit in our age … a sign of the work of God and of the Kingdom. The church is the fruit of God’s mission … creating new communities of Christian faith is part of the mission of God.

However, some of these initiatives are seen more as maintenance as growth – a kind of chaplaincy to those who cannot bring themselves to attend traditional churches anymore and it is questionable whether real mission has taken place. This conversation takes place in the context of a universal decline in church attendance in the developed world in all denominations.

Mission as Public Witness

If Christ is not known in missionary work then it is questionable to what extent CHRISTIAN mission has taken place at all. In this model mission is about proclaiming Christ and the churches need to take an enthusiastic lead.  Evangelism is seen as the defining feature of mission. In Transforming Mission, Bosch alludes to a real crisis of nerve over mission, claiming that the church was no longer sure what it meant! Leslie Newbeggin, writing in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, called for the churches to engage in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel as “public truth”: We have been shown the road. We cannot treat that knowledge as a private matter. It concerns the whole human family.

The emphasis is on the key features of Jesus own mission, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God and saying “The time is fulfilled; repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1.14-15) This isn’t about Jesus’ glorification but about something much bigger, the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the personal response of those who repent and believe. People are to change the direction of their lives. The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination.

Spencer goes on to talk about:

 Missio Dei: God’s Mission

The mission of God is, The mission that belongs to God and flows from the heart of God. The Missio Dei speaks of the overflowing of God’s being and nature into His purposeful activity in the world. Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission. It is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the Church. God is a missionary God and mission is first of all His action. The missionary initiative flows from the love of God to reconcile His created yet alienated world. He trod a long road of redemption with Israel, until out of the depths of His love the Father sent the Son to reconcile all things to Himself. Jesus accomplished the mission for which He was sent by a complete atonement in His death and resurrection. On the basis of this accomplished work God poured out the Spirit of Jesus to gather His people together into one body as a first fruit and an earnest of Christ’s redemption. That same Spirit of Jesus equips and empowers His people to continue His mission as witnesses to God’s redeeming love and work. Thus the church is caught up in God’s redeeming action. (Newbigin)

Mission is not, therefore, the church going out and saving people. Rather, it is God creating and saving the world. The mission of God came first and the church was created as a response to that. That makes the church a product of mission rather than the other way round. It is also important to note that that since God’s concern is for the entire created order, so too, should be the scope of mission: it should embrace both humanity and the world and it is this which the church is privileged to participate in. There is no participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world. James A Scherer, Mission Theology.

Mission and paradigm shifts

The church is only one player in mission. The others are the social and cultural context and the inaugurated Kingdom of God. In tracing the history of mission it is important to understand how the church has related to these other two.

Spencer identifies a number of paradigms. He notes that while there has been a continuity of faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, the intellectual framework that holds this belief in place changed from one era to another. Each of the paradigms, though closely identified with a particular paradigm shift and era, continues to be found in different parts of the world today. New paradigms have come about as a result of social and political change revealing the creative engagement of the church with different cultures throughout history.
I shall explore these various paradigms in subsequent posts.

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